Saturday, November 28, 2009

Fundraiser for Tangi

As we reported earlier, ukulele luthier Tangi Tully was savagely beaten. On December 6 from 5-10 pm at The Shack in Waikiki there will be a fundraiser to help Tangi with his medical costs. He's uninsured. If you're on Oahu on the 6th, drop by. Link

Thursday, November 26, 2009

"Pass the Donuts"

Can't wait for Gerald Ross to deconstruct this one.


UPDATE: Don't miss Gerald's Cold War history lesson in the comments!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Zac Efron Ukes in "Me and Orson Welles"

Six years ago (!) we wrote about Robert Kaplow's then-new novel about a young actor who performed in Orson Welles's legendary 1937 production of Julius Caesar. (The ukulele connnection? The kid played a ukulele that was tricked out to look like a lute.)

Now the film adaptation of "Me and Orson Welles" is hitting the theatres with Zac Ephron starring as the young uke-player (aged for the film to provide a heartthrob marketing angle, we suspect). Now all we need is a High School Musical ukulele to make this a trifecta. And, wonders of wonders, there is one.

My favorite angle to the story? Author Robert Kaplow is perhaps better known to NPR listeners (of a certain vintage) as Moe Moskowitz. Link

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Jake and Two Queens

Congratulations to Jake Shimabukuro on being invited team up with Bette Midler in a performance before Queen Elizabeth on December 7th.
"I was shocked to hear that Bette Midler knew my music. I've been a huge fan of hers for many years," said Jake. "She's like a queen of entertainment. And to be performing with her for the Queen of England... it's a bit too much for me. I'm just so honored."
Quite a line-up for the event. (But...wonder what HRH will make of Lady Gaga...) Link

Monday, November 23, 2009

Craig Robertson: Interview | Ukulele Hunt

Great. As if Craig needs his ego stoked any more. My only consolation is that he'll now have to go out and buy a half dozen new fedoras, 1/4" larger. Just for this, I'm going to post the Ukulelia Holiday Songbook again this year. Link

(Kidding, Craig.)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Cigar Box Ukulele Kit

Ukulelia founder and Boing Boing editor Mark Frauenfelder blogs about a cigar box ukulele kit he received from Papa's Boxes. Sez he plans to work on it over Thanksgiving. Link

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Arthur Godfrey: Uke Tuning Advocate

Another historical tidbit from Billboard today. Arthur Godfrey off on a rant about non-standardized uke tunings in sheet music. Warns that the Second Wave will be just another fad unless everyone picks a tuning and just sticks with it. Also vilifies makers of junk ukuleles flooding the market. Don't cross Uncle Arthur. Link

Kaye Offers Uke Plan to MPPA; Pubbers Cool

Read about bandleader Sammy Kaye's 1950 plan to create a non-profit co-operative publishing venture devoted to developing tunes especially suited to the ukulele. It was an interesting idea aimed at ultimately generating business for sheet music publishers as apparently fewer people were playing the piano. The "Pubbers" were "cool" to the idea (in the pre-hipster meaning of "cool"). Link

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Curious Case of Benjamin Formby?

Here's an odd George Formby album cover from the 1970's that makes George look alive, well, and about 40 years younger than he would have been at the time. (He died in 1961.)

What is this? Some creepy cut and paste job, or a colorized photo of George in garb that coincidentally returned to style in the '70s? Or is Georgie now a babe in a cradle with his little ukulele in his hands a la Benjamin Button. Creepy. Link

More girls, more glasses, more ukuleles...

Ingrid Michaelson performs "Maybe" Live at WTMD

Monday, November 16, 2009

King/Tranquada Journal Article

A highly recommended download: a pdf of John King and Jim Tranquada's "New History of the Origins and Development of the 'Ukulele, 1838-1915" from vol. 37 of The Hawaiian Journal of History (2003). Link

Tangi Ukulele Owner Savagely Beaten

I will let the news article and accompanying video speak to the atrocity of all this. Blackford "Tangi" Tully, maker of Tangi ukuleles, was savagely beaten during an attempted robbery. He's in the hospital, and, also a victim of the economy. The downturn left him without enough money to pay his insurance. Some folks over on the Flea Market Music BB have posted information if you'd like to send aloha and a few dollars his way. (Go directly to the you to the BB post for the latest, just in case details change.) Link

Astro Boy Uke

If you're a fan of Mighty Atom, aka Astro Boy (and read Japanese), you'll love this themed uke made by Greco. (They have other manga themed ukes, too. The only other one I recognize is Kimba the White Lion.) Just in time, too. Link

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Pink Elephant...

The Old Blind Mole Orkestra from France is led by an amazing ukulele player and songwriter named Steve...this is their new video. dig it.

Whahoo WIUO!

Cool. As a lone wolf, I’m not often attracted to groups of ukulele players all bashing along on the same song.

But…the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra from New Zealand is a marvelous example of how it should be done. Their enthusiasm for the music and excellent cover choices dovetail perfectly with their vocal arrangements. And they ARE arrangements. Different singers are singing harmonies and counterpoint and whatnot.

Check out their joyous, spot-on cover of Prince’s “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man”.

Their Website

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


If you live in Toronto and are completely unaware of the massive goings-on centered around the Corktown Ukulele Jam, you must be living in the same black hole I'm currently in. Check out this amazing community with all haste, eh? Link

Friday, November 06, 2009

George Formby Handbills

This chap has posted several vintage handbills advertising George Formby appearances. Link

Peghed Tuners Now Available on Flukes

This is pretty neat. Peghed brand geared tuners are now available as an upgrade option on Flea and Fluke ukuleles. They look like old-school friction pegs, but have 4:1 planetary gears cleverly hidden inside. Order 'em via the Flea Market Music site.

New Takamine Guitars Jake Shimabukuro Designed Ukulele

If you've followed Jake Shimabukuro for a while, you know that he devotes a good deal of time in support of Music is Good Medicine (MIGM), a non-profit community support organization. Well, the Mother Teresa of the Ukulele has teamed up with Takimine Guitars to produce a new uke aimed at the mass market. (Update: MIGM informs us that the uke is not a "signature" model, a designation that applies only to Jake's Kamaka model. It's officially being referred to as the "MIGM Ukulele.")

As one would expect, Shimabukuro wanted the new uke to be a real player, but affordable to as many people as possible (especially kids). A quick glance at the press shot of the uke shows some unexpected details in an entry-level instrument, notably the long neck (14 frets to the body) and extended fretboard (19 frets altogether!).

The MIGM uke will play a key role in supporting “Four Strings for Kids,” a program dedicated to making the ukulele available to children all over the world. A portion of the online only sales of the uke will go to support MIGM's outreach programs.

It's scheduled to go on sale early 2010. Link

Kepasa Ukuleles

This is the first installment in what I hope will become a monthly feature on Ukulelia. Each month I will discuss a maker of custom ukuleles; how they look, how they sound, why you should get one. This is more or less subjective on my part, although I have bought and sold string instruments all my life (Is this self-serving? Probably, but it's the way I'm going to approach it.). I won’t discuss any instrument in this series that I haven’t actually played.

Before I get into a specific builder, I guess there is the question of “why?”. Why buy a custom ukulele when there are so many good production ones out there now?

For me, the answer to that is easy. I like to think that the music I make is unique and personal. I think all musicians consider their sound unique and personal. One step in achieving that is having an instrument that was designed specifically for you. To produce a sound that is specific to you.

The other reason is to have a dependable instrument to play that, no matter how much you play it, you never discover all the sounds it can make. Sometimes when I look at a ukulele I just want to play it so I can hear it make “that sound”.

To start off, I’m going to take a look at Kepasa Ukulele in Burlington, Vermont. The luthier is Kevin Crossett.

Kevin’s building philosophy is outlined on his website:

Build light, build loud, build often! Kepasa Ukuleles are designed to have a full and warm tone. I prefer this sound for fingerstyle ukulele and chord/melody style ukulele.

I enjoy studying the art of tap-tuning the top and back. Part of this is done by paying attention to wood thicknesses and strengths for each wood type, and shaping the braces to get the sound that is the most optimal from each particular ukulele. I start with a certain plan for each ukulele and I adjust accordingly along the way by communicating with the ukulele in progress. Sometimes the wood whispers to me...”

(above: left; a mahogany Josephine and right; a Koa model)

The two Kepasas I own are based on the Stewart “LeDomino” from the Twenties. They have a 14” scale, which is between a soprano and a concert, and are strung with concert gauge strings. This gives them a punchy, loud sound with a lot of depth. Although the top of a ukulele is important to the production of sound, the “body sound” what defines and broadens the sound. Kevin’s ukuleles have a warm sound. The mahogany ones are darker with more sustain and the koa ones have a surprising amount of bottom end.

The necks are fast and smooth and the ones with a 14” scale give just a bit more room. The saddle is compensated. I’m not one who ‘scopes the intonation, but I can hear if it’s off. I still feel conflicted about “strings through the body” method of anchoring the strings; it makes them harder to change, but I never worry about the bridge flying off. (I have had that happen occasionally with older ukuleles). Kevin makes a number of "standard" styles, these are just one of them.

This is a video of me playing a Kepasa “Josephine” in mahogany; (I'm not a great believer in "audio samples". The recording process always adds something to the sound; so this is how it sounds when I record it. Your results may vary...)

Right now Kevin’s prices are extremely reasonable, but the demand for his instruments is going up. Kevin, himself, is a great, easygoing guy and a joy to work with. Cheerful and self-effacing, he will give you a due date and stick to it. (This is a good thing in the world of luthiers). He has a music store in Burlington (Guitar Sams) and has a great ear for the sound of a good instrument.

Rather than make these articles too long and unreadable, I have opted for hitting the high points. If you want more info, contact Kevin; he's an easy guy to talk to.

Kepasa Ukulele Website

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

BNZ Ukulele Festival

Might New Zealand take the prize for the World's Largest Ukulele Orchestra? Head to the BNZ Ukulele Festival on November 21st and find out! Link
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