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At last you can get your Jazzed Desserts!

After much fumbling about and a truly hideous number of hours editing, I’ve finally put together a show based on an idea I got from Fran Snyder of ConcertsInYourHome.com.

They’re essentially a “mini house concert.” A brief gathering of friends for food, conversation and live music in an intimate and approachable setting. They’re easy and inexpensive to host. They’re strictly acoustic so you won’t upset the neighbors. (But you should invite them, they’re a great way to strengthen existing friendships and forge new ones.)

I’m available solo for these shows and with my duo, Hobbit & Hare. Currently we’re limiting this to the greater Seattle area, but we could be convinced to roam a bit farther in the future.

Find out all the details here.

Me, Mim, and Louis Wu

Trigger Warning: if you suffer from Paraskevidekatriaphobia it might be best to ignore the next paragraph.

my brand new case, covered in genuine naugadile hide.

Around two in the afternoon this past Friday, the 13th, I had the great good fortune to open the front door of my place just in time to see the mailman pull up with my new ukulele case. I got it on eBay from someone in New Jersey called “city-green” for the mere price of $33.49, with free shipping no less. Even with ordering it on the 3rd, when the postal services were still reeling from the holidays, it only took the ten days to get here.

There were cheaper cases available, some from the same seller, but I must admit the combination of the faux reptile skin and the red stitching got me.

“But, Mr. Hobbit,” you may be thinking, “what good is a new uke case without a ukulele to go inside it?” Well…

just the right size for my brand new ukulele, made out of genuine mahogany and spruce.

Introducing, Pierson, my new Ohana SK-75. I also got him on eBay (from Mim’s Ukes) and he arrived on the 3rd.

While I’ve had a number of ukulele go through my hands, I’ve never been much of a collector. In fact, lower down in this entry you’ll see my entire collection. It’s the second largest I’ve ever had. The largest collection was only 2 more ukes, and it didn’t last long. That’s right, it’s not a bad case of UAS, there was actually a reason for getting this ukulele.

beautiful spruce face with nice purfling and rosette.

As pretty much all my fellow ukesters know, a broken string will bring your show to a screeching halt. Unlike guitars, you can’t just throw a new string on and expect it to tune up and play. It takes a couple days for new strings to “settle in” sufficiently to take them out into public.

If you’re a hobbyist that can be extremely embarrassing. If you’re striving to be a professional, that can be a disaster.

I mean, picture it. You’ve just taken a 90 minute drive to play a gig in someplace other than your hometown. There’s a great audience, you’ve gotten everything set up just so, and smack in the middle of your second song… spang! There goes a string.

So… wtf do you say?

“Hey, folks! Thanks for driving through this monsoon-like rainstorm to hear me play. You kids are terrific but, alas, that’s the end of the show. Buh bye now.”

I don’t think so.

Mind you, again unlike guitars, broken strings are not common on the ukulele. In the 13 or so years I’ve been “serious” about the uke, I think I’ve broken 10 strings. When I was busking with guitar, I could break 10 strings in a week or so, depending on the weather.

solid mahogany body and neck. nice rosewood binding.

When my custom Glyph was stolen back in June, 2015, the generosity of my friends and fans made it possible to not only get Lucky, the nice Hamano that’s been my go to ukulele ever since then, but also to pick up Cokie when I found him at such a terrific sale price. This meant that for the gigs where I need to plug into a sound system I had Indiana for my main uke, and Cokie as a backup.

interesting grain on the back.

That still left the problem of the acoustic-only gig. I do a lot of these, and I’m looking for more of them. The house concerts, private parties, and coffeehouse appearances are amongst my favorites.

For one thing, bringing your own sound system with you is a lot of extra effort. Even the “small” system that Sketch and I use sometimes for Hobbit & Hare means a bunch of extra things, at least one of them being pretty damn heavy.

So what if the venue supplies the sound system? There’s still extra stuff (cords, direct boxes, etc.) to keep track of.

But whether you’re plugged in or it’s an acoustic show, what happens when you’ve driven all those miles, hit your second song and… spang!?

Exactly.

So I needed a decent backup ukulele for those acoustic shows. But let me assure you, Pierson is not a “decent” uke, he’s an excellent uke! Beyond the fact that Ohana turns out good ukuleles to begin with (playable “right out of the box”), Mim’s setup efforts were the cherry on top of the sundae.

I don’t give half a hoot about “bling” on my instruments, but I do like a nice looking one. The woods, the build quality, the rosette, purfling, and binding… all make Pierson a beauty to behold. Plus, unlike many ukulele in the moderately priced to inexpensive range, this one comes with side dots (at the 5th, 7th, and 10th fret, just like I like ’em!). The tone and intonation are terrific, and he has volume for just days!

If you’re thinking I’m suggesting you buy an Ohana, and further you buy it from Mim, you’re absolutely correct! Both Ohana and Mim have established excellent and well deserved reputations. Mim sold me this ukulele for about 2/3 of its MSRP, all the while adding value with her careful and, yes, loving attention to detail.

the family, left to right: T.R., Pierson, Lucky, Lil’ Hokum, Indiana, Cokey

I rarely do this sort of thing, but here is a family portrait of all the ukulele I own (less one broken one that I still think is fixable). Except where noted in the following list, all of them are sopranos, sporting concert gauge Aquila NylGut strings, tuned GCEA. All except Lil’ Hokum are solid wood, mostly mahogany.

  • T.R. is an Ohana SK21 sopranino ukulele. I got him quite a while back in a trade with the mighty Deach. He got his name because he’s just as wee and cuddly as a teddy bear, but I happen to know that Mr. Roosevelt preferred T.R. over Teddy as a nickname. T.R. is one of the two exceptions to the “sopranos only” rule, having a scale length of just 11 inches. He’s also tuned to F tuning (CFAD), one fourth higher than standard. He’s the only one with soprano gauge strings.
  • You’ve already been introduced to Pierson. He got his name because Louis Wu, the founder of Ohana Ukuleles, shares his name with the hero from Larry Niven’s Ringworld series of books. This series introduced us to an alien race known as “Pierson’s Puppeteers.”
  • Lucky is a Hamano H100. As I mentioned earlier, he was courtesy of the generosity of my friends and fans after my custom Glyph was stolen in June, 2015. I’m lucky to have such friends and fans!
  • Lil’ Hokum is an old banjo ukulele that I got from the estate of Hokum W. Jeebs. I have no idea who made him or what his model number is. He’s the other exception to the sopranos rule, having a scale length more like a concert, except on a skinnier neck. He’s tuned to the “other standard” tuning, ADF#B, because he’s just happier there.
  • Indiana is a Mainland Classic Mahogany soprano fitted with a MiSi pickup system. I got him a bit over 6 years ago with some of the money from my Uncle Layton’s will. He’s done a lot of shows with me, including two week-long runs with Snake Suspenderz as the pit band for Seattle’s legendary Moisture Festival. (That’s 9 shows over the course of 5 days.)
  • Cokey is a Koloa KU-600-E. I found him on an extreme sale (I think he totalled right around $150 after taxes) at The Trading Musician. I had enough money left from the Lucky fund to snag him. He still has his D’Addario strings on him because I haven’t gotten around to changing them yet. His name is a pun. Think about it a moment and you’ll get it.

They’re not the walls full of ukulele that I’ve sometimes seen, but they do a fine job for me.

My Sting Moment

On Friday, December 23rd I was at Pike Place Market, having busked a couple sets with Sketch as Hobbit & Hare. Sketch went home when we were done but I stayed around so that I could help my sweetie pull the carts back to the lockers. (Many crafts folk at Pike Place rent locker space to store their product in at night. The lockers are spread through the market, mostly on below ground levels.)

As I was exiting the elevator coming out of the lockers I noticed two young ladies walking by. They were probably late teens or early 20s, and they were immaculately turned out in 1940s style. Anyone who knows me at all well will realize this look is something that makes my little heart go pit-a-pat. So I stood there and had one of those old man experiences. That’s where you stand with a goofy half smile on your face thinking, “Lawsy, she’s lovely!” and then it hits you what a tired, saggy, old man you are and your heart breaks a bit.

But… just as they’re passing the smaller of the two turns and starts coming towards me. At first I’m thinking, “Crap! Was I staring and drooling or something?” and then, “Naw. She probably wants a picture of the mustache.” (This is a pretty common occurrence.) But I was wrong both times.

Instead, she grasps my arm with both hands and says, “I love your voice! I have one of your CDs at home and I listen to it a lot.”

Boom! That was the Sting moment. My knees are quavering a bit and all I could manage to croak out was “Thank you.” But I considered that a victory, because I really would not have been surprised if all I could say was…

Second H&H Recording Session

Wednesday the 28th found Hobbit & Hare back in the studio for our second recording session. We worked on my tune Purr More, Hiss Less, laying down a ukulele track on soprano uke, a second ukulele track on sopranino uke, a bass track, the lead vocals, and some terrific harmony vocals from Sketch. All that remains for this tune is to get a guest soloist in. I have one in mind and that will no doubt happen sometime in the next two sessions.

most of the waveforms for Purr More, Hiss Less

We got so busy laying down the tracks and experimenting with a recording technique for “thickening” the main ukulele track that I completely forgot to grab some pics of us working. So I’ve thrown in this picture of the visual representation of the tune.

Happily, the limited edition mini CDs are working, raising enough money that we have at least enough to pay for two more recording sessions. But that’s not quite half of the approximately $1000 we’ve predicted will be necessary just for the recording part of the project. There are still a number of the mini CDs left (and the download only version will continue after they’re gone) so if you’ve been thinking about supporting Hobbit & Hare’s first CD we’d be happy to hear from you in the new year!