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    THE LAP STEEL THAT PLAYS LIKE A UKE!

     

     

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    Nov. 19 Update: A big thanks to all of you who joined me on my launch at the Reno Uke Fest. Finishing all of the items I have planned for this website has proven to be more time consuming than anticipated, but I am nearing the end! If you purchased a conversion kit from me at the Reno Ukulele Festival, I'd like to send you a rewritten booklet and a second nut riser. (Some ukes require two.) Please email me at playukemail@gmail.com, include a photo of you holding the kit or booklet along with your physical mailing address and I'll send it at no charge.

     

    My Ukulele Journey To Overcoming Painful Hands

    Arthritis in my thumbs robbed me of the joy of playing my ukulele–it was just too painful. But I didn't want to give up playing music, so I began searching for solutions.

     

    Lap steel guitar was recommended and I found that the mechanics of playing in its horizontal position eliminated my left-hand pain, but lap steel is typically finger-picked, which my right thumb didn't agree with. Furthermore, lap steel is typically used similarly to that of a lead guitar, as in backing a band with melody lines, and all of the learning resources I could find support only that style of play. I was facing a steep learning curve and I wanted to keep playing now, in "ukulele style!"

     

    So I created a hybrid, best-of-both-worlds instrument I call the W-5 Lap Ukulele, and I love it! It not only alleviated my pain, it added a whole new dimension to my "sound" while allowing me to play like I always had! Its name is a tribute to its Weissenberg guitar shape, and because I found that adding a 5th string allowed me to play it even more like a 4-string uke! (More on that below.) The playing style is based on the uke's familiar GCEA tuning, so my old "ukulele brain" understands it. And, so I could more quickly memorize the chords, I designed a new fret marking system that tells me where the chords are!

     

    But you don't have to buy a W-5 to enjoy this playing style! I also created a Conversion Kit for regular ukuleles that lets you play in the same fashion. And, if you have the ability to play a single-finger barre, you can skip the lap style and play all of the chords you need with One Finger Ukulele! So welcome to my new niche in the world of ukuleles. I hope you will explore the information below and check back often. I will be uploading videos soon and regularly thereafter!

     

     

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    Q&A

    Why a hybrid? Why not just play regular lap steel?

     

    1) The W-5 is specifically designed for ukulele players who like to play "ukulele style" and who don't want to tackle the steep learning curve of a completely new instrument.

     

    2) The W-5 has narrow string spacing, similar to a ukulele's, that makes it easier to strum than a full-sized lap steel guitar.

     

    3) The W-5 has an all-new fretboard marking system that visually lays out chord positions.

     

    4) The W-5 is about the same size as a long-scale tenor or baritone uke, while some lap steels are as big or bigger than a guitar.

     

    5) The W-5's playing method and tuning will sound familiar to your "ukulele brain" and the unique fretboard marking system will show you most of the chords you need.

     

    6) A bit of a joke, but: "Why a ukulele? Why not just play regular guitar?" Everyone has their own answer.

     

    That said, you certainly can take up a Lap-Steel type of instrument, they are wonderful! But they differ from a ukulele even more than a guitar, so you are definitely learning an all-new instrument. The W-5 is designed to be played as closely as possible to the way you already play the ukulele while remaining understandable to the “ukulele brain.”

     

    What kind of uke is best for the Conversion Kit?

    A tenor is best, and even that one in your closet, with the terrible, high action, (string height) is a great candidate for conversion! (Start scouring the thrift stores now!) A concert scale uke is OK for learning the system, but the smaller body and shorter string scale lessens the sound quality and overall experience. Note: A Conversion Kit will only work on a low-G ukulele. See "Why does the Lap-Uke method work..." below.

     

    What are the benefits?

    Instead of multiple chord positions, you have only one! You move a slide bar up and down the neck while holding it perpendicular to the neck, directly across the fret wire. The system boils down to a combination of where on the neck you position the slide and which strings you strum. There are no more barre chords or complicated finger positions!

     

    What about these slides?

    The term "Lap-Steel" comes from the position in which you play–your uke lies on your lap–and you move a "steel," up and down the neck. There are many types of steels. Some are glass, some are ceramic, some are hollow, some are solid metal. For simplicity, I'm going to use the term "slide" for all types from now on.

     

    What you use for a slide is very subjective to how it feels in your hand and how much volume you can get from the strings. Slide technique for lap-uke borrows from the most basic of traditional lap steel methods. Your slide must be long enough to cover all four strings on your uke while being short enough that you can extend a finger or two beyond/beside the slide to lay on certain strings to mute them when you hold the slide over fewer than all four strings.

     

    For the W5 I recommend a solid metal tone bar or solid ceramic slide. For a converted uke, I recommend a medium (approx. 2.36" long) hollow metal slide–it will get the most sound out of your uke without being so heavy that it pushes the strings down too much. For a solid body electric uke, you can also use a hollow glass slide if you prefer the feel.

     

    What are the basics of the Lap-Uke playing style?

    You move the slide up and down the neck, positioning it directly over the fret, (rather than behind them as in standard playing), and you strum some or all of the strings. Because my thumbs hurt, I mostly strum with the nail side of my index and middle fingers. I'll have a demo video up soon on the videos page.

     

    The chord you get is based on two factors: The root note on the 3rd string and how many strings you play. That is all explained in the course booklet. You can purchase a physical copy of the booklet for $5 or download and print out your own copy here soon! NOTE: If you purchased a conversion kit from me at the Reno Ukulele Festival, I'd like to send you a rewritten booklet and a second nut riser. (Some ukes require two.) Please email me at playukemail@gmail.com. Send a photo of you holding the kit or booklet, along with your physical mailing address and I'll take care of you.

     

    What sets the Lap-Uke playing style apart from other styles?

    W5 has a unique fret marking system that visually lays out the chords of the chord scale. Most uke songs use 4-6 main chords and perhaps some variations that you can choose to play or not without substantially altering the song. The 6 main chords are indicated on the W5's fretboard. With a Conversion Kit, you use pinstriping tape to indicate the positions of those chords, along with a nut riser that raises the strings so you don't "bottom out" and keep hitting the fret wires.

     

    Why does the Lap-Uke method work and why is the 5th string on the W5?

    As explained in the course booklet, the most basic of chord theory tells us that a major chord is made up of the 1st, 3rd, and 5th notes of a major scale. A minor chord is created by lowering, or flattening, the 3rd note one fret.

     

    The tuning we use for a converted uke is (low)G-C-E-G, also known as slack-key uke tuning. You simply lower the first string from A to G to achieve this tuning. This gives you the 1st, 3rd, and 5th notes of a C major chord, C, E, and G. Since holding the slide straight across the fretboard doesn't allow for lowering the 2nd string (E) you must imply the flattening of the 3rd note, which your brain perceives as a lowering pitch. We do this by only playing the 1st and 5th notes on the lowest pitched string, the 4th and 3rd strings. This is why a low G is needed. You need your brain to hear the brightness of an entire major chord changing to the pitch of the lower two strings

     

    When developing the W-5, I found that adding an even lower 5th string tuned to C, it accentuated the implication of the minor chord tremendously. I will post some song demonstrations in which you will clearly hear the effectiveness of this 5th string when playing minor chords. It actually makes the 5-string W-5 sound more like playing a 4-string-uke's minor chord than it does on a 4-string.

     

    Other chords are implied in a similar manner, by selectively playing fewer strings. The course booklet explains everything in more detail.

     

    Please email any other questions to playukemail@gmail.com.

  • W5 Custom Acoustic

    We build a custom, all solid wood acoustic version of the W5 with a semi-hollow neck to extend the resonance. We offer these as a built to order custom instruments with choice of woods and other accoutrements. Email playukemail@gmail.com for more info.

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    Contact Info

     

    Call or Text: 1-775-220-0995

     

    Email: playukemail@gmail.com