Essential Ukulele Gear: What I Use

What follows is a collection of some of the things I use in my day-to-day as a working musician.

Anything you see here is tried and tested and is something I would recommend to anyone because I love it – not because you need it. These are the things that make my life in music easier, better, and more enjoyable.

This article contains affiliate links. These don’t cost you anything, but help offset the cost of this site via a small commission.

Instruments:

I have two really nice ukuleles and a number of standard models that each serve a purpose. I’ve collected a few more over the years, but those shown here get all the play time.

2x Moore Bettah Ukes Custom Tenors

moore bettah ulu ukulele

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“Big Island Kalo” studio Moore Bettah

Priceless, one-of-a-kind, world-class ukuleles. Chuck is one of the most sought-after ukulele luthiers in the world and happens to be my good friend (which certainly helped in getting on his build list).

  • Performing Moore Bettah (read more) – Spruce top, koa back/sides with a pickup and cutaway
  • Studio Moore Bettah (podcast demo) – ʻUlu body, pheasant wood accents

Blackbird Farallon Ekoa Tenor

wide angle of how to hold an ukulele

After a bad experience gigging in the rain I decided to purchase an ukulele purpose built for sturdiness and soggy conditions.

The Farallon has been fabulous insurance for unknown playing environments. I don’t have to worry about it very much and it sounds great. It also plays better than almost any other uke!

Read my review of the Farallon.

Pickups

LR Baggs Five-0 Ukulele PickupThe LR Baggs Five.O is my recommendation to most people for a uke pickup. Clear, warm sound that runs off of a tiny 3V watch battery.

But since I’m a little more discerning than your average uke player, I recently upgraded my Five.O to the standard Baggs Classical Element on my main uke because I wanted a cleaner sound with more headroom.

This also allows me to use rechargeable Ansmann 9V batteries (which last for a couple of months before needing a top-up) instead of throwing away 3V 2032 watch batteries every few gigs.

Kala EM-FS UBass

In an effort to diversify and keep myself entertained, I picked up a UBass and have been playing for friends who need backup.

I got the EM-FS model because I heard the Fishman pickup was superior to the alternative.

brad bordessa playing ubass with dagan bernstein

Jamming with Dagan and Thom at the Big Island Brewhaus – PC: @pleinjayne

It SERIOUSLY needed some sanding on the top edge to make a bevel that was bearable for my arm. C’mon Kala, make a 1/4″ roundover stock please.

Accessories

Little things more useful than their size

Fluorocarbon Strings

I’ve used Worth CH-LGHD strings for well over a decade and love their heavy tension and clear, punchy sound. With a daunting number of options, anybody should be able to find their happy place in the Worth lineup.

Recently I’ve been using Uke Logic strings because they have a slightly more punchy sound.

Six in one, half dozen in another. As long as it’s fluorocarbon and the tensions are right, I’m usually happy.

I like to swap out the standard low-G of both Worth and Uke Logic for a Savarez KF95 harp string. The tension is just right while retaining a clear sound. (The KF95A is long enough for three strings.)

Clip-on Tuners

The accurate and fast Planet Waves NS Micro Tuner was my mainstay for a long time. I had the 1st version for over five years (only changed the battery once) and have just recently upgraded to version two for no particular reason.

tc electronic unitune tuner

My splurge upgrade recently was the TC Electronic Unitune. I got two of them to keep around the studio. They have a great clip and are easy to pass around to musicians who need to tune (the NS Micro is too small to easily handle). Highly recommended.

Cases

I’ve been using Oʻahu Cases forever now. I have several models and iterations. They’re easy for me to get, solid, simple, and reliable.

My current favorite is the ‘Ōlinolino case I keep my UBass in. It has the most comfortable backpack straps I’ve ever wore.

Metronome

My main practice tool is some form of metronome. It keeps me honest and helps build a stronger internal sense of timing.

I use several versions, depending on what I’m doing:

  • Pro Metronome app – on my phone for when I’m out and about
  • BOSS DB-30 – a small, simple metronome with tap tempo and a 1/8″ headphone output. Kind of expensive for what it does, but it’s worth it for me to have a dedicated unit for teaching and practicing without phone distractions
  • Franz LM-FB-5 – a vintage mechanical plug-in metronome. I got one of these after seeing Tomo Fujita use one. It has a pleasant wooden knocking sound and a lot more charming quirk than an electronic metronome. Definitely the most fun metronome I’ve used!

Glass Nailfile

Glass files last mostly forever. Even better, they:

  1. Don’t wreck your nails like sapphire or metal files
  2. Don’t give you a wicked paper cut like sandpaper-covered foam files
  3. Don’t have the yucky, abrasive texture and feel of other emery boards.

If you keep your fingernails long for picking you need one of these. I’ve got 15 years on mine. Probably time for a new one.

Earplugs

I scored a free pair of custom molded earplugs from the MusiCares program at a festival years ago. They don’t come out much, but they live in my gig box in case I have to jam with an electric guitarist with an ego.

Short of that I use Isolate Pro earplugs for everything else. Besides looking great and feeling sturdy, they attenuate a ton of sound while retaining a fairly balanced frequency response. I use them mostly for power tools these days.

The Gig Box: Live Sound & Plugging in

A Seahorse SE-710 case containing my kit goes with me to every gig. It has almost everything I might need for plug-and-go performances.

Instrument and XLR Cables

Mogami Gold cables are some of the most boring but important items I own. Sound and reliability are really all you can ask for in a cable and they’ve never failed me. They are all I will buy and supposedly have a lifetime replacement warranty.

If you learn to solder you can save some serious bucks by buying bulk cable ($0.60-ish a foot if you buy a big roll) and some 1/4″ plugs ($2-6 a pop) and putting the pieces together yourself. An 18′ Mogami Gold cable is $80, but if you make it yourself it’s less than $20 in parts for basically the same quality. This is the route I’ll be going from now on.

Line 6 HX Stomp

These days I’m a huge fan of the Line 6 HX Stomp (here’s my review). I used to buy a bunch of pedals looking for the next best thing, but I haven’t bought a single one since getting the HX. It’s really that good.

For ukulele it can provide ample EQ, compression, reverb, delay, and anything else you might need – in addition to IR support! These together allow me to carry the best plugged in ukulele in the world (…maybe? I don’t usually brag, but I’ve got a really killer preset) in one hand.

line 6 hx stomp

Worth every penny. Wish I’d bought one sooner. And Line 6 pushes out new features a couple times a year via firmware!

Shure KSM8 Dualdyne

As soon as I started seeing big acts (lots of them) using the Shure KSM8, I had to try it out. It’s a dynamic mic along the lines of a Beta 58, but without much of a proximity effect (the low end boost from getting close to the mic).

It sounds great, it’s forgiving if you don’t sing right into it, and it gets kinda close to a condenser mic sound quality without needing 48V phantom power. Plus, I love kissing the flat front grille.

Radial Stagebug SB-2 DI

Since the HX Stomp doesn’t have an XLR output (my only gripe), sometimes I have to use a DI to convert my signal to XLR. The Radial Stagebug is built solid, simple, and does the trick.

It doesn’t come out often, but it’s nice to have your own instead of hoping someone else will have one. Plus, it’s small enough that it’s never a big tradeoff to bring it.

Furman SS-6B Surge Block

furman ss-6b power stripYou can never have enough outlets onstage and the Furman SS-6B multi-strip gets them almost anywhere I need. Instead of whining to the soundman about needing an outlet, I just find my own and get on with setting up.

Supposedly it provides surge protection, but it’s not the a power conditioner unit like the AC-215A I run my studio gear on. I don’t trust it much and figure any of my gear that gets fried is replaceable by my MusicPro insurance.

PA System:

This is my setup for a crisp, feedback-free PA that will blow the windows out of most venues!

I use two QSC K10 Loudspeakers v1 (I hear v2 is even better) on stands as my mains. These babies can slam 1000 watts a pop; I’ve never had to turn them up past halfway (usually 1/4 volume is plenty for an outside gig). They handle a bass guitar well enough for Hawaiian music and are super overkill for an ukulele.

QSC K10 Active Loudspeaker

The speakers are fed by an Allen & Heath ZED-10FX Mixer. It’s suitable for up to three people since it’s really only a 6-channel board.

The ZED sounds great, feels sturdy, and is about half the size of my old Mackie that had basically the same number of channels.

allan and heath zedfx mixer

Recording:

This is my studio setup for recording myself, my friends, and my podcast.

Microphones/Preamp

I’ve collected quite a few studio mics over the years. They all have their own sound and characteristics. Here are the main options I use most often:

  • Neumann TLM 103 – my main mic for most things: great for vocals, decent for ukes
  • Shure SM7 – a classic broadcasting mic that works well on most sources: great for excluding the sound of anything not right in front of it (needs a Cloudlifter unless you have a real mic preamp)
  • Neumann KM184 – accurate, small diaphragm condenser mic recommended to me by James Hill: good for ukes
  • Shure SM81 – similar to the KM184 at half the price: great for ukes

These days I’d probably recommend the SM81 as the best bang-for-buck, professional grade ukulele microphone. Only thing to be aware of is it’s sensitive to EMI/RFI interference.

After trying a couple mic preamp options, I’ve settled on the Focusrite ISA Two. It gives me two extra channels via the line in jacks on my interface and provides lots of gain. Sounds great.

Digital Audio

I use the Focusrite Clarett 4Pre USB interface to get sounds into and out of my computer. It’s clean, quality, and does the job.

Everything gets recorded into Reaper DAW. It’s an affordable, powerful piece of well-executed software. Very much the future of DAWs, IMO. For plugins, I mainly use FabFilter, Tokyo Dawn Labs, Oeksound, DMGAudio, Softube, and Noise Ash.

This all runs on my Intel 13600K-based PC with Western Digital Black NVMe drives. I store projects on a 4TB Samsung 870 EVO backed up to iDrive cloud.

Podcast Setup

For podcasts I usually use the TLM 103 into my ISA Two into the Clarett. I use Reaper to edit and process my voice with these plugins:

I bring everything up to volume with the TDR Limiter 6 and publish the podcast through Buzzsprout.

What’s Next?

I’m quite happy with my setup. It allows me to create top-notch content for this website.

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If you want to send some gear love my way, I’d always find something useful to buy with a Sweetwater gift card. Send it to liveukulele@gmail.com.

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