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Ukulele, Guitalele, Banjolele and suchlike

Posted: Fri Jan 27, 2017 7:02 pm
by Oldbones
“Ukulele” ????
What the …. ?????????????????

If your first thoughts were along the lines of ‘George Formby’ or ‘Tiny Tim’ or ‘toy!’ I humbly suggest that this post and any thread which develops from it might not be for you …. or maybe it will convince you to have a go.

For over 50 years, I’ve been an unashamed guitarhead. Not much of a musician, but always a diehard fan. Then, after damaging my left hand, I looked around for an alternative. I’d never seriously considered the ukulele but decided to give it a go. I played safe and opted for a Brunswick BU4B baritone uke which, like a lot of baritones, was tuned DGBE. (They can also be tuned GCEA). Without going into lots of personal waffle and wacha-macaulits, I was almost instantly a fan. The instrument was a joy to play. I already knew all the chords and as long as I didn’t reach for those 5th and 6th strings it was easy. I then discovered that my then-5 year old granddaughter was using a small uke in her nursery school where a peripatetic teacher was teaching the whole class how to play. This is now continuing into Year 1.

THAT was when I began to seriously research and learn about the instrument. I quickly found that all other sizes of ukes (and some baritones) are turned to GCEA or, more usually, ‘gCEA’. This is called ‘High G’ or ‘re-entrant’ tuning and is what gives the uke its distinctively bright, happy sound.

Next came the purchase of a Kala long neck soprano instrument and the apparent hassle of having to transpose chord shapes and chords. Again, to cut down on waffle – chord shapes for GCEA-tuned ukes are identical to those for the DGBE tuning, but the chords you sound are different. (Think about it – GCEA is five steps removed from DGBE and are the four notes you play if you barré a guitar at the 5th fret). Thus a G on my baritone actually sounds a C on the soprano. Em becomes Am; C becomes F and so on.

Ahh – oh dearMmmm – tricky! Yes, it is if you approach the ukulele after experience playing guitar. But in reality it’s just a case of mentally building a new repertoire of chords and names. I found that the best way forwards was to go back to the beginning and to start with a set of basic chords which suited the type of music I liked to play.

Since those early days, I have given away the BU4B and now play a Pono baritone, a Pono tenor, a Kala concert and the Kala long neck soprano. As you might infer – just as there is Guitar Acquisition Syndrome, there is also UAS.

By the time I’d built up that little collection, I’d also come to realise that although you can transfer guitar techniques onto a uke, the instrument also offers its own distinctive ways and modes of playing. Most of these centre upon a wide range of often challenging strumming styles, but there are also some nifty fingerpicking tricks as well. One of the books (by Chad Johnson) that I will recommend later on provides a detailed exploration of these areas.

I’ll thus end my narrative thread-starter here and finish off with a sample list of books and other resources. This is by no means comprehensive – it’s just a selection from my bookshelf and personal experience. Some have proved better than others. Some proved to be superb, others were of little value. Hopefully, other members of the forum will add their own anecdotes, opinions and suggestions. I won't add comments at the moment, I am happy to do that in more detail if there's any interest out there.


Get plucky with the ukulele
Ukulele for Dummies
Ukulele aerobics GCEA & Bariton versions
The Daily Ukulele GCEA and DGBE versions
Just for fun – children’s songs for ukulele
3 chord carols for ukulele
Christmas on 34th street covers both GCEA & DGBE
Fun with strums – baritone ukulele GCEA & DGBE versions
Uke quarterly UK magazine
Blues uke (DVD)

Incidentally, from experience, I can vouch 100% for the helpfulness and quality you get when you shop with Omega Music or Southern Ukulele Store. Both are here in the UK. Other forum members will have their own recommendations, hopefully from the UK and other countries – but those are mine.


And as someone once said, “That’s all folks”.

I hope this starts a new set of conversations, ideas and comments and if you really MUST invoke the spirit of George Formby, well so be it, even though the banjolele was his main instrument. However, if the likes of George Harrison, Joe Brown and Frank Skinner are in the roster of his fans, then who am I to disparage him?

Re: Ukulele, Guitalele, Banjolele and suchlike

Posted: Fri Jan 27, 2017 8:11 pm
by Tom McCauley
I have got a ukulele but I hardly use mine! Every time I come to it, it needs retuning on the odd occasion.

Re: Ukulele, Guitalele, Banjolele and suchlike

Posted: Fri Jan 27, 2017 10:22 pm
by Oldbones
The need to tweak tuning is endemic amongst ukuleles but with an electronic tuner it's a matter of seconds unless an instrument is a real cheapo or has poor intonation. More than guitars, ukes can be susceptible to changes in temperature and humidity if moved between rooms or if transported from one location to another - but in truth, the problem is miniscule. I found that both the cheap Brunswick and the much more costly Pono baritones maintained tuning exceptionally well. The Kala long neck does tend to drift a wee bit more, but, again, it's only a matter of moments to tweak. Any uke tuned to high G is a bit harder to tune by ear, but there are ways round that.

I find that even my PRS electric needs tweaking if I leave it unplayed for a week. And the PB 12 string needs a regular tweak but, as with most ukes, that's an endemic characteristic of 12 strings.

Re: Ukulele, Guitalele, Banjolele and suchlike

Posted: Sun Jan 29, 2017 11:32 am
by BRC
Thanks for the detailed information.

One of my nieces started learning ukulele a few years ago and got my interest. I can't remember the tuning but was able to pick it up and play some rudimentary chords and tunes. The' high' 4th string confused me a little though, as you say, gives the uke its distinct character sound. That uke was a relatively inexpensive model so lacked good intonation, for me.

I did continue a distant interest in the instrument, however, being a banjo and mandoline as well as guitar player (I use that last word very generously) I thought hard at whether or not I wanted to learn even more different chord shapes to confuse myself at my age. The interim answer has been 'no' ... so, I bought a guitalele (Yamaha G1) which maintains the standard guitar chord shapes, though without the 'high' bass string effect. It is about the same size as a standard ukulele. The instrument is tuned 5 semitones above standard guitar tuning and does give quite a twee 'ukulele-ish' sound - quite a good volume to boot. It is also an interesting counter to my baritone guitar ... if I could play them at the same time. No, don't even think about that.

When time (and money - after new stair carpet, kitchen floor etc have finished spending my pension) I shall review investment in a ukulele and then consider which tutor book to go for - so please keep up the advice on that. My concern is for the much smaller fret spacing as my hands are not as compliant as my brain wishes them to be. The span is more restricted these days and also if they are too cramped it becomes painful. Any advice on that issue is also welcome.

Not sure I would buy in to the Tiny Tim allusion, though okay with George Formby. I know George Harrison and Paul McCartney were uke players, especially George. I have seen TV shows by the Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain and they seem to be an excellent advert for the instrument in all its different forms, together with a very acceptable sense of humour and lack of pomposity.

I look forward to more input from you and others on their ukulele views and experiences.

Kind regards

P.S. It has been interesting the spelling 'corrections' autocorrect made which I have had to correct whilst typing this reply. There may be some i have misssed! :shock:

Re: Ukulele, Guitalele, Banjolele and suchlike

Posted: Sun Jan 29, 2017 4:13 pm
by Oldbones
Hi again. As for not buying into "... the Tiny Tim allusion ..." he was actually an expert player but, of course, only had that one tulip-inspired hit. However, there are many accounts if his expertise on the instrument and he's usually given a good write-up in books about the history of ukulele.

Also, as for the UOGB having "... a very acceptable sense of humour and lack of pomposity...". You're quite right. Their approach can seem frivolous to many, but they are all superb musicians and by re-arranging and almost re-inventing some famous tunes and songs, you find yourself appreciating the music in a new way.

I have quite a reasonable library of uke books for both GCEA and DGBE tunings which I'm happy to share here (I listed a few in my first post), but I'll wait awhile and see if others are going to add then own pennyworths.

My daughter brought our two granddaughters over today. The eldest (6 in March) has now moved on to a concert sized uke in her school music lessons. She's a tall girl for her age, so that will be why. However, she does have a propensity for holding it like a rock chick with all the stereotypical stances and facial expressions. Mark you, she does rather enjoy Joe Brown's versions of 'Ace of spades' and 'Pinball wizard' so maybe she's heading in the right direction? UNless the younger granddaughter (4 in July) changes her hold of the instrument, I'd say she's going to be a lap-steel guitar or dobro player or possibly a drummer!!! (I'll leave you to puzzle that one out).

Writing that has made me wonder which modern female uke players folks have encountered - there are several; some of them being blindingly good. The one area where the uke can be a challenge is if you're into blues. I do have one DVD tutor which in some ways is excellent but in others it is marred by the poor choice of instrument used. (Very flashy fretboard which makes it hard to see strings and fingering).

If folks want a list of what resources I've tried, discarded or kept, I'm happy to write them up but - as I said - I'll wait awhile to see who else has ideas and suggestions.

Re: Ukulele, Guitalele, Banjolele and suchlike

Posted: Mon Jan 30, 2017 9:32 pm
by Roger USA
Hi Oldbones,

No I don't play the ukulele or guitalele, I have dabbled, but put it under the category of not as easy as it looks. Obviously I found the guitalele easier of the two, but I will stick with the guitar for now.

That said I love some of Jake Shimabukuro's ukulele music and I had the opportunity to see live a couple of years ago.

All The Best,


Re: Ukulele, Guitalele, Banjolele and suchlike

Posted: Tue Jan 31, 2017 10:24 am
by BRC
Old ones,

Tongue was definitely in cheek with my comments on Tiny Tim - don't think I could manage the falsettos these days!

I was busy yesterday with my partners in crime working on the songs for our annual 'music festival' (we only invite around 25 people each year) so thoughts of ukuleles were far from mind. However, I am trying to find a concert by UOoGB to get to sometime this year. One of their numbers, based on Ian Dury's 'Sex, Drugs & Rock-n-Roll' - renamed 'Cakes, Buns and Sausage Rolls' (I think) is a superb advert for their playing as well as singing/humour skills.

I look forward to more contributions on this subject - and can fully understand Roger's stance.

Kind regards

Re: Ukulele, Guitalele, Banjolele and suchlike

Posted: Fri Feb 10, 2017 2:49 pm
by AndrewD
No such thing as owning one ukulele. Any uke owner will testify to that. Anna and I are definitely not exceptions to that condition.

Re: Ukulele, Guitalele, Banjolele and suchlike

Posted: Fri May 12, 2017 10:23 pm
by Trevor Raggatt
Uke has gone so very far beyond Tiny Tim. Have a check out of my lovely friend Victoria Vox. She did a music degree at Berklee College of Music in Boston, struck out as a singer songwriter and then got sucked into the uke as her first love...


Re: Ukulele, Guitalele, Banjolele and suchlike

Posted: Sat Jul 01, 2017 11:20 am
by Harrysong
I really love ukulele's and ukulele banjo's. I have a number of vintage/antique ukulele banjo's and they all have their own character.

Tiny Tim was brilliant. It's not until you listen to his album tracks that you realise the greatness of his style and playing.....and his voice wasn't always high pitched........he actually had a great voice.

George Formby....classic.....who could not like him!

George Harrison....another great player and fan of ukulele's and ukulele banjo's!

Such a great instrument to play and guess never see an unhappy ukulele/ukulele banjo player!

Re: Ukulele, Guitalele, Banjolele and suchlike

Posted: Sat Jul 01, 2017 12:52 pm
by Oldbones
I'm starting to have a ghastly premonition that my own initials 'A.S' actually stand for 'Acquisition Syndrome'. Could my parents have been that far-seeing when they named me?

I've had UAS for some time with a Kala soprano + Kala long-neck soprano + Kala concert + Pono Baritone (DGBE) + Brunswick baritone (dGBE) ... and that's just the ones I still have. Never mind the ones I've donated to a local charity during the process of clearing my house following Jan's death.

But I now realise that AS doesn't stop there. Before UAS I had and still have a SERIOUS case of GAS. No - not the flatulent variety (although my late wife and still-thriving daughter would dispute that assertion). I mean guitars. I wouldn't dream of listing the types and makes that have tempted me in the past, but I still have five and, once again, that's after shedding several in the past six months. And even as I sit here, I'm tempted to watch just a few more upload demos of a particular Taylor guitar that is catching my eye and ear .....

But worse ... oh yes, it gets worse ... I now have KAS and am in danger of developing SAS. For the uninitiated or stronger-willed members of this forum, that's 'Keyboard Acquisition Syndrome' and 'Saxophone Acquisition Syndrome'. For a time, I also had RAS (Recorder Acquisition thingy-wotsit) but the toot has now given way to the howl and growl of the sax.

I do now wonder how my life would have been different if my Mum and Dad had named me Kevin, or Mark or Brian or Ezekiah or anything other than what they chose.

Re: Ukulele, Guitalele, Banjolele and suchlike

Posted: Sat Jul 01, 2017 3:12 pm
by Harrysong
My name is Mark and it makes no difference! Believe me!

Re: Ukulele, Guitalele, Banjolele and suchlike

Posted: Sat Jul 01, 2017 3:53 pm
by Harrysong
Here is a link to my ukulele/ukulele banjo collection:

The password to access the pictures is: Ukulele

The ukulele's are new ones but the ukulele banjo's are all very old.

Re: Ukulele, Guitalele, Banjolele and suchlike

Posted: Sat Jul 01, 2017 9:43 pm
by Oldbones
What I saw looked fascinating but my computer is rather long in the tooth (like me) and the constant barrage of pointless adverts slowed it down so much that I gave up. However, I think we can safely say that you are definitely a fully accredited member of the UASS (UAS Society).

Re: Ukulele, Guitalele, Banjolele and suchlike

Posted: Sat Jul 01, 2017 9:50 pm
by Oldbones
Trevor Raggatt wrote:Have a check out of my lovely friend Victoria Vox.

Excellent. There's a really strong group of young female uke players like Victoria, Brittini Pavia and Tamaine Gardner to mention just two others. In her earlier days 'LP' used uke a lot but now I think she's moved on to tenor guitar. Either way, they're all superb and in their separate distinctive ways must be enthusing and motivating more and more young people to see that the uke can be both fun and also a seriously powerful instrument.

Thanks for the link.