Respect My Ukulele’s Authorita!

In November, web site Petaluma 360.com wrote a nice piece on Mike Upton, CEO of the Kala Brand Music Co.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

The ukulele has spent many years underappreciated as a Hawaiian novelty, but in recent years it has begun to get the respect it deserves as a versatile instrument that’s easy to learn and inexpensive to own.

The article goes into Mike’s days as a sales rep for Hohner Inc. and how he developed their Lanikai Ukulele line.

Check out the article here.

So, Do Any “Real” Musicians Play a uBass?

Actually, quite a few.

In addition to Bakithi Kumalo (Paul Simon), whom we wrote about in a previous post, there are a bunch of others.

Kala uBass endorsees include: Hutch Hutchinson (Bonnie Raitt), Reggie McBride (Aretha Franklin, James Brown), Jim Mayer (Jimmy Buffett), Mark “Kevin” Grantt (Brad Paisley), Hugh McDonald (Bon Jovi), Dave Pomeroy (Elton John, EmmyLou Harris), Marco Panascia (Kenny Barron), Larry Paxton (Dolly Parton), Matt Grundy (Donavon Frankenreiter), Nathan Aweau, Stephen Jones (Kenny Loggins), Troy Lancaster (Taylor Swift) and Miko Espanol.

And if that wasn’t enough, Raul Malo (formerly with The Mavericks) has been known to whip out his uBass in concert and play a tune or two.

There are probably more than these, but we can’t list them all here.

Some Random uBass Trivia

Apropos of nothing and since it’s the end of the week, I present to you a random collection of trivia about the uBass and bass ukuleles.

  • In 1945, rocker Bob Seger was born in Dearborn, Michigan. Seger got started in music by his father, who brought home Elvis Presley’s recording of “Hound Dog-Don’t Be Cruel” and taught Bob how to play the songs on the bass ukulele. Seger’s dad had been a big-band.
  • Four sizes of ukuleles are common: Soprano, Concert, Tenor, and Baritone. There are also less common Sopranino and Bass ukuleles at the extreme ends of the size spectrum. The Soprano, often called “standard” in Hawaii, is the smallest, and the original size ukulele. The Concert size was developed in the 1920s as an enhanced Soprano, slightly larger and louder with a deeper tone. Shortly thereafter, the Tenor was created, having more volume and deeper bass tone. The largest size is the Baritone, created in the 1940s.
  • Kala Brand Music Co.’s most unconventional offering is the new U-Bass, which CEO Mike Upton describes as “essentially a bass guitar with a baritone uke body.” Developed by Owen Holt at Road Toad Music, the U-Bass produces the same pitches as a standard bass guitar and a big, rich tone. It immediately intrigued bass player Upton as well as a growing list of top stage and studio players

And there you have it.

Premier Guitar Awards uBass 4 Picks

The August 2010 online issue of Premier Guitar magazine has a nice, comprehensive two page review of the Kala uBass. They even include three sound samples.

PG loved the uBass and gave it four out of five “picks.” The review covers all the major aspects of the uBass in an intelligent and thorough manner.

For example, they have this to say about the uBass’s versatility:

Experimenting with the U-Bass, I quickly found that despite its simplicity, this is not a one-sound axe. Both where you pluck the strings and how you pluck them makes a real difference. Think fat, old doghouse bass. Think funky ’60s R&B. It all depends on your finger technique. And the closer to the neck you play, the deeper the tone and rounder the attack. Likewise, when you get closer to the bridge, the tone gets more plunky and bright.

The author of the review, Dan Berkowitz, even took the uBass out to a few gigs, to see how it would perform in “the real world.” It passed his test with flying colors.

Read the review and listen to the sound samples here.

Restringing a uBass 101

So, your new Kala uBass just arrived. Now what?

Well, the first thing you should do is tune it up and play it. Play it unplugged and then plug it in. This will give you an idea of how it sounds and let you know if anything is wrong with the uBass. If anything is loose or the Piezos in the bridge are acting up.

Once you’ve established that everything is working as it should, take the strings off. That’s right. Take them off. I know you just tuned it. But, trust me, you’ll thank me for this.

What you need to do is stretch the strings. When you tuned up the uBass and started playing, you probably noticed that after a while it would drift out of tune. This happens because the strings haven’t “settled” and they are still stretching and reacting to being played and to temperature variations. Also, when your bass came from the factory, it probably was strung with too many winds around the tuning peg. Normally, you shouldn’t need more than three winds for the G string and probably two or three for each of the others.

When you first start playing, you’ll notice that your fingers tend to stick to the strings. That’s normal. As the “grease” builds up on your fingers the strings will get slicker. If you find it’s a continuing problem, you always could buy a can of Finger Ease or a similar product. But after a while, it shouldn’t be a problem.

Of course there are plenty of ways to string your uBass. Just like with an electric bass with metal strings, everyone has their favorite ways. This method is suggested by Mike Upton of Kala Brand Music Co. and it’s a good one.

Check out Mike’s video tutorial here.

You want to take the strings off the tuner end (leave them attached at the bridge end), grab one in both hands and give it a good tug. Do this for each string. They’re rubber, they won’t break.

The G string of your uBass probably is put on using Mike Upton’s “lasso” method, meaning it’s knotted on the tuning post. To remove the string you’ll probably need a small screwdriver to gently prod the knot open and out from around the post. Do this carefully, or you can scratch the black paint off the post–or worse.

After each string is off its tuning peg, follow Mike’s directions for restringing each string.

You don’t have to worry about cutting off any string edges that stick out from the tuners. They won’t hurt anything. Unlike with metal strings, you won’t poke holes in your hands because of sharp, cut string ends.

After following Mike’s directions, you’ll find that the uBass stays in tune longer. As the strings adjust, they’ll stay in tune much longer. The strings should take a few days or a week to settle down. Since the strings are polyurethane, they should last a long, long time.

If you want to change your strings altogether–maybe you want to string your uBass with Dreads–then you’ll need to remove the strings from the tuners and the bridge.

To remove the strings from the bridge, turn your uBass over. You’ll notice on the back a little “trap door” with four Philips head screws in it (seen below). The trap door will be a slightly different shade than the rest of the uBass. You have to remove these screws. To do so you’ll need a small Philips head screwdriver, the kind that comes with an eyeglass repair kit or a jewelers kit. Take out each of the screws and put them somewhere where you won’t lose them. To remove the “trap door” you’ll need a small Slot head screwdriver, which also probably is in your eyeglass repair kit. Gently slide the Slot head screwdriver between the door and the uBass body and gently pry it off. The wood can easily be damaged, so go slow and be careful.

Once the door is off, you can slide each string out of its retaining slot.

Then all you have to do is slide your new strings in where the old ones were and put the door back.

Now tune up using your favorite method, and you’re done.

The Reviews are In

There are a number of reviews of the Kala uBass out there in print and in video on YouTube. I’ve read as many of them as I could find and I have not found one that has anything bad to say about the uBass. This little guy is universally loved–and that’s a pretty good accomplishment in this day and age.

Here’s a review from the latest issue of Ukulele Player magazine (click the image at right for a larger, easier to read version). It’s not terribly comprehensive, but it hits all the major selling points.

To get a better sense of how the uBass plays and sounds, head over to YouTube. There are a number of good reviews there.

Here’s a good one.

This one will blow you away. It’s a guy playing Jaco’s “Teen Town” on the uBass. And he does a pretty decent job too. This one was even featured in a recent issue of Bass Player magazine.

And here’s where it all began. This one is from Mike Upton of Kala Brand Music Co. introducing the uBass to the world.