I want to move here:
and start up a ukulele group specializing in swing music. I’ll call it Uke Ellington.
Or something. I’ve actually got a list of 1920s–1940s songs, some I know, some I’m working on, some I’d like to learn sometime. At the moment it’s:
  • Ain’t Misbehaving
  • All of Me
  • Anything Goes
  • As Time Goes By
  • Chattanooga Choo Choo
  • Don’t Get Around Much Any More
  • Dream a Little Dream of Me
  • Goody Goody
  • I Got Rhythm
  • I’m Beginning to See the Light
  • In the Mood
  • Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby
  • It Had To Be You
  • It’s Only a Paper Moon
  • Makin’ Whoopee
  • My Walking Stick
  • A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square
  • On the Sunny Side of the Street
  • Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone
  • Puttin’ On the Ritz
  • Sentimental Journey
  • Straighten Up and Fly Right
  • Swinging On a Star
  • Take the “A” Train
  • Toot, Toot, Tootsie, Goodbye

Antique (ca 2013) musical instruments

Antique (ca 2013) musical instruments

I went to look for the blog posts where I showed off the instruments I built back in summer 2013 and discovered there were no such posts. Some pictures in progress but none of the completed objects. Bad blogger! Bad!

So, okay, here they are: One diddley bow, and one fretless 3-string cigar box guitar. Nothing objectively notable about either, but I enjoyed making them. And no, I still haven’t gotten around to learning to play them, so they hang on the wall. Someday maybe.

Also someday maybe I’ll get back to the fretted cigar box guitar I started building not long thereafter, and never got very far with.

img_1931 img_1925

Try not to lose it between the sofa cushions

New teensy uke, on its own and with soprano and baritone for scale2017-01-06-22-57-06 2017-01-06-22-58-00-1

It’s a Caramel sopranino; low price instrument shipped direct from China. Seems pretty good for the money. I have it tuned in D for now, C seems too low for it and I don’t know if I’d want to push it up to G. F, maybe…


Les Paul so far

Les Paul so far

Some first impressions of the Epiphone Les Paul concert uke:

  • Shiny!
  • Heavy! It inspired me to weigh all my ukes:
    • Grizzly soprano: 12.3 oz
    • Kala soprano: 14.3 oz
    • Makala Dolphin soprano: 1 lb 0.2 oz
    • Islander tenor: 1 lb 3.8 oz
    • Lanikai baritone: 1 lb 8.0 oz
    • Epiphone Les Paul concert: 1 lb 11.2 oz

    Yeah. Weighs more than my baritone! But less than a guitar, so do I care? Not especially. The balance point matters more, and I think all but the Grizzly balance about a fret or so up the neck from the top of the body. The Grizzly balances at the top of the body. That and its light weight would be due to the friction vs. geared tuners. I usually use a strap anyway, so neither weight nor balance point matters so much to me.

  • The pick guard is, from a practical standpoint, silly. I mean, who plays a ukulele with a hard pick? Or a pick at all, in most cases? I don’t. And who strums a uke at the sound hole or below? I don’t. A number of people in the Amazon comments speak harshly of the pick guard and one commenter says it can be removed with the application of heat from a hair dryer to soften the glue. I’m leaving mine on. I don’t think it’s meant to be practical, and if you don’t like the looks of it, that’s fine, but it’s part of the whole Les Paul visual character. To me, removing it would detract from the design.
  • Speaking of where I strum: The tone quality of the instrument, played acoustically, is decidedly less bright than, say, my Kala soprano (with its light weight and solid spruce top), and in fact it was seeming downright muffled sometimes. Not that it needs to sound as bright as the Kala — for a lot of songs a warmer kind of tone is more appropriate — but I do want more definition than I was getting. Then I discovered it sounded a lot different if I strummed it a little below where I had been. Not over the sound hole, but closer to it. I’ll have to experiment some more but I think I’ll need to train myself not to play this one where I instinctively tend to.
  • Played through the amp, it certainly does sound like the pickup works better than the one on my Dolphin — which is a two dollar (if that) piezo disk from Radio Shack I literally taped in place as best I could reaching through the sound hole, so that’s no big surprise. Other than sporadic goofing with the Dolphin I pretty much have no experience with electrified instruments so this one will require some learning.
  • Action seems fine. No buzzing. First fret barre chords aren’t too problematic.
  • Weird thing: The strings are holding their tuning. I tightened them up when I got the uke and I’ve hardly moved them since. It’s as if someone else had already spent two weeks or so stretching them out. But it really didn’t look as though it was a used instrument.
  • First impressions of concert scale: I dunno, I’m used to soprano and tenor and baritone, so this fits within that spectrum. Nothing relevatory about it to me.
  • Two things about the fretboard:
    • At 19 frets it has one more than my tenor or baritone. (No, I don’t think that accounts for the higher weight.) I don’t see myself using fret 19 much, even with the cutaway…
    • Dots are at frets 3, 5, 7, 9, 12 (double), 15, 17, 19. Versus 5, 7, 10 on all three sopranos and 5, 7, 10, 12 on the tenor and baritone. That 9 versus 10 thing may cause trouble.

Anyway, I like it so far, but will need to get used to it. And I don’t see it supplanting any of my other ukes. They each have their place.2016-03-04 20.01.15

The ukes of now

IMG_8209The ukes I have at the moment, in seniority order:

  • Grizzly soprano (bought the kit first but finished building it third)
  • Kala lacewood soprano
  • Makala dolphin soprano
  • Islander tenor
  • Lanikai baritone
  • Epiphone Les Paul concert

That it, and that’s about all I need, other than a banjo uke, well, one each in two or three sizes, and various sizes of solid body electrics, and a sopranino. That’s probably enough. Oh, and a bass, or maybe two basses…

Music by the inch

I suppose I’m also a Doctor Who heretic, in that I’ve watched only about three or four stories from the years of the first two Doctors (William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton) and regarded them as… well… pretty bad. I’m sure I’ve said this before, but to reiterate: There are those who would disagree vehemently, but I thought those early episodes were poorly done in almost every aspect: writing, acting, directing, editing, camera work, costumes, and of course special effects.

By the time Jon Pertwee came along as the third Doctor, they’d apparently either learned a lot or hired people who were better at it. The show was greatly improved in all those areas. Except maybe special effects.

(It also was in color, which even if all else had been the same made it much more watchable. Good rich, sharp monochrome is fine, but for 1960s-era blurry low-resolution video, color definitely made it easier to figure out what you were looking at.)

Now, was it really all bad? No, and I’ll tell you what I liked: The music. Most of the title and incidental music in those days was written by Ron Grainer and it was splendid. Or anyway it was a lot of pre-Moog electronic music, done by the legendary BBC Radiophonic Workshop, alternating with orchestral music making heavy use of bass and/or contra-alto clarinet, and it had me at “hello”. Now, the show’s use of that music was as bad as everything else, but the music itself, great stuff.

Which is why I enjoyed this short new video talking about how the theme music was first recorded: one note at a time, with oscillators and 1-track tape recorders and a whole lot of splicing tape.

Uphill both ways. Get off my lawn.

CPVC. The C stands for clarinet, or chalumeau… (part 5)

CPVC. The C stands for clarinet, or chalumeau… (part 5)

So here’s the goal: An instrument with eight holes (for left thumb and fingers 1–3, right fingers 1–4), preferably sounding the following notes:

Hole Note Freq (Hz)
LT B♭2 117
L1 A♭2 104
L2 G2 98.0
L3 F2 87.3
R1 E♭2 77.8
R2 D2 73.4
R3 C2 65.4
R4 B♭1 58.3
End A♭1 51.9

or, if that isn’t feasible, a probably easier fallback:

Hole Note Freq (Hz)
LT B♭2 117
L1 A2 110
L2 G2 98.0
L3 F2 87.3
R1 E2 82.4
R2 D2 73.4
R3 C2 65.4
R4 B♭1 58.3
End A1 55.0

The first of these is the pitches produced by the finger tone holes (and one of the R4 levers) on a contra-alto clarinet. The second shifts the semitones from L1/L2 to LT/L1 and R1/R2 to L3/R1, where they’d be easier to obtain, and changes R4/End to a semitone to keep the End note in the scale. But I think the “standard clarinet” option is worth a try.

I’ll work from bottom to top, because adding a tone hole above an existing one hardly changes the note produced at the latter, while adding a hole below an existing one makes it flatter. Start with smaller holes and enlarge them if needed. Probably best to start with a “lower joint” made of elbows but just let a straight pipe stand in for the “upper joint” at first. Once that’s in good shape perhaps glue the “lower joint” together, unless it seems feasible to leave it dry-fit, then build and tune the upper joint.

First things first, though, which is: given the mouthpiece effect noted before, I need to decide what mouthpiece I’m going to use. Tone holes set up for one mouthpiece will be wrong for another. I have several B♭ soprano clarinet mouthpieces, as well as one each for E♭, alto, and bass clarinets… and a baritone sax mouthpiece I picked up cheap back in 2005, just in case I had a use for it. Theoretically you don’t want a big mismatch between the diameters of the mouthpiece and the instrument, and even the E♭ mouthpiece is wider than the tubing I’m using. But that little soprano reed really struggles and it’s hard to force enough air through the small mouthpieces for such low notes. The alto works better. The bari sax mouthpiece has an inner diameter similar to the alto and also works okay; I think I like the alto’s sound a little better, though. But what I’m happiest with is the bass clarinet mouthpiece. I took a 1/2″ CPVC coupler, put about 3 wraps of electrical tape around it, stuck it on a tube, and pushed it up into the mouthpiece. That way the air column really “sees” rather little of the mouthpiece’s volume and diameter; that can’t hurt. IMG_3659It looks crazy but it blows easily and sounds good. Part of that might be the reed. On the other mouthpieces I have old cane reeds, long neglected and not exactly in peak condition. On the bass I have a Legére plastic reed, which you can sit on top of for a year and it’ll still work just as well the moment you try to use it again. I know from experience. (It had slipped down under a cushion.) I thought I had a Legére soprano reed, too, but I haven’t found it. I should check the sofa. But anyway, I think the cane vs. plastic aspect is not the main factor here.

Bass clarinet mouthpiece it is, then.