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What a difference two strings make. Late last week, I traded my Jupiter Creek steel-stringed baritone, solid-body uke for one of these Kanile’a nylon-stringed GL6 “guitar-leles” which the company calls a “guilele.”
It’s really a short-scale guitar tuned like a ukulele: a fourth higher. More like a requinto than a uke.
Kanile’a says of the GL6 line:
Our GL6 is a hybrid instrument that we developed bringing the convenience of the ‘ukuleles’ size with the playability that guitar players love. This instrument has our unique Super Tenor body in combination with our 20 inch scale, joined at the body on the 16th fret with 22 frets total.
Now I’m trying to remember all the chords, the fingering, the techniques I used when I played guitar. Boy, what a difference those extra strings make! And BTW, the Islander model isn’t one of the company’s high-end models: it’s a modestly-priced instrument.
I played guitar from around 1965 until 2008, when I took up ukulele. And that’s all I’ve played since. You get used to the size and scale pretty quickly.
It’s not simply the loss of two strings that makes the uke different. The smaller scale allows fingers (my pinky in particular) a greater reach down the fretboard when playing a chord. Plus, without those two strings, you’re not as often anchored into barre chords, so your fingers can be playing other notes, filigreeing around the fretboard. My techniques and style changed a lot as I perfected my uke techniques.
But I do miss the bass strings at times, especially with some runs. Sure, I can play Mr. Bojangles on the uke, but it lacks that lovely bass walk-down you can do on guitar. So I thought, what-the-heck, why not, when I was offered this trade. See how rusty my old guitar skills have become.
Pretty rusty, it turns out. I’ve spent the last few days playing “where-does-this-finger-go-again?” games with the fretboard. And pondering re-tuning it to an open chord to avoid some of this work.
The fretboard is wide. I can’t recall how wide my former guitars were, but this one seems like aircraft carrier-width, with a full 2″ at the nut. Just seems a lot wider than I recall. I put my fingers down on the known frets of the first four strings and then s-t-r-e–t—c—–h to reach the rest. Damn, my hands begin to ache with the unaccustomed effort.
And it’s flat, too, that fretboard. Sure wish it was radiused.
(I think I need to buy myself a guitar chord book, too…)
Well, I always like learning, even if it’s more like re-learning. Good for the brain, and the effort helps my old hands stay limber and flexible. I just have to be careful not to lose my ukulele skills in the process. But I’m sure I’ll have fun, nonetheless.
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