Archive for the ‘Ukulele’ Category

New uke day tomorrow!

Posted: June 28, 2012 in Performances, Reviews, Ukulele

Just had a call from Rachel at Eagle Music Shop here in the UK that she has shipped my new Koloa KU-650 baritone uke out today.  Can’t wait to get my hands on it.  I’ll be stringing it up with a set of Ken Middleton’s new High D Living water strings after having seen his lovely ‘noodling’ vid on UU forum – check it out here:


I’ll be putting up a review of my new uke in a little while………


My new JJB pickup is now installed in my Hamano tenor and it sounds awesome.  I can’t recommend these pickups enough and Jessie’s service is second to none.  Take my advice, don’t even consider an under-saddle pickup before you try one of these babies.  You can find full details on JJB Electronics’ website.

Before anyone asks, I paid for the two pickups I have purchased from JJB and my comments are based solely on my experience of the product and the service from JJB!

Installation was an absolute cinch as I asked Jessie to provide me with a pickup with a short lead, terminating in a 2.5mm jackplug.  I ran this into an endpin jack that had a 2.5mm socket to take the lead from the pickup.  It really was almost plug and play and no soldering was necessary.  I think the whole operation took about 30 minutes.

I was going to describe the process in detail but as we all know “a picture paints a thousand words” and a vid is just plain awesome.  Check this out…


I used double sided tape and the pickup is still there after 3 weeks so we will see how it goes.  Incidentally don’t go and buy a special luthier’s endpin jack reamer (you know who sells them for $69.95!).  Here in the UK I bought a 1/2″ step drill from fleabay for £5.00 that did the job perfectly.

Check out the Marlow Uke Group website.  Brian started this group in February of this year and up to 40 members regularly attend on alternate Monday nights.  Unfortunately Monday night has been difficult for me of late because of work commitments but I’m looking forward to getting to a meeting soon.

Brian has done an amazing job on the website and in my opinion it’s one of the best sites around for information for beginners.  As well as the really well produced songbooks, Brian has put a wealth of help on the site from chord diagrams to strumming patterns – only recently he has added a brilliantly clear section on finger-picking including a couple of really useful ‘Travis’ patterns.

Well done Brian for bringing so much pleasure to a lot of people and thanks for all your hard work on the website!

Another great evening was had by all present and we even got some applause from the main bar. Yep we knocked out a few of the old favourites again but what makes this session so special is that Martin takes every opportunity to introduce us to those little techniques and chord embellishments that can transform the mundane to something much more interesting and entertaining. Yesterday we were all ‘pushing’ chords like mad and its amazing how such a simple technique can make your playing sound so much more ‘Formbyish’.

The other great thing about this session is that Martin’s mate, Sparky, from their terrific blue grass band Papa Truck is generally around to add his unique vocal style to the proceedings. Ever heard ‘I’m a believer’ sung in cod-opera style?

Check out Papa Truck at or on YouTube

I recently reviewed the JJB EXT-100 pickup that I got from JJB Electronics in the USA.  I was so impressed by the pickup that I asked Jessie to custom make a permanent install pickup for my Hamano tenor.  I wanted a single piezo with a shorter lead terminating in a 2.5mm jack plug as I use endpin jacks with 2.5mm sockets to enable a solderless install.

Jessie advised that this was no problem and a new pickup is on it’s way to me for the sum of $15 – that’s under £10.00 including postage!

I can’t wait to do the install and will let you all know how it goes.

I have been searching for a decent ukulele pickup for ages and have tried most of the transducers that are available but, until now, I couldn’t find one that gave a natural sound i.e. it sounded like my uke – but louder!

I came across JJB Electronics as a result of a recommendation from a guitarist friend of mine who swore that JJB transducers sounded better than any other pickup he had tried.  Given that JJB charge less than £13.00 I ordered one direct from JJB and a few days later it turned up in the post all the way from the USA to me here in the UK.

I bought the EXT-100 model which allows for temporary installation on your uke and has the advantage that you can quickly swap it between instruments.  Being able to move the pickup around on the top of the soundboard also facilitates experimenting with placement.  It is surprising how much tonal variation there is between one spot and another on the soundboard.

I have to say right here and now that this pickup is extraordinary – a real revelation.  It accurately amplifies my uke’s acoustic sound and doesn’t add anything of it’s own.  I ran it straight into my Roland Micro Cube on the ‘acoustic’ setting – the lowest gain setting on the amp and this passive pickup drove the amp perfectly.

I have a uke with a sonicore system with on board pre-amp and I can honestly say the JJB sounded infinitely better.   I tried the pickup on my Martin guitar that has a big brand under-saddle pickup – again the JJB simply blew it away in terms of clarity, producing a marvellously uncoloured sound.

Since buying the pickup I’ve done a bit of internet research about JJB pickups and the reviews are unfailingly complimentary as are the comments about customer service and after-sales backup.  I’d like to add my own thanks to Jessie for producing such a great sounding pickup at such a reasonable price point.  I honestly think this pickup is the best out there at any price point. 

Quick review of Zoe’s EP

Posted: May 22, 2012 in Reviews

It’s difficult to know where to start with Zoe.   I first noticed her on YouTube and was knocked out by her absolutely nerve free performances, not to mention her sublimely ‘current’ voice.  A few weeks on and I have her recently released debut EP in my CD player.

I compared her to a young Adele in my initial post but upon reflection I withdraw that comment.  The ‘heart on the sleeves’  lyrics and super confident live performances may have much in common with Adele’s early gigs, but Adele was 18 when I first saw her perform.  Four years extra maturity is a big advantage  in that it brings a lot more life experience to your song writing, (not to mention the training and grooming at the Brit School).  Adele had to compete with and compare herself to the cream of wannabees in her peer group (including Amy Winehouse, Leona Lewis, the Kooks etc. etc.).  It would be nice to think that Wigtown provides similar challenges for Zoe, but I think that somewhat unlikely and that local ‘folk’ performers and YouTube have been a more likely source of reference.

So, what do we get from 14 year old Zoe on her first professional recording?  In my view, a refreshingly uncomplicated, sometimes wry, sometimes witty bunch of songs beautifully performed and presented.  Hats off to Zoe for valuing her perfect pitch and youthful tone over the seemingly endless runs and inability to sing a straight note of many of her contemporaries.  Zoe has a beautifully direct voice and if comparisons are in order she would be better compared with the likes of an Unthank or Rusby than most of the current crop of pop princesses.

Zoe is a lucky girl to have found a producer/engineer with the skills and sensitivity of Huey Dowling.  He has done a wonderful job of keeping things simple and his respect for Zoe’s talent is evident in his light handed approach.

Zoe is clearly one to watch and I look forward to hearing much more from her in the future.