View Full Version : Returning to the uke after years off and need advice

11-22-2011, 06:29 AM
Hi all. Excuse the length of this, but I want to put my "problem" into a context and I wonder if anyone can help me?

I learned to play a ukulele when I was about six or seven in the early 1970s and haven't picked one up since, though I can still remember most of the chord shapes. I learned on a uke that was tuned to D (A, D, F sharp, B) though I read that for some time now they most popular tuning is to C (G, E, C and A). I don't see that as being an issue. I should perhaps point out that I have been playing rhythm and folk guitar for around 30 years.

I am returning to the uke. My amateur dramatics group is putting on Aladdin which includes the song Chinese Laundry Blues (Mr Wu) and I unwittingly let on that I used to play the uke. Suffice to say I am going to be doing it!

I have been to a couple of music shops and looked at ukes. I clearly need to practice, but I also need to find the right instrument in size and sound. Here are the issues/areas on which I could use some help.

1. Soprano seems very small for my fingers, though it might just be a case of getting reused to/readjusting. Maybe concert or tenor would be better?

2. When I try and play a bar chord such as E7 (D7 if tuned to C) I am damping the strings and it sounds truly awful. E flat 7 with a bar on the first fret is even worse! Basic chords such as D, D7, A7 and G are fine. Again, it may be a case of readjusting and practice, though I suspect I am trying to play a guitar bar and maybe need some advice on technique.

3. Would a ukulelebanjo be better? Or is there a ukulele that I could play exactly as I play a guitar? I have worked out an arrangement of the song for guitar and I can do this in alternative keys. I hope to adapt this to the ukulele but and I wonder if something I can play like a guitar would be better? This might be the quickest and easiest option.

I hope I will regain enthusiasm for the uke and keep it up after this panto (if I survive it!); that is a long term aim, though. In the short term I need to get Chinese Laundry Blues perfected......and learn to keep my mouth shut!

Thank you in anticipation for any replies.

Jason Paul
11-22-2011, 05:26 PM
Someone may be along with better answers, but I'll take a stab.

1. If you want it to sound like a uke, I'd recommend a soprano or a concert. To me, a tenor has a little too much fullness (or something), and doesn't sound as uke-like.

2. I think this is just an issue of practice.

3. If you want it to sound like a uke, get a uke. If the song is just a chord progression (rather than picking a melody), it should be fairly easy to just learn the chords on the uke. If you don't really care about it sounding like a uke, maybe a tenor guitar or similar. Another option would be a baritone, which is tuned like the first four strings of a guitar. Of course, it won't sound quite like a uke, and isn't tuned exactly like a guitar since there are only four strings.


11-23-2011, 09:30 AM
I agree with what Jason Paul said but if you're after the Formby sound, definitely a banjo uke would be the way to go.

11-23-2011, 09:37 AM
Well, you could pick up a baritone which is tuned the same as guitar, so your chords would be the same, just without the top two strings. However, IMO, they sound more guitar like than uke like.

Soprano does feel small when coming from the context of 30 years of guitar. Lots of people who come from guitar seem to prefer tenor size ukulele as it gives more spacing on the frets but still sounds uke-like.

The only thing I can add to improving sound with some chords is that you may want to try a softer touch using less pressure when fretting uke as compared to guitar. Ukuleles tend to need much less pressure to fret cleanly.

Good luck, and welcome back to the uke!

11-23-2011, 11:20 AM
Since you are planning to perform, and it is important that the instrument looks like a uke as well as sounding like a uke, I'd go with a soprano. And as kenikas said, the banjo uke will give you the Formby sound... and a banjo uke will also get you the volume that you're going to want on stage.

Specific recommendations would be the Gold Tone BUS or BUC, or a nice vintage soprano banjolele from the ebay.

11-23-2011, 11:37 AM
A couple examples available now on Ebay



11-23-2011, 11:51 AM
for the reasons that you have long term guitar experience and going to perform in public, I would suggest you start from tenor and baritone ukes. Comparing to soprano,the fretboards are not that small, and the instruments give you full ability to do your performance.

11-23-2011, 12:35 PM
Thank you VERY much for all the replies, useful suggestions and tips, guys. They are all greatly appreciated.

I have some more instruments to try out!

11-23-2011, 03:04 PM
Welcome to UU Plonker!

I don't think a Banjo Uke will be any easier to play, just louder. I think if you want a uke-like sound you should stay with a soprano or a concert sized uke. You can get long neck versions of these sizes (concert neck on soprano body, and tenor neck on concert body). A long neck would give your hand a bit more space to play with. Since you are a guitar player, you will appreciate the extra space. I also think the longer scales are more forgiving in intonation. It is very easy to bend a string out of tune on a soprano. The bar problem will resolve itself with practice. Barring on a uke is much easier than barring on a guitar. Try and lighten up on your touch on the left hand. The uke doesn't need the "death grip" that the guitar sometimes requires. There are guitarleles, and Yamaha has one http://www.amazon.com/Yamaha-GL-1-Guitar-Ukulele-Guitarlele/dp/B004N6RBWW.. not too expensive and tuned to ADGCEA which is like the the uke tuning with extra strings. That will sound more guitar-like, since I think it is a tenor body.
You might also consider a concert neck Flea. http://www.fleamarketmusic.com/store/Scripts/prodList.asp?idCategory=6 Might look good in an Aladdin musical. They are also pretty easy to play, and have good intonation.

Good luck

11-23-2011, 06:15 PM
Welcome! I think I agree with all of these answers. I find the Concert series ukulele to be the best for a woman's hands. It has the voice that sounds like halfway between a soprano and a tenor. There are a lot of models in this size, and there seems to be plenty of room on the fretboard.
The most important thing is - HAVE A BALL!

12-14-2011, 03:30 AM
Hi Folks.

Well, I got myself a concert ukulele (I must have a woman's hands, Nickie!!!!) and, after a bit of practice and adapting the arrangement I worked out, it is sounding not too bad. It will be good enough come performance time.

I have suggested a rewrite of the scene which the producer has accepted. I will explain to the audience that I have been told to play the uke and will start off with a couple of bars of "When I'm cleaning windows" only to be told that's not the number I should be doing. Then I'll try "Leaning on the lamppost" and will be stopped from doing that as well. Widow Twanky will point out that as we are in Aladdin we should do the song about the Chinese Laundry Man. When I ask "who?" the reply will be "no, Wu" and we'll go into Mr Wu and his Chinese Laundry Blues. It's panto!

It hasn't taken long to pick the uke up again and......I am most certainly having a ball.

Thanks again for all the useful recommendations and advice, folks. It's greatly appreciated. And if anyone can suggest a better gag than the one above.........