The Ukulele, A Mythical Instrument

To speak of the ‘ukulele is to talk of the Hawaiian Islands, but technically the ‘ukulele is not originally from Hawai’i, nor is it part of traditional Hawaiian music,

In the late 19th century, the British ship SS Ravenscrag sailed from Madeira harbor bound for Hawai’i, loaded with 423 crew members, most of them destined to work on sugar cane plantations. The Ravenscrag, after a voyage of four months, arrived at the port of Honolulu on the island of O’ahu on August 23, 1879. Among its crew members, four of them stood out: João Fernandes, Augusto Dias, Manuel Nunes, and José do Espirito Santo. Upon arriving in Honolulu, João Fernandes took his cavaquinho, a four-stringed instrument prevalent in Portugal and Madeira (also known as braguinha, machete, or machete do Braga) and played a song with it, captivating the locals with its sound.

The ‘ukulele, or simply uke, is a plucked string instrument, usually with four strings, which can be double strings (hence the eight and six-string ‘ukuleles). This instrument usually has five different styles that vary according to the size and, therefore, also vary the instrument’s sound.

  • The Soprano ukulele: is the most common; its sound is the best known and related to Hawaii’s paradise. The scale length on this type of ukulele is 21 inches, a scale length of 13 inches, and between 12-15 frets.
  • The Concert ukulele: is a bit larger, with a scale length full length of 23 inches, 15 inches, and between 15-20 frets. It goes pretty well with Soprano ukuleles.
  • The Tenor ukulele: is even more significant than the previous two, with a total scale length of 26 inches, a scale length of 17 inches, and between 15-20 frets, making it a bit easier to play. In addition, it pairs well with both a Concert and Soprano ukulele as it has a broader bass register than the others.
  • Baritone Ukulele: Measures full length of 30 inches, a scale length of 19 inches, and at least 19 frets. It is the largest of all Ukuleles. It is comfortable for guitarists because its tuning is equal to the first four strings of the guitar. Its deep sound differentiates it from the sound that characterizes the rest of the ukuleles. It is the least commercial.
  • Electro-acoustic ukulele: If you want your ukulele to be electro-acoustic, you can install an equalizer or microphone that will allow you to amplify its sound by simply connecting it to an amplifier.

In addition, we can also find mixed models, a step between ukulele and guitar or banjo.

When you are looking to buy a custom ukulele, consider that the instrument’s material also affects the sound of the device. The most typical woods used in custom ukulele are koa, a natural Hawaiian wood that offers a warm and smooth tone, mahogany, with a sound similar to koa but more direct, and spruce pine, with a livelier and more penetrating sound. Unfortunately, the wood could be damaged by keeping the custom ukulele in an environment with low humidity and medium temperature.

Nowadays, the most common strings are not nylon strings but plastic strings with a higher density and a more precise sound. We can find other types of strings such as artificial gut (Nylgut), titanium, or steel if we have an amplified ukulele. As for the pegs, the best is always geared; the direct ones end up loosening more easily.

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