Ukulele accessories

Ukulele accessories

Along with your first ukulele, you will probably want a few other things. None of them is particularly necessary; you can play your uke without any of them, but some accessories will make it easier and better for you.

Case

Item one, a case or gig bag. Even if you never take your ukulele anywhere (and why wouldn’t you?), your household might contain kids or pets an instrument should be protected against.

There are hard shell cases, which provide the best protection but are heavy and expensive. There are rigid foam cases, less protective, lighter, cheaper. There are gig bags or soft cases, minimally protective, lightest, cheapest.

I wouldn’t check a uke on an airplane without a hard shell case. Not that I’ve ever checked a uke on an airplane. They do fit in overhead racks pretty well. For not too stressful travels and home environments a good padded gig bag works well enough. But my two best ukes do have rigid foam cases, brand name Uke Crazy (from Kala, I’m pretty sure). They each have an internal compartment, an external compartment, and a strap for carrying. They’re both basic black. So are the gig bags for my concert (which came with it) and sopranino (from Caramel). You can get cases and gig bags in fun colors and prints… for a price. (My Phitz baritone soft case is blue.) Or you can make a gig bag, if you’re into that sort of thing.

If you have a tenor ukulele you need a tenor ukulele size case or bag, of course, and likewise for other sizes. But even among tenor ukuleles there’s some variation in size, and what that means is, if you’re buying online, you need to either check with someone who knows whether a xxx case will fit your yyy ukulele, or be prepared to find out it doesn’t and you need to return it. Gig bags are probably less likely to suffer this problem, being non rigid, but there are no guarantees.

Tuner

This time I mean the electronic device to assist in putting your ukulele in tune. You can get away without one. If you’re not playing with anyone else you can just put one string at what sounds like a reasonable pitch — obviously requiring a certain amount of experience — and tune the other three strings to that. No one will get upset at you for playing solo in D quarter flat tuning. Or, if you want to be at a specific absolute pitch, you can compare against an instrument known to be in tune, if you have one; there also are tuner smartphone apps available. But a clip on tuner is inexpensive, easy to use, and very handy. Because it hears vibrations through contact rather than through the air, you can use one to tune up while all around you are playing and talking. Of the two I have I like one better because of its clear and bright display; the one down side is it has only ukulele and chromatic modes so is harder to use for tuning a baritone ukulele. For that I prefer my other tuner, which has a guitar mode — baritones are tuned like the first four strings of a guitar, so that works. I haven’t named names here because the tuners I have aren’t on the market any more and my comments don’t really apply to their successors, but some good brand names are Kala, Lanikai, Fishman, Snark, Korg, and Planet Waves.

The batteries on these wear out eventually, so toss some spares in that case pocket, and for heaven’s sake don’t buy them at a drugstore or a mall watch repair booth that’ll soak you for five dollars each. Look around online for battery packs of 5 or so for a similar price or even less. (And look around for advice on avoiding counterfeit batteries, because there’s a lot of them.)

Strap

A wood, acoustic, soprano uke is a lot smaller and lighter than a guitar. Traditionally it’s played more or less hugged to the chest with the right forearm, and if that works for you, do it. Some people find this awkward, especially with larger and heavier ukuleles, more so with ones that have geared tuners and a correspondingly greater tendency for the head to sag if the left hand isn’t constantly supporting it. I prefer a lower playing position, with the right arm more relaxed and neither hand trying to support the instrument and play at the same time. So I usually use a strap.

Few ukes come with strap buttons installed. They’re cheap to buy, though, and easy to put on. Your music store will do it for you, or you can do it yourself if you have the nerve to take a drill to your uke. You can put one button on the tail and one on or near the heel of the neck, and use a guitar strap with button holes on both ends. Or you can just put one on the tail and use a strap with laces on one end which tie around the headstock. (My preference, for support at the head.) Then there are straps made for ukuleles that don’t require buttons. Some fasten around the waist of the uke body and others hook into the sound hole.

Music stand

Propping your song sheets up on a chair gets old quickly, and a folding music stand can be yours for under ten bucks. These are lightweight and compact, which is good for carrying, but not so good if you’re dealing with large heavy music books under which they tend to fall over easily. The groups I play with make use of the Daily Ukulele book and a locally produced book of songs both of which are a couple hundred pages, so I’ve moved beyond these stands. For transport I have a stand made by Hamilton and rebranded Stage Rocker. The legs fold up and the rigid desk detaches, and I got a bag to transport it in. It’s kind of a pain to carry around, but it’s way more sturdy and stable than a lightweight folding stand. Also you can get accessories like a drink holder that’ll mount on the post, which in our more beer-oriented group prevents a lot of spills. For home I have a Manhasset stand, not very portable but very sturdy. Manhassets are the standard stands, if you will; if you ever were in the band in school, you probably used Manhassets. They’re also not cheap. Unless you get them used from someone moving to Mexico.

Strings

If your uke came with decent strings, they shouldn’t need changing for… well, a while. Some people like to change strings every few months. Some let them stay on for years. It depends on how sensitive your ears and fingers are to their rate of degradation. Or, of course, on how much you want to try different strings to find some you like. I’m not much of a string changer myself; I have an extra set or two around in case of emergency but emergency string changes are pretty rare.

Humidification

Particularly if you have a solid wood (not laminate) uke, you should take care it doesn’t get dried out in low humidity conditions. The number I’ve heard to stay above is 45%, though I don’t think there’s anything especially hard and fast about that. If you live in a warm and humid environment, or if you have an effective whole-house or room humidifier, that may not be a problem. In the winter in Syracuse, outside the basement, it is. If there’s a question, invest in a good hygrometer to be sure. Emphasis on “good”. I’ve found a lot of low cost hygrometers, including ones specifically marketed to owners of reptiles and wood clarinets (both of which can suffer expensive and heartbreaking deaths if subjected to the wrong humidity), are completely unreliable. If you can’t keep your ukes’ environment above 45%, you can build or adapt a cabinet to be a higher humidity storage area. Or you can keep your ukes in their cases and get a low cost case humidifier to keep the inside the case humidified — or you can make one.

Another uke

A ukulele gets bored and lonely if left on its own. You may want to get another to keep it company. Maybe several more.

 

Second hundred in progress

Second hundred in progress

Here’s a page where you can look up statistics on seasonal snowfall this year in New York State. For Syracuse’s official total, recorded at the airport, we’re now at 102.9″ (261.4 cm). Which is a lot.

Well, it’s a lot if you live most other places.

On average Syracuse gets about 120″ a year. We were right about on top of the average at the end of January; this past week or so has probably pushed us well ahead of average but not abnormally so.

Here’s the other thing: Syracuse is officially the snowiest major city in the country, but in part that’s an artifact. The airport is north of Syracuse, north of the Thruway, and once you get north of the Thruway snowfall gets significantly worse, due to the usual patterns of lake effect precipitation off Lake Ontario. Back before 1950 they used to measure downtown, and when they changed it to the airport suddenly the snowfall totals went way up. Here are this year’s totals at a number of places in Onondaga County:screenshot-2017-02-17-at-10-50-02-am

So where I live they’ve measured only about 84″. A foot and a half less than at the airport. (I’m pretty skeptical about that 25.9″ in Baldwinsville, though, especially since they have 83.3″ three and a half miles away.)

And then again, “snowiest major city” is not at all the same as “snowiest place”. In the village of Redfield, about 40 miles northeast of Syracuse and about 12 miles from where we lived a decade ago (which is where and when the accompanying photo was taken), they’ve measured 298.5″. So far.

.@Anagramatron classics VII

More from Anagramatron:

  • This is the girl that never sleeps = She’s persistent, I’ll give her that
  • Can you grant me one last wish? = Any cute girls wanna shoot me?
  • I’m at the hospital rn = Health is important
  • Kanye tweets too damn much = Don’t make me count the ways
  • Eating fries and a McDouble = OMG I feel a disturbance

And then again…

 

… sometimes the lake effect machine points itself at the western suburbs. As of this morning the Camillus CoCoRaHS observer was reporting snow depth of 13″, compared to 16″ at the Syracuse airport. I was out in the driveway with the snowblower this week four times… in three days.

And then again again, there are the synoptic storms, which are entirely different. In particular storms sometimes come up the east coast. Like this upcoming weekend. And sometimes their track and their size are such that Syracuse takes a hit, like at the end of January 1966 when a combination of synoptic and lake effect weather dumped nearly four feet of snow on the city.

A lot of the time, though, the coastal storms stay to our south and east. So this time, while they’re forecasting 30 inches in Washington, DC, little to no new snow is expected in Syracuse.Screenshot 2016-01-22 at 1130 inches in DC will be brutal. I lived in the Washington suburbs while going to grad school at the University of Maryland about 35 years ago and I recall schools being closed if an inch or two of snow fell.

We had two allegedly 50-year snow storms during my time there. About 15″-18″ of snow each time and it shut the university down for a week. The first of those storms I and two friends were driving back that night from Boston and the roads just got worse the further south we went. Made it though. A week after the second storm I was walking home along Route 1, except then I discovered I was walking in Route 1 — in a right turn lane that still had not been plowed.

For the current storm, Congress is adjourning until Tuesday, but our New York congresspeople are toughing it out (or being stupid):

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Rep. John Katko, R-Camillus [NY], said they planned to keep their Washington offices open Friday and Monday, regardless of snow conditions.
This is how civil wars start, you know.

If you don’t like the weather wait five miles

It’s about 11.4 miles from the CoCoRaHS amateur weather station in Camillus, NY (in the western suburbs of Syracuse, and near where I live) to the National Weather Service station at Syracuse’s Hancock Airport (northeast of the city). Last week Syracuse (that is, the airport) got 16.7 inches of snowfall. Camillus got 5.0 inches.

For Wednesday the score was Syracuse 13.7, Camillus 1.0. Snow depth the following day (which generally is less than the total of recent snowfall because snow melts and compresses) was 12 inches in Syracuse, 3 inches in Camillus.

Date
New snow Snow depth
Syracuse (0000-0000) Camillus (~0600-~0600) Syracuse (12Z) Camillus (~6:00)
10 Jan 2016 0.1 T 0 0
11 Jan 2016 T 0.0 0 T
12 Jan 2016 1.9 2.5 T 0
13 Jan 2016 13.7 1.0 7 2
14 Jan 2016 1.0 1.5 12 3
15 Jan 2016 T 0.0 10 3
16 Jan 2016 T 0.0 7 1.5
Total 16.7 5.0

You can get an idea of how this happens from the radar video:

The red line through Syracuse is the New York State Thruway. Local conventional wisdom is that snowfall gets much worse when you go north of the Thruway. The airport is just north of it; Camillus is a couple miles or so south of it. In the video a lot of the time there’s precipitation spread across the general area, but at other times there’s a classic lake effect snow band coming off Lake Ontario, stretching many miles east but very narrow north to south, and usually somewhere north of the Thruway. See 0:14 into the video for instance:Screenshot 2016-01-17 at 9

Driving north-south through one of these bands is interesting. You can have no precipitation at all at two points five miles apart and near white-out snowfall in between. I saw that a lot when we lived in Parish, about 35 miles north of Syracuse; I also saw that these bands sometimes wander north and south, and then sometimes just park right on top of where you live for a week.

Last Wednesday I wasn’t in Camillus or Syracuse (or Parish); I was in Newport News, Virginia, which wasn’t getting any snow at all. But my car was at the Syracuse airport. When I parked it there on Monday — having put a shovel and some boots in the car before I left home — I noticed the outdoor lot had many empty spaces so I figured it was worth checking in the parking garage, and sure enough I found a space in there. $6 more but totally worth it. I did break out the snowblower for the first time this season once I arrived home, but even if I’d been shoveling by hand, doing the entire driveway wouldn’t have been much more effort than shoveling around the car and clearing it off had it been in an outdoor space at the airport.

.@Anagramatron classics VI

More from Anagramatron:

  • What up good morning = God I’m gonna throw up
  • His memorial is today = I miss him already too
  • Swear I’m at the wrong school = How come Hogwarts isn’t real?
  • Oh, so it’s nudity week? = Outside with no keys
  • Stoned boy watching anime drinking tea = I didn’t know ignoring me can be that easy

.@Anagramatron classics V

More from Anagramatron:

  • I’m done with this sewer rat = She’s irritated with me now
  • There’s two things I can do = That’s the wrong decision
  • Why is there a flamingo = Are they filming a show
  • We’re all a nerd of something = I see the world from an angle
  • I’m not ready to walk outside = Take your time and do it slow

.@Anagramatron classics IV

More from Anagramatron:

  • I’m going to be honest because I can = Me being so nice is about to change
  • Another math genius = He ain’t smart enough
  • I want to be an only child @santa = Wasn’t it only Cain and Abel tho?
  • Walked in the guys’ restroom = The drugs only make it worse
  • Again for the third time = I’m tired of hearing that