Sunday, 29 March 2015

Almost A Disaster ...

With two ukulele group concerts coming up shortly, I was mortified when the music stand I was using at a rehearsal gave up the ghost and died.

It was an inexpensive item which I had bought, not being sure how much use it would have and never having had one before I was unsure of just how much I needed to spend. Well I purchased one of Amazon and was really quite pleased with it - AT FIRST! when used at a sitting position and with sheet music, it seemed quite adequate BUT of course as we started to learn / rehearse more songs, the load on the stand started to overload its meagre structure - especially when set at its tallest height when I was standing, as for concerts.

I hardly got any use out of it; I had it for about 5 months and used it 2-3 times a month on average at the club and a few times at home. In that time, it lost two of the rubber caps on the feet, the thumb screw on the feet stripped its thread ( not sure if it ever really was capable of tightening but because it did not matter, I lived with it). The final straw however was the thumb screw on the sheet holder also stripped its thread, this meant that the stand was completely U/S. I have replaced the latter with a nut and bolt, to make the stand usable but I shall keep it only as a lightweight spare. You never know, when it might come in useful but I do need to keep a spanner and screwdriver in its case. Annoying!!

I have written to the supplier but, as I will use it for a spare I am did not ask for any reparation. It will be interesting if they offer any suggestions.

The outcome is that I have bought another much more robust music stand - without realising it is the same manufacturer although bought from another retailer via Amazon. This new stand will indeed take the weight of a loose leaf folder (all those songs ...) and will also allow me to attach one or possibly two ukulele holders. Nothing worse than having to stand an instrument up against a handy chair leg or on a table. Whilst performing in one of our concerts we tend to huddle quite close and a separate floor stand would be impractical.

More importantly, I can also attach a holder for my glass of beer! (not shown here).

I feel much better prepared for our next concert, and am raring to go. It does hold a moral for any amateur musicians (or anybody really), do not try to economise overly when considering products which have to perform a function. It can cost more in the longer term!

Friday, 27 March 2015

Simplifying Chord Backings for Guitar or Ukulele.

Why would you want to do this?

Well, when learning a new song we all come across strangely named chords we do not play very often. Rather than getting stuck at that point, play a chord that you do know. I guess I have done this all my playing life and managed very well. I do understand how chords are created and knowing which chords can be simplified and to what, has always been no problem for me.

I did in fact always set out to learn the more complex chord (and thought that perhaps I was cheating in the short term) but hey - so what?

As an example, I recently learnt what most people consider a difficult song, namely "I'll See You In My Dreams". Two chords which gave me problems were D#maj7 and Amaj7. So whilst learning the song, rather than let the chords stop me progressing I played D#7 and A7; much simpler and easier and no hassle!

I have since learnt to play the chords. And I do need to get a better and more polished recording of that song on the internet, for sharing around.

I have recently seen a blog post which discusses doing this very simplification technique. And in fact suggests that on a 4-string instrument such as the uke, the more complex chords may sound a little "out of focus". I have certainly never found an issue. It is better to be able to select the chord quickly in time with the music in my opinion.

Anyway this backs up something I have always done intuitively, so I was pleased to read it in black and white - well pixels anyway.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Photos from our first two concerts (UkuleleCentralUK)

I have mentioned the ukulele club which I have joined (must be once or twice at least, LOL) and there is now a FaceBook group set up for the club. It is an open group so anyone can browse. Of course not too much to read or see at the moment but it may be of interest to ukulele lovers (you know who you are!).

Find it at

I have " borrowed" a couple of photos from our first concerts; the first a Christmas concert and the second in support of Comic Relief - though thankfully not a red nose in sight. Just to complement the photos of me in my "red" get-up for the red-nose day theme.

They do say that "X" marks the spot but in this case the black arrow is pointing at me on the back row trying to be inconspicuous. Well actually, I am one of the tallest members of the group.

I have to admit that I picked up one of my guitars last week - the first time in ages. During which time we have been spending a lot of time developing a repertoire of songs for the ukulele group. IAt first I was baffled by the number of strings, it just didn't seem right. I am going to have to make sure that I play the six-string more regularly just to stay in touch.

Well, off for more practice (with the uke) our next concert is only three weeks away.

PS I have been asked to repeat my solo spot on that occasion. I ought to let you know that I am not the only soloist during the evening. AND I am told we are getting paid for the gig. The money will be going towards a club PA system. At the moment we rely heavily on one of our members for this facility.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Brief review & comparison of a Gretsch G9120 with a Stagg UC70-S ukulele

Yes I know that the Gretsch is a tenor and the Stagg is a concert; but as a new owner I am interested in exactly how the sounds compare. And wether they will be interchangeable or one or the other is more suited to particular songs.

For convenience here are the product descriptions from Amazon:

The Stagg UC70S Concert Ukulele has been built using this dedicated approach to delivering a product of exceptional quality at an affordable price.The body and neck of the ukulele are constructed from rich mahogany, a wonderfully warm tonewood that offers a deep and resonant tone.The headstock, fingerboard and bridge are built using the highly resilient and widely used rosewood. The neck offers a spacious 15" scale length that houses a well accommodated and comfortable to play 19 frets. The tuning pegs are geared in order to prevent unwanted tuning slippage whilst playing.The ukulele is given extra protection from wear and tear with the addition of a natural matt finish, which allows the natural aesthetic of the wood to shine through.
Gretsch G9120 Std. Tenor Ukulele, laminated mahogany body, 2 pieces mahogany neck, rosewood fingerboard, 19 frets, grover STA-TITE tuners.

Here are two sound files, the Gretsch does seem to have a fuller sound - but both very similar. Each short sound file comprises the same chord riff and an extended chord playing each string ...

Listen Music - Listen Audio - stagg uc70-s

Embed Music Files - Audio Hosting - gretsch tenor ukulele, g9120...

Check my last post for more of my thoughts on the instruments.

Monday, 16 March 2015

My New Ukulele - A Gretsch

For several months I have managed with only one ukulele, not so difficult but with hundreds of models out there for the taking, I finally succumbed to UAS (ukulele aquisition syndrome). Of course real sufferers will have collections of many more than this running into more than a hundred; if the posts on the internet are to be believed.

Now why? Exactly the question I was asked by my long-suffering spouse. You already have one, why do you need another?

Why does anybody need more than one handbag or pair of shoes ..... enough said, I think.

My first was a Stagg, a concert UC70-S model to be precise. Although I have read many reviews of this brand, I have not seen any for this specific model. It is a british retailer selling instruments manufactured in China.
However, having put Aquila strings on the uke, I believe it actually sounds great. It is not an entry level uke and is not cheap! I can only think the reviews relate to the basic, and cheap models. For me it gives a very mellow sound and one I can easily live with. It keeps its tune, once the strings have settled down, is well set-up and I enjoy playing it.

The only drawback for me was that I had problems with one or two chords because of the size of my fingers.

When I found myself in a music shop last week, I asked if they had a tenor ukulele (which is slightly bigger than a concert ukulele); the shop assistant pointed to an instrument high on the opposite wall inviting me to take it down and play it. Well, I couldn't refuse - could I? It turned out to be a Gretsch G1920. Once I had made a small adjustment to the tuning and started to play, I just had to have it. Yes the very minor increase in the width of the fret board, was exactly what I needed to be able to play those pesky chords. It was more expensive that I had hoped to pay but it had a great sound. Brighter than the Stagg and louder of course, being larger but it also had a domed back to increase the volume. It already had a set of the Aquila strings so no extra cost there.

I thought about it, played it a while longer, and before I knew where I was - I had paid the asking price and taken it with me.

I was on the road to being a UAS sufferer.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

My first solo public ukulele performance

Although I have been playing guitar for more years than I care to remember, I have only very rarely played and sung in public. Once or twice at parties and with small groups of friends and once playing Shadows covers at a fan meeting.

Since taking up the ukulele, I have spent a few months jamming with a new club/group (UkuleleCentralUK) which meets every other week. I have found a certain confidence amongst this very mixed ability gathering and even did an open mike spot a few weeks ago. We played a concert of christmas songs in late december for an audience of friends and family and I very much enjoyed it.

For red-nose day this year, we gave our second concert to the same (?) audience BUT we had several solo spots to break up the set list. I even volunteered to perform the song I did at that open mike spot only a few weeks earlier. I was very nervous but put in a lot of practice. (I didn't know That there were so many places where I could potentially go wrong.) And eventually felt confident that I could manage to get through the whole thing without making a fool of myself, especially as at our "dress rehearsal" I had started three times due to making what I thought were bad mistakes.

On the day, still nervous, I felt that I rushed through the song because of those nerves but managed to cope and even get over a couple of errors without the listening audience realising - I hope! It certainly felt good to have done it and got it out of the way. I now feel as if I am ready for more, so am now practising a few "different" songs which are not yet part of the group's repertoire.

The song? It was one which Joe Brown popularised by playing it to finish the Concert For George. Many of you will know, I am sure, that it was "I'll See You In My Dreams". A lovely song written in 1924, with lyrics by Gus Kahn.

See my last post for an early (for me) version of this number.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Just Missed Ukulele Day

Last week I heard that there was a "World Day" called "Play your Ukulele Day". Check it out.

And with the revelation was an added fact that 250,000 ukuleles were sold last year in the UK. It wasn't all me, I promise. I have been looking for a second Uke for what may become a collection however. Do I want a smaller soprano uke (my first is a concert), or should I try out a tenor and see if there is more room for my fingers on the fretboard. Watch this space!

I am still adding tracks of songs I am practising; mainly to get an objective view of what (hopefully) progress I am making.

My latest two are songs I learnt from Joe Brown  records and concerts. The first was hugely popular when Joe played it to close the Concert For George at The Albert Hall. I loved this song and it is possibly the one song which made me acquire a ukulele for myself.

The second here, is a simple song which Joe co-wrote with a well established UK writer when they met up in Nashville, he just happened to have a uke with him. You just have to admire the simplicity of the song, at least I do!

Hope you like them.

BTW, the club I have joined now has a couple of further gigs lined up. Both are at retirement homes and we are looking forward to bringing a little music into the residents lives. The only issue is that our second songbook (courtesy of our founder) is now containing songs like "Living On A Prayer" - Bon Jovi and "The Summer Of 69" - Bryan Adams. We might have to leave them out of the running order for those gigs. LOL.