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View Full Version : What IS a Ukulele!



Bland Mango Patterson
03-07-2013, 09:55 AM
It's possible this thread has been done before but anyway ... What do you think defines the ukulele. With ukes getting bigger and reentrant tuning optional only .... A strong use of amplification and the gizmos that go with it within the 'professional' ranks, how is a Uke specifically categorised. Many could be forgiven for thinking it is a sonorous yet sustainless instrument of a short length who's fundamental 'weakness' (lack of sustain) is overcome with fast strumming and plenty of harmonic changes. This doesn't sound true of today's ukulele so ...? Do tell!

mm stan
03-07-2013, 10:13 AM
New strings now days gives lots more substain and resonation plus dropped tuning... helps with the faster tempo and helps close the gap....and GET A MOORE BETTAH UKULELE

Bland Mango Patterson
03-08-2013, 09:33 AM
I don't subscribe to the better strings trend. A great player on an ancient uke will wring out a better sound with fishing line than a mediocre stroker will with all the mod. Con. You beaut pro. Backed strings. Ukes aren't better than they were because anyone worth listening to will tell you to buy an old Martin/Gibson etc. 90% of ukuleles seem to be concert size or larger and it's this in my opinion what accounts for more sustain, resonance and of course a longer scale necessitates a lower tuning. I think the ukulele is losing the distinct sound it had and is becoming more and more generic. The more it is beginning to sound like a guitar and grow toward a guitar size it is also accepting the playing style of guitar. Once again. The short sustain and tiny resonance chamber is what distinguished a uke from another instrument yesterday and these boundaries forced it to be played in a certain manner. I asked the question because I wanted to hear if anyone could actual define a modern uke ... Not because I need a more better one.

mm stan
03-08-2013, 09:40 AM
I see you are a traditionalist in reguards to the traditional sound....me too... but we always can expand our horizons and be more flexiable...after all you cannot eat potatoes everyday...

gitarzan
03-08-2013, 09:44 AM
Attitude...

pulelehua
03-08-2013, 09:48 AM
There are a lot of suppositions in your post which might not be totally accurate:

I don't think 90% of ukulele are concert sized or larger. That would mean 10% of ukuleles are sopranos, which just seems/feels incorrect.

"Anyone worth listening to" doesn't seem to apply to the many people on this forum who will give you a laundry list of modern ukuleles which are not Martins and Gibsons. Gibsons? Do we talk about Gibsons much around here? K brands and customs mostly.

Saying that a great player will sound better than a mediocre player is a bit silly, isn't it? Jake Shimabukuro on a Makala Dolphin will outplay most any of us on a Jake's own custom.

There have been, and will continue to be, arguments about the use of softer topwoods and the accompanying "more guitar-like sound".

As for size, the concert and tenor instruments have a historical basis, and while they are popular now, they aren't new.

This is a topic which comes up from time to time. I think there are a number of camps, some of which crossover:

1. Sopranos only
2. Re-entrant only
3. Koa only
4. Koa or mahogany only
4. The vast majority who have a live and let live philosophy (a group of which I am sadly not a member - re-entrant all the way! ;) )

I'm sure people wiser than me will share their wisdom in due course.

Hippie Dribble
03-08-2013, 10:02 AM
I don't subscribe to the better strings trend. A great player on an ancient uke will wring out a better sound with fishing line than a mediocre stroker will with all the mod. Con. You beaut pro. Backed strings. Ukes aren't better than they were because anyone worth listening to will tell you to buy an old Martin/Gibson etc. 90% of ukuleles seem to be concert size or larger and it's this in my opinion what accounts for more sustain, resonance and of course a longer scale necessitates a lower tuning. I think the ukulele is losing the distinct sound it had and is becoming more and more generic. The more it is beginning to sound like a guitar and grow toward a guitar size it is also accepting the playing style of guitar. Once again. The short sustain and tiny resonance chamber is what distinguished a uke from another instrument yesterday and these boundaries forced it to be played in a certain manner. I asked the question because I wanted to hear if anyone could actual define a modern uke ... Not because I need a more better one.
I think it's a great question BMP and I pretty much agree with what you say, except for the 10% soprano thing...sopranos still have a huge following though less custom builds seem to be for the short scale uke.

I'm a traditionalist too and kind of lament the evolution of the ukulele into so many classes and categories...from soprano to bari and everything imaginable in between...then you have banjo ukes and resonators, tin cans, 6 and 8 string ukes, diff. tunings etc. Not sure why it's happened...I sometimes wonder if it's been an attempt to accomodate the many ex guitarists who want a shortcut to becoming better players by virtue of 4 strings, yet are still chasing that guitar-like sound. so yeah, I think that a modern definition of a ukulele is nearly impossible to reach

I do like baritones but struggle to really see them as a proper ukulele. The 'ukulele' for me will always be a re-entrant soprano.

Stackabones
03-08-2013, 10:17 AM
I shall not today attempt further to define the kind of instrument I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description ["what IS a Ukulele"]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it ...

Apologies to Potter Stewart. ;)

lennymac
03-08-2013, 10:25 AM
Can't say I agree with the OP's points as a whole - but this sure is a great idea for a thread - a question I have mulled over on the past. Good shout Blind Mango!!

To me an instrument should not be defined by the style of music played on it - so I don't lament more people plaguing uke in a 'guitar' style - I however am trying to move away from that myself and to be less guitary (although in the band I do play a lot of guitar style stuff). The instrument does suit a certain style of playing better than others, but that is purely personal choice.

I know that to many here I will be seen to be inflammatory - but I don't see baritone as a 'true uke' more a cut down classical guitar - however, that doesn't mean I don't love the sound of one played well - the baritone player in my band is fantastic and adds so much. Not too sure about tenor ukes either, but more from a cosmetic point of view - they sound very ukey, but don't look so ukey - although I love the tenor scale to play (I have a long neck concert as well as a tenor).

Another thing is tuning - I don't see low G as a truly ukulele tuning - the joy for me switching from guitar was to work around the re-entrant high G - a big part of the fun was the restriction, finding a new way to play - low G has a lot to do with the guitary sound I think.

That's my tuppence worth - but really, none of it matters - it's all about music - which is bigger than any instrument or player.

Ross

P.S. guitalele.... Don't get me started.

lennymac
03-08-2013, 10:28 AM
Just fully read previous posts and realise I pretty much echoed Eugene. I'm in good company!

Bland Mango Patterson
03-08-2013, 10:49 AM
excellent! i didnt mean to come across with attitude (gitarzan) I just wanted a good conversation of something i see happening ... i wanted to see if i was imagining it. I guess i havent been a part of this community long enough to know whats discussed here in terms of ukes. i just meant what i see in the hands of most 'pros' readily available to my eyes and people at ukulele get togethers. of course theres a soprano camp somewhere and i should hunt them down. I would happily play a tenor or baritone but wouldnt call them a uke in my heart. but i love instruments and these do sound beautiful. thanks for all the feedback :)

lennymac
03-08-2013, 10:54 AM
excellent! i didnt mean to come across with attitude (gitarzan) I just wanted a good conversation of something i see happening ... i wanted to see if i was imagining it. I guess i havent been a part of this community long enough to know whats discussed here in terms of ukes. i just meant what i see in the hands of most 'pros' readily available to my eyes and people at ukulele get togethers. of course theres a soprano camp somewhere and i should hunt them down. I would happily play a tenor or baritone but wouldnt call them a uke in my heart. but i love instruments and these do sound beautiful. thanks for all the feedback :)

Welcome! Contribution very much appreciated!

Nicko
03-08-2013, 11:10 AM
The 'ukulele' for me will always be a re-entrant soprano.

:agree:

But viva la difference! Bottom line is that the objective is to play good music...so whatever works to help you realize whatever sound it is that is in your mind's ear is all good.

But every discerning individual knows, of course, that the genuine article authentic ukulele is a re-entrant tuned soprano!

Bland Mango Patterson
03-08-2013, 11:31 AM
:agree:

But viva la difference! Bottom line is that the objective is to play good music...so whatever works to help you realize whatever sound it is that is in your mind's ear is all good.

But every discerning individual knows, of course, that the genuine article authentic ukulele is a re-entrant tuned soprano!

difference is great. I myself dont even own a soprano uke! i have a flamenco guitar a classical guitar two 12 string guitars three banjoleles a concert uke cheapy a piano three banjos and a dozen other instruments and i play them all to varying degrees. I am def. in the market for a nice old soprano. I like to play clawhammer on my uke. i do call my banjoukes ukuleles and they do fullfil for me what i think consists of a ukulele sound ... especially my UB1 - they are short and have very little sustain with a sharp tone. but my concert sounds like a small guitar. not a uke. i still play it, its fun. but i really dont think it sounds like a uke.

nighthunte29
03-08-2013, 12:29 PM
My 2 cents, music evolves, but largely stays the same, the ukulele has evolved and changed, but styles of ukulele still the same as they once were is readily available.
This is what I love, music is meant to be fun, so why not make it as fun as possible? Whether that be with a baritone or a classicy soprano, gives people a wide range to choose from.
And who cares if it is too similar to guitar, it is still just another fun to play instrument it is just the name of it that changes everything!
A very interesting discussion too...

dkcrown
03-08-2013, 01:22 PM
An ukulele is a four stringed siren that makes people who hear it smile, and people who play it happy.

wayfarer75
03-08-2013, 01:45 PM
Coming from the woodwind world, there are of course different sizes of saxophones and clarinets. I have my preferences (you'll never see me buy a soprano sax). There are different types of guitars, drums, horns, etc. The ukulele is a relatively new instrument compared to these. It's evolving. One reason why I love playing it is for some of the same reasons I took up the clarinet. It can fit into different musical genres. Hawaiian, Tin Pan Alley, classical, pop. Limiting the uke to one size isn't what happens to most other instruments.

csibona
03-08-2013, 01:52 PM
I own two re-entrant tenors, a linear tenor, a concert banjo ukulele, a soprano banjo ukulele - they all seem like ukulele to me.

Koa Soprano
03-08-2013, 01:54 PM
To me a re-entrant tuned soprano.

Having said that, what is a guitar? If you brought a guitar player from the 1500s to the present and gave him a modern guitar he would look at you strangely. I think musical instruments tend to evolve with music itself, (not so much the case with violins which have only had a few major changes in their history and have remained virtually unchanged for around 200 years). To me the fact that ukes are changing so much speaks of their popularity which is a good thing.

Bland Mango Patterson
03-08-2013, 02:49 PM
Coming from the woodwind world, there are of course different sizes of saxophones and clarinets. I have my preferences (you'll never see me buy a soprano sax). There are different types of guitars, drums, horns, etc. The ukulele is a relatively new instrument compared to these. It's evolving. One reason why I love playing it is for some of the same reasons I took up the clarinet. It can fit into different musical genres. Hawaiian, Tin Pan Alley, classical, pop. Limiting the uke to one size isn't what happens to most other instruments.

right you are. and my flamenco guitar is so different to the classical in tonality that one would laugh at the other but they are both still guitars ... perhaps i am coming around.

cianoday
03-08-2013, 04:03 PM
I don't know if I can define what a ukulele is, but I sure hope over the course of this thread someone makes a case that a double bass should be considered one.

Wagster
03-09-2013, 11:02 AM
A drug?

I know you are laughing at me when I say this. You must be wondering what kind of drug I am on? Yes, I am drugged and can admit I am on ukulele! You say, "but Wag, come on... it's ukulele man! I could give up ukulele any time I wanted." I say "HAH"! Ukulele leads to harder instruments!

Let's look at some facts:

You eat, drink and sleep with ukulele on your mind.
You are always looking for new ways to exploit ukulele, different ways to "get off" on ukulele.
You have ukulele hanging on your walls. In your closets. Under your bed.
At times, you even have ukulele laying carelessly on your couch and in a "ukulele induced fog" you SIT on ukulele and then expect your 'dealer' to reimburse you!
You take ukulele to work with you.
You keep some ukulele in your car.
You hide the purchases of ukulele from your spouses and friends.
You say "What, this old thing?" when asked about new ukulele.
You spend rent money on ukulele.
When you do admit buying ukulele, you always say you got it cheaper than what you actually paid.
You do ukulele on the internet when you think no one is watching.
You enjoy looking at ukulele porn!

One is not enough. Two is not enough. You can NEVER have enough ukulele! Once it gets into your system, help is your only answer.

Recognizing that you have a problem IS the first step. Please join a "12 bar blues" program. They can ween you off ukulele and perhaps get you onto something less addictive, like tambourine, or harpsichord.

Koa is a terrible thing to waste.

Please, seek help. Call 1-800-UKULELE UHNONAMOUS.

wallyboy
03-09-2013, 11:21 AM
as i listen to colin blunstone, i think of houses being built on green fields,

Bland Mango Patterson
03-09-2013, 07:24 PM
A drug?

I know you are laughing at me when I say this. You must be wondering what kind of drug I am on? Yes, I am drugged and can admit I am on ukulele! You say, "but Wag, come on... it's ukulele man! I could give up ukulele any time I wanted." I say "HAH"! Ukulele leads to harder instruments!

Let's look at some facts:

You eat, drink and sleep with ukulele on your mind.
You are always looking for new ways to exploit ukulele, different ways to "get off" on ukulele.
You have ukulele hanging on your walls. In your closets. Under your bed.
At times, you even have ukulele laying carelessly on your couch and in a "ukulele induced fog" you SIT on ukulele and then expect your 'dealer' to reimburse you!
You take ukulele to work with you.
You keep some ukulele in your car.
You hide the purchases of ukulele from your spouses and friends.
You say "What, this old thing?" when asked about new ukulele.
You spend rent money on ukulele.
When you do admit buying ukulele, you always say you got it cheaper than what you actually paid.
You do ukulele on the internet when you think no one is watching.
You enjoy looking at ukulele porn!

One is not enough. Two is not enough. You can NEVER have enough ukulele! Once it gets into your system, help is your only answer.

Recognizing that you have a problem IS the first step. Please join a "12 bar blues" program. They can ween you off ukulele and perhaps get you onto something less addictive, like tambourine, or harpsichord.

Koa is a terrible thing to waste.

Please, seek help. Call 1-800-UKULELE UHNONAMOUS.

Heh heh ...

tainauke
03-09-2013, 10:57 PM
I can't define what IS an ukulele, but I can state what this intrument is for me.

It's a means of expression, of knowledge (music theory), of surprise (holy cow, I was able to play that!!) and much more in a small guitar shaped like instrument with 4 chords.
I don't know if the way I want to play it is "ukulele", certainly the way I do play it is still very far from it.

Finally, the ukulele is way into music for me. Younger I did try to play the guitar (for 1 year), but it just didn't feel right. At school we had the recorder (how do I hate thee, let me count the ways...)
Perhaps some people won't consider my tenor ukulele to be one, and will say it's another type of instrument.
Ukulele, guitar, piano, cat, dog or house, I frankly don't care what it is called, so long as I have fun with it and am able to learn different things, even if these things don't include "real" ukulele.
Then again, I am no musician, just an intermediate/beginner on a tenor "ukulele"... :uhoh:

PTOEguy
03-10-2013, 08:26 AM
The vast majority who have a live and let live philosophy (a group of which I am sadly not a member - re-entrant all the way! ;) )

I'm sure people wiser than me will share their wisdom in due course.

I had always assumed that I was in the live and let live category, but yesterday I restrung my baritone with re-entrant southcoast strings, replacing linear D'addarios. The difference was amazing, and I think I've discovered something about me - I really like the re-entrant sound. I've had linear on tenors and baritones, and intellectually I have no problem with it. However, as soon as I restring to re-entrant, I get the feeling that this was what this instrument needed. It's only personal taste, but I don't seem to feel right about a uke unless it is re-entrant.

Or maybe its just I've never learned any songs that sound good on linear.