Are ukuleles enjoying a resurgence in popularity? George Harrison (of the Beatles, hello!) was a huge ukulele player and proponent. Tiny Tim was also a uke strummer but most people would rather forget that. Now it seems that this 4-string mini-guitar-like instrument is making a small but eloquent comeback.
Origins of the Ukulele
Invented by Portugese immigrants in Hawaii, the ukulele has the advantage of being small and portable. It’s better than a back-packer type guitar because it has a richer, fuller tone than the portable guitar. The ukulele may be second fiddle to the guitar since it’s smaller and has four strings to the guitar’s six, but it’s still an instrument that has a wide range of tone.
There are also several sizes of ukulele such as:
There are also rarer ukes in sopranino and bass.
Ukulele Festivals Around the World
Besides Hawaii, there are ukulele festivals in Southern California, Northern California, Oregon, Colorado, Chicago, Florida, New York, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin. There are international ukulele festivals in Belgium, England, Italy, New Zealand and Sweden.
The Uke in Popular Culture
The popular TV show, Scrubs, has a female character named Stephanie Gooch who goes around playing her ukulele. It’s a weird and funny TV show and the quirky character Gooch is played by Kate Micucci. There is a cute video making the rounds where the Gooch character sings a duet with a potential love interest. It is charming and funny.
There are also ukulele virtuosos such as Jake Shimabukuro of Hawaii, whose fast fingers make you forget you are listening to a cute, little uke. This guy is the Jimi Hendrix of the ukulele, especially on his version of George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”
Danielle Ate the Sandwich
If you haven’t heard of Danielle Ate the Sandwich, chances are good you will soon. Born in Nebraska but currently residing in Fort Collins, Colorado, Danielle Anderson is a singer songwriter who backs herself up on a Samich UK-60 Greg Bennett design ukulele. (Check out her uke strap on her videos, only the best for this hip chick.) Drawing her inspiration from words and experiences, Danielle also admires the work of Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and Paul Simon. Danielle’s second CD is entitled Things People Do, and reveals a sensitive soul with a wicked sense of humor. (And all recorded in her kitchen.)
There is also Dent May and His Magnificent Ukulele. Dent’s languid yet soulful singing voice leads a wonderful cover of Prince’s When You Were Mine.
So the next time you hear the plunky-plunky of a ukulele backing up your favorite singer, you’ll know that the Uke Renaissance has hit and it’s here to stay for awhile. A tip of the writing lid to good friend Doug Van Gundy who is now the proud owner of several ukes.
Best Gift Ideas to Buy for a Music Lover
When gift givers buy Musical instruments, they show a personal connection. Here are gift ideas and cheap musical instruments to please sanguine, choleric, phlegmatic, and melancholic musicians. Shoppers can mull over the musicians on their gift list, and buy musical instruments that suit them best.
Cheap Musical Instruments for the Sanguine Musician
For musicians who use their talent to make themselves or others laugh, these cheap musical instruments are bound to bring smiles.
Limberjack — The limberjack is possibly the most fun percussion instrument. It’s a paddle and a wooden man on a stick. A musician sits on half the paddle and positions the limberjack over the other half. When the musician taps the paddle, the limberjack clogs to the beat. These hilarious percussion instruments are under $20
Jaw harp — This instrument adds twang to any musician’s tune, if he can make a noise on the thing without breaking his front teeth that is. A great gift for someone who likes a challenge. Mouth harps run around $12
Nose Flute — Versions of this instrument are found in South America, Polynesia, Africa, China, and India. With a little practice, musicians can get great tunes from their flute. Cheap imitations flood the market for under $5. There are also, believe it or not, fine wooden nose flutes which can be purchased for around $50.
Buy Musical Instruments for the Choleric Musician
If the special someone is a collector with a flare for the exotic, it’s hard to go wrong with a set of cheap musical instruments including shakers, scrapers, and flutes from the far corners of the earth.
Animal guiros — Woodcarvers in Thailand have fashioned traditional scrapers in animal shapes including frogs, crickets, and crocodiles for years. Practiced players coax realistic animal sounds from the instruments. These personality packed guiros range in price depending on size from $5 to $75.
Kokarikas — This clackety instrument from Indonesia is wooden slats strung between two handles. These handles are often carved to resemble a lizard’s head and tail. They can be purchased for under $20.
Angklungs — Another interesting Indonesian instrument is an anklung. These bamboo chimes can be struck for a brief note or shaken for a sustained pitch. Depending on size, an octave of angklungs will run from $35 to $55.
Mbira — These African instruments, called thumb pianos, are made of metal tines attached to a soundboard and gourd chamber. Musicians can get fairly complex melodies from mbiras. Depending on their quality and amount of notes, thumb pianos range from $30 to $80.
Shakere — Shakeres are an African instrument made from a hollowed gourd with beads strung around the outside. When spun in the palm, the shakere makes an interesting percussive sound. Large Sharkeres cost around $25.
Caxixi — This Brazilian shaker is made of a woven basket attached to a gourd and filled with seeds. Depending on the size, a caxixi can be found for around $15.
Ocarina — Ocarinas are vessel flutes. Air swirls through an open chamber as opposed to a tube. The thick chamber provides a wide range of shapes including all sorts of animals. Most ocarinas are made from clay and worn around the neck. Primitive cultures all over the world developed their own versions of ocarinas. Prices vary depending on quality and the materials used, Mountain Ocarinas offers high-level instruments for under $100.
Cheap Musical Instruments for the Phlegmatic Musician
For someone with simple, acoustic taste, one of these cheap musical instruments might work especially well.
Musical bones or spoons — Bones or spoons provide great percussion to many types of folk music. The bones are wooden sticks around eight inches long and costing around $7 a pair. Wooden spoons are played by slapping the instrument between the thigh and hand. A nice set can cost $25.
Harmonica — For beginners, a diatonic model in the key of C is usually preferred. The Lee Oskar Major Diatonic is the most recommended brand and runs just under $30.
Tin whistle — Originally from Ireland, these whistles are gaining ground in many folk genres. For under ten dollars, Generation, Oak, Waltons, Clarke, Sweetone, Acorn, and Feadog, all offer great basic whistles. Jerry Freeman tweaks tin whistles to ensure sound and playability for $15 to $35.
Recorder — Many musicians got their start on this instrument in grade school. For those who take out their plastic whistles every now and then, an upgrade to a wooden recorder is a sentimental and nostalgic gift. A wooden soprano recorder will cost around $50.
Bongos — Bongos add a fun twist to most folk genres. Latin Percussion and Toca, offer nice sounding sets starting at $50.
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