Prior to learning the ukulele, I played guitars for many years. I started out with a basic Kay acoustic in the 1970s which cost £45. I used to busk in Guildford shopping centre playing CSNY songs and on a good day could earn three pounds an hour which was a fair amount of money back then. In the last 20 years. After all an album on vinyl would cost around £2.30.
Since then I have purchased a great collection of acoustic and electric guitars including two custom Sobells, a
Collings acoustic, PRS Private stock angelus, Santa Cruz 00 acoustic, as well as a Parker Bronze, Collings I35, George Benson Jazz and a number of custom Stratocasters and telecasters. This has been made easier by travelling all over the world, so I get to see globally what is available
In the last two years I have amassed a growing collection of ukuleles, from Japan, USA and UK. Each ukulele has a very distinctive character and inspires a particular way of playing.
During this time I have also had private music lessons with Martin Simpson who introduced me to the world of altered tunings. Martin also encouraged me to explore a range of instruments and I bought his National Dobro. Despite having a history of guitar playing, the Dobro is an entirely different beast. It’s taken me 6 months to really get to grips with this and without lessons from Pete Wraith I would have never made such progress. The National is totally different to the ukulele and it’s been fascinating to learn some of the Small Change Diaries material on both instruments.
I am totally convinced that learning a multitude of different instruments is invaluable for developing musicality. Each instrument inspires a different kind of playing and a different kind of music. When we recorded “Adam Blames Eve” it quickly became apparent that certain ukuleles worked better in combination. The five string baritone made by Rob Collins has a very unique sound and was used on the title track as well as “Perfect Place”. Jessica mostly used a Collings tenor which sounds fantastic in combination with the Shimo Comet 3. The Comet 3 was used to play the solos on the album. When I first picked up this instrument in Tokyo I knew immediately that it would be perfect for the album. My guitar friend described it as being made from “a visa watering selection of woods” and in my view it’s the best ukulele I have played.
In the last 12 months I have almost exclusively played ukuleles and when I picked up one of the Sobell acoustics it seemed HUGE! I have also realised that one of the secrets of developing musical skills is to have instruments out available to play, not locked away in cases. Sometimes I’ll pick up a ukulele, guitar or Dobro and a tune will appear out of nowhere. The Small Change Diaries have allowed me to experiment with a wide range of instruments and appreciate the importance of practice. Switching between instruments gets the brain and fingers working in very different ways and definitely inspires a wider appreciation for music in a more universal sense. I don’t really consider myself as “a ukulele player” but rather a musician that plays ukulele.
I’m also not a massive fan of stereotyping any playing approach whether this is ukulele or guitar based. I’m definitely not a fan of the quirky image that is portrayed in some ukulele quarters, where it’s presented as a novelty instrument. The ukulele is an extraordinary instrument which has countless potential and The Small Change Diaries of courses showcases the many styles of music that can be achieved using ukes. That said I am planning to incorporate some Dobro playing in the second SCD album scheduled for 2017.