posted by Joe Anaya on August 27th, 2012

I’ve been playing the ukulele for a few years now. The New York Times called the ukulele, “The zeitgeist instrument for the DYI age.” I like it because the ukulele is a happy instrument. I’m pretty sure it’s physically impossible to stay sad once you hear the ukulele.

The notion planted itself in my head years ago before the latest wave of interest, while producing my TV series. The composer had a sponsorship with a guitar manufacturer and offered to get us guitars at cost. A couple of the other producers took him up on his offer. I told him, “Naw, I’ll play it for a few months then it’ll just take up room in my closet.” One joke at my expense led to anther at my expense and soon it was decided that I should fail at playing the ukulele. Then in a few months, when I lost interest, it wouldn’t take up much room at all. The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea.

My first ukulele was a Coscto special my wife got me as a gift. I tried learning to play from a book. It was rough going. While I do have some musical background (I played tuba up into college), I’ve never played a string instrument. So I had a hard time learning the techniques of plucking and strumming by reading and looking at illustrations. (I still struggle to strum off the beat.) And this was before there were hundreds of Youtube instructionals. So, I muddled through.

One day my world got a little brighter when I saw a parks & rec class for ukulele. It was only offered in the middle of the day, but being a freelance writer does have some advantages. The first class consisted of me and eight 70-year-olds. But I had a great time. Beaming, I called my wife and describe how, “Everyone seems really nice.” She laughs, “Of course they are, assholes don’t play ukulele.”

At the mailbox one day, I mention to my neighbor that I’m taking ukulele lessons. She sighs, “I want to learn ukulele.” That night, she mentions to her husband her desire to play ukulele and he says, “I think I have one.” He rummages around a closet and pulls out a uke his father used. It turns out, that through his years, her husband has learned to play many instruments and ukulele was one of them. I now have practice buddies.

I even got to the point where my playing was good enough to realize that my Costco uke was not very good. So I upgrade to a Fluke, a plastic bodied ukulele that’s less expensive than a professional uke. There used to be a big gap between a toy junk uke to mess around with and a well-made quality uke. Flukes filled the void. Nice sound; not too expensive.

I used to sing my son to sleep playing the uke. He seemed to enjoy Such Great Heights and Hallelujah. I like converting rock or blues songs and hearing them on the ukulele. I’m currently working on learning the surf song Wipeout.

As a former tuba player, I’m clearly not worried about how cool I look. But then again, what’s cooler than a guy playing Johnny B. Goode on a ukulele?

File Under Mr. Cool