UkeFilter: Help me rock out!
May 25, 2016 11:18 PM   Subscribe

Ukulele-playing mefites, please give me your best recommendations on an electric solid-body ukulele.

I started playing ukulele a year ago and I would like a new toy. For some reason I have become obsessed with playing AC/DC's Thunderstruck on the ukulele. But it just doesn't sound the same on my acoustic concert uke.

So, gentle mefites, which electric solid-body uke should I get?

What's the difference between steel and nylon strings, if any? Will steel strings shred my fingers? Will I need to learn to use a pick?

Budget preferably under $400 USD. And I'm in Australia, for shipping purposes. Prettiness/rock cred a plus.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (3 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
What's the difference between steel and nylon strings, if any?
In guitars, nylon strings are used for classical music (other styles too but first that). Consider the quieter, more intimate sound of the guitar there, compared to the louder, brighter tone of steel-string acoustic guitars, like most folk or country or singer/songwriter type guitar players use. If I knew I were going to be playing the thing in bands (especially if there are drums) I'd probably first be thinking, steel-string ukelele, but that is based just off analogy to acoustic guitars.

For amplified string instruments, nylon strings won't work with magnetic pickups, which are pretty much induction coils that make a signal when a metal string vibrates in their field. So they use a different kind of pickup, a "piezoelectronic" (often shortened to "piezo") . Checking quickly, I see that there are solid body electric ukes of both kinds on the market.

You normally cannot switch back and forth between steel and nylon strings on an instrument; they are designed and built for one kind or the other.

Will steel strings shred my fingers?
Probably. For a while. Ukeleles would have less string tension than do guitars, I guess, so maybe it would not be too bad.

Will I need to learn to use a pick?
Nylon string guitars are typically played with fingers. And, some people do play steel-string guitars with their fingers. So, probably not, if you are determined to avoid learning to use one.
posted by thelonius at 3:35 AM on May 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have a concert-sized EleUke (the "Jazz" model) and a Vox mini amp. I think it was about $250 USD combined, a few years ago. I like the sound of the nylon strings -- with the amp, I can still get an electric guitar-ish sound, but it still has a little bit of the flavor of the uke. I also have a Kala acoustic/electric hybrid (about $110 USD), which can get a pretty nice sound through the amp. The acoustic/electric is still audible without the amp, whereas the full electric really isn't. But on the flip side, the electric has a plugin for headphones, so you can rock out privately.

I highly recommend upgrading the G string to the low-G -- it really mellows that plinky uke sound. I have two concert ukes strung with the low-G: one of them is the thick red nylon string from Aquila, and the other is wound metal (can't remember the maker). Both sound good, even though the metal one has tarnished a bit.

If you're already used to playing nylon strings, I don't think steel strings will do anything terrible to your fingers. You should already have the necessary toughness built up to withstand the strings.
posted by themissy at 8:52 AM on May 26, 2016

I don't really know about solid-body electric uke brands/models but daaaang these Vorson Les Paul and Stratocaster style solid body electrics look sweet, are pretty well-rated, and I think eligible for international shipping. And they'd leave you with room in your budget for a practice amp too.

Steel strings: they might be a little uncomfortable at first but not as bad as if you'd never played a fretted instrument at all.

Playing with a pick: For Thunderstruck specifically I think you'd definitely want to use a pick - check out the right hand in this video... lots of alternate direction picking on the same string, which could theoretically be done by alternating thumb and index fingers but never feels quite as smooth to me as with a pick. More generally, rock power chords are often played fairly percussively, which is harder to do with a fingertip strum, especially on steel strings! Similarly, fingerpicking steel strings is tough compared to nylons; they don't have as much give and tend to dig into your fingertips, where nylon strings sort of stretch and pop away as you pick them, if you know what I mean.
posted by usonian at 6:22 PM on August 11, 2016

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