THE FIRST STRINGED INSTRUMENT I EVER PLAYED: When I was around nine or ten years old, the first stringed instrument I ever played was a tenor guitar, (The image on the right is that tenor guitar.) The tenor guitar has four strings, and the strings are typically steel. But I was pretty young to be fretting a guitar, so after wrestling with steel, literally, my father restrung the guitar with four nylon baritone ukulele strings. Then he tuned it to standard tuning for the baritone ukulele. The baritone ukulele strings are tuned to the same pitch as the first four strings of a guitar. This gives the tenor guitar and the ukulele many interesting harmonic possibilities, especially when finger picking. (It should be noted that originally the tenor guitar was tuned to the pitch of the Dixie Land banjo. This made it easy for Dixie Land banjo players to pick up the tenor guitar during a concert and seamlessly handle the instrument without having to rethink in a different tuning.) And so, once I could fret the strings with my small, young fingers, I happily set about learning basic chords and singing along with my strumming. This was the real beginning of my folk music life. And it grew from there into many different directions.
HUGE HARMONIC POSSIBILITIES! An instrument with just four strings can make a mighty big impression! Today’s 4-string ukuleles are made on precision machinery. (There are also ukuleles with 6 strings.) They fret well, they tune well, and even the cheaper models have a pretty decent tone. If you want to buy an inexpensive ukulele with a decent tone, a good one can be had for as little as a hundred bucks or even less. I owned a 65 dollar pineapple uke once that sounded great! It was all mahogany and I played that thing to death!
UKULELE PRICE RANGES: Some ukuleles can be mighty expensive. Martin Guitars sells an all Koa model, (top, back and sides), for a bit more than $5000. There are many topflight American ukulele makers, (some ukes from these makers command very high prices), and most companies are based in our 50th state of Hawaii. Some of these ukes sell for $6000 or more. But there are also companies that sell great ukes at an intermediate price of $600 – $800. That’s still too rich for many of us, though. So let’s consider the lower end. Ukes in the $60 to $90 price range can usually be a safe buy. Many uke makers build ukes in this price range. $100 – $150 is an even safer range to buy in if you want an even better tone. The safest way to insure the best tone for the price is to buy a uke with a solid top. I own a Cordoba 22T tenor uke with a solid spruce top and it sounds gorgeous. And it cost just a bit more than 200 bucks. This is the uke I play most of the time. I’m not endorsing this brand. In fact, I won’t endorse any brand. But sometimes brand names can clarify, and so in future articles I will identify an instrument by brand if I think it will be helpful to what I’m trying to explain. In this article, I want to make clear that a solid top will sound better than a laminate top, all other things being equal. (We will talk about laminate tops in more detail in future articles.) I recorded most of the samples for my uke method book, Ukulele Finger Picking, with my Cordoba 22T. If you would like to hear what my Cordoba 22T sounds like, click the link below where you can hear me play four selections. Just tap the mp3 player bar to hear each selection.
Just click the link below.
Until next time….