John King – Swallowtail (Tab)

John King – Swallowtail

A while back I tabbed out the first half of this legendary performance from John King – Larry O’Gaff – but I sucked much too hard to take on the second half. Luckily, Ukulele Tim was up to the task and posted Swallowtail on his blog. After a certain amount of begging and pleading, he was kind enough to let me post the tab up here so the two could be united.

I’d love to give you some guidance on how to play it but I still suck too hard to get to grips with it. The best advice I can offer is to subscribe to Tim’s blog Ukulele Secrets.

John King Links

Nalu Music
John King – The Classical Ukulele
Ten Things I Learnt from John King

UPDATE: Ukulele Tim has put up a video taking you through the tune slowly.

View Comments


  1. ukuleletim April 7th, 2011 7:00 pm

    Thanks, Al. But wasn’t it me who was begging and pleading for you to post the tab? =)

  2. Nateekins April 7th, 2011 7:50 pm

    If you suck too hard to play that, I definitely don’t have a chance. Maybe I’ll come back and check these tabs out in a few years and see what’s what. :\

  3. cardboardfrog April 7th, 2011 9:49 pm

    that song is so very very excellent, i’m thinking it might be a while before i pluck up the courage to attempt this.
    although it would be a hell of a thing to be able to say you could play…

  4. Jim T. April 7th, 2011 10:44 pm

    What I admire about John’s approach to the ‘ukulele was his refusal to play anything other than a soprano. His was a purist approach: the challenge and the reward was in learning how to play the instrument in its original form.

  5. Logan April 8th, 2011 12:23 am

    I’ve yet to touch this tab, but consider this my textual drool over how great that video is.

  6. lindydanny April 8th, 2011 1:03 pm

    This is just a great video.

  7. Woodshed April 9th, 2011 8:19 am

    ukuleletim: I would have begged and pleaded if I’d needed to!

    Nateekins and cbf: I’m going to practice it and see what I can do.

    Jim T.: I disagree. I don’t think the soprano is any more pure than any other size. They’re all bastard instruments as far as I’m concerned.

    Logan and lindydanny: It’s an incredible performance. It was a shame it didn’t win video of the year.

  8. ukuleletim April 9th, 2011 2:38 pm

    Folks, I just posted a slower HOW-TO closeupish tutorial on how to play Swallowtail. It’s basically a three position song. Stop by if you get stuck!

  9. Woodshed April 10th, 2011 8:39 am

    ukuleletim: Excellent stuff. I’ve added it to the post.

  10. Alec April 11th, 2011 2:08 pm

    It’s great! Tim’s ‘closer look’ is really helpful too.

    Question for Al/Tim; Al, when you tabbed the first part, you were surprised that JK would play two consecutive notes on the same string. Here, in Tim’s version of , Tim tabs the first measure and also plays two consecutive notes on the same string. But while looking at JK’s performance it seems like he’s playing something different, and presumably not playing twice on the the same string.

    I’m sticking with Tim’s though because it’s hard enough and sounds good enough that way.

    One other thing. One thing that might be cool, Al, is to make like a blog series of songs/riffs by key. Or a series of say songs in C and some riffs and scales that work in different songs in the same key.

    This would particuarly work with campanella stuff. On Tim’s page he introduced some campanella scales which work well, as he points out, with a song he recently posted (in this case whiskey in the something).

    Just a thought. Thanks!

  11. Alec April 11th, 2011 2:09 pm

    opps “Tim’s version of the second part, swallowtail”

  12. Woodshed April 12th, 2011 7:18 am

    Alec: Yes, I was a bit surprised by that. I tried a bunch of different ways of playing the first line but I’m pretty sure the way I tabbed it is the way he plays it.

  13. Katie March 17th, 2012 12:06 am

    I decided to try to learn this since it seemed above my skill level, and got to where it goes to the 14th fret. My uke has 12 frets. Goddamnit.

  14. Woodshed March 17th, 2012 3:55 pm

    Katie: Sorry!

  15. mike Boldi October 15th, 2012 6:10 pm

    hey woodshed … I start playing this song and noticed some problems w/ the tabs against JK’s video. I made some corrections and still , my friend David Fagan pointed out another improvement … you will be able to find our notes here

  16. Woodshed October 15th, 2012 9:04 pm

    Mike: Thanks. I’ll check it out.

  17. mike Boldi October 24th, 2012 7:28 pm

    I just completed the powerTab and posted them .. Thanks to Ukulele Tim, and David Fagan … I think they are correct … take a look and repost of you’d like …

  18. John Hubbard November 28th, 2012 5:20 pm

    I was reading Jim Ts comment April last year where he says about John King refusing to use anthing other than a soprano. Unless Ive got myself completely confused I would have to say to Jim that surley cannot be correct. John King in fact was stated to have used Fluke concert for the whole of his Classical Ukelele book (ie with CD)
    Put me right someone please

  19. Woodshed November 29th, 2012 12:30 pm

    John: That’s a good point. He did definitely use a Fluke on that. And I seem to remember him playing some bigger ukes.

  20. JCMcGee July 18th, 2017 6:58 am

    Damn, that’s really quite special.

  21. Woodshed July 18th, 2017 10:37 am

    Jimmy: John King was amazing. Much missed.

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