For more on Al's self-proclaimed obsession with ukuleles, check out his uke-devoted site Ukulele Hunt.
The list of most searched for terms on Christmas morning was largely very predictable: people looking to fill up their new iPods with - legal or illegal - mp3s. But one term sticks out: ukulele chords. This year has seen a massive rise in the number of people getting ukuleles for Christmas. And with very good reason. As a surly, uncommunicative teenager, I wasn't an easy person to buy a Christmas present for. I spent all day playing guitar. But one year my parents had a master-stroke and bought me a ukulele (probably because it was like a guitar but a lot cheaper). Since then, I've become obsessed with the ukulele to the point of setting up a blog about ukuleles. Even if you don't plan on abandoning your guitar, I think ever guitar player would be well served by picking up a ukulele. Here's why.
It's Like A Fun-Sized Guitar
The ukulele is smart and cute and travel-sized which makes them perfect for keeping your fingers busy in guitar-unfriendly situations like taking a bath, on top of Mount Fuji or while you're driving. The ukulele is tuned like the top four strings of a guitar capoed at the fifth fret. So if you're a guitar player, you'll have no problem picking up ukulele chords.
It's Not Like A Fun-Sized Guitar
The ukulele makes a very different sound to the guitar. It will inspire you to play in a way you'd never have thought of on the guitar - an ideal rut-buster. And because the uke is restricted in what it can play, I found myself being stretched to do more interesting things in what it could play. Since picking up the ukulele, I've learned a great deal about jazz chords and rhythms that transfer directly to the guitar.
All the Guitar Heroes Play Ukulele
Hendrix, Clapton and Dick Dale all start out playing the ukulele. Pete Townshend, Brian May, George Harrison and Eddie Vedder have all recorded ukulele tracks. Harrison in particular was a hardcore uker in his latter years. And it's not just the players, guitar makers are getting in on the ukulele action. Gibson made ukuleles long before Les Pauls, Salvador Ibanez made ukuleles and even Fender are launching a range of ukuleles this month.
No One Expects You to Shred on the Ukulele
When you start displaying your chops on guitar most non-guitar players start yawning. But when you rip it up on the ukulele everyone loves it. Most people expect you to play Tiptoe Through the Tulips and sing in a warbling voice. So when you rip it up like James Hill does on Ode to A Frozen Boot and Flight of the Bumblebee/Thunderstruck, their jaw drops and it's smiles all round.
You can buy a ukulele for less than - although I'd recommend spend $50-$60 for a good starter uke. For the amount of play you'll get out of it, it's well worth the money.
It's a Whole Load of Fun
Fun things come in small packages (at least that's what I keep telling my girlfriend). When you're playing the uke, it's impossible to be po-faced and self-important. You're almost forced to enjoy yourself. And when you're enjoying yourself, the people listening to you will always act in the same way.