Five Most Ridiculous Ukulele Trends

The ukulele often gets lumbered with the ‘novelty instrument’ tag. Obviously unfair. But there are some ukuleles that are asking for it.

There have been quite a few trends in ukuleles of dubious usefulness (cutaways, slotted headstocks, oddly-placed soundholes), but these five stick in my mind.

Feel free to leave your nominations in the comments. (By the by, anyone who thinks me calling these ridiculous means I don’t want them obviously doesn’t know me very well.)

1. Ukuleles Goldilocks Wouldn’t Play

Once upon a time there were only soprano ukuleles – not too big, not too small, just right. Then came concerts, tenors and baritones. Then in-betweeny sizes like super-soprano. Now the trend seems to be towards smaller ukuleles. With Kala’s pocket uke and now the even smaller Tangi (with Will Grove White and Ian Emmerson having a decent stab of getting a tune from it).

Tangi are also taking things in the other direction with this 6 foot 5 ukulele (that’s a Coke can in the picture for scale).

2. Ukuleles Shaped Like Weird Crap

Some of the less imaginative companies may have made ukuleles shaped like Flying Vs or Warhammer battles axes. But Celentano Woodworks really set things going with Pac-man, cupcake and rock-em, sock-em robot ukuleles.

3. Double Neck Ukuleles

Everyone wants to be like Jimmy Page, right? So of course you’d buy a double neck ukulele like this one by Mele and Manitba Hal’s Fred Casey ukulele.

I’m hoping someone is going to turn this trend up to 11.

4. Metal Platted Ukuleles

A ukulele entirely entirely coated in copper? Sure, why not? (Thanks to Phredd.)

5. Tailpieces

Tailpieces are those bits that hold the strings to the body in high-tension instruments like banjo and mandolins. So I’m not too sure why they crop up on ukuleles like this Collings UT and this thing (other than looking pretty cool).

Photos

On the more traditional ‘Window Shopping’ post front, some photos: Girls with Ukulele, railroad boy and girl, six sailors.

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26 Comments

  1. Stuie July 22nd, 2011 7:05 pm

    You should really post up a basic guide to VST for ukulele
    Especially the accoustic to distorted metal
    It’s great fun to play with

  2. Dan July 22nd, 2011 7:21 pm

    I think these crazy ukes pop up to feed off of the addiction to buying ukes that usually happens to most players.

    I started playing uke 9 months ago – I now have three of them. What happens when I get a model of all the “normal” ukes?

    Perhaps I will get a PacMan uke!

  3. Herman Vandecauter July 22nd, 2011 7:25 pm

    Yes I have tears in my yes when I see what they’ve done to the ukulele! Better was not to speak about because negative publicity also is publicity. This was not a summery article! All this originates from magnetically attraction from the unusual and inexplicable.

  4. Graham Richardson July 23rd, 2011 12:11 am

    I agree with all your points other than #5. The fact is the Tail Piece is very important for the types of ukes that you have listed. Both the Collings and the Hanworks are Arch-top’s, so not only is this a stylistic choice (because lets face it, it does look rather swanky) but also structural. like you said, Banjo’s and Mandolins are high tension, and the tail piece is added because of their “fragile” top. for the banjo its the skin and for the Mandolin its the Arch-top.

    Hope this helps
    Graham

  5. Ron Hale July 23rd, 2011 1:20 am

    I think the ukulele is a novelty instrument, Al.
    Just because a very few elite players can coax
    marvelously serious music out of it just means that great players can get great music out of a novelty instrument. Most of us can’t and just have fun with it.

    Of course, if you’d rather have the alternative, the uke is a serious instrument that only a very, very, few can play really amazing serious music on. Herman, of course, is one of those few.

    Now, this switch in perception makes our instrument, rather that an easy one to play, one
    of the most difficult in the world, since only a tiny group of elite players can realize and fulfill the instrument’s serious nature. The rest of us are just mucking around like twits on an instrument that is meant only for the supremely gifted.

    Strumming silly songs on a uke now seems like
    sacrilege. Chuckling at the mere sight and sound of such an important instrument is the
    hallmark of a fool. The uke isn’t for making people happy in a nonsensical way, it’s for pounding damn serious music appreciation into their nitwit heads.

    Amen on cutaways, slotted headstocks, and oddly-placed soundholes. The standard 4 sizes will stick around, the new stuff won’t. Not to worry about it.

    Silliest trend ever is smelling ukes. The guy who runs Ukeeku says on the UU forum that he started doing it as a joke for a friend but that people liked it. Naming ukes isn’t far behind. Next,
    people will start treating ukes as little 4-string people, like pets are fur people. Talk to your uke? OK. Does it talk back? Uh-oh…

    The Greensleeves video is awesome. In my Ukulele Video Hall of Fame.

  6. Miss Jess July 23rd, 2011 10:16 am

    They make Collings instruments right here in my home town of Austin, Texas. I’ve played my buddy’s Collings concert (and I maintain that my Bayard custom concert is superior–probably just because I’m biased), but I’ve never seen their archtop version.

    I saw some archtops at the Lone Star Uke Fest back in April, but wasn’t impressed. Collings is a horse of a different color. I’ll have to go do the tour of their facility I’ve been meaning to do, now that I know they’ve got that oddity in production.

  7. Woodshed July 23rd, 2011 12:52 pm

    Stuie: I don’t think I’m the right person for that. I had to Google ‘VST’.

    Dan: That’s a good point. That’s definitely part of it.

    Herman: I’m not really talking about these negatively. I like ridiculous things.

    Graham: Thanks. I can see that being true for the Collings. I suspect the hanworks is more cosmetic.

    Ron: I feel the need to defend my honour. I was doing smell in reviews first! And of course it’s a bloody joke!

    Jess: I’d like to try out some Collingseses. They look like really nice ukes.

  8. Herman Vandecauter July 23rd, 2011 1:28 pm

    Woodshed: Do you realy think I got tears in my eyes! :)
    Ron Hale: thanks for the nice words.

  9. Peter July 23rd, 2011 4:57 pm

    “Now, this switch in perception makes our instrument, rather that an easy one to play, one
    of the most difficult in the world, since only a tiny group of elite players can realize and fulfill the instrument’s serious nature.”

    Bullshit.

  10. art Crocker July 23rd, 2011 11:02 pm

    Was holding my breath as you went thru your list hoping my new uke was not on it, fortunately. OK so I did fall for having to buy something a little different. It turned out to be a Mele Koa 6-string thin body tenor, it was too pretty to resist. OK so there is the thin body gimmick, however it does make it very comfortable to hold.

    Again, sure glad it didn’t make your list,,,

  11. cardboardfrog July 23rd, 2011 11:53 pm

    i have paid for my snail uke, it gets delivered in september and honestly i couldn’t be more thrilled with it.
    yep it’s a silly silly instrument, but thats kinda what makes it awesome.
    in my opinion SERIOUSLY FUCKING AWESOME.
    that being said i bought a luna guitar…. i might be a tosser.

  12. RobNY July 24th, 2011 1:18 am

    Tried a Collings UC1(no tailpiece) at Mandolin Brothers in Staten Island.Sounded and played great . It is a beautiful uke. When playing chords by the headstock I found the headstock digging into my hand. Because of the sound,look,lightness, and playability of it I tried to

    convince myself I could overcome that. I played it for about an hour in one of those little private rooms they have at the store. For once good sense prevailed,and I left the store without it. As far as trends,agree with you on the above. I enjoy some of the funky finishes Kala produces. Number one being the plaid Kala. Tried it at the NY uke festival . I think it would make a great car uke. Not to expensive,decent sound and playability,and real good looking.Probably purchase one soon

  13. Claude July 24th, 2011 4:37 am

    The Hanworks is also an archtop and would have similar structural demands. But the biggest advantage might be that it increases the down pressure on the bridge for a stronger tone.
    Them real reason for a glued saddle and string anchor is that it has a glued saddle and string anchor. Tradition is a powerful force.

  14. L.bo Marie July 24th, 2011 5:20 am

    First thing I did when I took my uke out of the shipping box was smell it’s sound hole.

    Sweet gimmicks, come to me! I shall home you and play you and name you and sniff you.

  15. Woodshed July 24th, 2011 8:04 am

    Art: I don’t want it to come across that I don’t like these ukes or that I don’t want one. I can definitely see the uses of thin bodies.

    cbf: Hope you enjoy it.

    Rob: You’ve obviously got more self control than I have.

    Claude: I was suggesting that the Hanworks wasn’t anywhere near as carefully constructed as the Collings.

    L.bo: That is the best time to sniff them.

  16. Alec July 24th, 2011 10:49 am

    I only visit this site to read and try to make sense of Ron’s comments.

  17. art Crocker July 24th, 2011 8:07 pm

    Al, Thanks, your point of view on things is always entertaining, never taken other ways. I find it interesting that we (myself included) fall victim to buying strange stuff sometimes.

  18. RobNY July 25th, 2011 9:47 pm

    Just ordered a Kala plaid uke on eBay 50 bucks +13shipping. Haven’t seen it for less then 81 bucks with free ship.

  19. Woodshed July 26th, 2011 8:48 am

    Alec: Ahahahaha! If you ever manage, please let me know you findings.

    Rob: Hope you like it. I’ve been tempted to get one of those myself.

  20. Herman Vandecauter July 26th, 2011 9:51 pm
  21. Claude July 27th, 2011 3:36 am

    The violin ukulele looks like an interesting variation on the bowed zither, but it doesn’t fool me into thinking it’s related to a ukulele.
    I guess the “ukulele” name had some style back then.

  22. Lindydanny July 27th, 2011 2:41 pm

    It’s hard enough defending the ukulele as a serious instrument without so many toys popping up. That said, I’ve seen quite a bit of novelty guitars in my time too. I think with musical instruments it is a if-you-build-it… philosophy.

    Personally, as novelty as I think I could ever get would be a good quality pineapple uke. (With Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots painted on it of course.)

    ~DB

  23. Ian Emmerson July 28th, 2011 12:47 pm

    Uke doesn’t need defending, reclassifying or evangelising. It’s just a thing. It’s the player who uses it that defines whether it’s serious, novelty, silly, social, solitary, fun, hipster, iconoclastic, conformist, cliche, artistic, bluesy, rocky, jazzy, etc. Someone can make you laugh with an expensive tenor; someone else can make you cry with a multicoloured novelty plastic toy. It’ll only be seen the same way as other instruments when it becomes invisible in the equasion. And once that happens, it’ll lose a lot of the charm that bring people to it in the first place. No need to worry about how the uke is perceived. It doesn’t matter a jot.

  24. david beckingham August 2nd, 2011 7:42 am

    Ian – couldn’t agree more.

  25. Antoine August 20th, 2011 10:15 pm

    Celentano woodworks seems like an interesting company. I would love to see a review to see if they’re any good; if it happens you ever get a chance to get your hands on one, Woodshead.
    Some of them only seem like awkward novelties; ala the flying v, like the angled neck square guitar. Not to mention the one-string guitars seem kind of… over the top.

  26. Woodshed August 21st, 2011 9:10 am

    Antoine: I haven’t played one myself, but from looking at videos they do seem to be built more for the visuals than the sound.

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