All posts by Mark

About Mark

The ukulele has quickly got me to a standard where I can play along with a group of people in a pub, something which, when I first picked up a uke, was my goal. Now, my goal is to keep having fun with 'me little ukulele in me hand'.

I have been playing since 2011, and I am a teacher.

The Queen Vic

On tuesday night we went down to help launch Lauren Mason’s new Open Mic night at the Queen Vic pub in Shalford.

It was a well attended evening, with some familiar faces, with mix of superb guitarists. We played acoustically as it’s too much hassle to worry about plugging in and mic’ing six people (Cathy couldn’t be there) – we got a really good response, we opened with our usual starter of ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’ and there were lots of mobile phones being whipped out.

Photos of the event can be see on our facebook page, and the Queen Vic had published their video of us by the time we all got home.

Byfleet Library – Gig Report

We were invited to play at Byfleet library, the library had been run by volunteers for a year, and this was their anniversary event.

The idea was that we’d play outside the library as people came and went. It was a useful event for us, our first field test of all our kit that we’ve assembled. This wasn’t our first electrified gig, but it was the first with all our own stuff.

We had all sorts of difficulties, as at one point we had no sound at all, but fortunately the problem was fixed, and we played. The volume was a little low (higher power PA on the wishlist) – but after a break we adjusted things so our PA was at its limits, and it survived.

Getting ready to play at Byfleet

At one point, we were approached by Oliver, a lad in his mid teens who ran home to get his ukulele, and asked to join in – we were more than happy to oblige!

There were plenty of children who seemed to be enjoying our set, including some dancers in pink coats who took a ukeaholics card to stick on their fridge – and the nice man from the Surrey Ad came to take pictures.

At the end we’d gathered a small crowd (it’s always good to finish with more people than you had at the start) and we were asked if we’d be available for other events – to which the answer is "sure – if our diaries are clear"

We hope the good people of byfleet liked having us there, for us, it was a very useful event for ironing out wrinkles in our songs on the march toward international superstardom (ahem!)

Ukulele Shops – Southern Ukulele Store

This is another article in our occasional look at ukulele stores. Note that if you buy from a specialist store, it may cost you a little more than from a bulk supplier (e.g. amazon) online, but you get access to advice and expertise, and you can try out the instrument, and paying a small premium to ensure that this facility survives can be worthwhile.

The Southern Ukulele Store is a fantastic little store in Southbourne, Bournemouth (there is parking just around the corner on Woodside Road). Their physical shop is called ‘Music is Life’.

Due to their location, they’re more likely to be an internet stockist for many people, and their website is really well put together.

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They have quite a sizeable ukulele collection, with many options – and a knowledgeable staff who seem more interested in matching you to the ukulele you require than just ‘making the sale’ – they want you to come back.

I have been very pleased with the customer service at this store, in late 2011 I bought a hard case from them by mail order, which began to fail in the summer of 2012 – and when I visited them with the case they replaced it on the spot. When visiting, I spent some time playing with the display ukuleles – at no time did I feel pressure to make a decision to buy, and as a result I did indeed buy from them (as soon as I feel pressure, I tend to leave a store).

When, I bought a electro-acoustic uke from them that had a problem with the pickup, and they dealt with the issue with speed and efficiency. Yes, I would have prefered not to have had the issue, but that wasn’t the fault of the store. In my (admittedly limited) experience, this is a great place to go for your ukulele needs.

The Southern Ukulele Store is a good supplier of accessories, such as spare strings, cases and the like, and they are a store that I’d certainly recommend.

Ukulele Shops – Andertons

This is another article in our occasional look at ukulele stores. Note that if you buy from a specialist store, it may cost you a little more than from a bulk supplier (e.g. amazon) online, but you get access to advice and expertise, and you can try out the instrument, and paying a small premium to ensure that this facility survives can be worthwhile.

Andertons is a store based in Guildford. Though it is a sizeable shop, they have only a modest ukulele collection. As I write, they don’t stock the very cheap Mahalo/Makala instruments, though they do have reasonably priced instruments from Stagg and Vintage, both of which can make a quality instrument for a beginner – a reasonable entry on the price/quality spectrum.

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It can be tricky to park near Andertons in busy periods, there are spaces outside the store (give consideration to driving away, I prefer to reverse into the space as otherwise to leave there is a reverse onto a main road) – or on the opposite side of the road (crossing is difficult). Failing that, there are car parks in the town centre. The ukuleles are on the left hand side just past the counter.

Andertons is very geared up for the guitar, and so it has seemed to me that the ukes are a bit of an afterthought. Their ukulele collection is growing as there is a strong uke scene in Guildford, but the choice is still rather limited – however, I bought my first uke from them (a concert stagg acoustic uke) and it has served very well despite being dropped on the floor of the pub several times.

Andertons is not a uke specialist, but it is a well established music store, and the ukes they do stock are very sound.

Ukulele Shops – Macari

This is another article in our occasional look at ukulele stores. Note that if you buy from a store, it may cost you a little more than online, but you get access to advice and expertise, and you can try out the instrument. If you want your local store to survive, it’s worth paying a small premium for this facility.

Like Wunjo, Macaris are a London based shop, with branches on Denmark Street and Charing Cross Road. The main Charing Cross Road store is rather busy and has a lot of passing trade, but they have a much quieter basement.

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As you enter Macaris, immediately on the right there is a ‘wall of ukulele’. There’s a significant number of ‘novelty’ ukes there, which can be quite fun. They’ve quite a few other instruments near the entrance that could be classed as ‘impulse buys’, such as the stylophone and mouth harp. Generally speaking, if you’re more than three feet from the door it gets both more serious and quieter.

Due to their location, Macaris get a lot of people wandering in from a busy street, and as a result it can feel quite busy. I have been in there several times and I regret to report that I’ve felt it to be quite a rushed environment. As a result the staff have on occasion been a little brusque. It is understandable given how busy they can get, but regrettable, especially when one is going from shop to shop deciding between different options – this is a store to visit outside of peak hours, if you can.

They’re certainly worth a visit, and they have items in their that you would find difficult to source elsewhere.

Macaris website.

Making a Ukulele Case – Case one

I wanted to make my own ukulele case. I used 6mm ply for the box and 12mm ply for the lid. Ridiculously, for most people this won’t be a cheaper option than buying commercially, but there is a sense of satisfaction – and I have enough raw materials to make several cases which brings the per case cost down. This is therefore my first case, and the plan is for there to be more.

The first step was to measure the ukulele. I placed the ukulele on the 6mm ply and drew around it, then cut out a straight edge shape which enclosed the uke, with room to spare. Using this shape as a guide, I cut side walls to fit.

Here was mistake one – I only have a ‘jigsaw’ type of saw, a circular saw would have given me straighter edges – and so when it came to putting the box together, there were gaps. This wasn’t too big a problem as I would be covering these.

I used some wood at each corner and screwed the sides into it, reinforcing with plenty of wood glue (which helped fill the gaps).

This shows the newly constructed ukulele case. Note the sides are held on with both glue and screws.

This is a close up of the first uke case I constructed. Wood glue is used to hold the sides on, as well as filling out some of the gaps due to dodgy cutting. The blocks are there to allow me to screw the sides together and provide additional mechanical fastening.

To make the lid to fit, I used the box itself to draw onto the 12mm ply before cutting (I should have done this by cutting both lid and base at the same time, clamping the 6mm and 12mm ply together).

If I had a tablesaw I would have made a solid box, and then sliced it into base and lid afterwards, making a thicker lid section.

Next, I covered the box and lid in canvas, held on by glue and spraypainted red. This hid the imperfections in the box itself. I added a black piece of webbing (again glued) to prevent any edges of canvas ‘starting to ‘lift’ (I had the ends of the case done like a birthday present), and attached the lid to the base with hinges and fasteners.

Spraypainted and covered ukulele case

The fasteners I chose are quite sensitive to positioning, it is very easy to get it too loose or too tight. The trick is to fasten the smaller section to the lid, and then use this to position the clasp ‘in situ’, just below where it wants to sit naturally whilst ‘closed’. On the clasps that I bought, the clasp hinge was actually a small slot, and so pushing in on the clasp slides the hinge away from the box and gives a ‘locking’ effect. There’s also a place to put a locking pin should the clasp be too loose.

To make a handle I used a piece of webbing and screwed it to the case using several screws, this was backed up with more glue. I glued a second piece of webbing inside the first in order to hide the screw heads and make a thicker handle.

My next step was to line the case. I used an old camping mat to pad the base and lid,leaving a gap for the bridge. I got a block of foam from a local habidashers. Simply cutting the foam with a knife to give me the shape of my uke – for the neck I cut out the chunk of foam, and then sliced this in half so I would have foam under the neck. With headstock I just cut the foam away completely as the ukulele was held securely elsewhere.

I got some foam cut at a local fabric store, and cut the inserts myself with a knife.

Finally, I wrapped the foam in faux-fur material (tasteful) held on with fabric glue. This makes for a very snug fit with my uke, but fit it does.

LIning foam with some faux-fur material

It may not be the neatest job, but all in all I’m quite pleased with it – and I’ve learned some lessons that I’m already applying to case two, a larger case for a concert ukulele.

Ukulele Shops – Wunjos

This is the first in a series of posts about places to buy Ukuleles. Note that if you buy from a store, it may cost you a little more than online, but you get access to advice and expertise, and you can try out the instrument. If you want your local store to survive, it’s worth paying a small premium for this facility.

If you are visiting London, Denmark street (otherwise known as ‘Tin Pan Alley’) is a superb place to spend some time.

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Wunjos actually has two stores a few doors apart, and though they move things around from time to time, one tends to be more ‘guitar’ oriented, the other has lapsteels, mandolins etc – it is worth going into both as at different times I’ve seen ukes move from one store to the other. (Update: THREE stores, they’ve just opened ‘Wunjo Keys’ for keyboard players)

Wunjos are very friendly, and have a good range of uke from Mahalo costing a few tens of pounds up to antique ukes costing thousands. They don’t pressure sell, and are very good with advice (especially to new players). They also have a good range of hard cases for your uke, as well as accessories like spare strings and electronic tuners. I think they’re best for the ‘mid range’ uke – ukes which start to cost three figures.

Wunjos have a fantastic upstairs room in their larger shop and currently this holds their ‘folk and hawaiian‘ instruments, i.e. ukulele.

Their website (at the time of writing) doesn’t do the shop justice, I think. In terms of ukulele it often only shows a fraction of their range. Wunjos are best visited in person.

To summarise, Wunjos are, to date, my personal favourite ‘bricks and mortar’ shop the Denmark St area of London.

My First Ukulele

My first Ukulele was a Stagg Concert, a UC-60S. I got this as it wasn’t too expensive, but it wasn’t the cheapest either. I didn’t want to spend too much in case I didn’t take to this ukulele thing, but I didn’t want to go very cheap and have a bad experience. It was also what my local music store had in stock.

So I bought it.

Ukulele Bridge
Close up of the Bridge on my Stagg Concert acoustic Uke

I soon found that I needed a tuner, if I’m new to an instrument, how can I hope to know if a problem is me, or if it is that I’ve an out of tune instrument? So I bought a small electrical clip-on snark tuner and I tuned up. I soon found that my strings were not holding their tuning. New strings take a while to settle down and require frequent tuning – just what you need as a novice! Fortunately, there are ways to help the strings keep their tune (see the end of the video).

I had my ukulele. Now what? Well, I signed up for some lessons with the lovely Lorraine, and in the meantime I downloaded some songbooks from the internet. By following chord diagrams I learned to play simple two chord songs, then learned a third chord (a song such as ‘Ring of Fire’), and eventually four chords. In this way, I gradually learned the more useful chords and began to pick up speed. Indeed, I went at such as pace that Lorraine’s ‘beginners’ class seemed rather slow for me when it came. This was great progress, I was able to play an instrument!

I may not have been great, but when I started I had said to myself ‘I’ll be happy just to strum along to a few songs’.

I joined a local ukulele group (there are groups all over the world) – and fortnightly went to a local pub to jam. By early the next year I had played my first gig, admittedly as part of a large group, at a local music venue. That summer I’d played at a music festival, and by the end of the year we’d played venues big and small, from the local theatre, to beer festivals, to small venues as part of the old folks tea afternoon. It’s been a real blast – I still have to pinch myself that I’m performing in public, having picked up a musical instrument for the first time relatively recently. I’m never going to be as good as someone who started playing at a young age, but the ukulele makes me happy, and it makes my audience happy…. … it’s a happy making instrument.

My first ukulele sits in its case, hardly touched these days as I’ve now bought ukes that I use a lot more – both better ukes, and ukes that are cheap (and hence can be battered with impunity!) – the Stagg isn’t cheap enough to use and abuse, and it’s not pricey enough to be ‘great’ – so it doesn’t get out much. I’ve added some ‘buttons’ so I could fit a guitar strap, and it has a big crack from when I dropped it in the pub. But that’s okay, it’ll be there for me. It was my first ukulele, and will always have a place in my affections for that reason.