Friday, 12 July 2013

How to Make a Cheap Ukulele Beach Bag

Today was our ukulele summer swim party, and those of us with plastic ukuleles brought them to play alongside—and yes, in—the water. A plastic uke deserves a plastic case, so here's a simple and inexpensive way to make one:

You need a 59-cent Ikea woven plastic shopping bag, a 20-inch (or so) zipper, thread, scissors and some duct tape. That's all. A bit of sewing is required, but nothing overly complicated. Use a nylon or polyester thread, set your stitch length fairly large, and it can be done in an afternoon.

The most time-consuming part is laying it out. The Ikea bag is so big that your uke would get lost in it. We want to size it down a little, so the first step is to take out the seams and remove the bag's bottom (below).

An ukulele's weight is normally centered right at the spot where the neck meets the body. Lay your ukulele so that this spot is at the midpoint of the straps. That way when you pick up your bag with the handles, it will feel balanced in your hand. Cut off the excess as shown, leaving about 1/2" for a seam allowance. I made my bag square in order to be able to stuff a towel and some other extras on top, but if you want a closer fit, you can cut the bottom off at an angle (below, second photo) or even in a more traditional curve.

Next, add a zipper: Cut the bag open so that you have two flat sides, and center the zipper between the top edges. You'll need to cut zipper stops for both end, then carefully sew around the zipper, using a zipper foot if you have one. As shown here, the zipper sides will stay more securely if pinned, but other seams can be temporarily held in place with painter's tape.

Now you have a piece that looks roughly like this. (sorry—no photos of this stage!) You want to cut two sides and a bottom, all about the width of your ukulele, plus that 1/2" seam allowance on either side. The sides and bottom can be a single long piece, but you will have to piece it together using the extra pieces from bottom and sides. Sew with your seams facing out. This is not how most bags are sewn, but it means you won't have any raw edges to scratch your uke, nor will you have to do any fancy seam finishing. This is a 59-cent bag, so the simpler, the better!

You're almost done. For the last step, you'll want to deal with those raw seam edges that are on the outside. Duct tape is fast, water-resistant, and comes in a multitude of colors and patterns. I used an electric blue that is pretty close to the color of the bag, but there's no reason one has to keep everything uniform when duct tape comes in florals, plaids and even leopard print, to name a few.

Extra Options

  • Reinforcement: a bottom insert is a good idea. All you need to do is cut a piece to size from cardboard, a piece of foam mounting board, or an old lawn sign. You can leave it as is or wrap it in tape to give it some protection.
  • Pockets: if you have two bags, you can use the side panels of the second to make interior pockets. These can hold both music and lightweight plastic or foam to help hold the bag's shape.
  • Foam support: this is simply a piece of 2-3" foam cut to the shape of your instrument. Electric carving knives are the preferred tool of foam carvers, but any serrated manual knife works well enough for these purposes. 

  • Plastic food container: to hold a tuner, phone, and your other necessities.
  • Decorations: stickers? markers? how will you customize your bag?
Ukuleles and water go well together, as long as you have the right materials!

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Star of Gladness

Yesterday our local newspaper had this tiny blurb on the weather page:
What's up in the sky?
Arcturus, also known as Alpha Boötis and the Polynesian Hokule'a, or the "Star of Gladness," is nearly overhead just after sunset and is the brightest star in the northern half of the sky. ~Morrison Planetarium, California Academy of Sciences
Last night was too cloudy to see much at all, but it shouldn't be hard to spot the fourth brightest star once the skies clear a little.

Meanwhile, there is this song of Iz's, which I heard for the first time only recently. I don't think it's on any of his solo albums, but he did record it with the Makaha Sons of Ni'ihau and it features in the dvd Israel Kamakawiwo'ole: The Man and His Music (well worth adding to your netflix or library queue).

Ancient Polynesians used Hokule'a as a guiding star to find the Hawaiian islands, and Iz's song expresses the joy of traveling on an open sea in anticipation of reaching land.

Below is my attempt at transcribing chords using the video. A .pdf file for sharing can be found here

Star of Gladness is another 3-chord song (really, almost a 2-chord song) and as such, it is easy to transpose for your singing voice. In this case, the G is the I, the D is the V, and the C is IV. So to play this song in C, you'd substitute C for G, G7 for D7, and F for C.

Star of Gladness
Israel Kamakawiwo'ole

G                                                                (Gdim-G)
Raindrops, they hamper my vision
G                                                              D7
Falling down and cutting incision in my mind
                  G                                 (D7-Am7)
While we sail away our time

G                                                      (Gdim-G)
Blow makani, shout jubilation
Carry us down to our destination
D7                        G
O wikiwiki, a keala Tahiti

G                                                      (Gdim-G)
Millions of stars up in the sky
Looking up, they all make us high
D7                                               G
Hokule'a (Hokule'a) Star of Gladness (you're the happy star)
D7                           G
Hokule'a, Star of Gladness

G                                                             (Gdim-G)
Stand beside me and be my friend
Make me smile and laugh again, yes
D7                                                G
Hokule'a (Hokule'a) Star of Gladness (you're the happy star)
D7                            G              (G7)
Hokule'a, Star of Gladness

C                                                        G                            (G7)
Lift your bow, your hull slides through the sea
C                                             G
Guide Hokule'a, Lord we ask you please
D7                                         G
In this we pray, Lord to show us the way

D7                                                G
Hokule'a (Hokule'a) Star of Gladness (you're the happy star)
D7                            G
Hokule'a, Star of Gladness (you're the happy star)

This song uses the Hawaiian D7, played on the second frets of the G and E strings (2020). Some other things one can see in the video are rocking on and off frets, plucking the top string and strumming, and other ways of elaborating that are too complicated for my beginner's eye to understand. But even played in its most basic version with only the 3 chords and a straight shuffle strum, this is a fun song to play on a starry summer night.