By Greg Olwell
One of the largest events in the ukulele scene kicked off today in Sparks, Nevada. The 2016 edition of the Reno Ukulele Festival features workshops from many of the most recognizable names in the community and many exhibitors showing off not only great instruments, but the powerful entrepreneurial spirit that flows through the scene.
Once we got settled in at the booth after driving from the San Francisco Bay Area, it was time to check out the festival. First, we made the round at a few of the exhibitor booths, located on the second floor of the Nugget Casino. Many of the booths were from companies located within a short drive of the event and it’s events like these that can help small one- or two-person businesses meet the scene’s enthusiastic players.
One of the first we spoke to was TyDe Music, founded by makers Devin Price and Tyler Joersz in nearby Lake Tahoe. The group was recently featured in the Reno Gazette-Journal for its work, which includes making ukuleles from reclaimed local woods, including using wood taken from boards of an old Tahoe pier! They also showed several other ukes, some of which had elaborate laser engraving from the company’s Julian Sander. One that caught our eye was the Learner uke. These ukes feature laser engravings of chord charts on the side, notes on the fingerboard, and a rosette showing you the Circle of Fifths.
Uncle Joe of Carson City, Nevada specializes in cigar-box ukes and sells matching amps. The ukes, which also have Joe’s homemade pickups, sell for $150, while the amps are $85. He’s working on a website at the moment, but in the meantime you can reach him at jrdesignsnv.com
Even from yards away, you can see that design is important to Iriguchi Ukuleles’ founder David Iriguichi. His ukes have an especially clean look, from nearly no adornment, to “green” finishes. His Keystone ukulele is his signature model and he showed off a few of the possibilities he’s explored, including a 5-string that had both a low-G and a high-G and tenor with a poplar back and a gorgeous straight-grained redwood top. The redwood uke was powerful and bright, while the 5-string’s have-it-all approach with the G string was great for strumming.
Of course, it’s not all about gear and delightful ukes, the Reno Ukulele Festival is also about playing and workshops. The workshops will really happen tomorrow, but there were a handful today and they were kicking into gear as more and more attendees arrived throughout the day.
When people weren’t gathering to play songs together, they were attending classes from people like Craig Chee, Sarah Maisel, Dani Joy, and others, who didn’t hold classes so much as made it easy and fun for people to play. And usually what happens is they kind of trick you. One minute they have you play along to a I-VI7-ii-V chord progression, then before you know it, you’ve learned how play rhythm changes and can now strum through literally hundreds of jazz, pop, and theme song classics.
They make it easy and fun and the classes were fun and meaningful.
And, here’s a little teaser for who’s coming to our offices this week for our new in-house exclusive videos, Ukulele Session.