LINEAR TUNING ON THE SMALL UKULELES

This is the final letter in our series on Linear Tuning for the Ukulele. With this letter we discuss the Small Ukuleles - the Concert & Soprano bodies. It's a good idea to have an understanding of the Terminology and Tunings pages on our string site - we will use that Terminology, and refer to those Tuning principles often. In these letters, we've tried to make the point that graduated tunings will give the best acoustic sound when you're dealing with different sized bodies. Just moving the 4th string out; just widening the range of the tuning by those few notes makes a somewhat drastic change in the tunings you select.  No way you get away with Linear C tuning throughout the range of Ukulele sizes without compromise. It's not hard to understand, if you've taken in the principles for acoustic tuning as outlined on the site. It's the low notes of a tuning that you pay attention to, and with a Linear tuning, the 4th note is an octave lower. It means you need to move your tuning up to a larger sized instrument to have all four notes resonate fully. And remember, of course, that in these letters, we are defining fully resonant acoustic  tunings. If you play an amplified instrument, Linear C tuning can be fine on a little Ukulele. For that matter, you can do pretty much anything you like. As we're about to talk specifically now about where a fully resonant Linear tuning takes us on the small ukuleles, if you need a quick review of the fundamentals on selection, here you go:                                          Linear Tuning on the Small Ukuleles We'll now start with the Concert. You see from the site page, that David Hurd pegs the resonance of his Concert body at an "a" note. From the tuning page referenced above, you’ll then see that a note occurring in the Linear D tuning  (a - d’- f#’ - b’).  This is what is noted - again from the Tunings page above -  as “tuning at the resonance”.  While most instruments will be fine in that situation, if you notice any problems with that a note, then you move the tuning up a bit. That would move you toward an E flat tuning.  Those notes are b flat - e flat’ - g' - c".  This tuning gets you safely above the body resonance and eliminates any possibility of overtones.   That’s a good range for linear tuning on a Concert. If you've been accustomed to nothing but C tuning, these tunings might seem somewhat high. There are two things to consider, however.  First, once the 4th string is dropped an octave to make these linear tunings, the range of notes has a much lower overall tonal value - it sounds much deeper.  Also, you may be surprised to find there is plenty of sheet music available for these as fixed note tunings.  Take a look back at the common reentrant Soprano tunings before the last few decades.   D tuning - in a reentrant form - was the most common set-up throughout Soprano Ukuleles history.  Most older sheet music, and the most beautiful traditional arrangements are written in this tuning.   A lot of music, however, was also written for the Soprano in reentrant E flat tuning. Most "flat" tunings, (b flat as another example) are a better choice for jazz, and throughout its biggest growth in popularity, the ukulele was a jazz instrument.  Changing to the linear form doesn’t have an effect on playing this music, but the octave drop on the 4th string does mean that you move these tunings from the Soprano to the bigger Concert body. Let's discuss stringing for a moment. With our strings, depending on your preference in tension, you would choose between the Extra Light or Light Gauge Linears for E flat tuning on a Concert, and the Light Gauge or Light Medium Gauge for D tuning. The Concert is the smallest instrument where the possibility of a wound string is a good option. Our Light Gauge & Light Medium Gauge sets both are available with a wound 4th.  In those configurations, the sets will give a very bright clear sound, but bear in mind that it also is completely viable, on the small ukuleles, to have a resonant linear tuning without wound strings at all.   Both those sets (as well as the Extra Lights) also come in all plain versions. And so finally, let's discuss Linear tuning on the Soprano Ukulele, the "Standard" Ukulele, the "Original Ukulele". To some, a Linear tuning here is the ultimate heresy. But while we are big fans of the Ukulele Reentrant style of tuning for a number of reasons, from an historical standpoint, you may be surprised to know that something very close to Linear tuning was actually the original form of stringing on the Soprano. In 1915 "The Original Method & Self-Instructor on the Ukulele" was published in Hawaii by A.A. Santos & Angeline Nunes. While it was not the very first ukulele method book, it was the first published in Hawaii. Angeline, a school teacher, was the daughter-in-law of one of the original Portuguese / Madeiran immigrants to Hawaii - one of the group who created the Ukulele - Manuel Nunes. At the time this book was published, her husband Julius was likely supervising the Nunes Ukulele workshop. Apparently she wanted to publish a method using what she and Santos claimed was the original tuning for the Ukulele.  We now offer this manual as a free download:                                                                                   Open  Tuning on the Ukulele The "Machete" was the most popular name for this instrument on Madeira and at first that term was used on Hawaii as well for the instrument that soon became known in the Pacific as the Ukulele.  The Machete tuning was an open G tuning: d' - g' - b' - d". We say "open G" because when this tuning is strummed "open", or without fretting, it gives a G major chord. You may notice, however, that the open G tuning is only one note removed from a linear tuning, that being d' - g' - b ' - e" ; in other words, a Linear G tuning, at the one-line octave, or one octave above what was originally applied to the Baritone Ukulele.  In Brasil, especially, this "guitar tuning" has become very popular on the cavaquinho - a strong second to the traditional open G. What this means, is that a Linear tuning is not only possible for the Soprano, but that it is very close to what the original Portuguese used for the instrument at its birth. It is, of course, a brighter sound than people are used to hearing from an ukulele today, but as we have noted before in these letters, in many cases what sounds good to our ear is the sound we are used to. Some will take to the sound of these tunings immediately, but for those who are taken aback at first, a little time listening should open your ears to the light and lovely sound. To the right is a contemporary sample of a Machete.  The larger accompanying instrument is the other of the Ukuleles two progenitors, the Rajao, a five stringed instrument.  It’s size falls between the contemporary Concert and Tenor Ukulele sizes, and if you were to disregard the 5th string, the other 4 strings are the currently popular Ukulele Reentrant Key of C.  In other words, this video shows how a linear (or Open) tuned Soprano in G tuning can play lead with a deeper sounding contemporary reentrant Ukulele as a rhythm instrument. With our strings, you would use the Extra Light Gauge Linears for this tuning. They will also work - at higher tension - on a longneck Soprano.  We also offer the option of an additional 1st string if you want to try the Machete set-up. This is, of course, a fully resonant tuning, as the depth of a typical Soprano body is a c'  note, and therefore the lowest note of this tuning, the d' is a full step up. It's also worth noting that this is the same d' note that was used as the low note throughout most of the Soprano Ukulele's history. The Ukulele reentrant D tuning is a' - d' - f# - b'. You now see why the Key of G is such a good fit as a Linear tuning for the Soprano. It's ironic as we end this series on Linear Tuning, to reflect on how the development of the larger Ukuleles was spurred in great part by the desire to create a "small guitar" - a vehicle for G tuning. As you may have gathered from the other letters, I have been less than enthusiastic about the mainland companies' efforts in that regard. Maybe they just really wanted to create "big ukuleles".  That, in and of itself, would have been fine.  Where we feel those designs got into trouble was trying to tie their tunings to the guitar. The irony comes when you realize that if they had just known a little more about the history of the instrument they were corrupting, then they could have had their G tuning Ukulele with nothing more than new strings for the Soprano. They would have had the fully resonant "guitar-based" tuning they were looking for, and one with an historical flavour at the same time.