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String therapy

Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times

I really have a penchant for the ukulele. But not the standard uke tuning. I have one I keep tuned that way. Ukulele are cheap enough, you can do that kind of thing. But my favorite uke is strung with a special set of strings that lets you tune it in a violin or mandolin tuning. 

I played around with a mandolin for years before ever setting up a uke this way, but once I did it became my go-to instrument for just sitting around and noodling. The nylon strings are easier on the fingers than the steel strings of the mandolin, and the sound is different. Warmer maybe? It’s one of those things that is hard to quantify and ends up sounding ridiculous when you try to describe it. How the heck is a sound “warm” anyway, right? 

Regardless, it’s a fun little instrument to play and – at least for me – much more intuitive with this tuning. In fact, I enjoy it so much that I’ve recently been looking at getting a baritone ukulele and tuning it in fifths as well. I’ve looked at what I would need to do to tune one this way, right down to researching what strings I would need – a mix of the standard ukulele strings and individual nylon classical guitar strings – to achieve that octave mandolin tuning. That’s what I want. Not the ADGC tuning of a tenor guitar, but a deeper EADG tuning. 

Is this laziness on my part? Maybe a little. It’s certainly easier to use the same notes and chord structures across instruments. I have a classical guitar. I also have another soprano uke, a mountain dulcimer, and a resonator guitar that I play with slide on occasion. It isn’t that I need this tuning in order to play. It’s that I find this particular tuning comfortable and intuitive. And when I sit down to relax and noodle, that’s really what I want. 

It’s not something I get to do much. Our toddler loves music. But that means he also wants to “play” the instruments when I break one out. Anyone who’s ever seen the inevitable aftermath of a toddler and delicate nylon strings knows where this ends. (Playing during nap time or after bedtime are out of the question for obvious reasons.) 

With all these other instruments I rarely get to play, at least at present, it’s also hard to justify another instrument purchase; even of a relatively affordable instrument. 

It isn’t the cost. It’s the space. The walls of my office are already lines with stringed instruments. The top of the book shelves show off a collection of hand drums from around the world. A conga sits in one corner of the office. A dobro in the corner in the bedroom. And the area underneath the bed has a clarinet, a saxophone, and a glockenspiel along with other odds and ends. I even have a berimbau. If you aren’t familiar with it, look it up. It’s a percussion instrument that’s difficult to put together (think stringing a very stiff recurve bow or long bow), difficult to play, and difficult to hold, with a very singular musical use. But, I have one. And my partner endures all this instrument hoarding with the grace of a saint. 

Really I don’t need a new uke (that’s basically a four string tenor guitar by another name) to take up more space under the bed. I don’t. I really don’t. But I want it.

So pray for Nicole. Because we all know how this is going to end. 

Jeremy D. Wells can be reached at editor@cartercountytimes.com

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