You know that saying, ‘do as I say, not as I do?’ Yeah, well, I know I said ‘no more ukuleles for a while’, but then I found a left-handed baritone. A LEFT-HANDED BARITONE, guys. You know, a unicorn. Anyway, I’ve wanted a baritone for a while, but haven’t shopped seriously because of the limitations and expense necessary to convert one.
Basic sum-up of conversion of a baritone would be something like this:
- Would have to find a fully acoustic one, with a body shape that lends well to being flipped over. Anything with right-handed electronics would be a fucking nightmare. This doesn’t limit me TOO much, but it does cut my options a bit.
- Due to the string width and the DGBE tuning, would have to replace the nut. This means either paying someone to make a left-handed nut, or buying a nut blank, files, and sandpaper, and doing it myself, which is not necessarily hard, but it can be time consuming.
- If I want electronics in it at some point, will have to bring it to a shop and pay to have them installed, which is an additional expense.
So, when I came across a left-handed acoustic-electric baritone ukulele, even though money is tight, I knew it was something I didn’t dare pass up, lest I never find it again. I kicked myself for over a year for not buying my lefty uke-bass and letting it go out of stock because it took forever for them to get more of them. I’m still kicking myself for not buying the left-handed guitalele when I saw it, because now that that limited run has gone out of stock, no one makes one. They literally don’t exist. If I want one, I’m going to have to budget for converting it, because I have no other option. So, I bought the lefty baritone, in spite of knowing that it was financially a bad idea. It wasn’t financially a bad ENOUGH idea to stop me, I guess.
Now, let’s take a look at it, shall we?
This is a Caramel uke. Caramel used to be Rubin. I have a Rubin soprano that I pretty much never play, but am always working on because, while it is genuinely a piece of crap, I’m not convinced just yet is irredeemable, so I keep buying replacement parts since I’m really reticent to let go of a left handed acoustic-electric uke if I can save it, and I have one more thing I can try before giving up. As it stands, the intonation is absolutely godawful and it’s way too plinky for my taste, with enough laquer to make it remind me of that teacher I had in elementary school who’s head was so bald and so shiny that the ceiling lights reflected off of it. Caramel (formerly Rubin) really seems to love high-gloss. I’m not really a fan of putting enough gloss on an instrument that it doubles as a mirror, but that’s just a personal preference on my part, so you shouldn’t count that as a negative unless you also genuinely happen to dislike high gloss. Anyway, they’re not secretive about it, so I knew what I was buying.
Still, given my feelings about my Rubin, I knew going in I was taking a risk on Caramel. It was a risk worth taking because, as I said above, this is literally the ONLY lefty baritone that I’ve even come across. As I write this post, I’m fairly confident that no one else makes one.
So, at a first cursory look, everything looks solid. There are no obvious blemishes, everything seems well-assembled and as it should be. My first impression as I was tuning it for the first time was that the action might be a hair too high, but I wasn’t going to be sure until I tried to play it.
The strings it came with though…! Okay, guys, I’m not actually all that picky about strings. You always hear ‘ukes always come with crap strings’, which is true, I suppose, but they’re generally not such crap that you can’t play them or that they won’t stay in tune.My point is this: I have string preferences, but I don’t really have any particularly strong feelings against any uke strings in particular. That’s important for context, because I’m about to rant hard against the strings that came on the Caramel Baritone.
Seriously, guys, I’m not even convinced these were ukulele strings. They very well may have been half-rotted classical guitar strings. Half-rotted. Yes, I do mean that. The wound strings were absolutely filthy, discolored in several places. The tension when tuned was such that it screwed up the intonation. I actually thought I might have to adjust the saddle height, not realizing the strings were causing this (I didn’t know strings COULD cause intonation issues, but once I changed them, the intonation problem was gone, so clearly they can. Go figure.).
The strings actually made me think the uke needed several small adjustments. They were surprisingly hard to fret (reference: on guitars I tend to prefer strings that are medium-light to medium gauge, so this is not me being a total sissy. My preferred string falls into a comfortable middle ground. Depending on the guitar, I usually go for 11s or 12s. The strings on this baritone required significantly more pressure to fret than 13s.), the intonation seemed off, the action seemed a bit off. It really did sound like a baby guitar, but one that was very uncomfortable to play and harder to get a clean chord out of than it should be.
None of the things in the above paragraph were true once I replaced the strings. I mostly use Aquilas, but I use different aquilas for different ukes. I couldn’t find info on whether their nylgut strings were wound or unwound on the D and G strings (I will admit I didn’t search very hard to find out), and I definitely wanted the wound strings there, so I decided to try the Lava strings this time. I haven’t tried the Lavas before, but I’m in love with the Aquila Reds in Low G, so I’ve been looking for an excuse to try some of their other options, and desperately needing strings for the baritone gave me an excuse. Also, how is it that NONE of the music shops anywhere remotely my area carry ANY baritone uke strings in store, and almost none online? Not cool, guys.
Re-stringing provided me with what seemed like an entirely different instrument. First of all, that ‘baby guitar’ definitely sounds more like an uke now. The intonation – greatly improved. It might be spot on, but until the new strings stretch enough to stay in tune, I can’t say for sure. The action is just fine. The pressure required to fret has become normal, so no more sore fingers.
As far as the electronics? They work fine. The built in tuner seems to be accurate. What more do you need?
So, overall, I think I’m pretty satisfied. I’m still getting used to it. It’s harder than I thought to figure out the chords. Since it’s missing the lowest 2 strings of the guitar, I find myself in the position of trying to think through something I’ve been doing automatically for a while, trying to remember which strings form my usual guitar chords. G, for example, is a one finger chord on baritone uke. I had to think about E and A and Am and C. Sometimes, it’s easier to just pick up the guitar, form the chord, and then look to see what strings I’m on than it is to try to think about what strings I need to fret first. I’ll get the hang of it, but it feels more like learning new chord shapes than I thought it was going to, since I’m still mentally counting two strings that just aren’t there as part of the equation.
So, do I recommend it? For my fellow lefties, absolutely. It’s literally you’re only choice, it’s functional, and it’s not going to cost a fortune. Just do yourself a favor and buy new strings at the same time – the strings it came with are absolute garbage, so you can’t get a feel for the instrument until you re-string it. For the righties? I don’t know. You guys have a lot of options and I haven’t tried any of them, but it’s an entirely playable acoustic-electric baritone uke that only costs around $100, which is more than enough to make it a solid contender for the budget-conscious musician.
Now, can someone PLEASE make a goddamn left-handed guitalele/6 string baritone? I want a mini-guitar dammit! (not that I need one) In all seriousness, though, I have no immediate plans for future instrument purchases, but since lefty guitaleles don’t exist, the next possibility ranges from banjolele, to parlor guitar, to mandolin, to…I don’t know, whatever, something else that hasn’t even occurred to me yet. I don’t need anything though, I really don’t. I need to will myself to sell the instruments I rarely play…but they’re all so darn pretty that it’s hard to let go.