October 30, 2016
The JSax is fairly new on the saxophone scene. Being a saxophone player myself, I know that you need to be a certain size before starting the full size saxophone, which can sometimes discourage small children from playing, as they have to wait until they are big enough to play. This makes the JSax is a great introductory instrument. To a child that is already playing recorder, the switch to the JSax minimizes to learning to press the keys rather than cover holes and learning the new embouchure. Pitched in C, it means that a child who is already learning recorder can pick it up and read the music they’re learning on recorder and play it on the JSax more or less straight away. They can also play together with other children easily, as they don’t have the problem of having to transpose, which they would have if they had a full size Alto saxophone.
Sound-wise, they are similar to that of a soprano saxophone. This may be surprising, as from such a small, toy-like looking instrument, you would not expect the sound to be what it can produce. The actual size is quite a bit smaller than the soprano sax, but it does adopt a similar tone. Pitch-wise, I expected it to be higher. After playing the Sopranino saxophone, when I first got this out of the box, I expected a shrill, high sound, but in fact, the sound is mellow and isn’t too displeasing to the ears.
The fingering is a cross between the standard recorder fingering and saxophone. This makes it a great in between instrument, when you’re not sure whether the saxophone is the right instrument for you. The JSax does come with a fingering chart, but if you’re familiar with recorder, it isn’t too tricky to pick up. On the back of the JSax, there is a little hole for the left hand thumb; this mimics the hole on the back of the recorder, as it controls which octave the JSax plays in.
The thumb rest is adjustable, which means it is friendly to both small and large hands. It is relatively easy to manoeuvre, but it takes quite a bit of pressure to move it, therefore it would be suggested to be done by an adult. The fact that it doesn’t just move at the slightest touch means that when given to a child, they will not be tempted to mess with the thumb rest. Once you’ve found the best playing position for you, it doesn’t need to move again. Having 5 possible positions to the thumb rest is a good idea, but it is quite hard to get it to stop in all 5 positions. It is easier if you push the thumb rest all the way to the bottom position and then ease it upwards.
The snap-shut ligature is an interesting idea and surprising easy to operate once you’ve got the hang of it. Simply pull it down and it will lock in the open position. You can then manoeuvre the reed until it’s in the right position and simply snap the ligature shut. The reed can still be adjusted when the ligature is in the closed position, which is a good thing, as the reed sometimes moves when the ligature is shutting. The synthetic reed works relatively well with the instrument and providing people with both a size 1.5 and 2 is a nice idea, as it gives you the option to progress onto the harder reed. Personally, I prefer cane reeds, so it’s good to have the option of using Eb clarinet reeds on the JSax. I can certainly see why it comes with synthetic reeds. If it is being bought for a child, it saves money for the parent, as they do not have to buy cane reeds every few weeks. We do also sell replacement sythetic reeds.
The keys are simple and easily pressed down. It is obvious to even the young player where to put your fingers, which makes it easier to pick up and play.
The training wheels on the bottom three keys of the JSax are great for small hands who can’t quite reach. The only downside to them is the reduction of some of the chromatic notes. With them on, you can no longer play C#, Eb and F#, so it somewhat limits the pieces which you can play.
With the training wheels off, you can now enjoy the full range of the JSax, which is from middle C (C4) to G in the next octave up (G5). The addition of the notes in the higher octave is new to the small Nuvo instruments, as both the Toot and the Dood only have the range of an octave. The addition expands the repertoire that you can play on the JSax.
The JSax is advertised as being 100% waterproof, but being a traditional woodwind player, I would not comfortably suggest submerging it in water. The pads are synthetic, but I wouldn’t go swimming with it, as it suggests on the Nuvo website! I guess that knowing it can handle a bit of rain is a reason for the advance player to get one, as it makes playing outside a less worrisome experience.
The Nuvo JSax is not just for children, it can be used by adults too! Our in house, aspiring sax player, Charlie enjoys playing the JSax as it’s much lighter than a full size sax and a lot more portable.
August 30, 2017
Although we tend to think of the 000 as a 14 fret design, it actually started out life as a 12 fret, slotted headstock instrument - a parlour on steroids - and it’s that version that is the inspiration for this custom 000. This version has the classic Style 21 appointments of Spruce and Rosewood although it has a rather lovely and non-standard red jasper rosette and headstock logo. Red jasper is, as Wikipedia puts it, an aggregate of microgranular quartz and/or chalcedony and other mineral phases - or, as I would put it, a pretty red rock. It’s actually rather understated in appearance and a nice custom touch on an otherwise simple design.
The nut is a roomy and vintage-correct 1 3/4″, with a C profile that is wide but not overly deep. We love the carve that blends the shaft of the neck into the thicker than standard slotted headstock. The 12 fret 000 design is slightly larger than the more familiar 14 fret version, so despite the parlour asthetic this is quite a big instrument. Tonally, it’s a sound that reflects its roomy dimensions - not quite the thumping bass of a dreadnought but it’s certainly a fairly strident guitar when strummed, with lots of ring and shimmer to the harmonics. The fairly small bodies of more typically proportioned 12 fretters tends to give them a boxy tone when pushed hard with a pick: there’s certainy none of that present in this guitar. For fingerstyle it’s a refined sound with lots of shimmer and fullness with a relatively slow attack that makes it better suited Joan Baez style folk than ragged Delta blues. It’s a sophisticated sounding guitar that’s perfect for poised, elegant picking and sweet, chimey strumming.
For more information, click here.
August 2, 2017
The next-generation electric archtop is here! Solid Spruce Top, Solid Mahogany back and sides with classic “Big Box” jazz and blues tones. Superior feedback suppression at high volumes.
An all solid, hand carved, contemporary jazz guitar, the ER4 was designed by master US luthier Otto D’Ambrosio and put together by Eastman’s expert team.
This is one of the best sounding arch tops we’ve ever had in the shop, and we’re delighted to have Lloyd playing it.
He’s using the Fender Blues Junior Lacquered Tweed Amp and we’re mic’d up with a lavalier mic clipped on to the body and the Blue Encore Condenser 300 on the amp. All available (except the lavalier mic) to purchase from the shop (and online!).
Lloyd says: “A short demo of me playing the Eastman El Rey ER4. Lovely chord melody arrangement from Barry Greene’s chord melody ebook of the tune ‘peace’ with a slightly improvised ending. Great work with the filming recording and editing Tom and Joe.”
For more information, click here.
August 2, 2017
Whilst it’s always a pleasure to be surrounded by classic guitars, the one thing that fires our enthusiasm beyond anything else is when we get our hands on something that is brand new to us. Black Swan is a brand new company making a mix of classical and steel string parlour guitars one at a time from a workshop in Lincolnshire. This beautiful parlour is our first arrival and it’s a truly stunning guitar.
It’s a tiny little thing, inspired by the maker’s love of 19th Century Martin and Bruno designs, and considerably smaller than a size 0 Martin. Structurally Black Swan have taken their own path and the design of this instrument owes more to classical guitar building than it does steel strings. The neck join is a Spanish heel design where there is no neck block as such - rather the neck extends into the body and the sides are tucked into channels cut into the sides of the heel. This is a common technique in Spanish classical building but very rare in steel string design, so it’s interesting to see it in use here. The bracing is also classical inspired with cross braces either side of the sound hole and a series of fan braces behind the bridge. Although not common in steel string making, there is a historical precedent in that many of the less ornate Martins of the late 19th Century used a fan brace structure, including the very first steel string Martins and the guitars they made for Ditson at the start of the 20th Century.
Also unusual with this guitar is the choice of timber. There has been a lot of discussion this year about how conservation efforts impact the guitar industry with new restrictions already in place requiring permits to ship Rosewood guitars and a likelihood that other timbers such as Ebony and Mahogany will soon follow the same path. For European makers there is also an issue that shipping exotic woods around the globe so they can make guitars our of it has an environmental impact of it’s own. With that in mind, one aspect that we love about the Black Swans is that they make use of timber sourced from Western Europe in place of the obvious Exotic alternatives. Walnut we’re already familiar with in that it is a popular timber for Fylde and Lowden - it makes for a lovely sounding guitar with a crisp response and lots of clarity. Less common is the use of Bog Oak for the bridge and fingerboard - it’s not the first time we’ve encountered Oak for these parts thanks to Fylde’s spectacular Single Malt guitars, but it’s still a very unusual feature. Bog Oak is extremely hard so a good substitute for Rosewood or Ebony, and it has a deep coffee colour to it that looks nicely traditional.
For more information click here.
June 3, 2016
If you have been wondering what are all the different types and sizes of ukulele? and which ukelele to choose for you? Then this guide will help you. The weird and wonderful world that is the ukulele family can be a confusing place for the uninitiated. In this blog we thought it would be nice to take you on a tour of the various types of ukulele currently available.
The soprano is the original ukulele, descended from the Portuguese Machete and still the most popular of the ukulele family. It has a string length of about 35cm which makes it a bit of a squeeze for people with larger hands, but they’re ideal as a first instrument for youngsters and for serious players looking for an authentic traditional Hawaiian tone. Their small size makes them a great travel companion as well.
The concert is the next up in size with a longer body and a 38cm string length giving a richer, more sonorous tone from the larger resonating chamber and extra string tension and a little extra room for the fingers. Concerts are very popular for players with previous guitar experience as the chord spacing is a little less cramped, and for anyone with larger hands they feel very comfortable compared to a soprano.
The tenor is the biggest of the three more common ukuleles with a string length of about 43cm. Most of the commercially made tenors are also considerably deeper so combined with a larger outline and more string tension they’re fuller and louder than either the soprano or the concert. The tenor is very popular as a solo instrument particularly for finger picking and playing styles with less attack where a smaller ukulele will often sound a little too quiet and underpowered.
Although historically ukuleles were often tuned quite high in pitch, often ADF#B, nowadays the three main sizes usually use a standardised tuning of GCEA (low to high) and they use what is referred to as a re-entrant tuning so that the G on the bottom is higher in pitch to the C. This is probably historically due to the fact that the smaller ukuleles are fairly thin in the bass registers so a low G would not sound very good: tuning it an octave above means all four strings are nicely resonant and it’s a big part of the signature sound of a ukulele.
Baritone and Bass
The baritone is a larger instrument with a string length is about 50cm tuned to the same notes as the four higher pitched strings of a guitar, so DGBE (low to high). This means if you can already play a soprano, concert or tenor ukulele all the chord shapes will work but they will sound a fifth lower, so a chord shape that would make a C on a soprano ukulele is a G on a Baritone. They’re often used in ukulele groups to fill out the low registers and, being very easy to get to grips with, they’re also a good instrument for people who have tried and failed to learn the guitar.
The bass is a similar size to a baritone but the strings are made from thick rubber and tuned to the same notes as a bass guitar (EADG low to high). They typically have enough acoustic volume for practicing at home but benefit from being plugged into an amp or PA for ensemble work – a bass guitar practice amp such as the Fender Rumble series works nicely if you’re playing with an otherwise unamplified ukulele ensemble. The unusual strings give them a real double bass like thump that sounds very different to a bass guitar. They’re very useful for ukulele groups and as travel instruments for bass guitar players.
Banjo and resonator ukuleles
Banjo ukuleles or banjoleles are, as the name implies, an instrument tuned and played like a regular ukulele but with the body of a banjo. The banjolele was the instrument of choice for George Fornby, and they have a penetrating, powerful sound. They are traditionally based on a soprano string length but concert and tenor scale banjoleles are available for those that prefer a longer string length.
The resonator ululele takes the same concept but with a miniature resonator guitar body instead of the banjo body. A resonator instrument works by having the strings pass over a bridge mounted onto a speaker, so that when the string vibrate the energy is transferred to the speaker and it produces sound. The sound is somewhere between that of a banjolele and a traditional wood ukulele. The bodies can be made of wood or metal and are available in soprano, concert and tenor scale length.
More unusual ukuleles
Electric ukuleles are available in a couple of different forms. The standard format is to have a normal looking ukulele with a pickup element built into the bridge, and usually a volume control and some form of tone shaping control. They can be played as normal without amplification but it gives you the option of plugging it into an amplifier or PA for performances where you need to be louder.
There are also solid body electric ukuleles. These will either have a pickup built into the bridge, or they will have a magnetic pickup as you would find in an electric guitar. If the latter, the ukulele will have metal strings, which will give a very dieeferent sound to a traditional ukulele.
The sopranino ukulele is a smaller instrument than a soprano and is usually tuned higher, often an octave higher. The sopranino is fairly uncommon member of the ukulele family and there isn’t really a standard size but there are a few companies producing an instrument along these lines.
The taropatch was a concert sized ukulele popular for a short while in the 1920s with eight strings instead of four. They were tuned in unison like a mandolin and gave the ukulele a pleasing, chorusy sound. The modern equivalent is generally referred to as an 8 string tenor and is a tenor sized ukulele where at least two of the pairs are tuned with one of them an octave higher – like the bass strings on a 12 string guitar. It gives a big, jangly sound compared to a regular tenor and is a great instrument for accompanying a singer.
Rounding out the family of instruments with more strings than standard is the 6 string and 5 string tenor. These are both tuned to the same intervals as a tenor but add extra strings an octave higher to some of the strings. The six string typically pairs the first and third strings, and the five string just the lowest. Both sound a little janglier than a tenor but less so than an 8 string. All three multi-string instruments are played exactly as you would a normal tenor ukulele.
The tenor guitar is not really a ukulele but offers a certain amount of crossover between guitar and ukulele. It has four steel strings and are traditionally tuned CGDA or GDAE, although ukulele players often tune to the baritone ukulele tuning of DGBE to save learning a new set of chord shapes. They have a chimey, sweet sound compared to a six string acoustic guitar and they’re usually smaller, ranging from baritone uke to parlour guitar in size.
Lastly, we should probably mention Seagull’s Merlin dulcimer which is a recent addition to the folk family that takes its inspiration from the Appalachian mountain dulcimer and the strum stick. It has diatonic frets so it’s easy to learn for complete beginners and it can be strummed or fingerpicked.
For more information on choosing a first ukulele read our beginner’s guide.
March 4, 2016
We wrote a blog last year on ways to amplify violins but pickups are not always the best option for an electrified instrument and this time we’re going to look specifically at electric violins.
Electric violins have a few advantages over amplified traditional violins.
Firstly, they are extremely quiet when played unplugged so they’re very good practice instruments if you live in a flat or want to practice after the kids are in bed. Many of the cheaper instruments have built in headphone sockets and all of them can be connected to amplifiers with headphone sockets so you can play to your heart’s content without bothering anyone else.
Secondly, a big problem when amplifying acoustic instruments is that the have a tendency to feed back when played at high volumes, particularly when the player is moving around the stage. Electric violins are much less prone to this than an acoustic violin with a pickup so for stage and theatre work they work extremely well.
Thirdly, they look cool. Come on, admit it: you really like the way they look and no one will think you’re boring if you play an electric!
However, there is a huge range of electric violins on the market today, particularly when you look at what the internet has to offer, so making the right choice can be a little tricky.
What makes a good electric violin?
The electronics in electric violins usually consist of a pickup built into or under the bridge, and a pre-amp that amplifies the signal from the pick up. The quality of these components is very important in terms of how the violin will sound.
A few models of violin, such as the popular Wav violin by NS Designs, are what is referred as passive: so they don’t have the pre-amp section. There is an advantage to this as there is no need for a battery to be included, but they really require an external pre-amp to get the best out of them.
The context in which the violin is to be used is really important in setting a budget and in what features to look at. If the violin is to be used on stage, it is important that it can be turned up loud without hisses, hums and other unwanted noises polluting the signal. This is the big disadvantage of the cheaper instruments, and a good reason to avoid the entry level instruments if the violin is to be used as a performance instrument. If the instrument is to be used mainly for practice and quiet home use then a cheap pickup is far less of an issue – and several of the cheaper instruments also include a headphone socket which is a big bonus for practice purposes.
The quality of the pickup and preamp also effect the quality of sound produced, with more expensive instruments sounding much smoother and less brittle than the entry level ones. A really annoying quality of the cheaper pickups is an audible click as you change bow direction: this is very obvious on violins in the sub-£400 category, and worth listening out for when comparing violins. Although the better brands are of a high technical standard, they still sound significantly different to one another and, just as you would expect a selection of traditional violins to tonally differ from each other, take your time and listen to the sound of the instruments when making a decision.
2. Build Quality
The key here is to make sure the instrument is going to perform well in terms of how easy it is to press down the strings and how well the instrument tunes up and holds its tuning. Even if the violin is being purchased as a fun thing for a relative beginner, if it is hard to play and won’t stay in tune it’s only going to discourage them.
So, a warning! Most new violins require a set up to get the best out of them – we do this on every violin we sell, electric or otherwise – but there is a level of manufacture below which getting them to play well is problematic. We won’t stock many of the entry level electrics (the ones with bodies shaped like letters or treble clefs are a good example) but we do have to work on them when brought in by customers who bought them online and want them made playable and they have a number of issues. The quality of the pegs is extremely poor, as are the adjusters on the tail piece, so tuning stability is not good even when adjusted as best possible. The bridges are again made from very cheap wood, poorly shaped and left way too high so they always need cutting down for the player to stand any chance of being able to play the instrument – and in some cases (including one very well known one) the neck angle is too shallow to be able to set the bridge low enough. We can’t stress this enough: make sure when you buy an electric violin that it comes set up and is fit for purpose!
Once you get over the very basic instruments, the playability is generally very good: there’s a lot less to get right in an electric instrument than there is an acoustic one! Some instruments use synthetic materials – most significantly the Ted Brewers with plastic moulded necks but also some models use a synthetic fingerboard – so it’s worth making sure you like the feel of that material under your fingers. My personal preference is for a traditional Ebony fingerboard, which feels familiar and is easy to maintain.
Designing an electric violin has the advantage of freeing the designer from the constraints of what works acoustically – but the instrument still needs to feel like a real violin!
Most but not all electric violin makers are aware that violinists develop their technique around the fact that the neck joins the body at a fixed point, so there needs to be something in the design to meet the left hand when playing in the upper positions. This is something to watch out for!
An important point for many of the designs on the market is that some require a custom designed shoulder rest that is supplied with the violin – examples of this are the NS Designs Wav and the Gewa Novita. This allows the maker to be more imaginative with the design but it means you don’t get to pick a shoulder rest that is particularly suited to you, so in those cases be sure that you have played the instrument and are confident that the supplied shoulder rest provides proper support. Other makers, such as Bridge, Skyinbow and Ted Brewer, allow the choice of any shoulder rest so if you prefer a particular shoulder rest (I’m lost these days without my Bonmusica!) that’s definitely something to consider.
The other ergonomic factor that often strikes me with electric violins is weight. Ideally you don’t want it to be heavy, as a heavy instrument is a recipe for bad technique and back ache. If it is heavy, then it’s doubly important that the shoulder and chin rest fit well and help to carry the weight. Some designs are better than others in this respect: the worst offenders are the cheaper solid body instruments and the lightest are the Bridge and Skyinbows which are on a par with a quality acoustic instrument.
What is a five string violin and do I want one?
A five string violin adds a low C, so you have the range of violin and viola in one instrument. They’re fairly rare as acoustic instruments as the violin is a little too small to produce a strong tone on the C string, but with electrics there’s no such problem so five strings are a little more common. They take a little adjusting to but it’s an interesting feature for a more advanced player. I wouldn’t recommend one to a beginner however.
How do I choose an electric violin?
This largely comes down to what you are using the violin for.
If you’re buying the violin for a youngster who already plays and has expressed an interest in an electric, I’d recommend something along the lines of the Hidersine HEV -1. The build quality is on a par with student instruments such as Stentors and Primaveras so when set up they are nice instruments to play, and they sound ok. We usually recommend in this context buying an amp with some different sound effects that the player can have some fun with, so high fidelity from the pickup is less of an issue and it’s fairly cheap at £185.
If you’re an adult player who is new to the violin and likes the idea of a silent practice instrument, the Gewa E-Violin is a great choice. It’s a well made instrument that sounds a little better than the Hidersine, and it has a headphone output so you can practice without an amplifier. It comes as an outfit with everything you need to get started so it’s great in that respect.
If you’re a more experienced player on a budget, the NS Designs Wav series are great value and credible as a pro level instrument. It’s a little heavy and it ideally needs a preamp but for a little over £400 it’s very good indeed. The Gewa Novitais also well worth looking at, a little more expensive but the preamp is active and you get a carbon bow and one of Gewa’s exceptionally good pro quality cases with it.
If you’re looking for a pro level stage instrument the Bridge, Ted Brewer and Skyinbow instruments are our favoured models. Bridge are made in collaboration between a UK workshop and Eastman Strings in China and make a very stylish, sweet sounding instrument. Ted Brewer makes all his instruments in-house in the UK and has an impressive roster of pro players using his instruments. Skyinbow are assembled in a remote corner of Scotland with some of the woodwork coming from the same Czech workshop that builds our Forsyth violins. They each have their own personality and it’s an individual choice which to go for, but they’re all very well made and well regarded brands.
Is there anything else I need to know?
We’re often asked whether electric violins need specialist accessories to go with them, and the answer is pretty much no: the bow, strings, rosin etc are just the same as for traditional violins. Some models require a bespoke shoulder rest as previously discussed and some benefit from having a case that is designed specifically for the model, but in those cases you get the items bundled with the violin. So essentially if you already have a traditional violin you’re good to go.
The other obvious question is how to amplify them – that’s a big topic and one we’ll have to save for another blog…
If there are any questions you want to ask or you’re interested in trying an instrument give us a call on 0161 834 3281 ext 606 and we’ll be happy to help.
January 6, 2014
Digital Piano & Keyboard – January Sale 2014 – NOW ON!
Special offers available in-store only.
We are delighted to offer a selection of brand new boxed and ex-display Kawai, Yamaha and Roland digital pianos and keyboards with savings of up to 25%!
Please pop in to the shop, call us for further information & availability on
0161 956 2052 extension 606 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
June 11, 2013
We’ve got one of these, at a very special price of £949 including FREE UK mainland delivery. Contact the Instrument Department on 0161 834 3282
October 10, 2012
The ukulele craze is still going strong and here at Forsyths we have one of the finest ranges of ukuleles available anywhere in the North-West. From basic, brightly coloured ukes for £20; ideal for beginners, through intermediate instruments from £45 and all the way up to well posh, like the Martin 2K soprano for £1250.
In the middle of all this we have the fantastic Uluru range of ukuleles. Designed by the Australian guitar makers Ayres and hand-crafted from all solid timbers in Vietnam they start at £229 for the all solid mahogany Uluru I and go through the mango Manako models, the self-explanatory Koa, the shiny, figured Pukana La (pictured) and the seriously beautiful Lehua series. If you’re serious about your ukeing then one of these might be the uke for you! All Uluru ukes come with a quality padded gig bag (or hard case for the Pukana La and Lehua ukes). Our friends at Stones Music distribute these fine instruments and you should have a look at all the other lovely ukuleles and accessories they do!
October 13, 2009
The film Looking For Eric has just been released on DVD and seeing the image on the left in today’s glowing newspaper review gave us fond memories of one of our favourite customers. In the film Cantona is asked what he did when times were hard to which he replies “I learnt the trumpet”. This might appear to be just a line in a film, but Eric Cantona actually appeared in our instrument department on the day of his court case regarding his infamous “kung-fu kick” in order to buy a trumpet. Our trumpet playing MD, Dr Robin Loat, gave King Eric his very first trumpet lesson!
Unfortunately, it appears by the standard of his playing in the film, he didn’t keep up the practice after we arranged for him to receive more formal lessons. If you’re finding times hard why not follow his example and learn to play the trumpet too!