Bamboo: Ukulele Window Shopping

As wonderful as they are, there’s no doubt that mahogany and koa are not environmentally concious choices. Bamboo on the other hand is “one of the most eco-friendly building materials there is”. So it’s heartening to see a trend for bamboo ukuleles. Cordoba have been on board for a while. Tall Grass have one. Kiwaya are putting their name to the Bamboo Paulele. And Pono unveiled one at NAMM.

But I’m afraid I’m not convinced. Ukeeku has a review of the Paulele (good to see smell catching on as a judging criteria). The sound seems very wimpy to me – here’s a quick demo. Plus it has to overcome the burden of being as barren and featureless as Jennifer Aniston’s film career.

Pete Howlett electric tenor.

How on earth is the asking price for the numberplate M9 UKE £1,350? Even if it is ‘FORMERLY CELEBRITY OWNED’. I suppose that’s reasonable given that bidding on the apparently meaningless YLP 729 has passed £600. Perhaps there are more American expats with the initials YLP born on the 29th July than I think.

Pictures: Ukes and harp guitar, I don’t usually care about signatures but I did squee a little over a signed photo of Roy Smeck.

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  1. drywell February 25th, 2011 6:45 pm

    I’d have to agree with you on the Paulele. On the other hand I feel strangely compelled to mention “The Good Girl” as a fascinating and quirky bit of well-crafted abalone inlay on that otherwise undistinguished surface.

    ….and now I’ve found myself spending defending J. Aniston’s film career to ukulele enthusiasts. I promised myself this would never happen. This will be the last you hear from me.

  2. Ron Hale February 25th, 2011 10:41 pm

    You know what smelling the ukulele is, Al? It’s the uke version of holding your wine glass ever so delicately in your ever so delicate fingers and twirling the stuff aroung a bit, then raising it to your nose, sniffing it, then repeating the process a few times. Finally you announce that you approve, or even better that you disapprove and send it back. Hard to be any more fey or twee with a uke than sniffing it to see if it meets with your approval.

    If I ever come across anyone smelling a uke and then pontificating on the aroma like some wine weenie, I’ll collapse in fit of hysterics and die on the spot. Can you imagine how people who already think ukes and ukers are ridiculous will react to ukulele sniffing? To people who smell a uke in a shop and then send it back? They’ll think we’re a bunch of buffoons. And they’ll be right.

  3. Ken February 26th, 2011 10:50 am

    Bamboo is an amazing material. It is great material for making floor tiles, wind-chimes, chop-sticks, even nappies. My wife is even threatening to knit me a hat from yarn made from it.

    But as a tone-wood it is rubbish. Anyway, technically we would need to call it a tone-grass. I have tried a few of these bamboo ukes and I wouldn’t recommend one to anyone. The tone is just aweful.

    As for saving the planet? Does anyone seriously believe that ukulele-making is a threat?

  4. PaulC February 26th, 2011 10:59 am

    I’m afraid that I have to resoundingly approve of any instrument that is called a Paulele.

  5. rico February 26th, 2011 11:57 am

    OK Al, I’ve got to step up too and say I think that ‘Office Space’ and ‘The ‘Switch’, plus others, show a ’30’s style, hard working actor playing a ‘good’ girl type and doing it well; quirky, cute and with a neat Katherine Hepburn style humour.
    There! I’ve gone totally over the top in defense of Ms. Aniston!

    By the way, how’s the WMD Geiger Counter?
    Mine’s blowing a hole in the amp:)

  6. Carl February 26th, 2011 12:16 pm

    Help a clueless American – What is so special about those numberplates that draw such high prices? The designations are lost on me.

  7. todd February 26th, 2011 3:44 pm

    i played a cordoba at guitar center…that looked like it could’ve been bamboo….i rather liked it…

  8. Woodshed February 26th, 2011 5:19 pm

    drywell and rico: Office Space is a good film but she is the worst thing about it. That’s as much as I’m willing to concede.

    Ron: Luckily for me I don’t give a tuppeny-shove what anyone thinks.

    Ken: Yes, people care. They email me and ask.

    rico again: The WMD is a lot of fun. I’ve yet to get to the point where I know what sound it’s going to make but that’s the point.

    Carl: I’m as stumped as you are.

    todd: Glad to hear it.

  9. Woodshed February 26th, 2011 5:20 pm

    Paul: I should have called this blog Paul Hunt.

  10. pepamahina February 27th, 2011 2:18 am

    To Ron:
    Apparently you’ve never run across what looked like a nice uke from the outside, but smelled like mold, or mildew, or worse, in the sound hole. I absolutely did send a uke back that I bought on eBay that stank of a long rest in a damp location. Sniffing the uke is just smart. As for the rest of the world and what they think, I don’t know what “tuppeny” means, but that goes ditto for me.

  11. pepamahina February 27th, 2011 2:37 am

    I am definitely still keeping Tallgrass Ukes in mind. I thought their demos sounded OK, and I really like the “personal sound hole” business. I figured out that having the sound projected back at you was cool from playing around with an antique aero. I asked Josh at Tallgrass if he had ever thought about dyeing the bamboo different colors. I’ve seen maple dyed blue and it looks awesome. He said he might give it a go sometime. Would you like the bamboo ukes better if they were available in a lovely palette of colors?
    About the environment thing, I started a thread on Ukulele Underground asking whether people consider the environmental impact of their ukes, and it was pretty evenly divided between people who cared and people who made a big show about laughing it off. I myself play an acacia instrument because I had read that acacia was a good alternative for more threatened woods.

  12. Craig Robertson February 28th, 2011 5:46 pm

    re: Bamboo ukuleles. I’m willing to be convinced, but I haven’t been yet.

  13. Woodshed February 28th, 2011 5:49 pm

    pepamahina: Tuppenny = two pence coin. ‘Tuppenny shove’ is a slot machine from my youth (Googling reveals they’re much more commonly called coin pushers).

  14. Nixon March 1st, 2011 5:53 pm

    That Howlett electric tenor now lives with me. Its an amazing bit of kit and well worth the price.

  15. miabee March 4th, 2011 2:47 am

    Now I don’t know what to do. I have some extra money and I’d like to upgrade my soprano Lanikai. Is bamboo a good investment or should I try something else? I don’t want to hurt the environment, but I’d really like an upgrade that’s…an upgrade. You know? Am I rambling?

  16. pepamahina March 4th, 2011 3:18 am

    Here’s a link to the thread I started that asked ukulele folks what they thought about ukes and the environment:…..shouldn-t-we-care-more
    Not sure it will be much help, but there it is.

  17. Ken March 4th, 2011 7:27 am

    Miabee. The Chinese factories themselves, that make pretty much everything you use, are doing far more damage to the environment than the wood your ukulele is made from. The manufacture of your cell phone, or your TV damage the environment. Are you going to buy a bamboo iPod? It is not really about endangered woods. Chinese factories don’t really use expensive, rare woods. The argument is really about industrialisation.

  18. miabee March 7th, 2011 7:07 pm

    pepamahina: thanks! Very useful link.

    Ken: Duly noted. I know any production of any item causes horrible damage to the environment. If I can limit the damage I contribute in some microscopic way, however, I would prefer to do so.

  19. Claudio October 28th, 2011 5:08 pm

    Bit random of me to pile in here months later but…..

    So much wood is grown and wasted around the world. I’ve seen:
    – massive eucalyptus plantations in South Africa with what must be millions upon millions of trees sucking 20+ gallons of water per day per tree from semi-arid areas.
    – Mass logging destroying rain forests

    So much of this is being used for paper and consumable rubbish that we just throw away.

    If you buy a very nice wooden ukulele, you would expect it bring a lifetime of joy and therefore the value you get from that small piece of wood is high. So in terms of strategic priorities, this isn’t where the battlefield for sustainability should be faught.

    I recently bought a very nice koa ukulele and asked myself these questions but I decided I was buying something that would one day become an antique and hopefully still loved.

    Having said that, I could have chosen blackwood, acacia, or better still a british wood like yew. Do I feel guilty for destroying the Hawaiian eco-system and the miles to get it over to Wales? Not in the slightest!

    Alternative woods to Mahogany and Koa are trending (to use a modern social media phrase) as people realise that other woods are just as beautiful and tonal.

  20. Woodshed October 29th, 2011 9:16 am

    Claudio: Thanks very much for the info.

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