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How A Reformed Guitar Player Learned To Love The Ukulele

May 21, 2012; Scott Armitage

How a Reformed Guitar Player Learned To Love The Ukulele

It's true.

I've played guitar in one form or another since the 1970s. This is my story of how I became a “reformed guitar player” who only plays ukulele now. Before you judge me harshly, listen to my story:

When I was a youth I always wanted to play guitar, but brief lessons from my Dad were all I could get. None of the schools I attended taught guitar, and we couldn't afford guitar lessons. My Dad had an old cheap Silvertone from his days in the U.S. Navy. He used to play western stuff, Johnny Cash, etc. I thought the guitar was so cool, but again, strumming around the house trying to figure out the Mel Bay Guitar Method from a book was anything but easy for me as a kid.

So, I took band class and ended up playing woodwinds (almost all of them) and drums on the side. Fast forward to the summer of 1990. My Dad died at the ripe old age of 50, and my heart felt the need to better my guitar playing. I took lessons, classes, and practiced every day. With all that, I had a repertoire of about ten songs that I could play with mediocre technique. Remember, this was pre-Internet. Finding tablature and sheet music for a particular song I wanted to play wasn't as easy as it is today. So, this meant I had to figure it out myself, and I didn't have the skills or resources. After almost two years, I stopped lessons and classes. I kept my two guitars, one acoustic, one electric, and played my ten songs here and there.
Now fast forward to 2011. My own son, who is 16, tells me he wants to play guitar. I pulled the old babes out of the case and paid for him to have the lessons I never got as a youth. His own progress is his own, and another story . . .

My First Ukulele
My son and I made more than one trip down to the local music store for guitar supplies. January 2, 2012, we were in the store and I was standing at the ukulele rack looking at the little things. I picked one up, and left the store a while later with a new concert ukulele.

Now, I have a job where I can play at work in the middle of the day. So I did. Every day. Every single day.

The Uke is Easy to Play
The internet has some very positive attributes, one being that the whole world wants to show you how to do something. Ukulele is no exception to that. I probably got thousands of dollars in ukulele lessons in the first month alone. After having played and struggled with guitar for years, ukulele was amazingly easy for me. (Maybe guitar was not for me?) Chords that required thought, strength and effort (along with four fingers on the fretboard) for guitar were often a played with just one finger on the uke. Crazy? Easy!

My Ukulele Addiction
Now it's been about four months and I have purchased five ukuleles. I have even built one from a kit! Most professional ukulele players tend to lean toward the tenor. I am obstinate and I have gone the other way. Smaller is more fun for me. I built a soprano after buying the concert, then bought a sopranino (KoAloha Noah), then bought a Kala Pocket Uke (sopranissimo) after that. I take the little pocket uke with me everywhere, and I play hundreds of songs now! I can even transpose guitar songs to the uke, since they are both C instruments. And I even got another concert uke—it's an Epiphone Les Paul! It's gorgeous, and gives me an excuse to use my amp.

Having Fun with the Ukulele
More importantly, I'm having fun. For me, the guitar was—more often than not—work, effort and strain. Not so for the ukulele; it's almost always fun. That's the lesson I take from this whole journey. You can be inspired by Chet Atkins, Clapton, Van Halen, Stevie Ray Vaughan or Bonamassa, but do what works for you.

Now I can play Johnny Cash songs, Stray Cats, Queen, the Star Spangled Banner . . . anything!

As for my comment about being a “reformed” guitar player, let me say that my journey is just that: mine. But it led me to the ukulele and a whole lot of fun. May you find fun and happiness playing an instrument that brings you joy.

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