Monday, August 30, 2010

Featured Video #3: "Teardrops#7"

YouTubes’s sjeter61, aka Steve Jeter, has crafted a very moving and beautiful song called “Teardrops #7.” Steve’s been playing guitar for around 25 years but, like so many of us, has found and fallen for ukulele. As for this song, one of many on Steve’s YouTube channel, Steve says it came to him in bits over a couple of evenings. Glad it did and glad he shared it with us.

By the way, Steve plays a mean mandolin as well – see for yourself in “Swallowtail Jig.”

Marigold Stream

I did not plan on putting my own video up - just wanted to see what the Blog button under share would do and found out, but, oh well, here's what I did this weekend.  Mike

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Featured Video #2: Danielle Ate the Sandwich

I luckily came across this second featured video by Danielle Ate the Sandwich.  I am just loving the playing and the vocals of her original tune “Where the Good Ones Go,” which is on her latest album “Two Bedroom Apartment.”  Lots of other good stuff on Youtube or check her out at

Many of Danielle's video are preceded by comic vignettes featuring a cool space helmet or facts such as her toaster having a Pop Tart setting.  Very, very cool!

Saw this today, the album's title cut, and just had to add it:

Just amazing lyrics and images.   

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Featured Video #1: "One Less Tear"
by the Barnkickers!

I'm going to kick off the first of what I hope to be many featured original videos with the Barnkickers' award-winning video "One Less Tear."  Steve Boisen and his daughter Amanda are a powerful duet that makes for a very funny and poignant tune.

When asked on the backstory to the song, Steve said “I originally wrote this song as a ragtime piano piece and added the lyrics and counter melody much later. My daughter Amanda and I played all of the instruments on this recording except for the snare drum that was added to the CD version. "One Less Tear" was our second original "homemade" video and has proven to be our most popular song. I think people like the vocal trade off and the tin-pan-alley feel. They also like the ukulele references in the lyrics."

I say they also love the voices.  Both Steve and Amanda have unique vocals that really work well together; well, just see for yourself:

According to Steve the song is available (with remixed and remastered audio) on their debut CD "Up Before Noon," which is currently being sold on Flea Market Music, Elderly Instruments and most internet music sites. It has also been released on a compilation CD and covered by Rick Bolton and the Dwyer Sisters, which is a band out of Saratoga Springs, New York. The chords and lyrics are also available on ukefarm.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Building the Savarez Set

If you’ve spent any time on the UkuleleUnderground, you know there is much love for Savarez Alliance classical guitar strings. Curious, I decided to buy a set and put them on my Laniaki S-TEQ spruce top; while I was not that impressed at first, I quickly grew to love their full, rounded tone and supple feel and am, indeed, now a Savarez devotee.

The only problem with Savarez is that they do not make a set for the ukulele. Thus, you need to order single strings. There are a number of places that sell Savarez single strings by mail, such as stringbymail. Many of these places sell just strings, such as juststrings.

If you are thinking of sampling a set, here is how to “roll your own.”

Order two 541R strings (a guitar E string used for both the High g and the A on the ukulele), a 542R (a guitar B string used for the ukulele C), and a 543R (a guitar B string used for the ukulele E). If you want a low G, substitute the 541R you are using for the high-g with a wound Savarez 544R (which is a guitar D string). Some people, by the way, prefer to use the high tension Aliance E for the high G (the 541J, I believe). 

To recap, the basic guitar-to-ukulele string conversion is:

Ukulele high G = Guitar high-E guitar
Ukulele low G = Guitar D
Ukulele C = Guitar G
Ukulele E string = Guitar B
Ukulele A = Guitar high-E

Strings Compared

If you are playing Aquila Nylguts and want to hear them compared to a nylon string like the Savarez, Ken Middleton has a wonderful video that captures the true sound of both the Nylguts and Worth clears, which, to my ears are virtually identical to the Savarez Alliances (the Worths, I mean).

If you need to hear the actual Savarez sound, uluapoundr has a YouTube video which compares Savarez Alliance, Savarez New Critsal Corum, D’addario ProArte and D’addario T2 Titanium. I actually love the sound of the ProArtes and may try them soon. The video, by the way, is rather thorough, so to get right to the strings, the Savarez Alliance demo starts at 3:57, the New Cristal Corum at around 5:02, the ProArte at 6:09 and the T2s at about 7:17.

There is no right or wrong here—what sounds good to your ear is all that matters. I love Savarez, but I still love the sound and feel of the Nylguts, too (which is why my Boulder Creek tenor is still strung with them). And Worth, D’addario and Aquila all have one advantage over Savarez—you can buy them in pre-packaged ukulele sets, making ordering just a little easier.

By the way, I want to send a special thanks to UU member Craig of for his forum posts on making a Savarez set and the guitar/ukulele string equivalents, and to Ken Middleton and uluapoundr for their helpful YouTube videos.

-Lamb Chop

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Jake Shimabukuro Interview: "If everyone played the ukulele, the world would be
a better place."

When you Google the word “ukulele”, the very first video that comes up is Jake Shimabukuro’s version of George Harrison’s classic “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Posted to YouTube in 2006, the video, which has gotten nearly six-million hits to date, propelled Jake to international stardom and has helped make the ukulele the respected phenomenon it is.

Not that Jake will take any of the credit. Hooked on ukulele since his Grandmother introduced him to the instrument at the age four, Jake is more likely to peg his success on the ukulele itself. Perhaps it is his humility—his lack of taking himself too seriously—that has propelled Jake to the top of the ukulele world.

Whether playing along with Bette Midler for Her Majesty the Queen, working as a semi-regular in Jimmy Buffett’s band, scoring films, making CDs or delighting American and international audiences with his solo virtuosity, Jake has become synonymous with the ukulele. He has taken the instrument to places it has never been before and proven time and again that four strings can be better than a whole orchestra.

The response to Jake and his music is, itself, a phenomenon. Having seen Jake in person, I can attest to his universal appeal. I stood in line outside The Ark in Ann Arbor, Michigan last year with hundreds of other fans who ranged in age from teens to seniors, men and women representing diverse races and ethnicities. One man drove four hours from Ohio to see the show, and several others brought their ukuleles along in hopes Jake would sign them. He did, of course, as well as meet everyone who stood in line to shake his hand.

More than an evening of good music, Jake’s performances are a glimpse into the mind and heart and soul of a true musician who leaves his audience feeling privileged to have witnessed his work. One is not just entertained by Jake’s work, but uplifted as well. You walk out of that auditorium knowing you have been a part of something very special (Need proof? Check his calendar for a show near you, or get a copy of his latest CD “Live,” which has captured some of the best moments from his live shows).

I feel equally privileged that Jake has taken a few moments out of his hectic world tour to share his thoughts on the creative process, his upcoming song book, Bruce Lee’s lasting influence on his approach to life and music, and that “four string underdog,” the ukulele.

Mike Kassel: Jake, I understand you are in the middle of a rather extensive tour–what are some of the places you are going for the rest of the summer and into Fall?

Jake Shimabukuro: Just got back from France last night and will be heading to Japan for a six week tour in a few days. After Japan, I'll be heading back to the states for a few legs and then taking off to Germany for a couple of shows. Can't wait—it’ll be loads of fun!

MK: Your arrangement of popular songs always sound so rich and full, yet you are playing one instrument with four strings. How challenging is it to adapt a song for ukulele?

Jake: It's always quite challenging for me to arrange songs as solo, instrumental ukulele pieces. One element that makes it tricky is the absence of bass notes. Also, the limited range and sustain can be difficult to work with. I just try to keep things simple in the beginning and let the piece evolve naturally over time.

MK: Is there a difference in how you approach creating your original songs? Do songs or ideas just come to you while playing, or do you get an idea in your head and then go work it out?

Jake: Actually both methods work well. There are so many ways to inspire creativity. The key is to figure out what works best for you—but not get locked into that one system. Most of the time, I just try to relax—watch a funny movie or go to the beach, then pray that some interesting idea will come out of that experience.

MK: The documentary, The Mighty Uke, of which you are a part, explores the phenomenon of the ukulele—how do you feel about your role in expanding the popularity of the instrument?

Jake: I'm just thrilled to be alive during this time to experience the growth and maturity of the ukulele. People from all over the world are rediscovering the four-string underdog and appreciating it in ways they never expected. I have always been a huge fan of the instrument—so meeting other supporters of the instrument connects us in a very positive way.

MK: In your CNN interview this past March, you talked about the influence of Bruce Lee and his focus of being “there” with everything he has when practicing his art – in your case, you are not just playing with your hands or your arms, but the music is coming from everything inside of you. Can you elaborate on that a bit?

Jake: Bruce Lee was my hero when I was a kid—not just because he could knock a 250 pound man down with his one-inch punch—but his philosophy on life and the conviction that he had when he spoke about it really drew me in. I was so inspired by his teachings that I based my approach to music on the contexts of his personal diaries. I learned to be open to all styles of music and embrace everything in and around me as part of my art form. Lee also taught me that music is not just notes and sound, but like every form of art, it is simply human expression.

MK: Tell us about “Music is Good Medicine” and your work as their spokesperson.

Jake: “Music Is Good Medicine” is a program that believes in the positive influence of music. I work with a lot of young people, using music as a vehicle to inspire them to have passion and live drug-free.

MK: Going to one of your shows is unlike anything else, because there are teens, college kids, middle-aged guys, seniors—what is it about your shows and your music that has the power to unite such a diverse group?

Jake: I believe the credit there goes to the instrument I play. People of all ages can appreciate the ukulele. That's what I love most about it—it bridges all generation gaps.

MK: If you had a dream duet or small group, what would it be?

Jake: Playing in an ukulele band with George Harrison—and Steve Gadd on drums.

MK: So many people want to learn your songs—is there a Jake Shimabukuro ukulele book on the horizon?

Jake: Yes. I am slowly working on one. I hope to release it sometime next year.

MK: On the technical side, what are the woods in your Kamaka ukulele? And what sort of on-board electronics do you use?

Jake: I play a Kamaka 4-string tenor ukulele made out of koa wood. It has an ebony fretboard and bridge, and a mahogany neck. The pickup system that I use is made by Fishman—it’s called the Matrix.

MK: It looks and sounds as though you play high-G; do you ever play low-G?

Jake: I have always played with the high-G string because it's the traditional tuning of the ukulele. I also love the unique chord voicings that you can get with the 2 higher pitched strings positioned on the top and bottom.

MK: What advice do you have for the aspiring players out there? What do they need to focus on to improve their playing and their musicianship?

Jake: The most important thing is—have fun. Play songs that you enjoy and remember that there is no wrong way to play an ukulele. Encourage others to learn and attend ukulele jam sessions. If everyone played the ukulele, the world would be a better place.

Thanks for your support. Aloha,

To learn more about Jake, his current tour, and his albums, visit

Picture credits: Top and middel photo by Hisashi Uchida; all othr photos by Ryota Mori.  All photos courtesy of the media page at

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Lanikai S-TEQ Makes Me Happy

The first thing I noticed about the Lanikai S-TEQ spruce top tenor—the thing that made me fall in love with it, actually—was its incredibly low action. I sampled two identical models at Elderly Instruments in Lansing, Michigan and both played effortlessly. This smooth-as-butter playability is the Holy Grail for those like me who come from a steel string background, but there’s something else magical about this ukulele; it sounds good, too.

Every time I play this ukulele, plugged or unplugged (but mainly plugged), I get a great reaction. People crowd around to get a closer look and compliment me on how rounded and deep it sounds. They seem totally surprised to hear this big of sound from such a small box..

The fact that it looks so good is just icing on the cake.

The S-TEQ is the electric, cut-away version of the Lanikai S-T, which I assume stands for spruce tenor. The top is solid spruce with a beautiful, tight grain pattern. Back and sides are mahogany (most likely laminated, although the spec sheet does not say). Rosewood fingerboard and tie-bridge along with maple binding round-out the good looks and solid feel of the instrument and the 18 frets were level and immaculately manicured. A little excess glue on the fingerboard are about all I can complain about in regards to fit and finish.

Electronics on the two I sampled were Belcat UK2000 undersaddle transducers with 9-volt active preamps. The quality of the Asian-made electronics on the two ukuleles varied a bit, with one sounding quite trebly while the other was more rounded and had a better bass. I have seen other S-TEQ’s advertised with a German-made Shadow P3 active systems; not having compared a Belcat to a Shadow, all I can say is I was more than satisfied with the bassier of the two Belcat models.

The only real complaint I have is a somewhat loose “C” string die-cast tuning machine (looks like a Grover, but it’s not marked) on one of the samples. That the nicer tuners were on the more trebly example shows some of the trade-offs one encounters when purchasing lower-line instruments, but, again, the overall quality and sound was so good on both, these are just not very big concerns.

At bottom, I’m very pleased with the S-TEQ. At only $189 with the Belcat, this is one of the best values in all of ukedom. I have been fortunate to play a wide variety of ukuleles at Elderly—from $30 to Mahalos to thousand dollar Hawaiian makes, and I have yet to find one that feels and plays as smoothy and effortlessly as the S-TEQ.

While the tone may not snap out like it does on ukuleles costing hundreds, if not thousands more, it certainly holds its own, beating nearly everything in its price range. To quote the company slogan, this Lanikai "Makes me happy."

-Lamb Chop