Interesting facts about ukulele:
The ukulele is a four-stringed small guitar-like instrument with a soundboard shaped like a tear. Its name roughly means “jumping flea” perhaps because of the way the instrument is played: quick jumps from one fret to the other. The strings are plucked either by the thumb or fingers or through the use of a felt pick.
Ukuleles in History:
The ukulele has been associated with Hawaiian music, having been developed sometime in the 1880s when Portuguese from Madeira and Cape Verde landed in the Hawaiian Islands. It was an adaptation of the machete, a Portuguese stringed instrument. Three Madeiran cabinet makers who migrated to Hawaii were credited to be the first ukulele makers: Manuel Nunez, Augusto Diaz, and Jose do Espiritu Santo.
In 1915, the instrument was played for a stateside audience in an international exposition held in San Francisco, and there was no turning back. Americans caught up with the “uke,” and soon it became part of the US mainland favorite music, becoming an icon of the Jazz Age as well as early country music. Its popularity continued until the early 60s, after which it experienced a hiatus coming back only in the 90s.
New musicians took to playing the uke going as far as creating uke music books for those aspiring to play the instrument. 1993 saw the uke’s climb to the charts when it was used to render the reggae-inspired version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “What a Wonderful World.” The ukulele is now part of pop music and has been used even in commercial advertisements.
Modern Day Ukuleles:
As with any other musical instrument, the ukulele has never been exempt from the changes brought about by the times. Currently, there are four common sizes: the soprano (or standard uke), concert (manufactured starting the 1920’s), tenor and baritone. The other less known are the sopranisimo, the bass (2010) and the contrabass (2014).
The Top 5 Brands:
With the ukulele gaining popularity, manufacturers have fought tooth and nail to get the bigger share of the market. The following will give you an insight of what each of these manufacturers is strong in. Hopefully, if you are planning to buy and learn to play the instrument, the following can help you make the right decision.
Kala had its origins in Petaluma, California, where its roots were influenced by the mixture of artists, vineyard farmers, breweries and technology companies. Its countryside location could have been the reason that despite its seeming absence from the 60’s to the 90’s in the global scene, the ukulele thrived in Petaluma. This presence is evident from the different styles that have evolved and are being manufactured up to the present times.
The Kala KA15S Soprano Ukulele (Mahogany Finish) is one of the more popular Kala ukes in the market today. It has the following features:
– It has 12-fret neck (brass-made) marked at specific points including the neck and the top of the fingerboard.
– The fingerboard, as well as the bridge, is made of rosewood.
– It has a smooth finish and toothed tuners to prevent chord slips.
– Attached strings are Aquila Nylgut (Premium).
This uke is a good starter piece for those just learning to play it. The affordable price is incredible considering that its make is impeccable (with its mahogany body and neck) and the pre-strung Aquila Nylguts give a resonance that is very pleasing to the ears. The only caveat is the tuning, but there are available instructionals on the net to help on this.
Mahalo prides itself in putting the same effort to their starter ukes as they do in their elite uke series. Thus, even for a starter uke, you will enjoy not only its low price but also get the unparalleled craftsmanship that Mahalo puts in all of its ukes. Take a peek at one of Mahalo’s more known soprano ukes – the MK1TBR Kahiko Soprano Ukulele.
The Mahalo Kahiko MK1TBR has the following features:
-The uke has a semi-gloss finish.
-It has a mahogany fingerboard and bridge.
-It is equipped with brass frets.
If you want to embark on playing the instrument but are not sure if this will go long term, this uke is a good choice. It is relatively inexpensive and will be useful if you are just starting to learn to play. This instrument is pre-strung, but it might take a while for the string to settle, so regular tuning is required.
Oscar Schmidt has been part of country music for a while now with their line of stringed instruments. Founded in 1871, the company made hay when their guitars were introduced to the countryside where no music stores existed. At that time, two factors worked for them: their accessible prices and their availability locally. Later, it became more popular because of its superior tone and volume.
Oscar Schmidt has the OUB1 Ukulele – Satin for the new generation uke player of today. This banjo-style uke was famous in the 20’s and 30’s. The body is round like the banjo and produces the banjo’s distinctive sound while the tuning and playing style uke. These are some of its features:
-This banjolele has a Remo head.
-It has a resonator made of mahogany.
-It has a flame maple veneer headstock and a bound rosewood fingerboard.
This uke is more like banjo although it is still a legitimately a uke. It is concert size so that it is a bit heavier. Some of those who bought this suggest that a strap be attached. The tone is a bit mellow that the soprano ukes.
Ibanez’ roots date back to 1908 when it started as the musical sales division of a Japanese bookstore. The brand name became known in 1929 when Hoshino Gakki, the bookstore’s owners imported guitars from Spain. When the company was bought in 1933, Gakki started manufacturing Spanish guitars initially using the brand Ibanez Salvador and later dropping the second name to be known later as the famous Ibanez brand.
Ibanez guitars started getting famous in the late 50’s with its wild designs. However, in the 60’s, an attempt to copy American guitar designs put Ibanez in a series of lawsuits that they eventually abandoned the idea of copying designs and making their own.
Ibanez has produced a uke that features the high gloss finish and metal tuning keys that electric guitars are more known for – the UKS10.
Ibanez UKS10 is a soprano style uke with a EW Cut Sapele Body and high gloss finish. This uke has the following features:
-Its neck is mahogany while the body is Sapele.
-The fretboard is made of Rosewood.
-Its tuning keys work well and are made from metal unlike the more common plastic ones that usually slip.
Many of those who use this instrument praise it for its quality build. However, when it comes to intonation, much is to be asked as although it can carry a good tone, it becomes a little bit sharp towards the neck. It can play a tune, albeit not a lively one.
Fender has been known to transform the world of with the music it has brought since it started in 1946. Its founder, Leo Fender, has studies the hollow bodied guitar and thought of taking out the hollow body and amplifying the sound so that even small groups can be heard far and wide. With his revolutionary inventions, almost every music maker from country to jazz to rock and role has had the opportunity to use his new “inventions.”
Although the following uke remained hollow-bodied, its ability to amp its sound and to be played acoustically is characteristic of the Fender tradition in bringing out the sound even with the littlest numbers and to a big crowd.
Fender Concert Ukulele “Mino’Aka”. This uke is a tenor uke that got its name from the world “smile” which is what the player would do once he starts fiddling of the strings and also the reaction of the listeners when they hear the deep mellow sounds.
This uke has the following features:
-The body and the 3-piece neck are all made of mahogany.
-It has a 19-fret rosewood fingerboard.
-Wood of body and fingerboard binding are all aged thus eliminating the possibility of expanding which may result to bad intonation.
-It has vintage-style chrome tuners that not only ensure quality tones but also add to the classy look.
-The uke has a smooth, natural satin finish and is stringed up with Aquila Nylgut strings for that comfortable soft feel.
This tenor uke is just the right size for someone transitioning play from a guitar. What makes this uke stand out from the others is that it can be played acoustically and amplified so that it makes for easy recording. As with other ukes though, the strings need time to settle (about a week) after which the user will not have any problems with tuning.
The preceding mentions the features that one may have to take into consideration when buying their very first ukulele. Although one brand may seem more superior over the others, it is a matter of preference so that what may be superior to one may be just acceptable to another. It all boils down to your uke “singing” your musical style.