Every once in a while when I travel to the coast, I visit the big city’s Guitar Center to see what’s new. This last time, I found Yamaha’s guitalele hanging on the wall with the ukuleles. Only $99.
With its almost white spruce top, and its baritone-uke-sized body, this little guitar was tempting. My desire to have it must have been visible on the store security cameras because after I’d picked it off the wall and began strumming, a sales guy showed up and asked if I was interested.
Of course they had only two left. They were, he said, selling well and fast. Could I let this opportunity slip from me?
So he took the last guitalele from the box and tuned it. I walked around the store with it for at least half an hour. Strumming. Fingerpicking. Sitting. Standing. Trying to decide. If I buy it, will I play it as often as I play my ukuleles?
It was good to have those bass notes back — the ones I used to love on my seagull guitar. But I had to remember the chord formations for the guitar. Memory extended to lovely strums of C, G, D, E, B7 … and then F. And then it all came back to me. The F chord.
Once upon a night, I’d tripped over a black water sprinkler embedded in the grass of campus on a dark, moonless night. I injured my left hand. It’s complicated.
But it ends with the realization several years later that I would never again be able to stretch my fingers around my guitar neck to get a grip on that F chord. Without a lot of pain. Making music shouldn’t often be painful.
The neck on Yamaha’s guitalele is big, wide, fat — like a classical guitar neck. Maybe bigger. The strings seemed close together so fingerpicking style would have to be re-learned from ukulele fingerpicking strategy.
Ukulele necks are just the right size. Guitalele’s neck had a fair bit of wood on the back. Necks on my ukuleles are all streamlined. Not a lot of wood to wrap your hand around other than what’s needed.
The body of the guitalele is a great size. Just right to carry around. So is a baritone and tenor ukulele.
The strings were — well — ok but not impressive. I wonder if Aquila strings would be much better for the high strings. The lower strings were just like those you’d use to put on a low g ukulele. A little muted.
The longer I played the guitalele, the more I remembered why I’ve grown to love the ukulele. My ukuleles have loud, crisp voices when I need them to. They also can be mellow, soft. Guitalele had one volume.
And the tone … it just wasn’t define-able … not mellow, not crisp, not anything really. You need to fall in love with the tone.
Ukuleles have such different tones. But when you listen, you always fall in love with at least one of the ukulele’s tones.
Guitalele will be a good crossover instrument. It will introduce a lot of guitar players to small, to streamlined. And then those guitar players will dare to pick up a ukulele …
Did I walk out of the store with a $99 Yamaha Guitalele? At one point, earlier in the night, I would have thought so.