Ukulele Guitar – Kabeh Peparing
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The ukulele (/ˌjuːkəˈleɪli/ YOO-kə-LAY-lee; from Hawaiian: ʻukulele [ˈʔukuˈlɛlɛ], approximately OO-koo-LEH-leh), also called Uke, is a member of the lute family of instruments of Portuguese origin and popularized in Hawaii. It generally employs four nylon strings.
The tone and volume of the instrument vary with size and construction. Ukuleles commonly come in four sizes: soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone.
The ukulele is commonly associated with music from Hawaii, where its name roughly translates as “jumping flea”, perhaps because of the movement of the player’s fingers. Legend attributes it to the nickname of Englishman Edward William Purvis, one of King Kalākaua’s officers, because of his small size, fidgety manner, and playing expertise. One of the earliest appearances of the word ukulele in print (in the sense of a stringed instrument) is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Catalogue of the Crosby Brown Collection of Musical Instruments of All Nations published in 1907. The catalog describes two ukuleles from Hawaii – one that is similar in size to a modern soprano ukulele, and one that is similar to a tenor (see § Types and sizes).
Developed in the 1880s, the ukulele is based on several small, guitar-like instruments of Portuguese origin, the machete, cavaquinho, timple, and rajão, introduced to the Hawaiian Islands by Portuguese immigrants from Madeira, the Azores and Cape Verde. Three immigrants in particular, Madeiran cabinet makers Manuel Nunes, José do Espírito Santo, and Augusto Dias, are generally credited as the first ukulele makers. Two weeks after they disembarked from the SS Ravenscrag in late August 1879, the Hawaiian Gazette reported that “Madeira Islanders recently arrived here, have been delighting the people with nightly street concerts.”
One of the most important factors in establishing the ukulele in Hawaiian music and culture was the ardent support and promotion of the instrument by King Kalākaua. A patron of the arts, he incorporated it into performances at royal gatherings.
The ukulele is generally made of wood, though variants have been composed partially or entirely of plastic or other materials. Cheaper ukuleles are generally made from plywood or laminated woods, in some cases with a soundboard of a tonewood such as spruce. More expensive ukuleles are made of solid hardwoods such as mahogany. The traditionally preferred wood for ukuleles is a type of acacia endemic to Hawaii, called koa.
Typically, ukuleles have a figure-eight body shape similar to that of a small acoustic guitar. They are also often seen in nonstandard shapes, such as cutaway and oval, usually called a “pineapple” ukulele (see image below), invented by the Kamaka Ukulele company, or a boat-paddle shape, and occasionally a square shape, often made out of an old wooden cigar box.
These instruments usually have four strings; some strings may be paired in courses, giving the instrument a total of six or eight strings (primarily for greater strumming volume.) The strings themselves were originally made of catgut. Modern ukuleles use nylon polymer strings, with many variations in the material, such as fluorocarbon, aluminium (as winding on lower-pitched strings), wound metal strings (similar to wound nylon strings, but with a metal core) and Nylgut.
Instruments with six or eight strings in four courses are often called taropatches, or taropatch ukuleles. They were once common in a concert size, but now the tenor size is more common for six-string taropatch ukuleles. The six-string, four-course version, has two single and two double courses, and is sometimes called a lili’u, though this name also applies to the eight-string version. Eight-string baritone taropatches exist, and, 5-string tenors have also been made.
Types and sizes:
Common types of ukuleles include soprano (standard ukulele), concert, tenor, and baritone. Less common are the sopranino (also called piccolo, bambino, or “pocket uke”), bass, and contrabass ukuleles. Other types of ukuleles include banjo ukuleles and electric ukuleles. Of the standard ukuleles, the soprano, often called “standard” in Hawaii, is the second-smallest and was the original size. The concert size was developed in the 1920s as an enhanced soprano, slightly larger and louder with a deeper tone. Shortly thereafter, the tenor was created, having more volume and deeper bass tone. The baritone (resembling a smaller tenor guitar) was created in the 1940s, and the contrabass and bass are recent innovations (2010 and 2014, respectively).