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revo11
12-28-2011, 06:07 AM
Hey all,

I'd consider myself an intermediate-ish uke player. I use fingerpicking a lot to be able to play more complex parts and arrangements.

One thing I noticed when I record myself is that I can play the notes fine, but the tone isn't really that appealing to listen to. Does anyone have tips for getting better tone out of a fingerpicking style?

It's hard to describe the issues in words, but roughly speaking my sound is a little more plastic-y than I'd like. The attack transient sounds a bit too loud/plastic/spiky and the sustain/decay a little too thin+fast.

I have a hamano soprano. I generally like playing it, and to be honest, it doesn't sound so bad to my ears as I'm playing it, but when I listen to the recording it doesn't sound great. It's possible there may be two things to work on - how to fingerpick better and how best to record the uke. I come from kindof an electronic music production background I have an apogee one interface, so I'm not entirely clueless about recording in general, but any tips on improving the uke sound would be welcome as well.

fabioponta
12-28-2011, 06:47 AM
It seems you use Aquila Nylgut strings on your Hamano. Try Worth Brown strings fluorcarbon strings and you will see a big diference in tone.

Ken Middleton
12-28-2011, 06:55 AM
Your instrument is fine. Tone has really got very little to do with the instrument. Obviously a cheap plywood uke is not going to sound as good as a hand-made uke using high-quality tone-woods. However, ask yourself, which would sound better: a simple tune played by James Hill on a $100 uke, or the same tune played by a less experienced player on a $1000 uke?

Neither is it really to do with the strings. Good quality strings (as opposed to cheap nylon ones) will always sound good in the hands of an experienced player. A number of top players just use fishing line anyway.

A good tone is produced primarily by the player. Here are some important factors. Not a complete list by any means, and in no particular order.

1. Play with finger nails.
2. Very smooth, correctly shaped finger nails.
3. Pluck the string at the best angle for the tone you want to create.
4. Move your hand fingers and wrist the right amount. Don't really move the arm.
5. Pluck the sting in the best place for the tone you want.
6. Use vibrato when it is called for (more often than you think).
7. Pluck at the correct volume for the passage (often louder than you think).
8. Allow the body of the uke to vibrate.
9. Don't cover the sound hole.
10. Don't prevent the table from resonating.

revo11
12-28-2011, 07:53 AM
Thanks for the tips - I didn't mean to imply it had anything to do with my gear. Obviously it's mostly playing style/ability, which is what I mainly meant to ask about.

1. Play with finger nails.
2. Very smooth, correctly shaped finger nails.

This sounds vain, but I'm not quite ready to make the sacrifice of explaining my witch-like appearance to people. I love John Fahey and all... maybe someday in the future when I'm less constrained by cultural/social norms...

3. Pluck the string at the best angle for the tone you want to create.
4. Move your hand fingers and wrist the right amount. Don't really move the arm.
5. Pluck the sting in the best place for the tone you want.

I'll experiment with angles. I suspect that it is true that I don't make enough contact with the string. I live in an apartment and don't have a chance to play loud too much, so my plucking style probably reflects that.

6. Use vibrato when it is called for (more often than you think).

I already do this a lot. I especially love the sound of classical vibrato on nylon strings.

7. Pluck at the correct volume for the passage (often louder than you think).

Yes...

8. Allow the body of the uke to vibrate.

I usually hold the uke in one of two ways 1) balanced on my right leg at a 45 degree angle with minimal contact with my body 2) when I'm relaxing or playing standing up, I'll cradle it next to my body. Maybe I should do more of (1) and less of (2), esp. when recording. Is there anything else I can do to facilitate the body to resonate?

9. Don't cover the sound hole.

Not sure how I would do that if I tried.

10. Don't prevent the table from resonating.

Not sure what this means... my ukulele isn't in contact with any sort of table when I'm playing. Maybe this is terminology I'm not familiar with.

Thanks!

Ken Middleton
12-28-2011, 08:06 AM
Haha. The table is the top of the uke.

itsme
12-28-2011, 08:16 AM
1. Play with finger nails.
2. Very smooth, correctly shaped finger nails.

This sounds vain, but I'm not quite ready to make the sacrifice of explaining my witch-like appearance to people. I love John Fahey and all... maybe someday in the future when I'm less constrained by cultural/social norms...
Your nails don't need to be long and pointy. I keep mine fairly short, with just a little nail peaking over the fingertip. I file them to the natural curve of the nailbed.

You will not get the same clear, loud tone "picking" with the fingertip pads as you would with nails.

Nuprin
12-28-2011, 03:34 PM
Coming from a different direction, what are you using for recording gear? There's a reason why people spend thousands of dollars on nice microphones, preamps, etc. If you're using the built-in mic on your computer for instance, that could very well account for the difference in the recorded tone vs. how it sounds when you play it live.

gritstone
12-29-2011, 10:47 PM
Revo11 - I know exacly what you mean. I'm in a similar position.

It seems to me that, once you feel confident at playing a specific tune, there's another level of playing you need to acheive... and that's to really listen to yourself playing the tune and 'interpret' the music your way. Spent time getting the feel of the uke with the specific tune, so the uke and you perform to the best of its, and your ability. Then, you will really play the tune.

It all feels quite natural to me... But then again, no one else is listening but me :-)

Keonikapila
12-30-2011, 10:06 AM
Another thing to keep in mind is the mic placement as you're recording. It sounds different to your ears because your ears are behind the ukulele. Listening to mic audio as you're playing can help you make the adjustments in your style. Also, something as simple as pointing the mic more towards the fretboard than the soundhole can give slightly less "twang" and little more "warmth" to the recording (depending on the mic, this might not matter much with a cheap omnidirectional)

Shakespeare
12-30-2011, 11:08 AM
If you wanted to seriously study tone you should consider looking into classical guitar. For the past 100 years or so the general consenus has been to grow the nails parallel to the edge of the fingertip. A more recent trend is to shape them at an angle in order to achieve a (for want of a better word) fatter tone. The nails can be shaped to different lengths and contours for different things. The ring finger (or A/anular in classical guitar terms), for example, can be grown longer than the others and with more of a pronounced than rounded point because that is the finger which usually plays the melody or lead lines. The length that the nails protrude beyond the edge of the fingertip varies alot. Francisco Tarrega (an important composer for the guitar) cut his nails all the way back behind his fingertips when he retired from public performing and played using only his flesh from then until his death. Julian Bream, on the other hand, kept his nails very long and, from what I can tell, would frequently not touch the string at all with any flesh. Many flamenco players glue on fake nails and then shape them, Edgar Cruz being one example. If you are interested in how nail shape and texture affects tone there is alot of information online. Scott Tennant's excellent book Pumping Nylon also covers this topic, though that is a hardcore technical book that makes my head hurt.

revo11
12-30-2011, 12:51 PM
Currently using an Apogee One, which has a decent internal mic. Definitely better than my laptop mic. I also have a 57 and an mbox2 but that's a bit more of a pain to lug around. I don't think the limiting factor is the price of my gear. I've done other sorts of recording before, although I could definitely stand to experiment a bit more w/ uke recording methods (@keonikapila - thanks for the fretboard tip... I'll definitely try that!)

@shakespeare that's interesting. I noticed something similar in the flatpicking world. I used to think picking parallel to the strings was preferred, but picking at an angle definitely gives a different sort of attack sound. It also seems to be speed-friendly because there's less resistance (although I'm not a shredding kindof guy).

I stick with flesh picking partially due to vanity and social constraints (as mentioned), but I also enjoy the feeling of picking with the flesh of my fingers. After playing guitar with a pick for years (and worse - midi controllers), the nuances and timbral+dynamic control I get from touching the strings is really liberating. I guess this might limit my options/technique in some ways but I'm sticking with it for now.

I'll bet there's a pretty big market for someone to write a book on translating classical guitar techniques to intermediate-level uke playing. If anyone knows of such a book let me know.