Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Post-Xmas Jump Start Classes

Is Santa bringing someone you love a ukulele for Christmas? I'm teaching my second annual I Got a Ukulele for Christmas workshops on Saturday, December 27th at Lamorinda Music, in beautiful Lafayette, CA. One for kids, another for teens and up! Link

On This Christmas Eve - Rachel Manke

A little Christmas present for all our dear readers, courtesy of Rachel Manke. An old Mills Brothers tune, On This Christmas Eve.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Rediscovering Nee Wong

Finally, the kind of story we like to sink our teeth into around here at Ukulelia.

We recently ran across this video of an unidentified ukulele player, which is remarkable for several reasons. Here's what seems to be known about the film.

This early talkie was produced by Theodore Case, inventor of the sound-on-film system later marketed as the Movietone sound system. Movietone's big competitor was Vitaphone, which relied on sound recorded on phonograph-style disks, and which required a certain amount of skill on the part of the projectionist to ensure that the sound was synched up with the film. Because Movietone recorded audio to the film stock directly via an optical process, the result was superior synchronization.

This film archive indicates that the film was probably shot after 1925, and lists the subject as:
"A variety performer dressed in traditional Chinese garb sings “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby” while accompanying himself on ukulele."
A little sleuthing on our part leads us to identify the performer as vaudeville performer Nee Wong. Wong is described in contemporary billing as "a regular Chinese 'Ukulele Ike'" and "The Gentleman of the Orient":
"One of vaudeville's most talented entertainers in Nee Wong, a lackadaisical young Chinese (sic). Nee Wong can make a ukelele (sic) talk. He sings American songs and translates them into Chinese, giving his audience a little lesson in Chinese pronunciation." Link
"Nee Wong, the Chinese entertainer, evidently has captured England.This fact is attested by the glowing reviews in the English dailies and the trade papers. Nee is modest about his success. In a letter he writes simply and directly: 'The audiences where I have played seem to like my style of working immensely and I will continue to try and entertain them in other places where I am booked.' The London Stage thought him better than ordinary and had this to say relative to his debut: 'Nee Wong, described as Gentleman of the Orient, has an important place in the programme. He has unusual gifts as a player of the ukulele and a confidential style in conversation that is not without its appeal.' The Encore was equally enthusiastic. Anyway, Wong's services are much in demand, as he is also headed for Paris for an indefinite stay." Link
Here's the only photo we've been been able to find of Nee Wong, from the sheet music cover of There's a Little White House on a Little Green Hill. This is the best resolution we could achieve, but we're pretty sure that based on date of the sheet music (1926) and the descriptions of Wong's act that we're looking at the same performer here as in the video.

Back to the video. What we love about this short is its high resolution and excellent audio synch. (Compare it to the early Vitaphone short we unearthed seven years ago here.) Wong plays with a finger-thumb double strum technique that we often hear on recordings of Wong's contemporaries like Frank Crumit. Take advantage of YouTube's playback speed options to watch Wong at half-speed (click on the little gear icon). The audio remains synched at normal pitch and you can see exactly how he's executing his strums.

If anyone has any further information about Nee Wong, please leave a comment or drop us an email.

UPDATE (albeit belated): A wealth of information about Nee Wong (real name Alfredo C. Oppus) at this link.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Ukulele Tote Bags by Ivy Arch

We've seen quilted uke gig bags before, and Ivy Arch's are lovely, but we think the ukulele tote bags are a real standout! Made in the UK. Link


Graphic designer Jen Rickard Blair illustrated a series of images of a beagle and ukuleles. Considering this final panel, I wonder if Jen is more of a beagle person. Link

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Zimnicki Ukuleles on CBS

Nice profile on Gary Zimnicki and the instruments he builds out of wood reclaimed from dismantled Detroit houses. That's Rob Bourassa on guitar. Link

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Christmas Carols for Ukulele Orchestra

M. Ryan Taylor has authored a number of specialty ukulele songbooks. His most recent is Christmas Carols for Ukulele Orchestra.

Ryan was kind enough to send us a reviewer's copy. As Ryan notes, included are:
"Campanella-style ukulele arrangements for 3 or more players (2 or more if your group includes singers). Orchestral-style instrumental parts include both tablature and standard notation. Rhythm ukulele parts include the melody line, lyrics, chords and strumming/fingerpicking indications."
Many Christmas carols are extremely simple, which makes them great for beginners, but boring for more advanced players, especially if they're shy about singing (and many of my students are!). With this book of arrangements, Taylor has given us a bevy of orchestral arrangements, which more advanced groups of players will find challenging and satisfying. Recommended for teachers or leaders of clubs/circles with players who are comfortable with fingerpicking and tablature, and who will be patient in practicing and learning individual parts. Link

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Mysteries of Friction Tuners, REVEALED!

Barry Maz has posted a nice video explaining the ins and outs of friction tuners. (They're still my favorite: I always feel as though I'm always bumping geared tuners out of tune. Certainly, putting a uke with geared tuners into a gig bag always seems to.) Link

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Get Plucky with the Ukulele

Do you feel plucky, punk? Well do you?

The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain's Will Grove-White has a new book coming out on October 6, 2014. Will's site has a bunch of interesting music and trivia and is worth checking out in any event. Link

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Vote in the Fall 2014 Ukulele Magazine Video Contest

The swell folks at Ukulele Magazine have posted a video contest. Each entrant is performing one of four songs pre-selected by the editors. Vote for your favorite! The winner receives a new LuLu ukulele. (Disclaimer: yes, I've written for the magazine; no, I'm not one of the entrants.) View and vote here.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


A little hard to parse out this article from The Daily Express, but here 'tis. The UOOGB, aka the Original One, tried to keep the knock-off TUKUO from performing in the UK, claiming that the latter's name might confuse consumers and thus infringes on their trademark.

They failed to get the injunction, but it seems that the trademark issue is yet to be settled. A court date is forthcoming.

Maybe the knock-offs should change their name to the First United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra. Think about it.


(Thanks, Random!)

It's Uketoberfest Time!

Happy Fall, everyone! Yes, it's that time of year when our thoughts turn to cider, football, autumn leaves, and, naturally Uketoberfest. We noticed that there are now two such-named events, which we wistfully mention here.

I say "wistfully," because I've learned that the major drawback of becoming a ukulele teacher is that one is never free to go on all these wonderful cruises, burnings, campouts, retreats, junkets, or boondoggles.

Uketoberfest, Springfield, Oregon: October 10-12, 2014

  • The oldest (to our knowledge) Uketoberfest. Across the river from Eugene.
  • Instructors/performers include Aaron Keim, Ben Bonham, Ronnie Ontiveros, Brook Adams, Casey Macgill, and Maggie Matoba.

Uketoberfest, Interlochen, Michigan: Saturday, October 4, 2014

  • Held at the ledgendary Interlochen Center for the Arts. South of Traverse City.
  • Instructors/performers include The Ukulele Kings (Ben Hassenger, Pat Mallory, and Steve Szilagyi), Gerald Ross, Danielle Ate the Sandwich, and Chester Winowiecki.
Helpful footnote: the annual Chicago, Illinois Uketoberfest already happened in August. But then, it's a Ukrainian festival, so while we're sure it was a splendid event, ukulele enthusiasts probably didn't miss too much. - Editor

Kiwi Travel Writer on Kamaka

Sharon Stephenson wrote a nice breezy piece featuring a trip to the Kamaka factory. On new (to me, at least) bit of information from Fred Kamaka is that Sam traveled to Europe at one point to learn about construction. Link

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Give Peace a Chance

In celebration of Peace Day, September 21, 2014, a subset of the UOGB channels John, Yoko, and--the room service guy, I guess.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Doghair Finish Collings Concert

Wow. This is the most remarkable looking ukulele I've seen in years.

"Doghair" finish mahogany, with an ivoroid binding and mother of toilet seat headstock.

It looks like it should be called the Edward Gorey Signature Model. Link

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Nick Lucas and Buster Keaton

Apparently taken on the set of The General, here's Buster Keaton and Nick Lucas (who made Tiptoe Through the Tulips a hit). With occasional Chaplin actor Tom Murray holding the cases.


Danielle Pellizzeri Finds Her (Ukulele) Calling

Inspiring story of a Palos Verdes teen who overcame ADHD and established a non-profit aimed at helping kids believe in themselves and their potential via our favorite four-stringed instrument. Link

Read more about her organization, UkeCANdoit here. And check out her original song. Danielle has a great voice, too boot!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Wine Country Ukulele Festival Registration Closing Soon!

There is one and only one reason to miss a minute of the fabulous Wine Country Ukulele Festival this year. And that's because you're coming to my ukulele class at Lamorinda Music on September 6.

Yes, I blew it, and scheduled our first class on that Saturday.

But good news! The festival events run from Thursday the 4th through Sunday the 7th. Plus you'll have plenty of time after the class to drive up for the new super-special open mike event Saturday night.

More info at this link.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Sarah Marie Young

A friend of mine mentioned that her niece sang and played the ukulele at her sister's wedding and pointed me to her Soundcloud page. I thought since she was nice enough to point me to the page I'd take a listen. I expected to hear a girl and a ukulele. I did not expect to be completely blown away.

Ever fall deeply in love with a voice at first hearing? I just did.

Sarah Marie Young won the 2011 Shure Montreaux Vocal Competition armed with a baritone uke and the most impressive set of pipes I've heard in a long time. I'm postively intoxicated. Ukulele fans will enjoy her work on Too Late to Say Goodbye, or on Simple Love (video above), but hang around and hear her full range of styles.

I'm cutting this short to go listen to more. Link

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Unlikely Scenario

Something's fishy. Invitation extended, check. Personal hygiene attended to, check. Bow tie tied (no clip-on!), check. Uke tuned, check. Pillows swiped from mom's sofa, check. Gentlemanly greeting at the familial front door, check. All the right bait used. Confounding. Link

(Via Uke Hunt, cont.)

Dean Torrence of Jan and Dean Leads Surf City Ukeshop

Dean Torrence, together with former Beach Boys member Chris Farmer, is leading uke lessons at the Huntington Beach Hyatt now through September 9th, 2014. The class got a nice write-up in the LA Times and you can find more information about workshops and souvenir packages on the Gallery HB website.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

UH Manoa Ukulele Uke Ad Archive

Boing Boing's Xeni Jardin points us to this flickr set of vintage ukulele ads posted by the University of Hawaii Manoa. Link

Friday, June 13, 2014

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

'Apanhei-te Cavaquinho' Ukulele Episode

Here is part 4 of a 4-part Portuguese documentary on the Cavaquinho, a relative of our favorite 4-stringed instrument. This segment explores the Hawaiian branch of the family. Narration is in Portuguese, but the interviews in Hawaii are in English. Because he's talking to a musicologist and not a reporter, Jake actually has some insightful things to say about the way he thinks about orchestrating strings in his arrangements. Link

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Quilted Ukulele Case Tutorial

Do you sew? Here's a great tutorial on how to sew a custom uke bag.


Subscribe to the Ukelist

Rhan Wilson calls The Ukelist "THE source of ukulele information for everyone in California and beyond." It's true. Events lists, teachers, classes, classifieds.

If you're on the Left Coast, we highly recommend signing up for Rhan's email feed! Link

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Lil Rev's / Harmonica Americana CD

Marc Revenson, aka Lil Rev, is crowdfunding his upcoming Harmonica CD. Rev assures me there'll be plenty of ukulele on the album.

I use Rev's method books with all my ukulele students and recommend them highly! Join me in supporting this big contributor to the wonderfully small world of the of wonderfully small ukulele.

Donate Here (Sponsor Gifts Available!)

Uke Nerd of the Day

You Know Who plays TV and Movie Theme Songs

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Ukulele Boogloo Lives!

In the wonderfully small world of the ukulele department, I bumped into Jerrold Connors, creator of the Ukulele Boogaloo site, yesterday at a taqueria. I first met Jerrold at the NoCal Ukulele Festival in the early Aughts not long after Mark Frauenfelder invited me to help edit Ukulelia.

Back in those early days, there wasn't a ton of ukulele information on the web, and Ukulele Boogaloo had one of the first big song libraries. It still does.

Jerrold's gotten busy on some other projects, so it's been a while since he's been able to update Boogaloo. If you've never visited, pop on over. It still ranks high on Google, a testament to Jerrold's vision and effort in building it in the first place.


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Slayer: War Ensemble on a Ukulele

Rob Scallon shreds.

Digg sez the ukulele "might be at the direct intersection of 'painfully trendy' and 'lame to begin with'". Agree?

Via Digg

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Pohaku Ukulele: The Movie Epic

Here are the next best 27 minutes of your life. Watch as Peter Hurney goes from rough-sawn blocks to a finished soprano, masterfully strummed by the inimitable Steven Strauss (inimitable, I know, because I've tried).

Peter's production volume is extremely limited. In part, because he's such a methodical and persnickety builder. In part, too, I suspect, because he's invested so much time in engineering and building a bewildering array of custom ukulele building tools and jigs. You can't tell it from this video, but Peter's shop is a modest garden shed, with the space utilized as cleverly as his tools. Kind of the Studley Tool Chest of workshops.

Peter is truly a maker's maker. Someday I'll be lucky enough to have him build one for me. Link

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Gary Zimnicki's Sweet Ukes…from Abandoned Homes

Here's luthier Gary Zimnicki talking about building the instruments he's making out of the wood from abandoned housed in Detroit. Proud to say that I helped him with this idea (in the video he credits his son and "a friend"--I suspect I'm "the friend"). And thrilled to hear Gary's reclaimed wood ukulele played by Rob Bourassa.

More at the article on Detroit Performs.

Gary Zimnicki's Sweet Ukes…from Abandoned Homes

Here's luthier Gary Zimnicki talking about building the instruments he's making out of the wood from abandoned housed in Detroit. Proud to say that I helped him with this idea (in the video he credits his son and "a friend"--I suspect I'm "the friend"). And thrilled to hear Gary's reclaimed wood ukulele played by Rob Bourassa.

More at the article on Detroit Performs.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Still Time to Catch Rev in California

Catching up on a few things. Missed a few dates (apologies, Rev) but there's still time to catch Lil' Rev on his 2014 California tour. Make the trip: you won't regret it.

Modesto on the 11th (Workshop and concert w/ The Fun Strummers)

Grass Valley on the 12th  (House Concert @ Dan Scanlan’s)

Sacramento on the 13 of March  (Workshop and Concert at The Strum Shop)


Sunday, March 09, 2014

Outdoor Ukulele BOGO

This is cool: be among the first 200 to pre-order an Outdoor Ukulele tenor model and they'll include a matching soprano with your order. $150 for two ukes!


Sunday, February 16, 2014

'Til the Plows Come Home

Rachel Manke chills out with her spin on Jack Little and Joe Young's "I 'Wanna' Count Sheep - Till the Cows Come Home".

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Wheels on the (Tech) Bus

Here in Ukuleliastan, there are storm clouds brewing over the big Silicon Valley tech companies providing free bus service to employees. I caught this animated political cartoon by Mark Fiore and immediately recognized the singer and uker as the inimitable Ukulady, Thessaly LernerLink

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Ukulele Restoration Barn

Simon has restored more banjo ukuleles than you probably thought existed on the planet. Many lovely resurrections within. Link

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Ukulele Joe Thomas

Meet Omaha's second most famous–and until now, mostly mysterious–ukulele player, Ukulele Joe Thomas.

Ukulele documentarian (rockumentarian? ukumentarian?Bill Robertson has been searching for information on Mr. Thomas for 11 years. He finally heard back from the Douglas County [Nebraska] Historical Society yesterday. From the Society's facebook page:
"Let me introduce you to Ukulele Joe Thomas, a native of New Orleans and longtime Omahan, where he worked as private chef for the Union Pacific, often for the organization's top management when they traveled. 
Joe was also a musician, singer, and songwriter, and on his travels with UP frequently appeared at radio stations along his route. He and his ukulele appeared constantly on Omaha radio from the 1930 to the 1950s. 
Locally, Ukulele Joe was known as the "singing chef," and he had turned his entire home kitchen into an impromptu concert hall."

(h/t Wm Preston Robertson)

Monday, January 27, 2014

Aaron Kuehn - Ukulele Typogram

Artist Aaron Kuehn has created a clever typogram: an illustration of a ukulele almost entirely out of type. Sez Aaron:
"A tiny mas­ter­piece of typo­lutherie, the UKULELE TYPOGRAM tunes and con­di­tions your ‘uke-abulary, and upgrades the orthog­ra­phy of chord shapes for aspir­ing vir­tu­osi. A muse for the re-entranted."
.pdf files of the art are available for $5. Check it out.


Licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported license.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Stien Bovijn

Meet the mysterious Stien Bovijn, Belgian beatboxer and ukulele chanteuse. We haven't found much about her, but she has a lovely voice. Her tracks "17" and "Slow Down" are real standouts. Listen here.

Photo credit: Jeroen Van Nieuwenhove

Magic Fluke Ukuleles and Violins

Finally! The Magic Fluke Company, makers of the terrific Fluke, Flea, and Firefly ukes now has a website. They're making violins now, too. Say Hi to Phyllis and Dale Webb.


Thursday, January 23, 2014

S'Wonderful, Mr. Godfrey

Having a stressful week. This helped. Hope it does for you, too.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Rhymes With "Darling" Ukers

Check out this charming shot by Spidra Webster from the recent Cheap Suit Serenaders show at the Freight and Salvage in Berkeley. Link

Do these kids remind you of Jeremy and Jemima from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang? They do me.

This impressive duet must have certainly been a tough act to follow. That's Ukulelia Perfesser Emirates Robert Armstrong on the musical bedpan behind them.

I checked with the kids' mom, who tells me that video of their performance was shot, but didn't make the grade. As a consolation, imagine they're every bit as good as Joel Eckhaus and (pastor) Rachel Manke. (I'm certain they were.)

The Jamie Oliver of Music Education?

Richmond, VA based music educator Samson Trinh hopes to become the Jamie Oliver of music education. And the uke's his stock pot.

Check out this nice profile of Samson and his Uke'N'Roll program in today's USA Today.

And learn more about Samson's programs on his website.

Happy cooking, Samson!

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Booming Business of Ukuleles

The (ahem) idiot-proof ukulele is being credited with boosting small, independent music stores across the country. Read all about it in this CNN Money report, which also features a nice video interview of uke maker Mike DaSilvaLink

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Greatest Ukulele Gift of the Year

I'm not sure if the link below will work for you, as I'm not sure what the FB permissions setting is, but I'll repeat the story.

Earlier in 2013, Alan "Ukisociety" Brandt sold his custom Tom Guy maple tenor (the one he's playing in the above video) to raise money to adopt a child. The ukulele changed hands several times during the year until the last buyer, Edwin Gilkison, noticed Alan's name inside and, after finding out why Alan sold it, gave it back to him.

Hats off to Mr. Gilkison, Official Ukulelia Hero of 2013. What a loving gesture.

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