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View Full Version : Son Bitten by Lute Bug -- Baroqulele or Lute-Kulele Worth It?



UkeParent
04-29-2014, 10:44 AM
Hello,

After attending several Renaissance Fairs last year, my 14-year old son has been bitten by the lute bug. I want to encourage his interest, but budgetary constraints are a reality. He has no prior musical experience. It appears I have four options:

1. Buy him a beginner ukulele with concurrent finger picking lessons. There are many tabs online for lute music that's been transcribed for lute, or at least enough to get him started. If he succeeds, then we can talk lute...

2. Buy him a student lute. This really isn't going to happen, as EMS's basic kit is still almost a grand!

3. Get him a "Baroqulele" or "Lute-Kulele" from Mid East Instruments. These instruments have authentic charm and they have some decent deals on scratch 'n' dents. However, could one accomplish the same goals, sound-wise, with option #1 above or #4 below?

4. Get him a Flea or Fluke, which are a bit more than a beginner uke, but have a lutish look about them. This option is pretty much akin to #1 above...

I guess the meat of my question is for those of you who have played/owned the Baroqulele or Lute-Kulele. The former appears just to be an ornate ukulele, albeit one that's all wood and with old world charm. But how does the Lute-Kulele play? Is it also an overstuffed uke? Or, does it sound/play more like a lute than a ukulele? Of all the options, my son really wants one of the Mid East Instruments...

Thanks again for you assistance!

UkeParent

itsme
04-29-2014, 12:49 PM
I have a tenor Baroqulele. Your description of it as being "just an ornate uke" is accurate. It is fairly well made, and definitely has the "cute" factor going for it.

But if I'd had a chance to try it first, I probably would not have bought it.

- Cuteness aside, it's just not that good of an instrument. At a similar price point, something like a Mainland will blow it out of the water in terms of both sound and playability.

- The round back makes it very difficult to keep stable, even with a strap.

- Mine came with the violin-style pegs that are really hard to get/keep in tune. They make regular friction tuners seem easy.

I have not played a Lute-Kulele but I suspect it's similar in terms of being a novelty. I'm not even certain of the tuning, but it only has eight frets to the body, so it doesn't have the same range as a uke. Assuming you could tune it like a standard uke, I doubt it has the range to play arrangements like those by Tony Mizen ("From Lute to Uke").

The frets are not metal embedded into the fretboard, they are nylon tied around the neck. Don't know how steady/sturdy they are, but there's the potential for intonation issues if they get even slightly off. I imagine they face the same issues with the tuning pegs and rounded back as the Baroqulele. Plus, with two doubled and two plain courses, it seems to me that it would be more awkward to learn fingerpicking on than with four plain strings.

Honestly, I like the idea of a Flea or Fluke the best. They are both very well made and have an exotic look that might appeal to him. While the molded backs are slightly curved (I have one of each), there is absolutely no stability issue trying to hold them like with the Baroqulele.

Another option might be a pineapple, as they have a somewhat exotic look as well.

I would definitely recommend the Mizen "Lute to Uke" book (his "Baroque book is good, too) and Michael Parmenter's site is a gold mine for Renaissance uke tabs. (NOTE: His PDFs are tab-only, but he does include TEF files and if you get the free TEF viewer, you can print them with standard notation as well.)

http://ukeclassicaltabs.blogspot.com/

You said he has no previous musical experience, so I'd say you're on the right track with having him learn on a standard uke and then if he really takes to it, you can talk lute down the line. :)

Camsuke
04-29-2014, 04:09 PM
Hi UkeParent, welcome to UU! PM sent.

Paul December
04-29-2014, 05:19 PM
I've owned both the Baroqulele and Lute-Kulele.
Baroqulele in tenor scale with low G, did sound a *bit* more lute-like on the low end, but at the expense of the high end ...and was an absolute pain to hold. I assume a child would find it even worse.
Lute-kulele definitely sounded more lute-like, but also difficult to hold...
...plus tied frets, and very difficult to adjust tuners. It also has a weird pairing of strings that are fine for strumming but wouldn't correspond well to finger picking lute transcriptions.
Honestly, I'd do the easy choice and start with an instrument that wouldn't get-in-the-way: concert or tenor uke. Also consider the obvious: nylon string guitar

Bill Mc
04-29-2014, 05:20 PM
I don't see how playing a ukulele will satisfy your son's desire to learn the lute. They are two very different instruments. Why don't you see if you can rent a lute for a couple of months from EMS. A lute is a significant investment and a unique instrument and ought to be approached with that in mind.

Paul December
04-29-2014, 05:30 PM
I don't see how playing a ukulele will satisfy your son's desire to learn the lute. They are two very different instruments. Why don't you see if you can rent a lute for a couple of months from EMS. A lute is a significant investment and a unique instrument and ought to be approached with that in mind.

It has for me...
...well, kind of. It has satisfied my desire to play Medieval, Renaissance, and some Baroque music to be precise.
I started as an untalented adult, but if I were a talented kid, classical guitar would have been a better foundation. That being said, I follow several Early Music websites and many of those musicians' 2nd/fun instrument is uke, not guitar.

itsme
04-29-2014, 05:34 PM
I don't see how playing a ukulele will satisfy your son's desire to learn the lute. They are two very different instruments.
Yes, they are very different instruments.

The lute is more complex than a uke. But, if one is willing to put some effort into learning uke first, then that can translate when they want to learn another instrument.

We are talking about a 14-year-old boy here. If it were my child, I'd want some assurance of his determination before I invested in a lute.

Bill Mc
04-29-2014, 05:38 PM
Yes, they are very different instruments.

The lute is more complex than a uke. But, if one is willing to put some effort into learning uke first, then that can translate when they want to learn another instrument.

We are talking about a 14-year-old boy here. If it were my child, I'd want some assurance of his determination before I invested in a lute.

I could not agree more itsme, - that is why I suggested renting a lute for a period of time.

Phluffy the Destroyer
04-29-2014, 08:37 PM
I would recommend the lute too. Since this is an ukulele forum though, I'm going to stick with ukuleles as the subject. I don't have any experience with either of the ukuleles you've mentioned. I have about 30 years experience with the Renfest scene though. You didn't say one way or another if his interest was to perform at the Renaissance Festival, but I can't figure out any other reason you would need a uke to look like a lute. Besides, where the heck else would he play the lute???

I wouldn't get too hung up on the instruments ability to blend in. You actually have a lot more options than you think if he wants to play a uke and perform at fairs. All he needs is a ukulele that people don't immediately recognize as a ukulele. Plain wood is a plus (he can adorn it later). You don't even need to get hung up on the tuning keys. The only real correct style is violin pegs, but friction pegs are a step in the right direction, unless you have a preference for geared tuners. However, simply painting white plastic on the tuning keys with black spray paint and using Rub-n-Buff to make them match the metal of the tuners will disguise them enough to make do.

Plain wood-tone pineapple, fleas and flukes are perfectly fine for most Renaissance Festivals. Another option might be one of the triangiular shaped ukuleles, like the Wolfelele kit ukulele or the triangle uke from Skylark. The Oscar Schmidt OU250bell could be a good choice too, since it has a shape closer to a medieval citole than a ukulele. Incidentally, you can order citole ukuleles from a custom builder on Ebay. I don't know if they're any good though.

A nice middle-of-the-road option would be an 8 string concert or tenor ukulele, which is more or less the same thing as a four-course Renaissance guitar. The only real visual difference is the back, which is flatter on the ukulele.

jonyoon
04-29-2014, 10:12 PM
I've played the lute before. Totally hated it, mostly due to having to tune so many freakin' strings among everything else. A lute is a heavy investment that for a 14-year old I wouldn't recommend doing. I'm also playing in a Ren Fair group through my girlfriend (she's a co-leader in a Romani/Gypsy guild and needed musicians badly). Although I could rent or borrow a lute for the Ren Fair we're participating in August, I'm sticking with the uke (specifically the baroq-ulele) since the instrument looks period compared to the standard uke shape, yet I don't have to try and re-memorize finger patterns or strumming.

I'd say that the fluke would probably be the best thing on the pricing end.

wodan22
05-05-2014, 07:06 AM
If you are not already familiar with him, you might want to check out Rob MacKillop's website, you tube channel, and his books on Amazon. He does a lot of period work using uke (including transcribing baroque guitar stuff and lute stuff for uke) and has written a bunch of great books. He also plays the actual lute, in addition to playing lute stuff on banjo. You might even want to email him and ask him about this. I've emailed him a few times about banjo related stuff and he seems like a really nice guy.

Mivo
05-06-2014, 08:14 PM
Ah, the lure of the lute! It's one of those instruments that were much better in my imagination than in the flesh and wood. They are also much bigger and heavier than they seemed to be in the comics, illustrations, and the novels!

Ukuleles don't have the medieval feel of actual lutes, but they are much more portable and also substantially cheaper. Easier to learn, too. A possible compromise may be to get the kid a nice ukulele (I'm not sure I would recommend anything by Mid East Instruments, my experience with non-ukes from them has not been good), the book "From Lute to Uke" by Tony Mizen (the follow-up volume is called "The Baroque Ukulele"), and tell him that much of what he learns will transfer to the lute. (Okay, "much" is a slight exaggeration.) That may instill motivation. The uke can absolutely sound medieval.

Recalling my fourteen year old self, I had many musical interests that I was then absolutely and 100% sure about, and would not shut up about, feeling limited and restricted and suppressed by family who would not understand my dire needs -- and they all fizzled. My nagging resulted in a very expensive electronic organ (early 1980s) that was fun and fulfilling for a few months before it was something else that would save my life and bring me everlasting joy (a home computer, which actually did influence my life and determined my career).

So, yes, I'd definitely not buy a $1000 instrument for a teen with no musical background, but I would nevertheless encourage the interest in wanting to learn a musical instrument. A nice uke is a perfect solution, even though it lacks the "bardic, romantic vibe of a lute. There are some other exotic string instruments that may serve, like a mandolin, bouzouki, balalaika, or a baglama. There are fewer learning resources for these, though (except the mandolin, but it is harder to play than an ukulele). (Okay, now I'm once again being tempted to buy a baglama, darnit!)

Roselynne
05-07-2014, 01:17 PM
I started out with nylon-string guitar, but for very early music, the plink of an ukulele is nearly ideal!

Now I've gotta say that I've never (yet) seen a Ren Faire player with an ukulele, but I've begun to wonder why not, because I've seen several with ordinary guitars, including decidedly non-period steel strings!

Lutes also fascinate me, but they're so expensive, plus it seems good ones remain hard to find at any price.

artwombat
05-07-2014, 02:40 PM
Helllooo UP,

Great stuff and lots of good advice.

One of the things I did with my boys re buying stuff (mainly sports) was to ask their opinion.

What happens with kids is everyone tells them what to do, parents and teachers, everyone. So they get used to asking for things - sometimes they get sometimes they don't. What they should be doing is making their own decisions, sure you can give them guidance but start them on easy decisions first.

So you can say something like, "As you know we run on tight budgets but I have got $100 in my cunning kick (Aussie slang for money Mum does not know about) and we can buy a Uke and we can both learn to play it or you can wait until I somehow generate another $1000 out of our budgets for a lute just for you."

"If we buy the uke and I can learn to play it a bit then we can still buy the lute for you. Not sure where the $1000 is going to come from tho, where can we cut back?"

"So what do you think we should do."

Anyway I am sure you get the idea break the request up into smaller decisions and corner him into making the decisions for you.

My betting is he will grab the $100 uke option (a bird in the hand is worth 2 in the bush) and if he is still keen on the lute he will be working on how the $1000 can be generated to get his lute but maybe he may have some other expensive items .......

Regardless of uke/lute outcomes he will find decision making bit of a buzz (at age 14) when he gets used to the idea.

I overheard my 2 boys talking and one said, "Why don't we ask Dad if we can do ........." The other said, "He will only ask us what we think and we will have to say NO."

I walked away smiling.

Trust me, it does work, you just have to break big decisions up into smaller decisions while they are getting their head around it.

itsme
05-07-2014, 04:24 PM
artwombat, you had me up until the part about you finding a way to come up with the cash to buy him a lute.

I'd be more like, "$100 is all we can afford, for that much we can get a decent ukulele for you to learn on, but it's going to be your birthday/Christmas/graduation/whatever present. If you want a lute, you're going to have to figure out how to make the money to buy one.

14 is old enough to understand economic realities. A lot of people are struggling to make ends meet these days. Kids don't have the right to expect their parents to buy them expensive gifts, even though a lot of them these days seem to feel entitled.

bnolsen
05-07-2014, 04:48 PM
In college I played viola da gamba and belonged to a madrigal group. We used to perform at renaissance festivals.

So recently I've been collecting tabs for mideval/renaissance tunes. While I think properly arranged music for low-g tuning sounds a bit better, it's much easier to find arrangements for reentrant tuning and the quality also seems to be consistently better for the re-entrant as well.

Likely you'll want a concert or tenor or higher end soprano since I've sometimes seen tabs expecting 14 frets.

I also would suggest asking ukeval his opinion since he's the lute-meister around here.

There's a youtuber "welti" (used to be wwelti before google+ screwed things up, I'm not sure if that handle has changed) who also has some pdf arrangements.

The ukeclassicaltabs blog type site (or whatever that was) kind of upsets me since the things i've tried to download are the proprietary tef files or midi files and I would prefer if just pdfs were available.

I'll update this post tomorrow as most of my bookmarks are on my work computer.

artwombat
05-07-2014, 10:10 PM
artwombat, you had me up until the part about you finding a way to come up with the cash to buy him a lute.

I'd be more like, "$100 is all we can afford, for that much we can get a decent ukulele for you to learn on, but it's going to be your birthday/Christmas/graduation/whatever present. If you want a lute, you're going to have to figure out how to make the money to buy one.

14 is old enough to understand economic realities. A lot of people are struggling to make ends meet these days. Kids don't have the right to expect their parents to buy them expensive gifts, even though a lot of them these days seem to feel entitled.

Thanks Mate,

The principle works the numbers depends on your circumstances.

kypfer
05-07-2014, 10:50 PM
1. Buy him a beginner ukulele with concurrent finger picking lessons. There are many tabs online for lute music that's been transcribed for lute, or at least enough to get him started. If he succeeds, then we can talk lute... ... my choice :) a ukulele can always be a fall-back bit of fun later if he gets interested enough to spend the time to learn the lute properly. The basic music reading and finger dexterity skills learnt on the ukulele will always stand him in good stead later.

http://www.classicalukulele.co.uk/shop/e-books/blame-not-my-uke/ is a lot of cheap fun. I'm working my way through it at the moment and thoroughly enjoying the change of pace from the different musical style.

hokelore
05-09-2014, 03:00 AM
My thoughts are that just getting his hands used to moving around on a fretted instrument will be a good start, whether uke, mando, guitar, whatever. I think a classical guitar might make for the easiest transition if he continues his interest in lute.

I did once see a guy playing a Fluke at a Ren Faire. However, he was a jester, and mostly used it to punctuate his jokes. He did play a few Rennie songs (Nottingham Ale, Korobushka) but told me he usually played 1920s jazz.

I'm a relative newcomer to uke. I play at Ren Faires, but haven't worked the uke in. I'm more of a fiddler, with an octave mandolin when I sing or back others. A friend of mine plays lute. Cool look and cool sound, but awkward to hold, has those tied-on frets, and it's very quiet. People love to take his picture, but he's not easy to hear.

UkeParent
05-12-2014, 05:29 PM
First, thanks to everyone for their detailed, thoughtful replies to my original post! I'm using an old school Blackberry (small notebook and ink pen) to take copious notes...I can't thank everyone enough!

Just to update, I think we've safely ruled the lute out. From the feedback I've received, the instrument, even a beginner one, is just too expensive, fussy, and limited, despite its obvious charms.

I checked a book out at the library on lute music in Britain and there's a contemporary notation from the 17th Century bemoaning the fact that it's hard and expensive for pupils to get their hands on a lute, and how the Baroque guitar is easier to obtain. Wow, that feeling still holds!

It blows my mind that a luthier has not stepped forward with a student lute that's under $1000, well under, for that matter. The instrument seems to be one that is not easily obtainable by working class folk. I guess that's why for every Julian Bream or Paul O'Dette their are 15 classical guitarists of similar merit.

At any rate, I think we've narrowed my son's purchase to either a uke (probably baritone) or a classical guitar. I say baritone uke because it can be tuned "regularly" or reentrant and has a bit more beef for his ears than a concert or tenor. (His hands are not small, nor is he for his age, so the baritone size will not be an issue.)

I'm torn between a baritone uke and a classical guitar, as I just mentioned. The latter, through extended research, would seem to be more adaptable to Medieval/Renaissance/Baroque/Modern music. I'm not saying the ukulele is not, as your many kind links to Early Music tabs for the uke have attested. He can capo the classical guitar to make it brighter, or even remove/neglect the 6th string to form an ersatz Baroque guitar, on top of normal playing. I'm just not sure a ukulele has this versatility, although I assume its smaller size and lesser strings would be easier for a beginner.

Perhaps I should hedge my/his bets and get a guitarlele or guilele...!!!

Thanks again,

UP

bnolsen
05-12-2014, 05:47 PM
i believe renaissance guitars were 4 string originally, the fluke looks most like one, However you should find several yamaha guitaleles to choose from at your local guitard center.

itsme
05-12-2014, 06:21 PM
I have a Yamaha guitalele. I find the spacing for my fingers to be pretty cramped.

So you're down to a baritone uke or a classical guitar. Yes, a bari would be a bit easier with two less strings. But if he wants the most range and versatility, a CG would be the better bet.

I come from a CG background. It's a lot of hard work, but worth it IMO.

wwelti
05-13-2014, 09:58 PM
If you're really interested in playing renaissance or baroque music, you should bear in mind that the renaissance and baroque guitar were quite different instruments than the modern classical guitar.

In fact the renaissance guitar had four courses, and one popular tuning was -- GCEA! The baroque guitar had 5 courses and the tuning was a bit different, but still within the range of an ukulele. Both instrument used re-entrant strings.

While you *can* re-string a classical guitar to re-entrant tuning and take away some lower strings, I certainly wouldn't do it. It just doesn't feel and sound right. My personal opinion is that the ukulele (with re-entrant tuning) is really great for this kind of music. So that's what I'm doing all the time... ;)

There are several techniques that were popular in the renaissance and baroque era like campanella playing, which rely on re-entrant tuning. I'm always using the high G string a lot.

Lute music is a different topic though, however I think that the CG just doesn't have a very lute-like sound. So here again, I prefer the ukulele.

Just my 2 cents. ;)

Best Regards
Wilfried