Category Archives: Ukulele Geekery

All things ukulele!

Left Handery

The more eagle eyed of you will have noticed that I play my uke the other way round to the rest of the group.  As a long time guitar player, I’m used to hunting down the left handed models (and paying the inevitable extra).  With the larger, steel strung, instruments it’s important to have the internal bracing set for left handed (not to mention scratch plates etc.)  You could just reverse the strings like Hendrix, but his instruments didn’t survive long enough for the changes in stress to become evident.

Anyway, despite the fact that I had been playing left handed guitar for longer than I’d been married, my wife completely forgot and bought me a right handed ukulele for a present.  At first, I thought this is not going to be a bother, there’s only four strings.  How hard is it going to be to play it upside down?  Well, years of reversing chord diagrams in my head have taken their toll and so I did some research.  Turns out, that we lefties are quite well off when it comes to ukes.  Because the nylon string tension is so much lower, they’re made symmetrically, so you can reverse the strings without damaging the instrument.  And since, you might want to get good strings instead of the supplied ones anyway, it’s no great bother.  Some shops will supply you with a left handed strung uke for little more than the price of a new set of Aquila strings.

The only hassle is with electrics.  I would love one of these

as it would match my Ovation guitar, but when I turn it upside down, where are the controls going to be?

So, when I saw the pretty uke on ebay that had been wired up for a left hander with a volume control in the right place.  It was going to be mine.

In the meantime, do remember, for the most part, ukuleles are very left hander friendly.

My First Ukulele

My first Ukulele was a Stagg Concert, a UC-60S. I got this as it wasn’t too expensive, but it wasn’t the cheapest either. I didn’t want to spend too much in case I didn’t take to this ukulele thing, but I didn’t want to go very cheap and have a bad experience. It was also what my local music store had in stock.

So I bought it.

Stagg Uke Bridge
A closeup of the bridge on my Stagg Concert Uke

I soon found that I needed a tuner, if I’m new to an instrument, how can I hope to know if a problem is me, or if it is that I’ve an out of tune instrument? So I bought a small electrical clip-on snark tuner and I tuned up. I soon found that my strings were not holding their tuning. New strings take a while to settle down and require frequent tuning – just what you need as a novice! Fortunately, there are ways to help the strings keep their tune (see the end of the video).

I had my ukulele. Now what? Well, I signed up for some lessons with the lovely Lorraine, and in the meantime I downloaded some songbooks from the internet. By following chord diagrams I learned to play simple two chord songs, then learned a third chord (a song such as ‘Ring of Fire’), and eventually four chords. In this way, I gradually learned the more useful chords and began to pick up speed. Indeed, I went at such as pace that Lorraine’s ‘beginners’ class seemed rather slow for me when it came. This was great progress, I was able to play an instrument!

I may not have been great, but when I started I had said to myself ‘I’ll be happy just to strum along to a few songs’.

I joined a local ukulele group (there are groups all over the world) – and fortnightly went to a local pub to jam. By early the next year I had played my first gig, admittedly as part of a large group, at a local music venue. That summer I’d played at a music festival, and by the end of the year we’d played venues big and small, from the local theatre, to beer festivals, to small venues as part of the old folks tea afternoon. It’s been a real blast – I still have to pinch myself that I’m performing in public, having picked up a musical instrument for the first time relatively recently. I’m never going to be as good as someone who started playing at a young age, but the ukulele makes me happy, and it makes my audience happy…. … it’s a happy making instrument.

My first ukulele sits in its case, hardly touched these days as I’ve now bought ukes that I use a lot more – both better ukes, and ukes that are cheap (and hence can be battered with impunity!) – the Stagg isn’t cheap enough to use and abuse, and it’s not pricey enough to be ‘great’ – so it doesn’t get out much. I’ve added some ‘buttons’ so I could fit a guitar strap, and it has a big crack from when I dropped it in the pub. But that’s okay, it’ll be there for me. It was my first ukulele, and will always have a place in my affections for that reason.