New Toy: Cordoba 22S

I’ve been keeping relatively busy in ukulele land. Mostly this means I’ve been parting with ukes I no longer play and deciding whether each of the items I’ve parted with is something to just let go, or replace.  I sold on my Snail uke because it was just sonically too similar to my Ibanez, so I wasn’t playing it. I’ve decided to sell my Rubin now that I’ve installed a pickup in my Kmise. And, I’m going to part with my Kala KA 15S, too. The Kala is the one that leaves a hole in my collection. Parting with it means I’ll no longer have a soprano uke.  I do generally favor concert ukuleles, but I also do like having one of each size, so I started browsing. I wasn’t actually planning to buy anything new right away. I just wanted to get some ideas of what I might want as an upgrade from the Kala.

Don’t get me wrong, I still think the Kala KA 15S is one of the best first ukes you can buy. It sounds good, stays in tune well, and won’t break the bank, and when I bought it, I loved it. I still think it’s a nice little uke. But, I wondered early on if I was always going to love that uke as much as I did when I bought it, and the answer, it turns out, is no. I still LIKE it, but I don’t love it, and that’s a good indication for me that it’s time to let it go and replace it with something else. I’ve learned that with musical instruments, you are really only going to play them if you love them. Liking isn’t enough. I have a tenor uke I hardly ever play. Every time I take it off the uke wall, it’s a reminder that it’s a nice instrument, and that I really should play it more often. But, I don’t. Why? Because I don’t love it, in spite of the fact there’s nothing about it that means I shouldn’t love it. My Kala has become like that. The love is just gone, and so it’s better to sell it on to someone who will love it, and move onto something new.

So it was that when I was browsing, I came across the Cordoba 22S. I took one look at it and my ‘ooh, that one’ sense kicked in. This sense is generally how my best instrument purchases have been made, so I’ve learned to trust it, within reason. I’m still going to do my research. I’m still going to look into the specs.  This uke has a solid spruce top, which is a strong selling point for me. I love the sound of a spruce top. I’m no ukulele purist, so I don’t have any strong pull towards traditional uke woods in my ukes, and I don’t have a strong need for something that sounds “classic”. I never decided to be an ukulele player. I just decided to buy a cheap ukuele once and from there being an ukulele player just sort of…happened. So, the fact that the cordoba 22 series is made of guitar tone woods wasn’t really either a plus or a minus in my book.

What I did notice though, thanks to the guitar tone woods, was that when I was searching for videos to see what this little guy sounded like, there weren’t many for the 22S. Most of the vids were of the 22T(Tenor). I guess, by and large, people felt that the guitar tone woods suited the uke closest to guitar best. It didn’t help much in getting a feel for what I was getting into. There were one or two videos of the S, though, and it was enough to satisfy me that I wasn’t making a bad choice.

Since this uke was recently discontinued, it was listed on ebay at clearance pricing, so I snagged it for $129. The clearance price, and the fact it was discontinued, meant it was a now or never deal for me. If I waited, I not only wouldn’t be able to guarantee the discounted price, but I might have to live with the regret of not getting my hands on it at all. Looking online, I could see these ukes were selling used for more than that, meaning I was looking at a pretty good deal that I’d be stupid to walk away from.

It arrived snug and sound a few days later. I restrung it lefty, and I’m good to go. Of course, I will still put it through a few tweaks – the usual for me: it needs a strap button and a pickup. Probably some left-handed fret dots.

But, overall, I’m happy, and I do think it’s a nice upgrade from the kala. It’s very high gloss, which isn’t usually my go to (so I say, but my beloved Ibanez uke is also super high gloss), but the action is low, and the setup seems pretty much spot on right out of the box.  The edges are nicely smoothed, so don’t feel like they dig into my arm at all. It’s very comfortable to play. Tonally, my impression compared to the Kala is that the Cordoba seems warmer and fuller, as it should, since it has a solid top compared to the KA 15S which is all mahogany laminate.

So, I guess from there the only thing to do is give you a quick sound test. Here’s a clip of my noodling about with the cordoba to give you an idea of what it sounds like. I recorded in audacity with a usb mic and have three fans on, so don’t expect any sound quality miracles here. Try not to hold my improvised noodling or any poor playing in general on my part against the uke:

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Joyo Ukulele Pickup

Today’s DIY music project was to add a pickup to my Kmise Ukulele. I have an Ibanez I favor for most things, but the Kmise I’ve set up as my go-to Low G uke. I have a Rubin set up at Low G as well, but I just like the overall tone of the Kmise much more, so I have a strong preference. It’s the one I want to play, and if I want to play it at mics or shows, I need a consistent way to amplify it. The stick on mic proved functional in testing, but unreliable in practice, so I knew I needed to install a proper pickup.

Since my Kmise has a non-standard soundhole that would make it hard to place pickups inside the body, I decided to go with an undersaddle pickup on the grounds it would just be an overall less fiddly installation process.

I recently installed a cheap, unbranded pickup in my kala KA-15S as my test drive, and that proved efficient, but the tuner in the unbranded pickup was off, so I wanted to try a slightly better one in the hopes of a better built-in tuner. Still, I am on a budget and couldn’t bring myself to pay more for a pickup than I paid for the uke, so I eventually grabbed a Joyo pickup off ebay.

And, while I don’t think I’d hesitate to suggest it for standard ukes, I still don’t have a functional tuner. The strings it reads are accurate when compared to my snark tuner, but it can not read the low G string at all, so in the end I guess I have to call the tuner in the Joyo pickup ‘good for standard tuning. Completely useless for anything else.’

That means installing it in my low G uke still doesn’t give me a functional tuner. Still, just to know I can plug my Kmise in if I ever need to is a fair enough deal for $15, so I guess I’m satisfied. It does the job I need it to, just not necessarily 100% of the job it was meant to do.

Ultimately the verdict is that the Joyo Uke pickup is perfectly decent, but maybe steer clear if you use non-standard tunings.

New Tune: It’s You

I decided to write this one on the new baritone uke as an excuse to noodle around with it and get used to it.

Ultimately, this song pretty much exists because I had two weird encounters in the same week. This happens to all of us sometimes, I think – where we have a totally ordinary encounter with someone, and they, for reasons that are totally incomprehensible, misread the encounter and get insulted and insist things happened that never actually happened.  If you’ve got a delicate ego, and it happens enough in a short enough period of time, I guess you start to think ‘is it me? is there something wrong with me?’ But, I mostly am just convinced that I’m surrounded by crazy people, really. So, I don’t know, I guess I kind of might have inadvertently written a song about gaslighting.

Note: Vocals are absolutely too loud and clip on the ends, so unless your device of choice tends to be on the quiet side, you may want to turn your volume down to minimize some of the harshness that my too loud mic settings caused. I still haven’t found the right sound settings for use with the CAD U37 in audacity, owing in part to the fact that I’m louder when no one’s home to disturb, or I’m quieter when my allergies are wreaking havoc on my nose and throat, so the correct levels setting isn’t static. It varies based on the circumstances. I’m sure I’ll find the sweet spot eventually, but since these are really just me roughing out tracks so I don’t forget them, I’m not really aiming at perfection anyway.

It’s You

I don’t know what’s worth saying anymore
we’ve been building up our lives on little white lies
and I’m tired of all of this keeping score
because I can’t even speak
without being told to be more meek.

If I mention that it’s cloudy
you complain I’m being rowdy
and white wash my opinions
until they aren’t worth a damn
and whenever I clam up
to avoid this rotten luck
I’m accused of being rude
what’s a girl to do?

But it isn’t me, it’s you.
It isn’t me, it’s you.
You say that I’m too blunt and I’m a bitch
well whatever, then I’m an evil vile rotten
dirty little witch
and if there’s nothing I can say
to make you feel okay
then I don’t know what you expect me to do
It really isn’t me, it’s you.
I swear it’s true,
it’s you.

I just can’t win for losing at this game
that I can’t quite figure out to play
are there rules written down somewhere
if I peruse them will I lose myself
in learning to abuse myself
and if I abuse myself will that be enough
to prove that I care

or should I just delude myself
into believing that lies are truth
and tell you that you’re right
every time, every place, and everywhere

If that’s what you expect me to do
then it it’s definitely not me, it’s you
it’s not me, it’s you.
And if there’s nothing I can say
to make you feel okay
then I don’t know what you expect me to do
I know I’m not crazy,
so the problem must be you.

New Tune: Anthem (or some other title that’s better which I haven’t thought of yet)

As you might expect, I’m doing things wildly out of order. I have several songs I should record for you before this one, but this is what I’m working on right now, so this is what you’re getting right now.

This is what I call a ‘low down and dirty’ recording. I’ve recorded it with a USB mic that I already know breaks up when the volume on my vocals goes up, so you’re going to hear that. I just plugged it into audacity and ran with it. Though, to my credit, this is an improvement on me being like ‘fuck it, I’ll just do it on my phone’, so there’s that.

Also, I am accepting suggestions for a better title. I have no idea wth to call this damn song.

Tech specs: (CAD U37 USB mic, audacity, kmise uke with Low G Aquila Red Series Strings)

 

Anthem (Working Title)

I can’t predict what tomorrow brings
Or in what direction my mood might swing
But I love you right now
That’s the important thing
And if that’s not enough
Then I don’t know what to say
’cause I took my pink, frilly baby shit
And I threw it all away

I’m not the kind of girl who’s good at romance
And I curse like a sailor when I’m mad
When something is broken my first impulse
Is to search the house for all the tools I have

But this is not an independent woman’s anthem
It’s not a field guide to going it on your own
If anything it’s just explanation
So you’ll stop asking why I’m still alone

I’m not saying that I’ve given up
Just that I’m tired of trying way too hard
To fit the mold that people chose for me
To be the person they want me to be
To give those people what they want
Is more than I have to give
I lose way too much along the way
I’ve got my own life to live
So I think that I deserve a little say

But I never really talk about my feelings
Except inside the lyrics of a song
I hate pink ruffles, high heels, and lipstick
Sneakers account for half the shoes I own

There are people who will say
you’re different, so you’re wrong
And you need someone to help you find your way
But those people are brainwashed to believe
I’m incomplete
The weight of those expectations
Is slowly crushing me
So I’m banging up against coffin lid
Screaming someone’s still alive down here
And I’m giving it all the breath I’ve got to give
Because I’ve got my own life to live

And I’m not giving up
But I’m tired of trying way too hard
To fit the mold that people chose for me
To be a version of me that I can’t even see
To give those people what they want
Is more than I have to give
And I lose way too much along the way
I’ve got my own life to live
so it’s long past time that I demand a little say

Kmise Concert Ukulele – Spruce/Mahogany, and also Aquila Red Strings

I’m fully going to admit guys, that this was an impulse buy. I was on ebay, and it advertised at me for $26.99 + shipping, ending  in twenty minutes, with no bids. And dammit, it was PRETTY. I wasn’t about to go in a bidding war over it, but I realized quickly that this pretty thing could land at my doorstep for just about $35. It was advertised as having a solid spruce top, and I decided that was a worthy gamble. If I won it with a minimum bid, then cool. If I didn’t, oh well.

kmise
If you look closely, you will note I’ve made a significant string change between photos. 

I mean, just look at this thing, guys! It’s seriously pretty, and that’s from someone who doesn’t normally go for flowers. Still, I saw it and fell in love, and while I’m not typically a person for making purchases based on my feelings, I also won’t deny that any time I’ve bought a musical instrument that I honed in on that way, it was the right choice. We tend to connect with our instruments in a way that isn’t entirely logical, so I went with my instincts, deciding it was cheap enough to take that chance.

Now, Kmise is a brand that retails cheaply. What you’re looking at here, at full cost, is still only about a $50 uke, and that’s important to know because an instrument’s budget tells you a lot about what you can reasonably expect.

At a $50 price point, you’re generally expecting a full laminate body, a nut that may or may not be plastic, and string action that might not be as exacting as you’d like. But, you’re still looking at an instrument that is playable and should stay more or less in tune. (Note: I did say ‘more or less’. I have ukes ranging in price from $30 to $250 – so I do know the difference between ‘stays in tune’, ‘stays in tune well enough’, and ‘is a tuning nightmare’.)

So, when I analyze this Kmise uke, I should be comparing it to other ukes in a similar price bracket, but the thing is, I can’t, because I haven’t honestly come across anything similar to the Kmise in that price bracket. This kmise has a solid spruce top, bone saddle, rosewood fingerboard, and the string action is pretty much spot on. It’s biggest weakness seems to be in the tuners, which, honestly, are still pretty on target, so it’s probably more accurate to compare it to ukes in the approximately $100 price bracket.

What I’m telling you here guys is not that ‘omg this is the most amazing ukulele you will ever see’, but I am telling you that it is a lot of bang for your buck, and probably the nicest piece of equipment I’ve seen at this price point. It produces a nice amount of volume, the sound is clean, it stays in tune reasonably well.

I would say, for comparative purposes, it stays in tune roughly as well as my Quilted Ash Snail. It’s far, far better than the Rubin RS-400L for this, and better than both my Kala KA-15S and my Lanikai SMP-T, but not as good as my Ibanez UEW20SLME, so the Snail is probably the closest comparison I have in my current collection. And, don’t get me wrong here, I do love my Snail, but my Snail cost me about $120, if memory serves, and the Kmise landed at my door for roughly $37, so it’s a bit crazy to be comparing the two at all. Still, my ears and fingers know what they’re telling me here, and it’s that I got a steal.

Now, to justify the cost of another uke I didn’t need, I decided to try something different with the Kmise, and bought a set of Low G strings for it. I haven’t tried Low G tuning before, but I already have two concert ukes with standard tuning, so I thought doing the new one up in something a little different would be worthwhile and decided on Aquila Reds.

The Red Series gets some pretty mixed reviews, but having been fiddling with them for a few days, I’ve managed to form my own opinions. You get quite a lot of reviews on the reds that say they break too easily. I have a strong suspicion that the people who say that have never handled guitar strings. Let’s face it, guys, traditional uke strings can take one hell of a beating. Guitar strings are more fragile, and I think the aquila reds feel closer to what you would expect out of a guitar string. On the one hand, they settle more quickly than you’re regular old run of the mill aquilas. On the other, that’s because they’re thinner and more vulnerable if you over-wind them. I can’t tell you how many times I broke a guitar string while stringing the guitar when I was first learning to do it. it happened pretty often on thinner strings. I haven’t had that issue with the aquila reds, but I suspect people who have had that issue with them likely are people who fell into that same trap.

So, when you look at the aquila reds, they’re named for the wound G string, which is bright red (though, color does seem to wear off as you play). The other strings are more or less a burgundy-brown color. Doesn’t bother me, but I’m not the type of person who cares half as much about how strings look as I do about how they sound.  So you’ve got three nylon-like strings and one wound string that looks rather a lot like a guitar string. The latter almost makes you want to try playing your uke with a pick, which actually does work out pretty nicely if you want to play around with a different sound. (I gave it a try with a .38mm pick. They’re still uke strings, after all. I don’t want to be too hard on them.)

Overall, I like them. Their similarity to guitar strings makes me wonder if they’ll wear out faster than more traditional uke strings, but only time will tell on that front, so we’ll see. At the moment, I dig the sound. It makes my new uke sound a bit like a hybrid between an ukulele and a very small guitar, really, which puts it in a sonic space that allows me to justify having yet ANOTHER one.

No more ukes for a while, gosh darn it! I have run out of places to store them.

Vorson AUG24 BL ABS Concert Ukulele

Okay guys, I know, I’ve been quiet for the last little while. I still owe you a bunch of  song recordings that I haven’t done, and I am still working on the chapbook project (though I admit I needed a bit of a break from that after banging out five of them, so it’s on a very brief hiatus while I give my poetry-brain a breather), but, I’ve also got two new toys to talk about, so I figured, since I’m unexpectedly home today while waiting for a dentist appointment, I could at least talk to you about that. I’ll do them as separate posts, for sake of efficiency.

The first thing I’m going to talk about is the Vorson Concert Ukulele.

vorson

I’ve had this on my to do list for a while. While I have several ukes, I just didn’t really have any I was fully comfortable calling a beater. My Kala KA 15S would technically fit the bill. It’s reasonably inexpensive and I don’t play it often, but it’s also my primary soprano, since my Rubin RS 400L tends not to be the best at staying in tune, and overall the build of the Kala is just plain better. Sure, a soprano upgrade is in my future at some point, but even then, I probably won’t feel comfortable chucking a wood uke in the back of my car for any extended period of time. That’s just me.

So, I have had it in my mind for a while to get an all-plastic uke with the purpose of using it as a car-lele. I wanted something cheap and plastic that I could chuck in the back of the car and mostly forget about, so it would be there to work out ideas on when I find myself out and about with some time to kill. Basically, I was shopping for something that I’d be comfortable beating the hell out of.

That’s where the Vorson came in. It’s all plastic, except for the tuning pegs, so can stand heat, water, or whatever else I want to throw at it, it had good reviews, and as a bonus, it was even a concert size, which happens to be the size I tend to favor.

At the time that I write this post, it’s retailing at around $30 USD. So, I forked over for the blue one, because it was the 2nd cheapest when I was shopping. I wasn’t willing to have a pink ukulele, even as a beater, just to save a buck. I would have totally gone for the orange one, since that’s my favorite color, but I wasn’t willing to pay an extra twenty bucks for it. So, blue it was.

When the uke arrived, I had a few surprises in store. First of all, I liked the sound of  it way more than I expected to. Don’t get me wrong – it still sounds like you’re playing a hollow hunk of plastic, but in a way that’s more kitschy than outright crappy. It ended up being sort of acoustically fun and quirky. Buuut…the first try had to go back due to two crappy tuners. It would have been easy to fix myself by just swapping them out, but since getting replacement parts was not an option, replacing the entire uke was how it had to go.

Soo, they shipped me a replacement uke. The 2nd one arrived in a completely unsealed box.  Okay, let’s back track, the first one, which was defective, arrived in an uke box inside a box almost as tall as I am, filled with paper padding. The second one arrived in an uke box, with no padding, that wasn’t even taped shut.  Guys, this is a $30 plastic uke. my issue is obviously not the lack of padding. My issue is that they took a box off a shelf, stuck a label on it, and sent it on it’s merry little way without sealing it at all so anyone could have just opened it up and taken it right out without disturbing the packaging, that if someone dropped that box, the uke would have fallen right out and gone flying. Also, a bit confused about the packaging inconsistency.

But, I digress on the packaging issue. The 2nd uke arrived…better. While the first uke had one tuner that was a bit stiff and one that was almost completely immobile (you could hear grating metal when you attempted to turn it), the 2nd uke arrived with one tuner that was stiff, but usable. I decided to leave well-enough alone. I could be exchanging a $30 uke into infinity if  I didn’t.

Still, the lesson here is that the Vorson comes with some of the crappiest tuning pegs I’ve ever seen, and I will eventually swap them out. Even with that, though, it is a good deal for what it is. Remember, everything  is about perspective.

Up sides:

-inexpensive, durable, keeps tune reasonably well in spite of the horrible tuning pegs, the plastic uke sound is honestly kind of fun

Down sides:

-horrible tuning pegs, action is a bit too high

The down sides, I think, for an uke in this price bracket, are to be expected, and it’s still entirely playable in spite of them, so I’m overall calling this a win. It will make a good beater uke, or a beach/pool uke since you don’t really have to worry about getting it wet.  I would, however, go in planning to replace the tuning pegs if you buy it, and just be pleasantly surprised if you don’t have to.

New Tune: On A Quiet Morning

That’s “new”, as in new to you, my readers. I’ve been promising to upload this one for a while, and I just haven’t done it. I was going to do a better recording, and I didn’t. I was going to upload it to soundcloud, but I still keep running into space issues on soundcloud that I’m still not willing to fork over a fee to reconcile.  I was going to record a video of me playing it for Youtube and do it that way…but it’s time to admit I fricking hate taking video of myself. I can’t even be bothered with selfies (seriously, my facebook profile picture alternates between my cats, my instruments, and photos of trees and sunsets. Yes, I’m THAT person.)

So, I’ve conceded defeat on the matter, picked a mostly arbitrary photo from my massive collection of photos, and uploaded it to youtube that way. We’ll try it out and see if you guys take to this way of doing things, because frankly, it’s a down-and-dirty way of dealing with both my soundcloud issue and my lack of desire to post on my youtube channel (which I have disabled comments on because, frankly, have you ever read youtube comments? They will destroy your faith in humanity, and I just don’t have the time or energy to have my faith in humanity destroyed ad nauseum.)

Also, those of you who have a finite attention to detail (kudos on that if you do; I sure as hell don’t) may notice I’ve changed by publicly displayed name again. Since I use Shelby, Shel, and SZ fairly interchangeably, I decided to use the full pseudonym as my publicly displayed name to avoid confusion. You can go right on calling me whatever you have up to this point. It doesn’t really matter.

Having said all that, then, here’s the uke tune I promised I’d post a stupid amount of time ago: