#1 Banjoleles, also called Banjo Ukuleles , have been with us since the early 1900’s. These instruments were developed for Ukulele players who simply wanted more volume than a standard Ukulele could provide. These instruments were popular early on with Vaudeville acts of the day and were most closely associated with George Formby a British comedian (1904-1961) who used them his act.
#2 The construction is the same as a banjo but with a 4 –string ukulele neck and it is commonly tuned G–C–E–A (Standard Ukulele “C Tuning") or A–D–F♯–B ("D Tuning"). Like the banjo, early models featured Calf Skin heads but present day Banjo Ukuleles have synthetic Mylar heads. They are also fitted with a banjo style bridge and use standard Ukulele strings.
#3 Banjoleles are available in both Soprano and Concert sizes and come in both open back and closed back designs. The closed back versions have more volume than their open back siblings. The Eddy Finn models pictured above shows both an open back soprano and a closed back concert Banjolele.
If you can play the standard Ukulele, you can play the Banjolele. It all a matter of personal style.
The Ukulele bass is a more recent addition to the uke family than it’s conventional brothers and sisters. While the theme of a ukulele bass may not be new, it only became main stream in the Uke community when championed by the Kala uke company a few years ago. Since then, many uke companies have developed their versions with their own specific twist. The Eddy Finn EF-bass (pictured above) can be immediately recognized by the signature Shark Finn sound hole unique to the brand.
While these instruments can be thought of as “ukulele” because of their size and the fact of being offered almost exclusively by ukulele companies, they really have more in common with an upright bass than a uke! They are tuned like a bass guitar and for those of us that have played ukes, guitars and basses in various forms, nothing quite prepares you for the initial surprise you that awaits your first pluck of this singularly unique instrument.
It’s all about the strings! The uke pictured above and it’s competitors, are equipped with large diameter Silicone strings which have an “at first” strange rubber feel unlike any bass you have ever played. The bass is immediately infectious as you navigate the fret board making it hard to put down. Not only have I experienced this but I have watched many people who pick one up for the first time reach the same conclusion, notable when their inquisitive facial expression turns to a smile. You literally watch them ‘Get it”.
The big surprise however is still waiting and isn’t evident until you plug it in. I wasn’t quite prepared for the big upright bass tone of this little instrument. I mean after all I have played acoustic bass’s before. But not like this. I immediately realized that the potential for the instrument far eclipsed the “ukulele only” applications and that this little gem could stand on its own amid the bass’s of the world. So there you have it; a great addition to any uke ensemble as well a fantastic bass guitar suited to any genre of music. Whether you buy one or not, you should check one out, you will be surprised.
There are two main distinct differences between a traditional 6 string Uke and a Guitalele. One is the tuning the other is the way it strung.
We will start with the 6 string uke. It employs the same standard uke tuning of GCEA. On the 6 string uke the nut is cut to allow a smaller unison string next to the C and another Next to the A. Thus tuned GCCEAA. The six string Uke can be played the exact same way as a stand uke but will have a fuller sound.
The Guitalele, like the Eddy Finn EF-G6 ,has 6 equally spaced strings like a guitar but is actually tuned ADGCEA which would be the same as a Guitar with a Capo placed on the 5th fret. The advantage in this tuning is that you can play it like a guitar, but because of the higher pitch, you can sound like a uke. You can also tune it like a standard guitar but at the lower pitch don’t expect that jangly Uke tone. Still, for guitar players wanting to transition to uke, this is a no brainer.
Sizes and types
The Ukulele comes in the following sizes; Soprano, Concert, Tenor and Baritone. Each has specific characteristics that may influence a player to choose a particular size.
The soprano ukulele is an excellent starting size and introduction to the Uke for a couple of reasons. For one they are the least expensive and represent the biggest bang for the buck. Two, the soprano Uke, because of its scale length and string tension, has that Uke specific “jangly sound” most familiar to the average listener. It is tuned the same as the Concert and Tenor They make an excellent choice for children because of the size but are in no way considered too small for an adult. Most ardent Uke players own one or more.
The concert size (which is sometimes referred to as Alto) is larger and probably the most popular size among performing artists. It is tuned the same as the Soprano and Tenor. The larger size and fret spacing afford more room to make chords and the increased string tension make it harder to bend strings out of tune. Those with larger hands and bigger fingers will find the concert easier to chord than the smaller soprano models.
The tenor is the largest of these first three and is tuned the same as the Soprano and Concert but has more frets. This allows players to reach notes in the higher register. This size is a common choice for guitar players who are transitioning to ukulele. For the simple reason that they are used to holding a much larger instrument, the tenor is more familiar to them while a soprano might feel tiny.
Other than the much larger size of the baritone, the biggest difference from the first three listed here is the tuning. For the first three sizes use the standard tuning GCEA is used while standard tuning for the Baritone the Baritone is DGBE
You couldn’t make a bad choice but you should consider the fact that three of the sizes you tune the same way and they sound most “Uke-ish”. Therefore the baritone may not be your best first choice. You can see a good representation of these at http://www.eddyfinn.com/
For those of you who practice your instrument alone, or maybe don’t have time or the inclination to practice with a band, you should consider practicing with Backing Tracks. If you are learning Licks (and I use the term generically for all instruments) nothing will help you cement them into your repertoire like playing against a track. Another major benefit will be to your timing. If you are learning cover songs, Back Tracks are as good as a band, they really help you get into the DNA of the song. I might add to that as long as my computer boots up, the band members are never late and there is no baggage.
#1 Know where to get the tracks:
Finding tracks is easy, they sell them in most music stores Via CD hardcopies, ITunes has many ready to for you to download and there is an unlimited supply of pay for and FREE tracks for you on youtube. Here is an awesome site that is 100% free! http://www.guitarbackingtrack.com/
#2 Know your format choice in advance:
Some sites give you a choice to leave out vocals or certain instrumentation. I play guitar and sing so I want mine minus the lead guitar and lead vocals. When downloading, try many formats. My son plays bass, usually I get a version with bass and without for when he visits!
#3 Try some Karaoke Sites:
Sometimes the best tracks are available as Karaoke tracks. When I have to play a song in a different key I can’t always readily find a track in my key. Here is a site that will let you create your own mix, which instruments go, stay, etc and what key you want it in. http://www.karaoke-version.com/ Be aware that this one is a pay site but it’s very cool.
#4 Record yourself:
The best way to track your progress, especially if you are learning solos , is to record yourself with a back track. Listen today, then listen each week or so and compare your progress.
#5 Set yourself up for success:
Try to create a space where your instruments, computer, audio equipment etc is close at hand and hopefully in a place you won’t be distracted. My space is a bedroom at the opposite end of the hallway from my bedroom. As long as both bedrooms doors are closed my wife can’t hear it. For me that is important because I usually practice at 4:00AM before I go to the GYM. Remember the term “Wood Shedding?” Well if you got one…
Republished with permission from Modtone Effects