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Other Instruments

Deering is the largest American Banjo company. They build fantastic instruments to meet any player’s tastes, demands and budgets. Best of all they are all built by real banjo players in California. If all Kentucky mandolins are built in China you may never guess where all Mid-Missouri Mandolins are crafted. They are actually hand made in Missouri by people who actually play mandolins. Crazy notion. I noted earlier that Hofner guitars are built by one of Europe’s finest violin makers. This is no idle claim. See and hear for yourself. Engllehardt purchased the former Kay operation and continues to craft quality, reasonably priced double basses in Illinois. They also make cellos which we have from time to time.

According to Ko’olau, a builder of  highest quality ukuleles in Hawaii, the ukulele  which was called a Braguinha traveled from Braga Portugal with 1879 with Joao Fernandez.  Fernandez was a virtuoso and the royal family of Hawaii commanded performances and became enamored of the new instrument.  In the early 1900s many Hawaiians started manufacturing the instruments and prospered. 

Before too long the excitement spread to the mainland and many American guitar builders such as Martin, Harmony and Regal saw this as an opportunity to start mass producing the ukulele and effectively drove practically all of the Hawaiian builders out business with lower prices.

As is often the case, things were not as simple as they seemed.  While it was not particularly difficult for craftsman who regularly built fine guitars and mandolins to build instruments that looked like ukuleles, there were all too often some vital subtleties that were overlooked.  

Ever since George Harrison started showing interest bordering on obsession with the ukulele, I have been interested in the instrument.  Then there is Jake Shimabukuro.  If you are not familiar with his work, you must check him out on “You Tube”.  I stocked ukuleles build by one of America’s premier guitar manufacturers, but I just couldn’t get into playing them.  It was like some of my earliest attempts to play the guitar without having a proper instrument.  As many of you know I have a commitment to providing instruments that for the most part are built by musicians, but something was terribly wrong.  

As many of you also know I have a dislike for computers.  I would rather be playing the guitar, repairing your guitar, or just talking about guitars than punching keys and looking at a screen.  We don’t even have television.  Out of desperation, I did Google many ukulele reviews and found one likely prospect.  Kala.  I phoned the company office in Petaluma, California and had a very confidence inspiring conversation with a woman who was clearly passionate about the instrument.  She told me that the Kala regional sales manager would be in touch soon.  (Did that mean a week, a month, three months…?)  Five minutes later a got a call for a friend from my past, Bill Peterson.  Bill is a extremely knowledgeable guitar player, former Fender employee and district sales manager for Kala.  Most important, I trust Bill completely.  

Kala makes only ukuleles and has over one hundred different models.  Kala was founded by Michael Upton who had worked designing ukuleles for another company guitar company who wanted to add a ukulele line.  I had seen one of those earlier Upton designed instruments and was impressed by many of the features.  Michael decided to concentrate on his passion and create wonderful instruments, without corporate restrictions, for all of us.

We have a good selection of Kala ukuleles made from mahogany, koa, acacia, spalted maple and mango.  Each has a unique voice and they all sound magnificent.  How can you choose just one? We have them in a variety of sizes from soprano which is the smallest to tenor which is the largest that retain the classic “G,C, E, A” tuning.  Baritones are larger and most often stung like the four treble strings of a guitar and don’t excite me in the same way.  Also, some people string ukuleles with a “G” tuned one octave lower which in my mind is not as pleasing to the ear….but if you like it we can do it!  Kala also makes six and eight string instruments which  have a wonderfully full sound from the octave strings.  You may want to give those a go.  

Then there is the U-Bass.  Did you ever wonder why Gibson, Martin, Taylor, Santa Cruz, Collings and company don’t make acoustic bass guitars?  The answer is quite simple.  They don’t work if you don’t plug them in.  Any mandolin or guitar will drown them out.  The only time I heard a good one was at a Los Lobos concert and it was almost like the guy had a bass fiddle slung over his shoulder.  (However it sounded great!)  You still have to plug in the U-Bass to he heard with other instruments but it sounds wonderful!  The tone is much like an upright bass.  It is most responsive and is very organic sounding.  The U-Bass is well suited to all types of music.

At Friendly River we have genuine Kaya ukuleles starting under $50.  These play fine, sound good and stay in tune well.  Even the most modest instruments come equipped with genuine Aquila strings.  These are made in Italy and sound and fell superb.  We always have a good selection of Aquilas on hand as well as many instructional books and videos from the Beatles to Elvis to campfire and cowboy songs.  Give me five minutes and I can have anyone playing great songs on the uke.  Why wait any longer?

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