Gear. It’s a blessing and a curse. Some UAS (‘ukulele acquisition syndrome) sufferers rotate their ‘ukulele shed every week. Others are content to strum on the same strings for a few years. Regardless, there are some types of gear, tools, and resources that will make your musical life easier and/or better.
What follows are my favorite things that I would highly recommend to anyone. Many of the items are linked to Amazon via an affiliate link which allows my to earn a commission on anything you might buy through the link. It doesn’t cost you any extra, but earns me a little bit to help keep the site going. With that said, don’t buy anything you don’t need! This is the best stuff around and I recommend it all, but my goal is not to sell you a bunch of things.
You can have as many goodies as you like for your ‘ukulele, but at the end of the day there are some that are more useful than others. Don’t leave home without these!
Tiny tuning that’s accurate and fast (and cheap). I’ve got the 1st version (V2 pictured) and the only time it comes off my uke is if someone needs to borrow it. I’ve changed the battery once in 5 years.
Tuning can be so finicky, but the NS Mini always reads bright and steady.
Heavy tension strings with a clear, bright sound and spot-on intonation. Been using these for years. They’re exactly what I want in a string. Haven’t felt the need to look for anything better.
Recently I’ve been liking to swap out the standard Worth low-G for a Savarez KF95 harp string. The tension is a bit stronger while retaining a clear sound.
Solid, reliable protection.
I’ve got three of these cases. One is perfect. One had the handle break off during the second week and the locking mechanism prevented a latch from closing all the way. One I’ve had for several years and the handle is starting to fray. So quality control seems to be a problem, but get a good one and it’s fantastic.
Things To Keep In Your Case:
Strings are a must, but besides that I’ve found that these are some items that are good to always have nearby.
Hearing damage/loss is a terrible thing, especially for a musician. These earplugs have a fairly balanced frequency response for the music while saving your ears. A better option that I’ve yet to explore is getting custom ear-molds made. But for now these are my consumer-level alternative.
Glass files never wear out (or if they do, it happens so slowly you don’t notice). Even better, they 1. don’t wreck your nails like sapphire or metal files, 2. won’t give you a terrible paper cut like foam files, and 3. don’t have the sandpaper-y texture and feel of other emery boards. If you keep your fingernails long for picking you should have one of these. I’ve got eight great years on mine.
For those times when you’re really in a bind and need to change the key. This is the old-school standard for ‘ukulele capos. Springy, easy to grab, and soft on your ‘ukulele in all the right places.
Amplifying ‘ukuleles is still a young art, but getting better all the time. This is what I use:
Clear, warm, punchy sound ran off of a light, 3v watch battery. This UST type pickup is the best I’ve ever played and I often get comments on how good it sounds. I never have to worry about my sound and can turn myself up or down with a little volume knob mounted in the soundhole.
Sound and reliability are really all you can ask for in a cable. My Mogamis have seen my signal through probably a hundred or more gigs without a crackle and with pure tone.
Supposedly they have a lifetime replacement warranty, but since I haven’t had a problem I don’t know how easy it is to get a cable replaced.
Tuner, EQ section, boost, and DI in one box. A swiss-army knife for any sound situation.
This box is a lifesaver for a bad gig and can always seem to make your sound better for a good one. Plus, having an easy-to-see tuner at your feet is always a plus.
A little bit a reverb or delay goes a long way towards making your ‘ukulele sound majestic plugged in. Other sounds that a pedal can provide are just additional colors to paint with.
The ME-70 always seems to end up at my feet during gigs no matter how much the purist in me would like to use my single pedals instead. It does a little bit of everything and allows you to store presets while interfacing with physical knobs.
Boss is up to the next version – ME-80 – already, but it’s basically the same thing.
A simple delay for simple gigs! Great-sounding analog repeats. You can get some super crazy dub effects by creating re-away feedback.
The only bad thing I’ve ever heard about this pedal is: the little blue light is SO bright!
This is part of my simple “Hawaiian” rig where I put it in the effects loop of my Venue DI for some reverb and delay. You can chain up to 6 effects together in each preset. It’s perfect for set-it-and-leave-it applications when its tiny footprint can sit out of the way.
Having the gear to amplify yourself is a huge plus if you want to be a performing musician. This is my setup for a crisp, mainly feedback-free PA that gets LOUD for its size!
Active LOUDspeakers with a clear sound. These babies can slam 1000 watts a pop. I’ve never turned them up past halfway. They handle a bass guitar pretty well for 10″ speakers and are super overkill for a ‘ukulele.
They can also be used independently as a two-channel “amp” since each speaker has a dual input mixer section. Great for small-ish gigs.
Great “little” mixer for gigs with 3-4 guys. Lots of routing options and solid build quality. It’s kind of big for the number of channels it has, but supposedly that’s because of upgraded mic preamps.
You can never have enough outlets onstage and this multi-strip provides extra protection for your expensive gear. I never leave home without it. My luck is the day I plug into someone else’s power strip I’ll blow up $2000 worth of gear.
Used to be that recording happened only during very expensive studio sessions. These days though with a few hundred dollars you can buy everything you need to create a fantastic recording in your bedroom. I recorded my EP, Point A, with the gear below (and lots of blankets on the walls).
A crisp sounding, small diaphragm condenser mic perfect for ‘ukuleles. It’s tiny, but delivers a big sound.
A two-channel USB interface with phantom power, MIDI ins/outs, and all the routing options a simple recording setup needs.
Comes with some cool plugins and records at a 24-bit, 96kHz sample rate. Not sure what more you would need.
The DAW my friend was using the first time I ever recorded. Still does everything I need from a recording program. It has a beautiful interface and straightforward features that make editing simple.
Steinberg is up to version 8 by now, but it’s the same thing.
In this digital age, having the right tools on your computer make or break what you’re able to do and how easily you can do it.
Open-source blogging platform that I use to run Live ‘Ukulele.com. Amazing features for free. The sheer volume of themes and plugins (not to mention tutorials!) available allow you to do pretty much anything you want with a website without ever leaving WordPress.
A feature-rich tablature program that exports beautiful PDFs. It could use an upgrade to enable a couple style tweaks, but otherwise a great tool for the price.
You can also download many, many tabs for GP6 and use other people’s work as a start for your own arrangements.
An open-source version of Microsoft Office with a whole host of programs you will probably use. I use the word editor for creating any sheet my students might need.
Besides an in-person teacher, by far the best ‘ukulele instructional course I’ve seen is James Hill’s The Ukulele Way. (Affiliate link)
A comprehensive course teaching the fundamentals of solo ‘ukulele arrangements. I’m the admin and a friend of James’ so I’m a bit biased, but the lesson and video quality is really fantastic. The course is currently available in GCEA and ADF#B tunings and works you through six books worth of material. At least make a free account to check out some sample lessons and the community feature.
Brad Bordessa Products:
Beyond the site, I also have a few things I’ve created. Of course, I recommend them highly!
A 54-page PDF eBook that is an end-to-end look at ‘ukulele chords, shapes, and theory. There are sections on moveable chord shapes, how to build chords, fingering tips, and so much more.
My EP of original ‘ukulele instrumentals. Two of the songs are full-band tracks and three feature my solo ‘ukulele playing.
A single protesting the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope. Ku kia’i mauna!