How to measure string tension easily

They say that “high tension” strings pull harder on the neck of a guitar than “normal” or “light” tension. You have tested tension with your fingers and indeed some strings seem to have more tension than others, but how much, exactly? How can I tell whether the tension of one of my strings is too high or too low? I’ve run into this sort of discussion in several forums (like this one, or this other one, or still this one) and nobody seems to have the answer, yet you know that “your fingers tell you.” In this article, I translate that qualitative method into one that will give you a pretty accurate number, and explain the math behind it. Read More

Try this trick to accompany any song

Let’s face it, a lot of chords on the guitar are quite hard. Take, for instance F on the guitar, equivalent to Bb on the ukulele, which requires a barre and a lot of pressure on all strings. What’s worse, F is a very frequent chord in the very common keys of C and F. In this post, I tell you a trick that professionals use (well, at least the Beatles did) but don’t talk much about. Read More

How to pick a pick for a ukulele

You’ve heard it many times: “It’s not in good form to use a pick for a ukulele.” Well, here’s my awful disclosure: I use a pick. And you know why? Because it does sound better, as least for a beginner like myself. It allows me to strum loud, fast, and consistent. If you look at YouTube videos, you’ll see that a lot of semipros also use picks. I haven’t asked them, but I presume it is also because it does sound better. Picks are pretty much a must for steel strings, and they are quite helpful on plastic strings. But you’ve got to pick the right pick. Read More

Find more ukulele chords

A year and a half after I took up the ukulele, I’m calling myself an intermediate player. Now, an intermediate should be able to do a little more than strum a few open chords with a felt pick, so here’s a chart that is helping me to find chords up the neck (I still strum with a pick ;-). Hopefully you’ll find it useful too. Read More

Cheapest MIDI guitar

For quite a while, I’ve been interested in making a guitar or ukulele sound like other instruments. The way a guitar sounds when strummed appeals to me, since it blends so well with singing to make a song, but I get bored quickly with things always sounding the same. This is while I’ve built a number of ukuleles in the last few months and my collection now counts some 15 units. There is this device called “MIDI guitar controller” that you play like a guitar but can sound like anything else, since what it does is get real-time note information from your performance, which can then be fed to a hardware or software instrument. Most MIDI guitars, however, are either discontinued or very expensive. I was resigned to never using one until I ran into the “Rock Band 3 Fender Mustang guitar controller pro” (whew!), which is now selling (new) for a tad over $50. This article expounds how this relatively cheap device compares with much more expensive devices. Read More

At last! A MIDI ukulele

There are a number of MIDI-enabled guitars out there, but did you know now there is also a MIDI ukulele? Kudos to Maker Hart for their courage in developing the DU-one and EU-one instruments. They were kind enough to send me a free DU-one so I could write this review. Short version of this rather long article: it takes a lot of effort and frustration to get it to work, but in the end it is all worth it. Read More

Make a c-guitar

Or you can call it a cigatar, if you like, because we’re starting from a cigar box guitar, pictured at left. The point of this article is how to change its tuning so it can be played exactly like a ukulele, without having to buy new strings. This also works for a G6 baritone to C6 standard tuning conversion, if you have a baritone ukulele. Read More

Convert a ukulele to play in G

One year after I started learning the ukulele, I have learned to accompany many songs by strumming. But I still divide them into “easy” (key of C), and “all others” (any other key). This is because the basic chords involved in a song written in the key of C (C, F, G7, Am, Dm) are especially easy on the standard-tuned (gCEA) ukulele. But it turns out that the “easy” songs are only about half the songs in most books. One solution is to use a capo, but then the sound goes from tinny to tinnier, especially if the difference is large (say, a song in the key of G, which would mean a capo on the 7th fret; try that on a soprano!).

But I’ve found a better solution, and this is to get a second uke and turn it into a “cuatrolele” by simply swapping the order of the strings. As a demo, I have sound samples for a soprano uke originally tuned in C6 (gCEA), which has become a G6 (DGBe) g-ukulele, or “gukulele” for short. Read More

Guitar and ukulele sizes: all the numbers that matter

As part of the ukutar project, I looked for small guitars that I could turn into ukuleles, and found there is a bewildering array of names that often don’t describe very well the size of the instrument or how it sounds. Pictures are pretty much useless. In this article I present a table with most of the guitar and ukulele sizes I’ve found, and try to make some sense of the numbers. Read More