“The banjo ukulele is easily learned and easily played. To play it gives you a standing invitation to join any social circle. Its companionship is irresistible.”
While the quote above was written almost 90 years ago, Deering’s dealer network of ukulele specialists, some with up to 30 years of retail experience, echo the same sentiment. From Italy “when you start playing it is really easy” to UK “It is easy to start playing” to our own U.S. shores, “It's easy to play (Illinois) ,” “It is the least threatening of all musical instruments (Alabama)”, these dealers proclaim the ukulele as the easiest stringed instrument for everyone to learn and to play!
Deering’s ukulele specialists were drawn to sell ukulele because of their “passion for the instrument” (Mike McQueen of Uke Republic). John Lindhorst of Ukulele Station American says he is “always excited to get others started” playing ukulele. Mim of Mim’s Ukes agreed, “I quickly became passionate about the instrument and the community”
This passion and outreach are common themes among the folks who dedicate their time and energy to the ukulele community.
But why is this little “jumping flea” aka ukulele, so appealing to one and all? “It is convenient to carry around, it's affordable, it's fun and it is a great accompaniment instrument for singers,” said IL dealer John Lindhorst. “In the beginning it’s always easy and fast. You can play lot of different styles with it,” further expanded Italian store owner Daniela Gaidano. Mike McQueen of Uke Republic agreed, “its size …makes it comfortable for just about everyone…Bottom line, they are a load of fun!” “My theory is it can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make it. “ pointed out Mim of Mim’s Ukes. “
In addition, our experts said that ukulele has no age or gender limits. We received answers like “I sell banjo ukuleles to all ages 5 years to 75 years. Men and women.” (Robert Tedrow - Homewood Music, AL), “non-musicians who always wanted to play an instrument (and) musicians/song writers who are looking for a different sound.” (Kent Knorr of NC Ukulele Academy).
Italy’s Daniela Gaidano of Mercantino dell’Ukulele responded “We are working a lot with schools,” and total agreement came from UK’s Music is Life store owner, Rob Pratt “We find that schools are getting more involved in teaching ukulele instead of recorder” Regardless of age, gender, or place in life, the ukulele is for you!
In a world gone crazy with electronic gadgets and texting, the ukulele offers folks some real “face time” with like minded individuals. “The ukulele player community is one of the most inclusive instrument communities I have ever seen,” said Mim of Mim’s Ukes. As Kent Knorr of NC Ukulele Academy put it, it’s like an “invitation to join the party.”
I couldn’t help but giggle at the response from Illinois store owner Robert Tedrow regarding the community aspects of playing ukulele, “If one shows up to a gathering with a guitar, or god forbid a violin, a certain level of expertise is expected, nay demanded! In contrast the ukulele player has no such demands. Three chords, a songbook, maybe a nice bottle of Cabernet and the evening entertainment is assured.”
“Every town around the country has an inclusive ukulele group which anyone can attend,” echoed UK dealer Rob Pratt which further affirms John Lindhorst’s comment “There are strum-a-long clubs around the world.” So let’s face it folks, unless you are on planet Mars (and we aren’t ruling this out!), you should be able to find a ukulele group to be part of.
Daniela Gaidano of Mercantino dell’Ukulele summed it up very nicely, “Ukulele community has an eye on the past, on history and tradition, but is also connected to Hawaiian philosophy, so hospitality, kanikapila (impromptu jam session as on the beach or family gathering), playing together and welcoming cheerfully new players.”
Deering entered the world of ukulele because of longtime customer requests for a banjo ukulele. In January of 2015, Deering banjos introduced a concert scale banjo ukulele made of maple on an 11” rim fashioned after their very popular Goodtime Series. Soon came requests for a tenor scale model and in January of 2016, the Goodtime Tenor Scale Banjo Ukulele was created using their new 12” maple rim and a renaissance head. Approval rate is quite high; Mike McQueen of Uke Republic said “All our customers love them.” “All my customers who have purchased one have raved about it!,” agreed Mim of Mim’s Ukes.
Known for its powerful voice, Robert Tedrow of Homewood Music quipped that comparing the Deering banjo ukuleles to their traditional counterparts was like comparing “a Colt .45 to a BB gun.” “When I played it I was blown away by the full, deep tone. I also like the fact that they're made in the USA,” said Kent Knorr of NC Ukulele Academy.
Andrew Kitakis of Hawaii Music Supply offered this insight “The Deering banjo ukulele has better balance all across the fretboard … The size of the head and the unique bridge plate make for a better instrument.” Mim of Mim’s Ukes added that customers “ love the sound, the throwback look, and the nice true vintage banjolele sound.” Again, Daniela of Mercantino dell’Ukulele summed it up beautifully, “Great look, great personality, and great quality of playing.”
Playing trends in ukulele today include more soloists with instrumentals and no vocals. Jake Shimabukuro and James Hill are inspiring many with their virtuosity; exhibiting seemingly limitless abilities on the ukulele. Like banjo, the ukulele is being heard in more genres of music than ever before. Mim was excited that “more and more younger people taking up the ukulele” and with the ”presence of the ukulele in pop music, movies, and media in general.”
What is the common thread that links ukulele folk and banjo folk? Music, of course! But this charming summation by Italian dealer Daniela Gaidano says it best, “From ukulele world we know that uke is a fever, it takes you and you become addicted. I know very little about banjo world but banjo players look quite addicted too, and they also like to gather together, jam together, with always a look for the past, always welcoming new players... I think they are quite similar and only great things can come out of the melting of these two worlds.”
Visit the Deering website to find the names and locations of the many Deering dealers who carry our banjo ukuleles. Below are the folks who took the time to lend me their expertise to make this article possible.
Thank you to:
North Carolina Ukulele Academy
Ukulele Station America
Hawaii Music Supply
Meadows of Dan, VA
What instrument is equally welcome at a luau and a hootenanny? A hybrid instrument of sorts, the banjo ukulele (also called banjolele) is a cross between a...