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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.

All About That Bee

I was waiting to play my first set this morning and chatting with my friend (and fellow uke freak) Dan, when something hit the side of my face. And stuck. So I flicked it off.

Turns out it’s a bee. And it stung me, smack on the tip of my right index finger. This digit is also known as the main ukulele strumming finger.

Now, I don’t think it had time to get the complete plunger action going. There was no stinger stuck in me and it didn’t swell up nor even redden the skin. But it did burn like a son of a bitch for five or so minutes.

By the time we (as in “me and Hare”) started playing it had pretty much completely calmed down. As it happens, it turned out to be a good set. Now I’m waiting to play another hour.

And watching out for bees.

Accidentally On Purpose

I wish I was one of those people who can jam along with a fancy chord progression and change it up a bit each time through. You know… throw in chord substitutions, alternate harmonies, etc. on the fly.

But I’m not.

I’m still doing most of my more intense tunes via the “Jus’ Press” method. As in “jus’ press here” instead of actually knowing each and every chord I play. Oh, there are bits and pieces that I’ve learned that allow minor changes. But what I hear in my head doesn’t automatically come out of my fingers.

Mostly. And it’s that mostly that’s the major suck.

Because in the last couple years I’ve had numerous occasions where I grabbed the wrong chord (according to the series of jus’ press here I’ve memorized) only to find that I’ve grabbed a perfectly fine substitute chord.

By accident. Occasionally.

I want to do this on purpose. And if I’m simply incapable of always, I want it to be at least most of the time.

Chord finder app for my ukulele friends

If you’re you’re the type of player who never strays from GCEA tuning there are any number of chord finder apps available, most of them free, that will do a fine job on those occasions when you run into an unfamiliar chord.

But what if you’re one of the Canadian or European folk who use ADF#B? Or maybe you’re like the fella I saw tearing up Blind Blake’s Police Dog Blues on his baritone, tuned to Open D (DF#AD)? Or even — horrors! — you’re like me with my sopranino tuned a 4th up from standard to CFAD?

I have the basics of the Circle of Fifths in my head, so I can, at worst, slowly transpose things and play the proper shapes (even if I do have to look up the shape in GCEA once I’ve figured out its name), but that can be a hella hassle.
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Ukulele Chord Cracker Pro to the rescue!

(I’m referring to the Android app here but I understand it’s also available for iOS.)

Chord Cracker Pro doesn’t just competently handle the basic job of finding chord shapes for you, it also has a number of features that allow you to explore how the chords are built, what the basic “chord scale” is in a given key, and other features I probably haven’t discovered yet. The interface and navigation don’t take too long to learn.

The chord scale is especially handy if you’re trying your hand at songwriting and want to escape the root, 4th and 5th rut that grips so much of the blues, rock, folk, old timey, and country. I touch on it briefly in my Cheater Music Theory doc (available here and it’s free) but it’s nice to have that info with me. In the scales mode you not only get the basic chord scale, you also get some extended chord suggestions and even some in the “others that will work in this key” category.

This app will:

  • do reverse look-ups by simply tapping the shape on the fretboard.
  • do standard look-ups by chord name. (They cover something like 70 different chord types.)
  • show you scales (about a half dozen modes so far).
  • show the chord in the standard box diagram, on a music staff, or as tablature.
  • allow you to enter any tuning and then show the chord shapes for that tuning. It also remembers up to 8 of your custom tunings so you can just tap on the list to switch between them.
  • allow you to choose what the “finger dots” on the fretboard diagram display. Your choices are note name, interval in relation to the root of the chord, and interval in relation to the scale of the song’s key.
  • play the notes or chords if you choose.

And all of this can be yours for just $0.99! (I just know you read that last line in Billy Mays’ voice.)

If this were a starred review I’d have to give it a 5. Seriously, check it out!

First set with the new uke

I played my first busking set with the new Hamano ukulele this morning. I’ve got a second one coming up in about a half an hour.

All in all it behaved well. Various folk assured me that it was audible for a sufficient distance and I already like the tone. Despite that, I think I am going to change the strings.

Definitely hoping that my side dot stickers are in the mail when I get home though. I kept landing on the wrong fret when I made the bigger jumps.

Well… back to work!

The New Ukulele

I’ll start out with a huge thank you to all my friends and fans for the immense outpouring of support! For both the donations and the re-shares of the information on my stolen Glyph. It gave me a real Sally Fields moment (“You like me! You really like me!”) as I simply wasn’t expecting anything like it.

On that last subject, it’s probably too early in the post for a digression, but I want to give you (non-artist) folk a glimpse of my internal madness. The artists amongst you, regardless of discipline, will most likely immediately identify with it.

I’ve just finished my second read of Amanda Palmer’s book, The Art Of Asking. In it she talks about a malady common to folks in artistic pursuits, to wit: a nasty internal voice that nags at you, insisting that you’re just faking it and “the Fraud Police” are coming any moment now to bust you for your audacity.

“You suck!” says the voice, “how vain are you to ask people to pay for your pitiful scribblings/daubings/warblings, etc?” I struggle with this constantly. So seeing you folks’ generous and loving aid pouring in before I even thought to ask really shook me. Bless you all!

OK… on to the ukulele.

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Hamano full front view

This is the Hamano H-100 ukulele (soprano, of course!) that I chose. It is a nearly flawless copy of a 1920s era Martin Style 1. (We’ll get to the “nearly” part soon.) It has a solid mahogany body and neck, a rosewood fingerboard and bridge, and a bone nut and saddle. It’s very light and has a really nice tone. The volume is not half shabby either, despite the rather whiffy strings it came with. I’ve got a set of my favorite strings to put on it, but I decided I’d give it at least a one day trial run before I swap them out.

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Hamano headstock close-up


Except for the silk-screened logo on the headstock, it’s almost entirely bling free. This is not a bug, it’s a feature. I like simple. It’s often elegant. Plus I care way more about sound than I do about sparkle.

By the way… anybody have any idea what kind of flowers the three in the logo are supposed to be?

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close-up of the face

Look at the rosette in the above pic. Two inlaid pinstripes of a lighter wood. You can also see one matching pinstripe around the edge of the face (under the binding). Simple.

Now, about that “nearly” thing…

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Hamano fret dots close-up

This final pic shows the four inlaid “micro dot” fret markers. One at the 5th fret, two at the 7th, and one at the 9th. As a general rule (i.e. subject to exceptions) ukuleles have their fret dots at the 10th fret rather than the 9th. You mostly find the 9th fret markings on ukes built by guitar companies who’re trying to jump on the bandwagon of this third wave of ukulele popularity. An exception to that rule is Martin. If you look at an old Style 1 you’ll see that there is one dot at the 5th, two at the 7th, and the final one at the 10th fret. Just why the folks at Hamano changed that arrangement is likely to remain an unsolved mystery. Luckily, there are no side dots on this ukulele so this won’t throw me off whilst playing. And as soon as my envelope from Japan arrives I’ll be adding side dots at the locations I’m used to. It’ll throw the feng shui off a bit, but I’ll be less likely to hit a clam because of it.

All in all, I think me and the new little fella are going to become fast friends.

Thank you again!