Itsy Bitsy Teeny Tiny Ukulele: The Quest

It’s been some time since I’ve been at a computer and able to compose a post.  It’s been some time since I had the chance to catch up on the posts in the ukulele world.

One post that caught my attention was Al Wood’s post in July about the crazy trends in ukuleles.  But read carefully.  Al really wants one of each of the ukes — a double neck, snail shape, teeny tiny and more.  He’d play them. They might even make it past the trend stage with him and into his dearly beloved list of ukuleles.  You might read one day that his favorite uke this year has been set aside for a bicycle ukulele — you know one that strums while you ride  — freeing you to sing, steer and be inspired by scenery at the same time.  But maybe not.  I’m not sure Al likes cycling.

But for me, the teeny tiny ukulele catches my attention.  That is what I have been in pursuit of for more than a year or two now. It’s no fad for me; it’s a quest.  Not just any teeny tiny ukulele, but one with a good tone and volume.  I know it’s not a Risa stick. I like my Ohana sopranino, but it’s still too big.  So my quest for a small ukulele is no fad-wish.  It’s an ongoing, enduring and worth-celebrating-at-the-final-moment quest.  It drives many an experiment with creating/building my own perfect itsy bitsy teeny tiny ukulele.  (No, it won’t have polka dots on it.)

The words “fad” and “trend” get used by people to identify things, movements, and life paraphanelia that are not part of their bucket list or  life goals.  The ukulele world, it seems, does have a penchant for pursuing teeny  tiny ukuleles.  There are those of us who are serious about it.

One of the reasons I am captivated by the idea of the teeny tiny ukulele is the same reason Al will never be quite as captivated by the idea.  I have short fingers and small hands.  Creating an F chord on a standard guitar had always been difficult and painful.  My hands are too small to expect a reasonable joy at strumming the F chord on a guitar.

Al (on the other hand ) does not have this problem.  Look as he plays his “KIng of the Hill” version.  The distance between knuckle and first joint of a finger could stretch across the entire fretboard of his tenor sceptre.  It would (conversely)  be irritating for him to move around the fretboard of my traveller uke or  an Ohana sopranino.  He would not be as nimble and his fingers would trip over each other. He would find no joy.  Indeed he prefers a tenor ukulele and I find a tenor too large.  I love sopranos and smaller-than-soprano-size ukuleles!

Several of you have written and asked me about my travel ukulele.  How did I build it?  What materials did I use?  What is my bracing like?  The answer is I have built other versions incorporating the good of the first with even better design.  There are things I want — the perfect fretboard size, lightweight, easy to slip in a backpack or purse, good tone and volume, reasonable cost of parts.  So there are experiments in my shop — no bracing on the soundboard but a pattern of sanding to keep the tiny board strong but loud.  This is time consuming.   Saddles need to stay on in heat or ice (I travel to both regions).  I’ve baked my travel uke in my car  at 120 F.  Don’t try this at home.  But yes, I did it on purpose to see what might break my uke and what won’t.  It did well in that heat — better than me.

You will know when I have created a version of the traveler ukulele that you too can enjoy.  I will let you know.

One of my ukulele building teachers, Mike DaSilva,  had a cracked ukulele on his wall.  You can’t really see the crack on the side of the uke in the picture.   When I asked him what had happened to it and why he wanted to keep a cracked ukulele on his wall, he replied that he had stood on it (on purpose) to test its strength.  He wanted to see how thin he could make the soundboard yet still have it strong enough.  He said he stood on it for 2 minutes and then it cracked.  And so I learned yet another strategy for creating my ukuleles.

Al alluded to Goldilocks in his post.  She was smart to try all sizes until she found the right one. Why settle for less than the joy of the right one?  (Gentle reader, please watch how you frame your comments about seeking sizes).  Seeking joy is no trend; it is a lifelong pursuit.

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1 Response to Itsy Bitsy Teeny Tiny Ukulele: The Quest

  1. Anonymous says:

    I enjoyed your article as I too, am on a quest for the tiniest playable uke I can find……or make (: Good luck with your quest.


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