Why We Love the Ukulele

Ukulele Blog Header

The ukulele seems to be everywhere these days. From popular hits like Vance Joy’s “Riptide,” to classics like Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s rendition of “Over the Rainbow,” to the full-blown ukulele rock stars like Jake Shimabukuro, the ukulele is well and truly back to the height of its popularity. Why? Here are some frequent comments that we hear from fellow ukulele lovers:

Ukulele Blog Easy

All instruments have unique challenges. However, the ukulele does have some great characteristics that can make starting to learn the instrument more enjoyable. Like when beginning acoustic guitar, the ukulele tends to be a strumming instrument rather than one that plays individual notes. This means that with a few simple chords you can play many different songs and achieve great results with a reasonable amout of practice. After you learn the first few chords, more complicated chords will follow and more difficult songs can be mastered with time. In addition to ukuleles being available at reasonable prices (well made concert ukuleles made by Cordoba start at only $99, see the Cordoba 15CM here), the ukulele is an instrument that can excel in a wide variety of styles, so regardless of your personal tastes the ukulele can be your musical partner.

Ukulele Blog Comfort

While there are four primary sizes of ukulele (soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone), the smaller soprano and concert tend to be the most popular. The fact that these instruments are small makes learning a little easier for everyone. The ukulele is as comfortable for a child to play as it is for any adult player. The spaces between the frets are closer together, meaning that the hand rarely has to contort into difficult and uncomfortable shapes. In addition, the strings on a ukulele are made of unwound nylon. Nylon strings, like those on a classical guitar, are much softer underneath the fingers and won’t develop heavy calluses on your fingertips.

Ukulele Blog Relaxing

We hear this one a lot. The casual nature of the instrument allows for it to be easily picked up when a free moment in your day opens up. Whether that is on your couch at home, while camping, or in the ukulele’s natural environment on the beach, it is always there for your entertainment and relaxation. The ukulele is also a social instrument–no matter where you go, you will likely find someone who can strum a few chords or at the very least be able to have a conversation about how cool the ukulele is. While efforts are being made to have the ukulele become more of a concert instrument (see Jake Shimabukuro above), it is above all things fun and technical prowess on the instrument is often overlooked in favor of sheer enjoyment.

To learn more about the wonderful Cordoba ukuleles that we carry, please visit our website.

Don’t miss a post–subscribe to our blog!

Copyright © 2016 · All Rights Reserved · Justin Davis

Departments of JSI: CHV Office

Departments of JSI

Departments of JSI has returned! This is a series that highlights the different people that work within our company. We’re able to run such a large business through the expertise of and collaboration between our different departments. Everyone has a skill that they utilize to accomplish everything from coordinating rental trips to selling instruments to repairing instruments to shipping things on time and safely. This series will help you get to know the variety of people and jobs that are done here at JSI.

The Carriage House office staff are the people you see at the reception desks when you walk in. They handle everything from paperwork to organization, and do a lot of work behind the scenes. We asked them to answer some questions about themselves and their jobs:

What is your position at Carriage House Violins?

Ariel Chu: I am an administrative assistant for Carriage House Violins.

Sarah Rogers: Administrative Assistant and Recital Hall Coordinator

Eva Walsh: I am a part-time administrative assistant at CHV.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Ariel: A typical day at work involves greeting customers as they enter, creating both sales and workshop repair appointments, and answering phone/online questions. Working at the reception desk, we are the connection between the customers and the different departments of JSI.

Sarah: For the administrative part of my job, I am the first (smiling) face you see upon entering Carriage House Violins! My colleagues and I are here to make sure our customers are directed to the right department, whether they are looking to buy a new instrument, need their instrument repaired, or they just have general questions about the small world of music. I also coordinate events in our recital hall.

Eva: Our typical day is simple, yet complicated. We do whatever is needed to keep the office running, whether it’s organizing our repaired instruments, communicating between the office and our customers, preparing documents, giving tours, answering questions or even just getting up on a ladder to replace a light bulb. Any number of things end up being in our wheelhouse.

What is your main instrument?

Ariel: My main instrument is the viola.

Sarah: Violin

Eva. My main instrument is the violin, but I play on a 5-string viola made by our workshop manager John Dailey. My other main instrument is my voice and I perform just as much as a vocalist now as I do on the violin.

Did you go to school for music?

Ariel: I graduated from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in February 2015 with a Bachelor’s degree in music education. I hold a Massachusetts teaching license for music grades K-12.

Sarah: Yes! I studied violin performance at the Eastman School of Music.

Eva: I went to Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music for Violin Performance in Nashville, TN. I loved school, and I loved the opportunities I was offered through the school. Being in Music City did have a huge effect on me though, and it turned me into a folk musician rather than a classical violinist.

What is your favorite part of your job?

Ariel: I enjoy speaking to all of the different people who enjoy music, from new players getting their first instruments all the way up to professional musicians. There is something to learn from every person.

Sarah: I love being surrounded by musicians all day. Working here has opened up a lot of doors for me and has given me several performance opportunities. Playing all of the violins I can get my hands on is also a pretty fun perk of working in a string instrument shop.

Eva: My favorite part of my job is doing good work and making a positive difference in a customer’s day. At the front desk we can see that everyone has their own special situation or set of circumstances, and we see people as individuals, not just customers. We always do our best and we truly care about helping them with whatever they need. The best reward is making our customers happy.

Don’t miss a post: subscribe to our blog!

Copyright © 2016 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

Welcome, In Kyu Hwang!

Photo credit: Cydney Scott

Photo credit: Cydney Scott

In Kyu Hwang is the newest luthier in our workshop at Carriage House Violins of Johnson String Instrument. Hailing from Korea, In Kyu studied in Mittenwald, Germany and holds the Geigenbau Meister (Master Craftsman) certification. He joined us here at Carriage House in October of 2015. We asked him to talk to us about what inspired him to become a luthier, what prompted him to join our company, and what advice he has for aspiring luthiers: 

As a small child I always enjoyed making models, carving things from soap, that sort of thing. When I saw a documentary about the violin making school in Mirecourt, France, that was really a moment of culture shock because at the time I didn’t know such a thing existed in the world. I was very jealous because the individual featured in the documentary was a fourteen-year-old Korean boy. was a fourteen year old Korean boy! But–a foreign country, a foreign language–for me it seemed impossible. So I forgot about it.

When I was nearing the end of high school I realized I didn’t want to do the usual things like go to college and get a regular job. A classmate of mine (now my wife) who played the violin introduced me to a local violin maker who had trained in Japan. He asked me, why did I want to do this job? I would be so poor. He was quite poor actually. But I couldn’t listen to him. I had such a passion to do this. So he accepted me to work with him building an instrument in his shop. After half a year I had to mandatory two year Korean military service. I never finished that violin, but he encouraged me to go to Germany and study at the school in Mittenwald when I finished my military obligation.

As a non English-speaking foreigner, negotiating the school’s entrance process was its own story. Eventually after fulfilling the two year requirement of violin lessons (among many other things) I finally gained admittance in 2003. It was a three and a half year course of study in the heart of Bavaria.

I began official German language studies as soon as I arrived in Germany, but due to a death in my family had to stop after only two months. I was able to continue learning the language with the help of two German families who tutored me privately. I call them my angels. My success would not have been possible without their help and encouragement.

After graduating, I was able to find work at the shop of Anton Pilar in Berlin where I worked for three years before moving to Los Angeles to work for Georg Ettinger, head of the Hans Weisshaar shop.

Photo Credit: Cydney Scott

Photo Credit: Cydney Scott

What was your most memorable project?

I remember my first major restoration project. It was a massive undertaking on a Thomas Dodd cello. It required EVERYTHING and I thought, “Will I be able to do all of this?” But it went quite well and I continued [at Hans Weisshaar] working on many fine instruments, memorably a J.B. Vuillaume, Joseph Guarnerius, and another very large restoration on a Dominique Busan viola. I really enjoy such undertakings.

What drew you to Carriage House Violins?

Many different things drew me to work for Johnson String Instrument’s fine instrument division at CHV like the depth and variety of Boston’s arts and cultural scene, the history of the city itself, and the landscape of New England generally. Walking in Cambridge, seeing all the old buildings, I love it.

Photo Credit: Cydney Scott

Photo Credit: Cydney Scott

What advice do you have for aspiring luthiers?

I might quote my first teacher in Korea: “Why do you want to work so hard and be so poor?” You must really really love this work.

Don’t miss a post–subscribe to our blog!

Copyright © 2016 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

AJ Guitars at Johnson String Instrument

The holiday sale has arrived, and our AJ Guitar Series is on sale! Check out this post from our guitar specialist Justin Davis to learn about this exclusive collection offered solely at Johnson String Instrument:

The AJ Guitar Series is a line of guitars that has been specially designed by The Guitar Shop of Johnson String Instrument. With three half sized guitars and three full sized guitars in the series, there is an
affordably priced guitar for any player.

Each of the half sized AJ Guitars has a unique tone and appearance. The AJ200 has a Spruce top which is lined with beautiful abalone inlay and Sapele back and sides. The AJ205 is a similar guitar that features a Sapele top in addition to its Sapele back and sides. The AJ205 offers a slightly woodier tone when compared to the AJ200. The true star of the AJ half sized guitars is the AJ300. Featuring a Solid Sitka
Spruce top and East Indian Rosewood back and sides, this guitar has a full, rich tone with greater projection. The AJ300, as well as the AJ500 and AJ550CE that we will talk about later, features a bone nut and saddle. This is a great improvement over the common plastic variety and gives this guitar a nicer tone while being a natural and more durable material. When comparing the AJ300 to other guitars that are made by famous makers and are priced over $1000 that do not use a bone saddle, this instrument is clearly not just another toy guitar. Perfect for a player with smaller hands or for travel, the half sized AJ Guitars are a welcome addition to any guitarist’s collection.

Watch this video for close-ups of each instrument and more information:

There are three full sized AJ guitars. Inspired by the renowned Martin D-18, the AJ400 features a Solid Sitka Spruce top with Sapele back and sides. This classic wood pairing and dreadnought shape
contribute to this guitar’s great volume and full bass tone. There are also two slightly smaller bodied grand concert style guitars in the AJ Guitar Series. Perfect for finger-style playing, the AJ 500 and
AJ550CE have Solid Engelmann Spruce tops and East Indian Rosewood backs and sides which accounts for their brighter and well balanced tone. Both of these guitars have a beautiful high gloss finish. The main difference between the AJ500 and the AJ550CE is that the AJ550CE has a cut-away design for easy access to the upper frets and a pre-installed Fishman Presys pickup, making this guitar ideal for playing
at your favorite coffee house.

Have a look at this video for more info:

We are confident that the AJ Guitars are the best possible instruments for your money. Unlike many other shops, we perform a full set up to each and every guitar prior to it being sold. We adhere to a strict set of specifications that ensures each guitar both sounds and plays to the best of its ability.

Please call or email if you have any questions, justin@johnsonstring.com or 1-800-359-9351 ex.103.

Don’t miss a post–subscribe to our blog!

Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Justin Davis