I got a message last night. I say a message but effectively it was a comment on a photo I had posted online. I was playing a mandolin, and my friend had posted "Still playing that kids guitar then Dom?" I've had similar comments about the ukulele and banjolele over the past couple of years too. Whilst this particular comment was in jest there is the persistent idea that small means unimportant.
Several friends have remarked that they are not sure why everyone is playing the ukulele. Or rather why every band seems to need a ukulele or other comedy instrument. If you've ever carried a solid bodied electric guitar, in a hard case, with an amp and a bag of cables and effects to a gig by public transport you'd know the appeal of the tiny acoustic instrument. I recently started playing a smaller guitar to make things easier on myself and am still considering a Martin Backpacker so I can ride to rehearsals on my bike.
The beauty and simplicity of the uke or mandolin is the short scale and small number of strings. I have written before about becoming disillusioned, by age and lack of activity/success, with the guitar. I called into question why I even bothered playing it. I started playing the uke in 2009 after hearing about a uke band playing at an awards ceremony. I googled ukulele orchestra and saw the ukulele orchestra of great britain on youtube. I bought myself one for christmas just as I was going through a painful breakup.
I went along to a ukulele group at work, and another above a pub in Stoke Newington. It was fun. I wanted to play with other people too. In late 2010 I met (through a ukulele mailing list) Warren and the Buskers on Bikes. We rehearsed. We trained. We cycled Land's end to John O'Groats together playing gigs. An old school friend asked me to play a one-off gig with him. I started learning the mandolin. BOB played a few more gigs. I auditioned for the London Gypsy Orchestra on the guitar.
So there it is. Back to the guitar. I'm now playing with three groups of people and enjoying music more than I have done since my early 20's. I understand theory better now that I play 3 instruments tuned differently. As a guitarist I learn't chords and scales but could only relate them to the guitar. Learnign the uke and mandolin I needed to know why the chord I was playing was a Insert chord name.
In short the ukulele reawakened my enjoyment of playing.The banjolele helped me to find my place in a band for the first time in years. The mandolin made me realise how music is constructed (and how loud a small instrument can be). The guitar became the instrument I continue to love most.