Ukulele Players: Soloists

The ukulele is best known as an accompanying instrument but many players have stretched what it is possible to do with a uke and used it as a solo instrument. Here are some of the most important.

Ernest Ka’ai

Who? Hawaiian ukulelist who set the groundwork for all ukulele soloists to come.

What’s so special? Earnest Kaai was the first person to establish the ukulele as a solo instrument. He was massively influential in the Hawaiian music scene in the first decade of the 20th Century. As well as being the greatest ukulele player of his generation, he wrote the first instruction books for the ukulele and established a ukulele manufacturing company.

Learn to play like him You can find a number of his ground-breaking arrangements in John King’s book Famous Solos and Duets for Ukulele

James Hill

Who? Canadian virtuoso ukulele player who has released 4 albums since his debut in 2002.

What’s so special? He’s the best ukulele soloist in the world today. As well as being a virtuoso performer, he is continually pushing the boudaries to get new sounds out of the ukulele and has set up a guide to teaching ukuleles in schools with Ukulele in the Classroom.

Want to hear more? James Hill – True Love Don’t Weep

Read James Hill Interview

Learn to play like him James Hill has recently produced the Ukulele in the Classroom set of books intended for teaching ukulele in schools. You can find tab for his tunes on Dominator.

Roy Smeck

Who? Multi-instrumental vaudeville star of stage and screen in the 1940s proclaimed ‘Wizard of the Strings”

What’s so special? He’s the most entertaining ukulele player ever and a true innovator. His trick bag was full of unusual techniques, new sounds and ukulele-juggling. He also pioneered audio and video techniques, creating multi-tracked video years before Les Paul got around to doing multi-track audio.

Want to hear more? Roy Smeck Plays Hawaiian Guiar, Banjo, Ukulele and Guitar

Read Vincent Cortese’s Roy Smeck Biography

Learn to play like him Roy Smeck produced a number of instruction books in his day, many of which are still available. You can find tab for a number of his tunes here.

Jake Shimabukuro

Who? Hawaiian ukulele superstar whose slick playing, flawless technique and stylish arranging has proved an inspiration to a generation of aspiring soloists.

What’s so special? Easily the most influential and well known ukulele soloist today. His talents have taken him to perform at TED in front of the world’s intelligensia where he impressed Bill Gates.

Want to hear more? Jake Shimabukuro – Gently Weeps

Learn to play like him Jake has been promising a tab book for a while but has been less slow in having tabs of his tunes taken off the net.

John King

Who? American classical guitarist who fell in love with the ukulele and Hawaiian culture and became the leading writer on the ukulele.

What’s so special? John King’s arrangements are some of the most beautiful ever made. He resurrected the campanella style of playing (playing one note per string) and adapted it for the ukulele. His tab books are the best available.

Want to hear more? John King – Johann Sebastian Bach For Unaccompanied Ukulele

Read 10 thing I learnt from John King

Learn to play like him John King’s The Classical Ukulele is a must buy for any serious ukulele soloist.

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