I couldn’t stop staring at it. Not that one. That one. The big one.
Last spring, when we were all still very much in the thick of the ongoing global #panorama, I took up the ukulele. In March, soon after the COVID-19 pandemic had upended all our lives, Fender made the generous and savvy business decision to offer FREE three-month subscriptions to Fender Play — their excellent guitar, bass, and ukulele tutorial service — to anyone with a strong wifi connection, the right instrument, and a dream.
I’d bought a ukulele a few years back after discovering it was not the Tiny Tim, very special Brady Bunch episode of an instrument that American TV had led me to believe. People were out here wringing virtuosic sounds that moved me to tears out of this plinky-plonky thing and I wanted some of that.
My modest salary, however, recoiled from the cost of well worth it private lessons, the third and last of which I was uncharacteristically late to because of a freak rush-hour snow storm. “See, what had happened was….” So my tenor uke sat growing dust and provoking guilt for three years until Fender and the pandemic sauntered in, stage right, in early 2020.
That’s when my friend Jenn mentioned on Twitter that her two teens had just dipped a toe into Fender Play‘s online guitar lessons and I almost hurt my neck swiveling. A day later, I’d signed up. A week later I’d learned a bunch of chords. A month later my new calluses and I were playing simple but recognizable songs. (I see you, Johnny Cash! Well played, Taylor Swift.) Three months later your girl could read basic sheet music and I was babbling about Fender Play to anyone that would listen.
Hubris, thy name is Yvie. By the time fall rolled around, a vicious heatwave had warped my cheap uke and I popped a string or two trying to tune something that was now untunable. *sobs*
Six months later, after throwing money at new homeowner things slightly more urgent than a new uke, I walked into Vintage Instruments hoping to upgrade to a new one less likely to break my heart.
A kind staffer led me down the carpeted stairs to a bright, delightful show room that looked like old money and smelled like freshly Febrezed carpets. When she led me to a carousel of ukuleles, there it was.
Why was it so BIG? (That’s what she said.)
Reader, I didn’t care. I bought it. The quality. The warmth of sound when I strummed it, like your favorite uncle’s avuncular chuckle. The size, which meant I could play a ukulele without feeling like I was balancing a delicate china doll on my lap and tickling it at the same time. It even cost slightly less than I’d expected to spend.
Why had I never heard of a baritone ukulele before? Because it’s the black sheep of the uke family, that’s why. It has a more expansive tonal range that leans more toward the warm and rich end of the sound spectrum than soprano, tenor, and concert ukes. Its size means a wider fret and string spacing, which gives adult hands more room to maneuver.
Unfortunately, baritone ukuleles also come with different chord tuning than standard ones, and much like Mariah Carey, Fender Play doesn’t know her. But as I’ve been repeatedly told, if you play guitar, it’s the same chor — Bish, before last year, I barely played the dozens, let alone a guitar! Guess who’s starting from scratch again?
So I will be sobbing through heartfelt but mediocre YouTube tutorials for the foreseeable future. And then maybe at your wedding, she typed brightly! Or your conscious uncoupling ceremony! (My new thing is being motivated by realistic but unlikely goals.)
*strums Mr. and Mrs. Used to Be*