The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #84223   Message #3651680
Posted By: Artful Codger
17-Aug-14 - 10:04 PM
Thread Name: Are ukuleles a real instrument?
Subject: RE: Are ukuleles a real instrument?
The Hawaiian 'ukulele was adapted from the Portuguese cavaquinho and rajão, often played together, with the cavaquinho playing melody rather than being strummed. Although we mostly hear the 'ukulele being strummed rather than fingerpicked (following it's primary use in accompanying 20's/30's songs), it has always been used as a melody instrument as well, and the reentrant tuning lends itself to more bell-like playing (one note sustained into the next, where even legato would cut it off).

What gives 'ukulele a bad rep is the fact that it's accessible to and popular with people just beginning to learn an instrument or with not much dedication. Unlike the guitar, you only have to worry about four strings, and although some chord shapes require a barre (or are easiest to play that way), most don't: you've got a finger for each string. Sadly, although playing up the neck is much easier than on guitar (unless on guitar you take the uke approach of only playing the top four strings), most players are content with their limited stable of first position chords, with which they can accompany any song--at least to their liking--and that's all they really wanted to do in the first place.

The other thing that gives 'ukulele a bad rep is that, although good ukes are way cheaper than good guitars, mandolins, banjos and the like, most folks start (and stick) with the under-$100 cheapies, which have unimpressive or even annoying tone--better fit for painting and hanging on the wall. This is false economy, since they easily spend more for the basic accessories than they did for the instrument itself. For about $200 you can get an all-solid wood uke, nice-sounding with spot-on intonation; for $250-400, you can get a sweet-sounding instrument with finer, more exotic-looking tonewood that may satisfy you for the rest of your life. (But few people are satisfied with just one uke, and why should you be?) From there on, the main cost is the labor for hand-building a more finely resonant instrument and the cachet/unique tone/bling of true koa or other select tonewood; the bang-for-the-bucks ratio declines sharply. In contrast, $300 is hardly enough to buy an entry-level banjo worth serious consideration. Can you honestly tell me you'd rather hear a tinny, stray-toned banjo than a melodious uke?