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Unforgotten
06-02-2013, 02:06 AM
Hi guys,

Just starting out and I have a question on my next purchase. If you have the time you might want to read my intro post for background:

http://www.ukuleleunderground.com/forum/showthread.php?81549-Last-Christmas-I-bought-me-a-Uke-and-the-very-next-day-my-wife-went-away-)&p=1286606#post1286606

Anyhoo, to summarise I'm finding my Union Concert uke a good aid to practice, although I don't sound very good with it! I feel that the slightly larger size and a touch more tension on the strings, relative to a soprano, is really beneficial. I'm working on a theory that helps me personally:

Practice on a tough, difficult instrument to improve technique for your chosen performance instrument.

I dunno what you guys think about that but it helps me! Developing this a step forward I'm wondering if the "harshest" practice uke might be a Laka VUV2 steel strung, solid body:

http://www.jhs.co.uk/laka.html

Now, don't get started on that whole "metal string ukes aren't ukes to me!" argument. I've searched the forums and sampled the general opinion: beginners like the idea of steel strung ukes because they want to be a pocket sized Hendrix or Clapton :) Experts opine that this is a distraction from that warm, uke sound.

I agree with the experts on this one. I happened to spot a Fender Mando-Guitar in a shop and the owner was kind enough to retune it in low-G uke style (it's a 4 string full electric.) I had a little jam on it but the mando neck freaked me out too much. Needless to say it sounded awful in my untrained hands.

But on writing my intro post I got to thinking, not about the sound but how much effort a steel string uke would take to play. So, even though we might be in agreement that steel string ukes are novelty items I think they have a completely different use that I don't see discussed.

So, my questions are thus:

- Is my theory complete pants?
- If you did want to build up strength, is there anything more harsh than a steel strung, solid body uke?
- Other than the VUV2 are there any other models to look at?

Ideally, as a practise uke, I'm looking at the 50-200 sorta price range. Ideally concert sized, don't think I could handle a tenor. Quality of the sound is not the highest priority but it has to be at least reasonable!

The VUV2 looks to fit this quite nicely but it worries me that no one seems to have any reviews or comments on this specific model (although I can find plenty on the nylon strung, solid body Lakas.)

Can't wait to here from you all!

Best Regards,

Andy

Wicked
06-02-2013, 04:27 AM
Couple of things....

First, I think that you are incorrect in stating the "experts" agree that steel stringed ukuleles are novelty items.... Real experts typically see their instrument as a tool to produce music. The specifics are almost inconsequential.

Second, I think that you will eventually find that taking a masochistic approach to learning the instrument will prove counterproductive. I would venture to say that half the households in the US have some type of unused stringed instrument stuck in a closet that nobody learned how to play due to the painful action. If playing your ukulele is like the eighth labor of Hercules, you will eventually chuck it into the corner to collect dust.

In the end, it is not really about finger strength... although that will come naturally, with time. Get a well set up ukulele (it doesn't need to be expensive) and you will make better progress.

Unforgotten
06-02-2013, 04:50 AM
Mmm... good points. I think I'm just startled by the effect of practising on the Union for quite some time and then going back to the Mahalo.

TBH the Mahalo is pretty muffled and soft so mistakes don't jangle the nerves like the Union does. Probably why it sounds like I've improved.

I wasn't trying to make life too difficult for myself I just wondered what impact practising on steel strings might have. I'm starting to realise that a good quality sound is much more useful as you can hear when you're going wrong compared to something more dampened.

I still think I'll get a solid body for practising (for my family's benefit!) probably something like a Risa. Still curious if anyone's tried the VUV2 though.

Regards,

Andy

cantsing
06-02-2013, 08:23 AM
I'm working on a theory that helps me personally:

Practice on a tough, difficult instrument to improve technique for your chosen performance instrument.

- Is my theory complete pants?

I think your theory could work for someone who is determined to learn the ukulele regardless of the obstacles. Sounds like this theory works for you, which is great.

I'm certainly not an accomplished player, but I've been at this long enough to know that your theory wouldn't have worked for me. Since you posted this in the Beginner section, I am responding primarily to share my point of view with beginners who might be reading this thread.

I am learning to play the ukulele for fun. That doesn't mean it's all fun, of course. For most of us, there is definitely work involved. However, I would not have enjoyed learning to play on a ukulele that didn't sound good to me or was painful or difficult to play. If I didn't enjoy playing, I wouldn't have practiced, which means I wouldn't have improved, which means I would have been discouraged, which means I probably would have given up by now.

My ukulele is not particularly expensive, but the noise I make on it sounds pretty good to me, and that's why I keep picking it up.

itsme
06-02-2013, 09:16 AM
- If you did want to build up strength, is there anything more harsh than a steel strung, solid body uke?
Yeah, a real mandolin with its doubled steel strings. :p

Unforgotten
06-02-2013, 09:43 AM
Yeah, a real mandolin with its doubled steel strings. :p

Lol... yeah, that's what I'm talking about :)

To me, swapping between a mando and a uke would be too much but since chatting to friends and family I've been quite surprised how many secret mando players there are out there!

No one would be surprised with "oh yeah, I have an electric guitar" or "I got quite good on the piano as a kid" dropped into after dinner conversation. Stumble over guitar players like daisies in a field. Once you start talking about other instruments you start teasing a bit more out of people.

I get a feeling that, although a lot of people learnt guitar, piano and - my most hated instrument - the recorder as kids, we are a nation of rebels in Britain and guitar rebels have a secret passion for mandos (at least in my recent experiences!) Weird... never even considered mandolins as "current" instruments till picking up the ukulele :) Shows how much I know!

Regards,

Andy

PhilUSAFRet
06-02-2013, 10:46 AM
There are solid bodied, nylon stringed ukes, that meet all your requirements except the steel string "finger torture". Examples are made by Eleuke, Risa, Ko'olau, and a few more I can't think of at the moment. I have a steel stringed tenor uke made by Risa that has a semi-hollow body that is my surrogate "electric guitar" uke. Good luck. In the end you will get what you like and what is fun to play. If it's not fun to play, probably a bad choice, IMHO.

UkeKiddinMe
06-02-2013, 01:07 PM
You certainly don't want to use the tough instrument for All your practice.

But many guitarists in history Have seen that logging a little time with a tough instrument Does open things up once
you are back on a better set up instrument.

konut
06-03-2013, 10:53 AM
Like you, I'm a new student of the uke. I, also, was intrigued with the idea of a steel stringed instrument to explore my rock and roll fantasies on without the intimidation of a six stringed full size guitar. I looked at, and desired, the exact Laka you referenced in your first post, but those are unavailable in the states. I ended up purchasing an Epiphone Mandobird mandolin. A local music store had an old stock 4 string Mandobird priced below what used ones were going for on ebay so I figured there was very little risk in trying it out. As you might, or might not, know the mandolin is tuned in fifths and the string tension is fierce. Set up was included so I had them restring with appropriate gauge strings for ukulele tuning. The nut and intonation were adjusted as well and it resulted in a completely different experience as the original set up. The strings are not nearly as rough on the fingers as the mandolin set up.
Of course the neck is very narrow and the strings pull way sharp if I apply too much tension. This has made me very cognisant of my fingering technique and resulted in a seemingly much easier playing experience when I pick up my soprano Cordoba.The neck seems expansive compared to the Mandobird and not nearly as sensitive to finger pressure. I am enjoying both instruments. With a Vox Mini 3 amp, the Mandobird is a blast to explore distotion infused chords and leads.

Unforgotten
06-03-2013, 03:12 PM
Thanks, konut, very helpful.

I looked into the Mandobird after seeing the re-issue of the Fender effort. Personally I can't say I care for the styling of the 'Bird but as I mentioned in my intro post: my first stringed instrument was a Fender Strat guitar so I'm obviously biased :)

The change to a Mandolin-style neck would be a step too far to me but you made me look again at the two ukes I have. For my hand size, I have a feeling the soprano Mahalo is a touch to small and the concert Tanglewood a touch too big. I can see how this whole UAS thing comes about now... I'd be searching for a soprano with a thick neck or a concert with a slim neck :)

Then there's the area around the nut and headstock: it's perfect on the Tanglewood but the Mahalo feels all wrong. How would you Americans put it? "What do you expect for a half-bill uke!"

I put in a request for anyone who's tinkered with VUV2 in the review section - you might want to check out my thoughts - but for all my imaginative ideas it's a little pointless if the neck and head don't feel right. Having said that, I can mail order one for less than 100 so it's not a massive gamble. The problem is explaining UAS to my wife when my old Fender has only just left the building!

So many variables! Neck, head, tuners, strings, bridge, wood... never ends and that's the fun right there :)

Best Regards,

Andy

itsme
06-03-2013, 03:25 PM
For my hand size, I have a feeling the soprano Mahalo is a touch to small and the concert Tanglewood a touch too big.
I don't buy that at all. Yet I hear it here all the time about "I have small hands so I can't play a tenor" or whatever.

Pure BS. Tell me you have smaller hands than this little girl playing a full-sized guitar that's almost as big as she is.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=njG_dQC-cnk

tangimango
06-04-2013, 01:20 AM
I don't buy that at all. Yet I hear it here all the time about "I have small hands so I can't play a tenor" or whatever.

Pure BS. Tell me you have smaller hands than this little girl playing a full-sized guitar that's almost as big as she is.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=njG_dQC-cnk

shes so adorable.

Unforgotten
06-04-2013, 02:31 AM
@itsme

I never said I can't play because of my hand-size just saying what feels nice! Obviously anyone can play anything with some tenacity...

http://www.pastemagazine.com/blogs/lists/2011/11/five-musicians-with-missing-and-damaged-fingers.html

Besides, a girl playing a full sized guitar is a bad example as I was a dead loss in that area anyway :) and adorable as she is, the whole "North Korean" thing worried me :(

If you look up Quinn Sullivan you can see a kid that not only has the dial set to awesome, he looks like he enjoys what he's doing.

Wait a minute... I see what's going on here! I have a soprano and a concert and really what you want is me to buy a tenor. "That's it, young apprentice, just the baritone now and your fall to the dark side will be complete, muhahahaha!"

Very clever, itsme, nicely done ;)

Unforgotten
06-06-2013, 02:53 AM
I've avoided the VUV2 as I can't find any comments on it.

I dropped into the Duke of Uke and they had a solid body Stagg which is really quiet without headphones or an amp so my family will be happy. I've decided to avoid the distraction of customising the VUV2 until I've improved my technique.

The great thing with the Stagg (or any solid body) is I can practice a song and go over the tricky bits again and again with driving everyone else insane :) There's only so many times you can go from Dm to Fmaj without something flying across the room at me!

I was pleasantly surprised when I read the review of the Stagg on here after I bought it. Glad I did read on though as it's much better replacing the black factory strings. I suppose it looks kewl on display but black on a dark, rosewood fretboard... I've got to the point I don't really need to look at the fret board but the odd glance in one's peripheral vision helps a lot.

Headphones are also great, I found my accuracy improving practising on my Tanglewood but the Stagg really buzzes on poorly formed bar chords.

I actually have hope now that I won't buy any more Ukes for, oh, at least 6 months :)

singh44s
06-07-2013, 07:28 AM
There are solid bodied, nylon stringed ukes, that meet all your requirements except the steel string "finger torture". Examples are made by Eleuke, Risa, Ko'olau, and a few more I can't think of at the moment. I have a steel stringed tenor uke made by Risa that has a semi-hollow body that is my surrogate "electric guitar" uke. Good luck. In the end you will get what you like and what is fun to play. If it's not fun to play, probably a bad choice, IMHO.

A little late to this party (congrats, Unforgotten!), but I'd add the Fluke SB to Phil's list of solid-body ukes.