We made it all the way up to Huddersfield this weekend for the Grand Northern Ukulele Festival and had a fantastic time. We were a bit trepidant about taking our Bambookuleles out to meet the public. Over the last year lots of people we know have bought them and lots of people have bought them via the Internet have bought them but we’ve never had to stand in front of people and watch their reaction. We also had never done anything like run a stall at a festival so had no idea what were doing or how much stock to take.
Fortunately everyone we met was really friendly and spectacularly positive about what we’ve been doing to create a decent entry level uke. Some of the festival performers were really encouraging which reassured us that even people who know what they’re talking about can get a great sound out of a ukulele largely constructed from grass.
We also got to talk to hundreds of people from groups all across the country to find out how they run things. We also learnt lots of random things like:-
- The tax structure of the Channel Islands
- Issues related to Ophthalmology
- Great gardens of Wednesbury
- The importance of the wolf tone
We learnt a lot.
Most importantly for us we sold everything we took with us which came as a complete surprise to us.
We met a few people that sell uke related things that we reckon you’d all benefit from knowing about so we’re planning on putting some blog posts together about them over the next few weeks.
A big thanks to the festival organisers and everyone who bought a Bambookulele off us or even just talked to us for a bit.
Oh this is odd. We spent a weekend at a festival and didn’t see one act, we talked to some of them but didn’t see any play. We should probably try harder next time.
We’re really excited to be going to the Grand Northern Ukulele Festival in Huddersfield in only five days (13th-14th September). Whilst going along to see the range of people they’ve got on would be great we’re actually going to work. So we’ll be there on Saturday and Sunday with a full range of Bambookuleles and other stuff for you to look at and have a go on.
We’re also looking forward to meeting all of the people from the around the UK that helped us out with creating our own range of ukuleles. If you’ve been in touch with us or even bought one in the past please come along and say hello. You might also get a special free gift*
*Free gifts are still being made and it’s a bit up in the air whether or not they’ll be ready by the weekend.
From today the Moseley Festival explodes all over the Village like a……. I don’t have a simile, like it did last year. Just like last year we’ve got loads of things going on so I’m going to list them on here so there is effectively no chance you will miss them.
On Saturday the 5th (tomorrow) we’re playing two gigs. One at 2:00pm on the Village Green (part of the Street Fair) and another one at 3:00pm in the Park. The gig in the Park will have completely DIFFERENT songs so there isn’t really an excuse for only coming to one of them. At the 3:00pm gig we’ll also be playing our Moseley Park song in front of people for the first time. That isn’t to undermine the 2:00pm gig, as we’ll also be playing a rare selection of new songs.
That is by no means the best bit. On Thursday the 10th we’ll be hosting our annual sing-a-long in the beer garden of The Prince of Wales. This is very similar to our annual Christmas sing-a-long but with no Christmas songs. We’ll supply the words and all you have to do is come along and belt out 80s pop classics until we’re told to stop. Yes, we do play ukuleles but we won’t make you sit through the usual twee nonsense that ukulele groups usually make you listen to. Anyway you’ll be singing along won’t you? Really this is a great night, you haven’t lived until you’ve experienced the majesty of the Prince of Wales united in Total Eclipse of the Heart.
We love the Moseley Festival as it’s the only festival that’s organised by volunteers for the people of Moseley. So please come along to the Street Fair tomorrow, our sing-a-long on Thursday and the vast amount of other exciting things that are going on until the 13th July.
A few months ago the lovely people at Moseley Park and Pool asked us if we could help their bid to the National Lottery Heritage Fund with a song about the park. We were very excited about this as we love the park, we’ve got to play there a few times and it is the best hidden part of Moseley. Then we had the sinking realisation that we can’t write songs. We stand in the street and shout at people, we’re not Art Garfunkel, we’re not even Paul Simon.
It did occur to us that we do happen to know a really good songwriter so we asked Gurdan Thomas if he could write a song for us. Realising that this was a community emergency Gurdan dropped everything he was doing and wrote us this song.
You can also download it from Soundcloud.
We need to say a big thanks to Rob and John at Highbury Studio who helped us make the song but also all of the Moselele people that gave their time and even video footage.
From time to time the question of strings arises on our Facebook group and, each time, I pitch in with my views. I thought it might be worth doing this one more time, but in a more permanent place (you know how those Facebook posts rapidly disappear off the bottom of the page).
A caveat before I start: I’m wrong on most of what I say and I’ll probably change my mind before I’ve finished writing it. You’re wrong too. Or perhaps you’re right. Maybe we’re both right. The thing with strings is that most of it is a matter of taste and personal preference. There’s a comments section below when you can get involved in the debate. These are the issues that Jeremy Vine and the Daily Mail website fear to tackle.
Do I need to change my strings?
Maybe. Uke strings last for ages, though, and they’re not like guitar strings which are subject to higher tension or being thrashed with a plectrum. (Oh, you don’t use a plectrum on uke, do you?) They don’t suffer from dulling as noticeably as guitar strings do either. Guitarists will know about this; when you put new strings on your guitar it sounds all lovely and zingy, but a couple of weeks later it sounds rubbish again.
If you’ve had your strings on for longer than a year then have a look and have a listen to them. Do they have pits in them from being pressed against the frets? Are they dirty, covered in beer, sweat and pork scratching dust from nights in the back room of the Prince? This corrosive combination is what usually does for my strings. If they’re showing signs of physical wear then replace them.
Do you know the brand of your current strings? Cheap ukes will keep the costs down by stringing them with cheap strings. You can often tell this if all the strings have the same thickness. A proper set will vary with increasing thickness or gauge as pitch rises. If your uke came with unbranded cheap ones, you should probably replace them. Fancier ukes will often have a tag tied to one of the machine heads telling you that your new purchase is strung with such-and-such brand of strings.
A word of warning though. If you are going to change your strings, don’t do it it just before a gig. They will take a while to stretch in and settle and you’ll be spending about a week tweaking them up a bit. For this reason when you do replace them, you won’t need to put more than a couple of turns around the machine head (tuning peg). By the time they’ve stretched you’ll end up with a big lump of string around it.
What size strings should I buy?
What size is your uke? That size. Just buy the correct size and be done with it.
Low G or high G?
Now the fun starts. Ukes are usually tuned to gCEA, which is known as a re-entrant tuning. That g string is a high string (tuned just below that top A string). This is how ukes come by default when you buy them. The lowest note you can get is that C string. (Those familiar with guitars will know that the strings run from low to high across the fretboard. They’re not re-entrant.)
Putting a low G on a uke means we’re replacing that high g string with a thicker one – a G – so you have GCEA. It’s similar, but that thicker G is an octave lower. (The way the physics works is that there is a relationship between the pitch, the thickness and the tension of strings. The thicker the string, the lower the pitch, but the tension stays similar to a thinner string.)
In replacing the g with a thicker, lower, string you are increasing the range of notes you can get, down a whole five semitones, so our lowest note is now on the G.
There are a number of factors to consider when deciding to go low G or stay with the standard high G. What size of uke do you play? If you play a soprano then frankly don’t bother trying. Strings are generally difficult to find and will sound wrong. If you play a concert then maybe, if you want. Personally I’d only consider it as an option on a tenor as there’s more of a bass response in the overall tone of the instrument to make it worthwhile.
If you play on your own I would also advise against it. On its own it can sound odd as the root notes of your chords may sometimes come out wrongish. I’ll explain why when I give some tips on playing with a low G, below.
If you play with a group then maybe consider giving it a go. However, look at the rest of the group and listen. At Moselele, I was probably the first to give it a try. I found it a positive thing as it added another dimension to our sound and personally it didn’t feel like I was playing the same as everybody else. It’s important to be in time and fit in but it can sound dull without any variation across a large group. Over time I’ve noticed a bit of a shift and an escalation within the group. Not sure if it’s a bloke thing – bigger ukes, more bass – but there was a point where it was looking like more and more people were going low G on tenors. It might be because we’re quite a large and loud group so hearing yourself becomes more difficult and going for power and volume end up being a solution for people. Partly for this reason, I got myself a soprano recently and discovered the sweeter, lighter and higher tone of that will come through for me when it all gets a bit heavy.
Ultimately a group ought to have a range of variation across the sizes of ukes and have a few low Gs, but not too many.
I mentioned earlier about playing tips. Playing low G does come with some responsibility. You don’t want to dominate or stand out in the wrong places when playing in a group. You have to blend. You need to bear in mind that the shape of uke chords are generally built around the fact that the lowest note available is usually on the C string. Chords are generally built upwards from the lowest root note. So in a C chord then the lowest string sounding is the C. However, if you go low G, all of a sudden that C chord has a great booming low G note in it which can sound odd. As a guide, if the G string isn’t being fretted then you’re going to have a low G note evident in your chord which you might not want. So if the G isn’t bring fretted then I’ll bring my thumb up round the neck to dampen it.
You generally can’t go wrong with Aquilas. They make fine strings and they seem to be the standard by which all others are judged. They’re the de facto brand that come on decent ukes and there’s often a tag tied to the machine heads to indicate this.
Strings used to be made from catgut. Most of us uke players seem to have cats so that’s a bad thing. We live in the future now so synthetic strings long ago took over from catgut. Aquila use something called Nylgut (nylon gut presumably).
I’ve not tried them myself, but the other premium brand on the market are Worth. These are a fluorocarbon string and come in clear or brown varieties. People speak highly of both.
All the other major string companies make uke strings – La Bella, Martin, d’Addario. If you’re a fan of those brands from other instruments you might play, then consider them.
Don’t go buying polyester strings. They’re the cheap and nasty ones that get put on cheap ukes.
If you fancy a splash of colour then you might want to take look at Aurora, which are supposedly a silkgut string made by Aquila but dyed by Aurora. They come in a range of bright colours, or you can get a multicoloured set. Our local music shop in Moseley, Shades, also produce a set of nylon rainbow strings as part of a music teaching scheme for kids. I’m not convinced that distinguishing between strings with colour, or anything else for that matter, is an effective teaching method but if it’s a gimmick that gets kids interested in learning to play, then that’s got to be a good thing.
If you’re into low G then Aquilas might not actually be your best bet. (I said I might change my mind, didn’t I?) For ages, their low G was a wound string – basically a steel winding around a thinner nylon core. Now this may be a personal thing but I found that these corroded really quickly which would lead to frequent string breaks. Probably a combination of the aforementioned beer, scratchings and the heat and sweat of over 30 people crammed into a small room but I was finding that they’d be pitted from wearing on the frets after just a couple or three sessions and the windings would go. There was also a tonal difference between the wound string and the non-wound. Aquila have since brought out their Red series. This is a single dark red thicker nylgut G string. They do look great and they have a nice, slightly rough, feel. Tonally they fit in with the rest of a set of standard nylguts too. But, they take ages to settle into tune, so much so that you end up with a huge lump of string wrapped round and round your tuning peg. (And they break. Often. In odd ways and strange places. I’ve had them snap while playing at various places along their length so it’s not due to a tight nut, or a sharp fret or using a plectrum. I’ve even been woken by strange noises from the corner of the room at night, only to discover that a string just snapped while a uke was sitting there doing nothing. This isn’t just my experience either. Several others from our group have reported similar.)
A couple of months ago I decided to try some Living Water strings produced and distributed by Ken Middleton. These are a clear fluorocarbon string, slightly thinner in gauge than the Aquilas and a little quieter. A lovely bright and clear tone though. I’ve had a low G tenor set of Living Water strings on for almost three months, which is a record. I really like them. Ken produces a range of different sets for the various sizes in low and high G variations. I also like the fact that this is more of a cottage industry by somebody who plays and is active on the uke scene, rather than a product of a large company shifting units.
Where to buy?
Your local music store, Amazon, eBay… caveat emptor, as always. You’ll find that an eBay search generally turns up a store for several of the below anyway. It’s worth paying a quid or two more to be sure you’re getting what you expect from a reputable dealer but then you may as well buy direct from their proper sites. Presumably they get a few pence more per sale if you cut eBay out, and it’s always worth supporting the companies that support your hobby.
Southern Ukulele Store are always good.
Eagle Music are my personal favourite and have always been quick to deliver.
Shades Music in Moseley for the rainbow strings if that’s your thing.
Ken Middleton for Living Water.
2013 has been quite an exceptional year for Moselele, we’ve met loads of new people, we’ve learnt many new songs and we’ve played gigs in places that none of us really expected.
The year got off to a great start with the release of Book 4, cunningly named after the number of years we’ve been going. It was the first year that we concentrated on songs that were fairly easy to play and became much more accessible for it. It’s also the first year where a wide range of people contributed their own songs. I know there were a number of songs that I thought didn’t stand a chance of working, in every case I was well and truly wrong. Hopefully we’ll do that again this year.
This year we managed to get away with twenty one gigs, creating a truly hectic Summer of weekly practising and playing. Highlights for me were the Summer and Christmas sing-a-longs at the The Prince of Wales, which once again proved there is very little that we can’t make the people of Moseley sing. Getting to play at things like the Bearwood Shuffle and Valefest were great but also the odder gigs like playing on a canal boat to a ridiculously enthusiastic crowd of three, playing on the balcony above a shoe shop and our Moseley School gig where we played to a hedge and a very uncomfortable looking Mayor.
We’d all like to thank many of the friends we’ve made this year that have given us gigs, like Kaye from Companis who let us play at their Rude Food Fiesta, Maz for getting to us to play in a shoe shop and dress up for Halloween, Kerry for inviting us to Hall Green on TWO occasions and, of course Ruby for trusting us not to ruin her wedding.
The gigs we get to play are only really a tiny part of our year. Moselele is really about the nights where we get to shout songs in the pub and release our inner Boston. Throughout this year we’ve had many new people come along to meet us, quite a few of whom have become absolutely vital to how Moselele works. I think, for most of us, that’s the thing that really works about this, we get to meet many new people and each of them make the whole group a little bit different.
Also this year is the year that we diversified into making our own ukuleles. What started as a stupid idea has taken on a bit of a life of its own with Moselele Bambookuleles now being played all over the country. Again a lot of the success of this has been down to the support of the people within Moselele, but also Baz from Gotaukulele who helped bring both the ukuleles and our group to a much wider audience.
I reckon a yearly summary can’t really conclude without at least some recognition of individual contributions. So in no particular order:-
John R – For being the only person that managed to make every single gig this year.
Dave T – For putting his hand in his pocket and bringing us the gift of bass
Ian E – For making a banner even though I wasn’t convinced
Alison D – For letting us all come round her house to rehearse (and Tim for putting up with this)
Paul PD – Obviously for being our biggest fan. There are very few people in bands that can drown out an audience with their own applause
I reckon 2014 is going to be even better and I know there will be people that come across this who’ve yet to come down and join us, yet this time next year they will be an integral part of everything we do. For those people, hello.
We’re only weeks away from having Book 5 ready. That also reminds me that this year will be half a decade we’ve been doing this, which is ridiculous, we should get a cake.
We really like playing a vast range of songs and we realise that it’s much more fun taking part than watching us. That means we want you to come along and help us sing for three hours.
It’s a bit like the blitz, except no bombs and no songs about the war. We’ve carefully selected a ranged of songs that are perfectly suited to being yelled at the top of your voice. You know when you go along to karaoke and you’ve always wanted to sing Total Eclipse of the Heart but didn’t want to look an idiot? Well come to the Prince and we’ll all look like idiots at the same time.
We’ll provide all the words for you, so if you’re not overly familiar with our peculiar fascination with 80s pop and soft rock ballads you can just read along lustily. To be honest that’s exactly what we’ll be doing.
We’ll be starting at 8:00pm and we’ll just carry on until they make us stop.
Special treats we have in store include:-
- Summer of ’69 – Bryan Adams
- London Calling – The Clash
- Africa – Toto
- Psycho Killer – Talking Heads
- Sweet Child O’Mine – Guns ‘N Roses
- Back for Good – Take That
- Don’t Stop Believing – Journey
- All Night Long – Lionel Richie
- Here We Go Again – Whitesnake
- Total Eclipse of the Heart – Bonnie Tyler
- Mr Brightside – The Killers
- Mr Blue Sky – ELO
Doesn’t that sound basically awesome?
Hello and welcome to 2012.
I forgot to update the blog for the first meeting of 2012 but that doesn’t mean we’ve gone and knocked it all on the head. On the contrary, we intend to bigger and stronger than we’ve ever been before.
We have lots of plans that include correcting all the errors in the first two books and starting book 3, we’ve made quite a bit of progress on this already.
We’ve still got the Facebook group and it is a really good way to keep in contact with us if you like that sort of thing.
We want to increase the amount of gigs we do this year and are always open to interesting offers. So if you feel your event can only be improved by fevered strumming, a bit of shouting and some enthusiastic counting get in touch with us.
Other than that we will be in the Prince of Wales on Thursday (the 19th) from 8 O’clock.
It’s been quite an amazingly fun packed Summer for us this year. We made our live debut at the Moseley Festival, we’ve found a new home at The Prince of Wales, we’ve bumped up songbook two until it’s about to burst and this week we got to record in a proper studio.
Some of you will remember that a few months ago we got to rehearse in the fantastic Highbury Studio, well this weekend we had the opportunity to go back there and record something for a proper band. I use the term proper band because they have music that you can buy in shops and on the Internet which means they are proper.
A few months ago The Gurdan Thomas Collective got in touch with us and asked if we could help with their knew album. I seem to remember they wanted an army of Ukes playing the same thing on one part of a record. We said they could have ten, they agreed.
I think we all forgot about this until quite recently when they got back in touch to find out if we were ready. We all looked at the tab for the part and realised that it was slightly more complex than drunkenly yelling along with Yazoo songs. We rose to it and spent a good seven hours rehearsing for about 40 seconds of glory.
It will be some time before we get to hear the results, but it was fun trying something new.
If you want to help us with things like this then you need to join the Facebook group, it does cause some problems because group messages get lost somewhere in the crazy system that Facebook tries to pass off as a social network, but it is the best way to hear about specific things like that. Not that I can think of anything that is coming up soon.
So getting back to the normal run of things we’ll be in the Prince of Wales from 8:00pm on Thursday. Please try and have copies of the books, they’re in short supply.
It was crazy enough finally getting a poster but now we’ve got a Facebook group as well.
Theoretically this will make people think there is some sort of coherent strategy for developing Moselele into a force of unparalleled power.
It’s also a handy place for people to have discussions about things.