Do you recall my It's hard to be in a bad mood while you're playing the ukulele! blog from a couple of weeks ago? Well, I'm proud to report that (just a couple of days ago as I pen these words) I finished building my first do-it-yourself ukulele kit.
As you can see in the pictures below, the finish on this one is just stain and varnish – I'm still working on a second instrument which will boast a Steampunk look-and-feel (I shall report further on this in a future column).
Following the final coat of varnish, all that remained was to attach the strings and to then start happily strumming away (or so I thought - ah, the innocence of youth :-)
As I'm sure you are aware, a standard ukulele has four strings. The instructions that came with the kit said to put the two thicker strings in the middle and the two thinner strings on the outside. But since all four strings that came with the kit were the same size, these directions were somewhat less than useful.
Also, I remembered reading a review by someone else who said that everything about the ukulele kit was great apart from the strings, and that he recommended replacing them with better ones.
Neck attached (covered in masking tape)
and first coat of stain applied
Thus it was that I meandered my way down to the local guitar shop with my ukulele grasped firmly in my hands (and it's not often I've had the occasion to say that). The reason I took my little beauty with me is that I wasn't sure if they came in different sizes (yes, we are still talking about my ukulele) and I didn't want to take any chance of purchasing the wrong strings.
I'd like to say that the guys in the shop were totally impressed with the fact that I'd built my own ukulele, but I’m sad to report that they gave the impression that they saw this sort of thing all time. (On the bright side, maybe that means I'm not as weird as I'd feared ... maybe :-)
So, armed with a nice set of new ukulele strings ($6.00, which I didn’t think was too bad) I was poised for action. When I returned home that evening, I took the first string, tied a knot in one end, and threaded the other end through the hole in the bridge. But as soon as I put any tension on the string the knot slipped through the hole. I tried a bigger knot ... but the same thing happened. So with much moaning and groaning I retired to reconsider my line of attack.
It was only when I was lying in bed that it struck me that I should be tying the knot around the bridge itself. That was a "Doh!" moment, let me tell you. But which knot to use? The next day I performed a Google search for “How to string a ukulele”
and got a bunch of hits (it really is amazing what’s out there on the Internet). One website in particular had a really nice picture that made a lot of sense, and it wasn’t long before my strings were well strung (as it were).
The strings are strung!
When it came to tuning the little rascals, I started by trying to do it by ear using the free UkuTune
app I’d downloaded to my iPad. Unfortunately this didn’t work as well as I had hoped. The app is great but it does rely on your having an “ear” for this sort of thing and – sad to relate – it seems that I don’t.
I then tried a few other free apps, such as SpinTuner
, which is very pretty to look at but totally useless when it comes to tuning a ukulele (at least as far as I could see – it may be absolutely wonderful once you get the hang of it).
Eventually I decided to invest $2.99 on an app called AudioTuner
, and this worked wonderfully for me. After choosing the instrument in which you are interested (guitar, ukulele, etc.), you select a string and pluck it and the app measures the frequency and displays it graphically and also says “too low” or “two high” and guides you in until the string is bang on tune. Then you repeat for the other strings.
Once I had all four strings set up I played my first chord. It sounded horrible. I rechecked the strings and they were all out of tune again. So I retuned everything and tried again with much the same result. I then consulted my trusty Ukulele for Dummies
book, which says that a new set of ukulele strings go out of tune very quickly for the first two weeks until they’ve stretched and suchlike. Tell me about it (grin).
I kept on retuning the strings and things did get better over time, but they still drift out of tune really quickly. So I’ve resigned myself to a couple of weeks wait until things settle down. In the meantime I’m practicing my strumming technique using the “Calypso Strum” from Ukulele Mike’s YouTube video – this is the one he recommends for Somewhere Over the Rainbow
, which I plan on being the first tune I learn (Click Here
to see the video of this strum).
Meanwhile, I can’t resist showing you the evolving sketch for the way my Steampunk ukulele is going to look. The idea is that it will seem to be a brass case with holes in the front and through the holes you will see gears (in reality everything will be painted on).
The working sketch for my Steampunk ukulele
Last but not least, I ran across the following image on the Internet. Obviously this isn’t a ukulele … but it does look interesting … maybe it’s a project for the future (grin)
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