Saturday, February 28, 2015

Ukuleles - Part Two

Alternate string sets for the ukulele.

The most common tuning today for soprano, concert and tenor ukes is C6 (g C E A) while the baritone has the G6 guitar tuning.(D G B E).  Both of these are sometimes made into the Taropatch open tuning by lowering the 1st string one whole step.   The open tuning with a high 4th string is a good choice for both fingerpicking and clawhammer. The low 4th string is good for fingerpicking and strumming. The normal high 4th string on 4 strings are used for strumming, fingerpicking and clawhammer. 6 string ukes can be played strummed or fingerpicked.  8 strings ukes usually are only used for strumming.

For the remainder of this post we will discuss alternate string sets maintaining the 6th chord tunings.These strings are sometimes available as a set or as individual or extra strings.

First we have the low G (G C E A) strings on a Mainland all solid concert mahogany pineapple with a long neck (tenor size). This uke has very attractive rope binding around the head stock, sound hole and body, it sounds and plays great.

Next we have a G6 set of strings (d G B E) on a Kala Tenor with a solid spruce top and laminated spalted maple back and sides. The higher pitched 4th string on the smaller body size make it sound quite different from a baritone.  The lower pitched strings also are very different from the normal C6 tenors.  The G6 set has a nice mellow tone and it is a favorite of Hawaiians and Jim Beloff for his Martin tenor according to his first video.

Next is a No-Name solid mahogany Baritone from eBay with a set of C6 strings (g C E A).  Nice dolphin inlay and a very mellow sound due to the larger body when compared to smaller ukes.

The Mele all solid Koa tenor 8 string has a very full sound like a 12 string guitar.  It strings are C6 tuning (gG cC EE AA)  Perfect for strumming.

When I bought the Mele solid mahogany double puka tenor it was tuned g cC E AA.  I changed the 2nd A string to be an octave lower for a very different sound.


For my birthday I just received  the new for 2015 Kala 5 String Tenor Uke with a solid cedar top and laminate acacia back and sides.  The fourth course has both high G and low G strings.

In 1919 the C.F. Martin company began manufacturing Tiples.  These were modeled after South American Tiples and Hawaiian Ukuleles.  The instrument had 10 steel string in 4 courses tuned like D6 ukuleles. Today Ohana builds tiples based on the old Martins.  Mine is tenor size and has a solid mahogany top, back and sides. It is tuned gG cCc eEe AA.  There are a number of youTube videos of people playing the American (Martin) style tiples as well as various  South American models. In the 1920s The Golden Melody Boys released a number of records featuring the tiple in the Paramount Old Time Catalog.

Today's new Golden Age of the Ukulele has shown us many new models of ukuleles including the Gretsch Guitalele.  It is tenor size and it has a solid mahogany top and laminated mahogany back and sides with nylon strings.  It is tuned A D G C E A (like a guitar with a capo on the 5th fret).

There are many youTube examples of various ukulele strums.  Aaron Keim has a good number of excellent examples of both fingerpicking and clawhammer ukulele playing.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Ukuleles - Part One

I have enjoyed learning to play the Ukulele over the last several years.  Being both a guitarist and a clawhammer banjo player gave me some advantages with learning chords and strums.  Declining health issues have me enjoying lighter instruments like ukes more these days.

There are lots of  youTube videos to help you learn.  I started with the two Jim Beloff DVDs.

Today good ukuleles are highly affordable.  My favorites affordable brands are Ohana and Kala. These  imports are made in Asia and I understand they use CNC equipment in building them.

I recommend buying a ukulele from either eBay seller MIM or the Uke Republic or Elderly Instruments websites.

Once you get good enough to know more of what you want, you can buy a Martin or a Kamaka or many other different brands where the quality is a couple of steps up and the prices are quite a few steps up.

If you don't have small hands I recommend starting with a Tenor size instrument with at least a solid top. Soprano or Standard size ukes have a short scale and your fingers can struggle to fit inside the fret boundaries. Another disadvantage is many soprano ukes have friction tuners making the instrument a bit harder to tune.  The Tenor size is the most popular in Hawaii today.

There are many different woods used in Ukulele construction, Koa, Cedar, Spruce, Rosewood, Mango, Walnut and Mahogany among others. The are also Banjo Ukes, Resonator Ukes and Bass Ukes on the market today.

The ukes I am discussing in this post are all mahogany instruments in my collection.  Each has a solid top, back and side. Mahogany has a warm, mellow and round tone - the best sounding ukes to my ears.

First we have a Hula UK-145 sopranino.  12 frets with friction tuners.  The scale length is 10 7/8 ".  This a very cool little uke to own after you have no problems with standard size ukuleles.  I bought this uke for a little more than $100 from Mele Ukuleles.  I tune it in the older D6 tuning (a D F# B).

Next is a Koloa KU-500 soprano with 12 frets and deluxe friction tuners. Scale length is 13 5/8 ".   It plays and sounds great.  I paid about $80 for this instrument on ebay Also tuned to D6 (a D F# B).

Now we have a Koloa KU-550 baritone - tuned D G B E (guitar tuning).  B stock $99.  20 1/8 " scale length. 14 frets to the body, 19 total frets.

The Ohana TK-38 tenor is modeled after the Martin 2T.  It is tuned g C E A.(C6 Modern Hawaiian)  17 " scale length. 14 frets to the body, 19 total frets.

Finally we have an Ohana CK-28 Vintage Portugese Style Nunes/Dias reissue Concert Ukulele. Also tuned in C6 tuning (g C E A).  14 Frets total. Friction tuners. Scale length 15 7/8". 

Here are links to
Uke Republic.
Elderly Instruments

More Uke Posts to follow:

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Cheap Guitars

Most roots musicians in the 1920s & 30s played inexpensive guitars because that's all they could afford.    In that tradition I now play some such instruments - specifically the current Recording King Dirty 30s guitars.

I have owned expensive guitars that have increased in value over the years which can be a good investment.  I have recently sold these as my playing ability has been reduced due to many chemotherapy treatments causing nerve damage in my hands and feet.

I sold some stuff on eBay and had a little spending money so I bought a Recording King RPH-05. The list price is $299 and the street price is $199 but I bought a B Stock one on eBay for $129 with free shipping.  It had some scuffs and other imperfections which you have to look for.  The action is good and it sounds & plays nice thanks to the solid spruce top.  It is an 0 size guitar which is actually bigger than a Parlor.  For fun I decided to put on a pickguard, bridge pins and some decals over the dot inlays and on the headstock.  The guitar looked cool as is but I wanted to "bling" it up for a few more dollars.

My next purchase of another B Stock was a Dreadnought size RDH-05.  This $139 purchase included a B Stock hard shell case also with free shipping.  I bought an over sized pickguard and some Star inlays.  This guitar plays and sounds great.  Nice deep bass tones.

My final purchase was an 000 size ROH-05 B stock for $119 with free shipping.   I looked to see why it was B Sock but could not find any scratches, dings, etc.  I then double checked the color and realized it was 2 Tone Sunbrust instead of 3 Tone. It was easy to play and sounded good so  I was pleased.  I "blinged" it up with a martin style pickguard, bridge pins and some fancier decal inlays.  The decals are supposed to leave no residue if removed.   I looked for B Stock but avoided any with cracks or more serious issues.

Recording King Guitars in the 1930s and later were sold by Montgomery Ward.  Many of these guitars were made by Gibson.  Today the Music Link sells Recording King as well as guitars with the Loar label.  The instruments are made in China but are very nice Travel Guitars that you don't need to worry much about.

Here is are links to the Recording King Website   
and the Loar Website.


Monday, July 7, 2014

Fate Norris Biography

Many thanks to our friend Pat Towell for providing this article about Fate Norris of the 1920s Skillet Lickers,  Click on the link below to read the PDF file.

Fate Norris Biography

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Automated MP3 Downloads

A number of  visitors have requested Downloads for our Legacy MP3 Roots Music Albums.  These albums have been distributed on CD-Rs and DVDs since we started our website back in 2005.  Early this year (2013) we made some MP3 Downloads available at very reasonable prices (usually $1.99 per album).  However, our customers usually had to wait several hours before receiving the downloads because it was a manual process.

To do automated downloads additional software was required.  We found an excellent product (DLGuard) for a reasonable price and had several people test it.  We made a few adjustments and have already rolled it out. now has a  direct link  to the automated downloads that replaces the old "manual" link.

We have created several new albums for downloads only and are in the process of making all 300+ of our albums available for downloads.   Well over 100 albums are available now.

This allows our customers to purchase as few items as desired and spend very little money to get one of our many albums with content you will find nowhere else.

In the near future we will use our new store -  to also resume sales of Records (78s, 45s & LPs), Books & Magazines, Used Commercial CDs & DVDs, Musical Instruments, etc.

With today's technology it is unbelievable what can be stored on a tiny computer component.  I am now a true believer in eBooks and digital MP3s.  I still will buy physical CDs like the new Bear Family Johnson City Sessions Box sets as well as discs with meaningful notes from County, Yazoo and Arhoolie.  Unfortunately liner notes are not distributed with downloads.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

New Orleans 2013

My wife Amy and I returned from a short vacation in New Orleans, Louisiana last week. We had a great time.

We flew in to the Louis Armstrong New Orleans Airport and picked up our rental car.  We were tired from the flight so we decided to eat at the Marriott Hotel's Restaurant at 555 Canal Street for dinner.  The food was excellent.  First we had a salad composed of watermelon, basil, grape tomatoes, grapes, red onions, feta cheese with a red wine vinaigrette dressing that was delicious.  We also had seafood gumbo.  I ordered a side of lobster mac & cheese and Amy had a bite.  Amy ordered a skirt steak and I ordered pecan crusted catfish.  For desert we each had peach cobbler a la mode.  We had white zinfandel wine with our food.  We were both pleased with our meals.

After a restful night's sleep we went to the Sunday Jazz Brunch at the Palace Cafe a block away on Canal Street.  Amy ordered a shrimp omelette and I had cajun eggs benedict.  The band was a small unit with a trumpet, banjo and standup bass.  Two of the fellows also sang.  I requested King Oliver's Canal Street Blues. They did a nice version. We bought a few souvenirs and dropped them off at the hotel.  We then went to Harrah's Casino for a little gaming.  To save money we had a take out dinner from Popeye's.  The fried chicken, red beans & rice, biscuit and sweet tea were very good for fast food.  On this day we had two very brief rain storms.  It did not rain again and the temperature remained pleasantly warm and humid.

The next day we had delicious brunch at Deanie's Seafood in the French Quarter and then went shopping at the French Market. We watched a small combo play some Fats Domino tunes, nice versions and the piano player sounded like Fats.  We had a snack of Crocodile Tenders that tasted similar to chicken. Parking there was quite expensive $38 for three hours.  We then relaxed at the swimming pool at the hotel and had a tasty snack at the hotel lobby before retiring for the evening.

Our next day's adventure included a trolley ride on St Charles Ave going towards LSU. Lots of nice old buildings and old mansions to view.  We turned around at the end of the line and went back to Canal Street towards the Mississippi River.  We went on a Steamboat Cruise up and down the Mississippi River and had a tasty lunch with fried catfish and other Louisiana items.  There was a jazz band with trumpet, trombone, clarinet, banjo, piano and drums.  They played some vintage Louis Armstrong material as well as some later dixieland type material.  We enjoyed the performances and the tour

On our 4th day we went back to the Harrah's Casino because we heard good things about their buffet.  We were not disappointed with the food.  Practically any Creole or Cajun dish was available so we did not try all the dishes that we wanted.  The gambling was again less successful.

For our final full day we drove around in both the French Quartet and Historic Uptown N.O. where we had a delicious lunch for a bargain price at Superior Seafood again on St. Charles Ave.   The fried green tomatoes were very tasty - similar in concept to fried zucchini.  Amy had a blackened salmon dish while I had shrimp and grits.  The desserts were only one dollar so I expected a small serving but was surprised that size was that of a six dollar California dessert.

The streets in New Orleans are usually narrow and people drive slow compared to California.  At any time on a street you may find automobiles, motorcycles, bicycles, joggers, horse drawn carts, bicycle taxis, taxis, buses and trolleys.  We noticed a Red Line and a Green Line for the trolleys

We departed Friday but had our final meal at Mother's.  I remember the delicious ham and cheese po boy sandwich I had in 1960 for 15 cents.  Today's price was about eight bucks and it was as tasty as I remembered.  Amy ordered Mae's Omelette which came with grits.  I helped her finish both.   The flight from New Orleans went smoothly but we had a two hour delay at the Phoenix Arizona Airport before finally departing to Ontario California.

We picked up some In-N-Out Burgers to eat at home.  As much as we love to travel it's great to be back to Home Sweet Home.

Here are some pictures from our trip.

Friday, August 23, 2013

My new 1938 Harmony Supertone Parlor Guitar

For several years I've had a Link on Juneberry78s to Steve Chipman's website.

I had always enjoyed viewing his inventory of vintage guitars and reading about the ones that he has restored..

I knew his prices were for the working man so I began the process investigating a purchase from Steve about a month ago.

What I wanted was a small body, ladder braced guitar with 12 frets to the body - like those most of the old Early Blues and Old Time Artists used.

Steve was very accommodating providing me with pictures and sound clips of guitars based on my request.

The instrument that appealed to me the most was a 1938 Supertone made in Chicago by Harmony.

It is 0-sized, 12 frets to the body, ladder braced, all birch body with a tailpiece and a floating bridge.

Steve sent me the guitar on approval,  he wanted me to be absolutely sure that I wanted to keep it before paying for it.

I tried out the guitar and was surprised that a small guitar had so much volume.

Must be the 75 year old aged wood.

I enjoyed playing the guitar after getting used to the baseball bat like neck.

Steve supplied two bridges the lower one for finger picking and the higher for flatpicking.

After about one week I decided to keep the guitar, sent Steve a check and I now own it.

Steve recommended an eBay seller that carried 3/4 size Hard Shell Cases and I ordered one.

Here are a few pictures of the guitar.

Here's an interview with Steve discussing his parlor guitars.