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View Full Version : Advice From Amateur Ukulele Vets Who Played Guitar



martinfan
08-21-2015, 03:10 AM
This is quite specific advice sought. I seek the "hoary head" sage in spite of the mandate to not "trust anyone over 30." I seek it from amateurs, rather than professionals, because the pro often has talent that moves from instrument to instrument.

More than a few amateur guitar players developed arthritis in their hands, in their 50's or 60's, and began to play the ukulele, only to fall in love with it.

This question is specifically geared towards anyone who fits the above setting:

Do you recommend someone in this position begin with a Baritone ukulele, so that the strings are the same as the guitar, or to go to a Tenor with the "ukulele" tuning? (or smaller though our hands need to adjust to the tiny size).

In the same sense, if you had to do it all over again, would you, who began on the Tenor, preferred to have begun your journey on the Baritone (guitar tuning) to make the transition easier, or did you choose the right path?

Thanks, so much!

RichM
08-21-2015, 03:43 AM
I learned ukulele after playing guitar for many, many years. I was actually turned off by the baritone uke at that point, because it just felt like a slightly different version of a guitar, an instrument I could already play. I was much more attracted to the re-entrant uke, which had a unique and different sound. I started on a concert, tried every size after that, and eventually came back to the concert. To me, the concert size is a good compromise between the focused sound that I identify with the uke, and enough fretboard space that I feel comfortable.

BTW, I didn't find it difficult to move to a different tuning. Since standard uke tuning has the same intervals as standard guitar tuning, it's a pretty easy shift. You just have to remember that your D shape is now a G, and so on. It comes to you pretty fast.

Everybody wants something different, but that's my story :).

PhilUSAFRet
08-21-2015, 04:00 AM
I "attempted" to learn guitar, but gave up. I prefer the concert size myself and it seems that while some former guitar players choose ukes that are closer in size to a guitar, many choose to play anything from sopranino's to baritones. A few are even getting short scale tenor guitars and tuning them GCEA.
Play a few sizes and choose what feels best in your hands. If you have a store nearby with a selection of uke sizes, visit them. Next best thing is a uke club or a uke festival.

The Big Kahuna
08-21-2015, 04:02 AM
After playing guitar for 35 years, I decided to give the ukulele a try, not because of any particular health issues (although I do have mild arthritis), but because it's a stringed instrument, and because of its connection to Hawaii, a place I love dearly (most of the time).

I started with a tenor, and will continue to play this size. In addition to my tenor ukes, I own one soprano and a baritone-scale Islander guitarlele.

I have no interest in owning a baritone uke. If I want a longer scale length, I'll grab one of my guitars. If I ever hanker after a longer scale 4 string, I'll buy a tenor guitar, but don't hold your breath.

<edit>

I should also perhaps point out that 95% of the time (at least), I play one of my guitars in preference to a uke.

Highmiles
08-21-2015, 04:04 AM
Well, I guess you pretty well summed me up in your criteria.
I have a tenor and a concert, but find the tenor to be the easiest to play. Probably the ultimate instrument for me would be a thin body tenor like KoAloha makes, or a concert long neck with the tenor neck and concert body. From a pure comfort to play standpoint, they would have to be at the top of the list, based on my physical handicaps.
Keep in mind, that while the string and fret spacing is important, the overall body shape and size plays a part also, as does the sound you prefer. Because I personally like the iconic sound of an all Koa tenor, I will eventually end up with either a KoAloha slim tenor, or a Kamaka HF-3.
Hope that helps in your selection.

Highmiles
08-21-2015, 04:31 AM
Oops, follow up to the rest of your post. I went with standard GCEA in the concert and tenor and it really wasn't a problem, because the chord shapes are the same. The Baratone was never a consideration for me, for two reasons. First, the size is not as comfortable to me, and secondly, I wanted a purely ukulele sound, if I was going to switch. I will probably convert my Kala tenor to low g at some point to see if I like it, but to be honest I really don't want to get to close to the sound of a "little guitar". I realize that is really just my personal preference and not at all reflective of the ukulele community.
Just for reference, when I brought my first ukulele home, I was able to play for three hours straight, with no discomfort at all. That alone proved to me that I still had a future with stringed instruments. I am having as much, or more fun now, than I had with my guitars when I was younger.
P.S. I was also a Martin guitar lover and went through several, as I guess your name implies of you.

kypfer
08-21-2015, 04:42 AM
This is quite specific advice sought. I seek the "hoary head" sage in spite of the mandate to not "trust anyone over 30." I seek it from amateurs, rather than professionals, because the pro often has talent that moves from instrument to instrument.

More than a few amateur guitar players developed arthritis in their hands, in their 50's or 60's, and began to play the ukulele, only to fall in love with it.

This question is specifically geared towards anyone who fits the above setting:

Do you recommend someone in this position begin with a Baritone ukulele, so that the strings are the same as the guitar, or to go to a Tenor with the "ukulele" tuning? (or smaller though our hands need to adjust to the tiny size).

In the same sense, if you had to do it all over again, would you, who began on the Tenor, preferred to have begun your journey on the Baritone (guitar tuning) to make the transition easier, or did you choose the right path?

Thanks, so much!

My arthritis tends to be a problem when I'm doing a lot of "chording" ... an hour on the 12-string is too much, a couple of hours on a 6-string steel-strung guitar is manageable ... as yet nylon strings aren't usually a problem. So, my choice of ukulele is based more on style of music (or style of playing) rather than anything else.

For me ... a conventionally-strung baritone is too much like a guitar to bother with, but string it in 5th's, like an Irish banjo, and it's a whole new instrument for melody playing :)

I bought my tenor for "chording" up the neck, my concert is just too cramped for those four-finger jazz chords up past the 9th fret. I could learn to do it on a guitar, but why struggle ;)

My concert and sopranos are used for whatever they're good for, strumming along in a confined space and playing "early" music finger-style.

The banjolele is LOUD ... clawhammer all the way !!

Ultimately, the choice is yours ... you'll probably end up getting one (or more) of each size anyway ... don't fight it ... enjoy!

martinfan
08-21-2015, 07:47 AM
Thanks so much to all, I am hearing...

The baritone did not give guitarists the 'feel' of the ukulele in terms of sound. This is what guided me towards a tenor: a more traditional ukulele sound

Guitarists did not seem to struggle in making the shift over to the tuning of ukulele. I am glad to hear this because it has not been that challenging, and I thought I might be doing something wrong.

Aging hands do struggle with barre chords, and as one said, a 12 string is even rougher on the hands.

A consideration for me with the baritone was being able to going back to practicing "guitar" for hours, rather than the 30 minute limit I am currently under due to arthritis.

I am also interested in landing a banjolele to add to my Tascam DP-004 recording! No mics, other than the internals, and if the dog barks in the background, my grandkids will one day recognize the sound! (I have tried other Tascam models that have reverb...if you are making a choice between the two, having the capacity to add reverb to your recording is not a bad idea! Mine was a bargain purchase but I have fun).

Thanks for all the replies!

The Big Kahuna
08-21-2015, 08:14 AM
A consideration for me with the baritone was being able to going back to practicing "guitar" for hours, rather than the 30 minute limit I am currently under due to arthritis.

Have you considered trying a slim necked semi-acoustic, an Epiphone 335 perhaps. You could string it with a set of .009 to .038 and have a guitar tech drop the action down to 1 or 2 mm at the 12th fret. If you really hate the acoustic sound, you could play it through a modelling amp (and a set of headphones for late-night practice) and emulate an acoustic that way. My Peavey Vypyr VIP 1 does a great job of making my Patrick Eggle Berlin Pro sound like an acoustic. Or you could just buy a Roland JC120 (my favourite amp of all time), and go with one of the most beautiful sounds that it's possible to wring out of an instrument.

If weight is an issue, the Yamaha silent guitars are incredible, and the build in amp/effects have to be heard to be believed (again, headphone output is built in). Both the nylon and steel string versions can be strung with low tension strings, and maybe even tuned down half a step, if the tension is a problem.

<edit> I've just noticed from another thread that you & I are exactly the same age, and possibly suffer from arthritis to a similar degree.

70sSanO
08-21-2015, 09:47 AM
I started to play guitar when I was 13 and played it off and on for years. I have also played bass for a number of years. Since I played mostly rhythm, I played a lot of barre chords and my left thumb would ache.

In 2007 I bought a soprano ukulele, primarily because I found out the chord shapes where the same and I figured I would try it out. Since then I have not played much guitar.

After a few months I bought a second uke, a tenor and that is the size that I play the most. With a guitar background fingerpicking on guitar, I just continued from there with the ukulele. My left thumb will still hurt at times if I play a lot. I have a long scale tenor so the string tension is greater, but it is still not as bad as when I play guitar.

The one thing I have found it that there is not enough room, at least for me, to play up the neck on a soprano and I never developed a love for strumming. Eventually I ended up playing melodies and that is where I am now.

I think a lot has to do with whether or not you intend to play and sing, or just play. If you are going to strum and sing, it is really finding the most comfortable size.

Low g (linear) high g (re-entrant) tuning is really preference. I tend to use my right thumb on the g string and find there is less of a thud with high g tuning. I know that it depends on the uke and strings, but every time I have tried low g tuning I have abandoned it.

John

martinfan
08-22-2015, 03:34 AM
Interesting, John.

I have the high G tuning, and struggle with it a bit because of guitar alternate bass fingerpicking. With the high G, in fingerpicking, I have to slow down and remind myself that it is going to be a high sound, not low bass! In fingerpicking out the melody on one of Fred Sokolow's pieces, it is especially awkward as I am reaching 'down' to get a 'higher' note!

I think I made the right decision in starting with a tenor over a baritone.

70sSanO
08-22-2015, 05:13 AM
I understand the high G dilemma. I think some of the difficulty for me has been in not being able to find a low G string that had the right tone and volume. Either it dominates the sound or it is too floppy. Tried wound guitar and various types, but I just haven't found the sound.

John

strumsilly
08-22-2015, 05:22 AM
played guitar 20 yrs. started uke with a soprano I got in a pawn shop for $35. I have all sizes now but the one I play most often is a Koaloha tenor.#2 is a 19" scale Favilla baritone tuned C. If you want a more traditional uke sound on a bari you can tune it GCEA, or gCEA. I think a baritone gives you the most flexibility .

k0k0peli
08-24-2015, 09:08 PM
Echoing a few others: I started on guitar a half-century ago (after a year of dulcimer) and have played intensively ever since. (Yes, I was a busker but no, I'm not a pro.) I've been on mandolin less intensively (until lately!) for three decades and just started on 'uke a couple years ago, with most of my focus in just the last few months. I have sopranos, a concert, tenors, and a baritone. I do not care for the bari in DGBE -- much too guitar-like. 'Ukes are 'ukes, dammit!

I like playing with different stringings. I like sopranos strung in 5ths like mandos, and their necks are comfortably wider -- yeah, they're like miniature tenor guitars. I like my 4-string concert and tenor re-entrant, gCEa. I plan to string a bari as a Venezuelan cuatro, GceA. I like my 6-string tenor in g-cC-E-Aa, my 8-string tenor in gG-cC-EE-aa, and my 10-string tiple (tenor) in gG-cCc-eEe-aa. Except for the sopranos in 5ths, all these stringings use the same chord forms as guitar in EADGBE and play like 'ukes when strummed but demand very different fingerings when picking (counter)melodies.

I don't find the 6- and 8- and 10-string tenors any more difficult to play than the 4-string concert and tenor -- with low-tension strings, the wider courses are more comfortable than single strings. I do find the tenors a bit easier to play up the neck than the concert, but it just sounds so sweet!

As a guitarist looking at a baritone I see some options. I mentioned stringing one as a cuatro, with the top and bottom strings lower than the middle. This GceA tuning has been around for 500 years; you might look into that. Start here. (http://www.southcoastukes.com/007.htm) I might string my current small-voiced bari for slack-key playing with gCEg, or GcEg. I might try some modal tunings. I would NOT string the bari in 5ths; it's the same scale length as my mandola, and that's a real stretch for chording, even with my rather large hands that manipulate 12-string guitars.

How about when hands are REALLY messed up? A friend suffered a terrible injury; he adapted by tuning his guitar open and only playing bottleneck.

martinfan
08-26-2015, 01:17 PM
Thanks, especially for the link.

My thinking has been that the baritone would be easier to learn since there are no new chordings to learn; just an adjustment especially since I play lots of country blues with alternate bass quite a lot.

I have a tenor and am adjusting to the new fingering and hope to be able to pick out some songs that I can solo with. I am working on the Beatles, "I Will" and find it ain't easy on the tiny ukulele!

k0k0peli
08-29-2015, 09:02 PM
To integrate guitar experience with 'ukes, consider 5- or 6- or 8-string tenors (or modified baritones). They both give a more guitar-like feel when playing than standard re-entrant setups while retaining more of a traditional 'uke sound than linear tunings.

* My Oscar Schmidt OU28T 8-string tenor is strung gG-cC-EE-aa -- well, at the moment it's down a whole tone for a different voice, but we'll pretend it's not. Anyway, it has both low-G and high-G and overall gives a very mini-twelve-string flavor to music. It doesn't really have a re-entrant air but it's still obviously more 'uke than guitar.

* My wife got me started seriously in 'ukes when she bought me a Kala KA6 6-string tenor, originally strung g-cC-E-aA. Very re-entrant, and with a bass string on top! Trying to fingerpick that drove me nutz! My first act was to swap the top course, putting the high-A on top. Picking that string near the bridge lets me accentuate the high note rather than its bassier mate. But it's still rather weird to play.

* I recently replaced the Kala's high-G with a low-G. Wow, what a difference! Now it's tuned more like a Venezuelan cuatro which traditionally is GceA, the inverse of an 'uke's gCEa. On an 'uke the high notes are top and bottom and low notes are inside; on a cuatro they're vice-versa. So now my Kala is G-cC-E-Aa, which is, what? double or triple re-entrant but with bass on the bottom where it should be as well as on top where it's a surprise. Very re-entrant 'uke sound but deeper, almost like a bari, with very guitar-like playability (if handled right) and a definite 'uke sound. It's becoming a favorite.

* I've not played a 5-string myself but I know the bottom course is in octaves. Depending on how we attack the course, we can emphasize the lower or higher note, or just get a richer tone.

* I mentioned modified baritones. Following the lead of this Indestructables.Com project (http://www.instructables.com/id/Make-an-8-String-Ukulele-From-your-Normal-Ukulele/) it's straightforward to modify many 'ukes for more strings. For a minimal mod, add just one with the bottom course in octaves. A 5-string baritone tuned dD-G-B-e would have a guitar feel and an 'uke sound and a good fit for larger and/or ailing hands.

As I said, I don't find playing my multi-course tenors physically more difficult than a 4-string. YMMV.

katysax
08-30-2015, 08:53 AM
For me the transition to different keys has never been a problem. I prefer the uke sound and feel of the tenor, concert and soprano to the baritone. Probably because I started out on the clarinet and then learned various saxes, I am pretty comfortable with transposing from key to key. I often played my guitar with a capo to make a song more singer friendly. I just have a picture of the cycle of fifths in my head and when I change keys I turn the wheel in my imagination. Guitar to uke is easy because you just have to make one shift to the left. My spouse, who is a much better musician than I, has a much harder time transposing and avoids the uke for that reason. I think in the long run though you are better off learning to make the switch.