I still have difficulty ordering ukulele strings, straps and accessories locally. And let us not forget Tiny Tim, whose novelty act hid a wealth of talent, and to whom most of us owe a debt because he kept the ukulele in vogue at a time when it had waned in popularity.I went online, looking for something a little better than the inexpensive laminate-topped Chinese-made brands I had seen locally. Their talent was an inspiration to me, although I could never aspire to anything that good.

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But pound for pound, the ukulele is hard to beat for putting smiles on your face.

A brief comment for people not familiar with ukuleles: a uke is really a small, four-string guitar (ukulele owners may blanch at this description; it is true, but you could equally think of a guitar as a fat ukulele...).

I've had more fun with the uke than I've had in ages.

It's a lot more expensive than buying harmonicas, so I can't indulge in a comprehensive review of ukes like I did with harmonicas.

You may even find that, with only four strings to contend with, you're a better uke player than a guitar player!

You can also string a uke in low-G tuning, so it has a bass note in the fourth string, not a high note.

It was also an inspiration to spend a whole lot more than I originally intended for what was then a passing fancy.

I spent more than 0 for the ukulele, case, shipping from Hawaii, plus the Canadian and Ontario governments' egregious tax grab (why must I pay provincial sales tax on an item that isn't sold or distributed anywhere in Canada, much less made in Canada? My first uke was a solid-spruce top Kala tenor (see below). I think it's spread through Web pages that feature ukuleles. I ended up buying several ukuleles in quick succession, most from the same e Bay seller ('musicguymic' or MGM, who has a large e Bay store).

Baritone ukes are tuned D-G-B-E, like a guitar (which sometimes causes their critics to belittle them as tenor guitars). If you're a guitar player, you can play the same chords and finger picking patterns on a uke, but the high-G string creates a different sort of sound.

However, the traditional uke is tuned with the fourth (G) string an octave higher. You have to change some of your patterns if you use bass runs or particular finger picking patterns, but it's easy to get accustomed to playing a uke coming from a guitar.

This makes it even more guitar-like for chords and picking patterns.