BY GREG OLWELL | FROM THE SPRING 2018 ISSUE OF UKULELE
You don’t have to look at too many ukulele players to see that we like to accessorize. Go to a gathering of uke players young or old and you’ll see cases covered in stickers on the outside, and inside filled with photos, and all manner of gee-gaws, widgets, and gizmos. Some are essential, some not so much, but all are fun and add color to the already colorful life of a ukulele player.
At some point during the year, you probably need to use lotion and lip balm to keep your skin and lips from getting rough and cracking. Unless you have a ukulele made from synthetics, your wooden ukulele is no different—to be crack-free and at its most playable, it needs to be kept from getting too dry or too damp. Two things can help you keep your ukulele in tip-top shape: a humidifier and a hygrometer, which is a tool for measuring relative humidity.
Humidifiers can come in several varieties, from ones that fit inside your uke’s soundhole to others that are made to keep your uke case an ideal microclimate for your little strummer. The idea is simple—a moist material inside a shell that helps keeps your uke near an ideal humidity—and all are simple to use and maintain. Look for uke-friendly humidifiers from D’Addario, Herco, Kyser, and Oasis.
How do you know if the relative humidity where you uke is stored is safe? Whether you want to keep track of conditions inside your case or around your home, a hygrometer can help you keep an eye on the prime numbers for relative humidity, which range from 40 percent to 60 percent humidity. Go for a digital hygrometer, which is fast and accurate—and often offers additional features like temperature. You can find them at most hardware stores and music stores, with some familiar brand names like Oasis and D’Addario offering choices for players. Hygrometers can be especially helpful if you like to keep your uke out of its case, where you can more easily reach it.
Appearances can matter, and a cleaning cloth is a great way to keep your ukulele looking its best. An old, lint-free t-shirt (the kind that’s gotten too small and tattered to be seen wearing in public) works in a jiffy, but it’s hard to top a fresh microfiber cloth. Most music stores carry them and it’s a great thing to keep in your case for giving your ukulele a quick wipe-down after a strum session. Unless your ukulele manufacturer tells you otherwise, you can avoid most polishes sold for stringed instruments. They aren’t all that helpful and can damage your finish if it has any cracks or dents. Usually, moisture from a warm breath and a light polish with your cloth will be enough to clean up smudges.
A ukulele stand, or hanger, can be a great addition to your home. Not only are you keeping your ukulele out where you can easily get to it for playing at any time, you’re also showing off some lovely playable art. On the floor or on your desktop, a ukulele stand is a fantastic way to keep your uke ready to play and nearby. You’ll have options in different materials and different budgets that all look great, too. Favorites include the wooden Cooperstand Pro-Mini and Kala Standout stands, metal stands from Stagg and Meisel, or the folding plastic Aroma stand. Or, if you’re up for hanging it from a wall, the String Swing Ukulele Hanger is a safe and handsome way to have your uke at the ready. They have many options, from basic metal to handsome wooden versions that will fit your display needs.
If you’re into singing along, a capo can be a helpful way to change keys quickly without needing to know a pile of new chords. Ukulele capos tend to be a lot smaller and lighter than guitar capos, so it’s best not to rely on an old guitar capo. Some of the most popular ukulele capos are the D’Addario Ukulele Capo Pro, G7 UltraLight, Kyser Quick-Change, and Shubb Ukulele Capo. (For extra fun, try a partial capo sometime—only using the capo on a two strings, for example.)