UkeTube: Leftover Cuties, Bolo, Amelia Coburn

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Friday Links: Kitty Lux

Founding member of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, Kitty Lux has died at the age of 59. Kitty made a huge contribution to the ukulele world and the current scene wouldn’t be the same without her. I’m sure all ukers will join me in sending love to her family and to her bandmates.


Adam Savage records a ukulele song at Jack White’s Third Man Records.
Deaf ukulelist, Mandy Harvey has made it to the semi-finals of America’s Got Talent.
Martin 5K assessed on Kentucky Collectibles.
The Game of Thrones band.

– The Art on a Ukulele project has revealed all the ukes that will be up for auction to aid The Hepatitis C Trust. I got myself a plectrum painted by Andrew Galbraith.
RIGuitars ’85 BC Rich ukulele.

The Beatles – Blackbird (Tab)

The Beatles – Blackbird (Tab)

With there already being plenty of Beatles ukulele material around, I tend to avoid adding to the pile. But I couldn’t resist having a go at adapting the gorgeous picking of Blackbird for ukulele. I love the rising and falling lines. Particularly the chromatic rise and fall on the E-string in bars 5-8 of the tab.

It’s a challenging piece to play on the uke. There’s plenty of movement up and down the neck and some tricky picking. There are also loads of time signature changes in the song. But none of them are jarring. So if you know the song well they’re going to feel natural.

My arrangement uses thumb and two finger picking almost all the way through. There are two main patterns:

– The pattern in bar 1 alternating index and middle fingers (picking the E- and A-strings respectively) and the thumb picking the g-string.
– The pattern in bar 2 where the thumb alternates between the g- and C-strings.

There are 2 big exceptions. One is the picking is in bars 6 and 21. For those I’m alternating by thumb between the g- and E-strings. the other is bars 32-34 where I switch to strumming.


Buy it on iTunes
More Beatles tabs and chords

Best Ukuleles According to Uke Hunt Readers

For a few years now I’ve been collecting people’s ratings of their ukuleles on the review section of Uke Hunt. It’s been interesting watching the list of the highest rated ukes take shape. Now that there are plenty of ratings I thought I’d take a look at those at the top.

The list is determined by a Bayesian average of ratings submitted to the site (that means the number of ratings as well as the average of the ratings is important). So if you think your uke deserves to be on the list you can help get it there by rating it. There are links to ukulele makers here and luthiers here.

There are two notable trends. The first is how many of the top five are very much family owned and run concerns. The other is that four of the top five all start with K. There must be something special about K.

1. Kamaka Ukuleles

Top of the list is the oldest surviving ukulele maker Kamaka. They were founded in Hawaii in 1916 by Samuel Kaialiilii Kamaka. Kamaka’s most enduring innovation was the introduction of the pineapple ukulele. Kamaka realised that ukuleles have no need for the figure-8 shape (they’re just mimicking larger instruments that need to accommodate legs and arms) so you could significantly reduce the time and cost of ukuleles by making them oval shaped.

After Kamaka Sr’s death in 1953, Sam Kamaka Jr took over the company and introduced the iconic double-k logo and the Gold Label series of ukuleles. Followed by the White Label line in the 70s.

Sam Jr and his brother Fred continue to stick by Sam Sr’s warning: “If you make instruments and use the family name, don’t make junk.” Their ukuleles are the top of the field and clearly loved by their owners including their biggest endorser Jake Shimabukuro.

Quintessential ukulele: Kamaka pineapple ukulele.

2. Kanile’a Ukuleles

Currently only 0.01 of a star behind Kamaka comes another of the famous Hawaiian K Brands: Kanile’a. Kanile’a was set up by husband and wife team Joe and Kristen Souza in 1998. They make their ukes in Kane’ohe, Hawaii.

As well as their top end ukes, they have the more affordable Islander ukuleles made in Asia.

Kanile’a are also big supporters of young ukers (and Uke Hunt favourites) Honoka & Azita, Karlie G, UkuLise.

Quintessential ukulele: Kanile’a K1

3. Mya-Moe Ukuleles

The youngest company on the list and another husband and wife team: Gordon & Char Mayer. They exploded onto the ukulele scene in 2008 rapidly attracting high praise and a stellar list of players including Eddie Vedder, John Paul Jones, Mumford and Sons, Laura Marling and Jerry Douglas. Their process is slow and meticulous. Making each ukulele to order and checking for quality at every stage.

Gordon and Char were later joined by Aaron Keim luthier of Beansprout ukuleles and musician with The Quiet American and Boulder Acoustic Society.

If this has whetted your appetite and you’re hoping to buy one then tough titties. They’ve announced they’ll stop making ukes in June 2018 and are completely booked out until then.

Quintessential ukulele: The Classic

4. Kala Ukulele

At the opposite end of the spectrum are Kala who pump out ukuleles by the barrowload. They’ve ensured that there’s been a supply of cheap and reliable ukuleles all through the ukulele boom. As time has gone on they’ve moved up the price range and released higher and higher quality instruments.

As well as the standard ukulele, Kala have had huge success with their bass ukuleles. And have recently launched a line of high-end ukuleles made in their hometown of Pentaluma, CA.

Quintessential ukulele: Kala KA-S

5. KoAloha

The third for the big three Hawaiian K brands, KoAloha. KoAloha were established in 1995 by the Okami family and have been releasing, in my opinion, the most beautiful ukuleles around.

KoAloha’s chief designer is Alvin Okami. His innovative and sometimes outlandish ideas are showcased in KoAloha’s Signature Series ukes including the Pineapple,Juke-a-lele, sceptre“>Sceptre, and Gambalele.

Quintessential ukulele: KoAloha Sceptre whose unusual body shape apparently came to Alvin Okami in a dream.

Six to Ten

6. Cordoba: A bit of a surprise to see them on the list. You don’t hear much about Cordoba’s ukuleles. But their showing here has got me interested in giving them a go.

7. Gretsch: Best known for their guitars, Gretsch have also been putting out ukuleles since the 50s.

8. Pono: I’ve long been tempted to buy myself a Pono. Their ukuleles look and sound great.

9. Luna: Mostly known for their highly patterned guitars, Luna moved into the ukulele world a few years ago and have picked up plenty of fans.

10. Martin: A legendary name in ukuleles who have been in the game since 1917. Their vintage ukuleles are treated with something approaching reverence. But their more recent attempts have been more hit and miss.

Woody Guthrie – All You Fascists Bound to Lose (Chords)

Woody Guthrie – All You Fascists (Chords)

Who knew we’d have to dust off Woody Guthrie’s old anti-Nazi songs. Looks like Billy Bragg and Wilco did since they recorded a rollocking version of it a few years ago. Bragg rejiggered the song as part of the Mermaid Avenue project. But I’ve written up the Guthrie version that he apparently only recorded in a radio session.

Suggested Strumming

I like to use this strumming pattern all the way through:

d – d – d u d u

In the intro I’ve spaced out the chords into bars. So you play the strum twice for each chord with a big gap. Then the two chords with a small gap (C and G) you play it just once. It’s the same pattern in the verses. And in the chorus it’s just twice for each chord.

Twiddly Bits

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Here’s a little figure I cooked up for the intro using alternate picking (i.e. the thumb alternates between the g and C strings).

If you’re playing the rest of the song with the capo on the second fret the chord shapes will change from G, C and D to F, Bb and C respectively.


Buy the Billy Bragg and Wilco version

Summer Break

Time for my summer blog break. I’m going to make like an African lungfish and aestervate until the heat dies down.

If you’re looking for some summer reading let me suggest Jonathan Lewis’s Classic Folk Songs for Fingerstyle Ukulele and Joshua Waldman’s How to Start and Grow a Ukulele Group (available in digital and paper form) (affiliate links). Both did guest posts recently. Jon’s is here and Joshua’s is here.

And you can catch bits and pieces from me on Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram.

Have a good one.

Wheeler Brothers, daddystovepipe – UkeTube

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Bill Collings 1948 – 2017: Friday Links

Austin, Texas guitar and ukulele maker Bill Collings died this week. Collings began making guitars in the 1970s and launched a line of beautifully made ukuleles in 2009.

Window Shopping
– This September Fender are releasing a whole batch of cheaper ukuleles: the Seaside, Rincon, Zuma and Montecito. You can see some here and here.
– But if I was getting a Fender style uke I’d want an Eckhaus Tululele.
KoAloha Black Label Lava.
Hoffman A style tenor.
– New Fluke designs including a fetching designer soundboard by Evelyn Drew.

We lost our dear friend and mentor Bill Collings yesterday. He was the amazingly creative force behind Collings Guitars for over 40 years. Through his unique and innate understanding of how things work, and how to make things work better, he set the bar in our industry and touched many lives in the process. His skill and incredible sense of design were not just limited to working with wood, but were also obvious in his passion for building hot rods. To Bill, the design and execution of elegant form and function were what mattered most. Perhaps even more exceptional than his ability to craft some of the finest instruments in the world, was his ability to teach and inspire. He created a quality-centered culture that will carry on to honor his life's work and legacy. He was loved by many and will be greatly missed. Our hearts are with his family. William R. Collings 8/9/1948 – 7/14/2017

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Jonathan Lewis – Raggle Taggle Gypsies (Tab)

Raggle Taggle Gypsies (Tab)

Jonathan Lewis’s campanella ebook
is right up there with John King’s as one of my favourite tab books. And he’s just relased a new one Classic Folk Songs for Fingerstyle Ukulele (affiliate link). Which also has traditional tunes but this time arranged in a simpler, more approachable form.

Jon was kind enough to let me post one of the tabs from his book and I picked Raggle Taggle Gypsies. The tune is a big favourite of mine with my favourite version being Martin Carthy’s. I recorded my own version based on his tab making a few changes to suit my style.


Buy Classic Folk Songs for Fingerstyle Ukulele on Gumroad.

Muted Strums Tutorial

Muted strums are a useful tool to have in your repertoire. They can add percussion and syncopation to an otherwise boring strum.

You perform them by resting a finger or fingers from your fretting hand on the strings. You need to hold them down enough so the strings don’t ring open but not strong enough to hold them down. If you just rest them against the string without applying any pressure it should do the trick.

There are a few different ways you can perform them:

One/Two finger mute: Relax the chord you’re holding, lay pinkie or ringer finger or both across the strings. The advantage of this is that you keep your fretting fingers in the chord position. So it's useful for mid-strum mutes.

All-finger mute: Rest all your fingers across the strings. This produces a very solid mute but does mean your fingers are out of position for chords.

Chord release mute: If a chord has you fretting all the strings you can create a mute just by releasing pressure with your fingers just enough to stop the chord sounding. The advantage with this technique is you can very quickly switch between muted and open strums.

A Chnk Alternative

The most obvious way to use muted strums is as a substitute for chnks. They provide a similar percussive sound but are easier to pull off.

Here’s a typical chnk strum played with one finger muted strums. Slowly then up to speed.

d u x u d u x u

The main advantage they have over chnks is that they can be played on up-strums as well as down-strums.

d u x x d u x x

Nirvana Style Mutes

Another common place to use them is between chord changes. Most famously used in Smells Like Teen Spirit.

In this example I’m using all-finger muting.

d – d – x x x x

Niles Rogers Style Mutes

The speed you can apply the chord release muting makes it perfect for funk and disco chord vamps. The great part is that you can just strum down-up-down-up and switch between muted and unmuted strums to create the rhythm.

In this example I’m playing and muting a G9 chord 4555.

Picking Hand Muting

You can also mute the strings at the strumming end of the uke by resting the side of your hand on the strings just in front of the bridge. That dampens the string while still letting you fret the strings and produce a note. You can do this while strumming but it’s even more effective on single notes.

Here’s a little riff on the C-string just switching between the third and fifth fret. I play this with fingerpicking but this technique works well if you’re using a pick and is easier that way.

Further Reading

How to Play Ukulele Strums: my ebook on all things strum related.
Easy alternatives to chnking
Strum blocking

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