Music stores say ukuleles ride new wave of popularity,Jared Brokloff, 14, of El Dorado Hills
Jared Brokloff, 14, of El Dorado Hills, Calif., right, participates in a Ukulele Club at Nicholson Music in Folsom, Calif. Ukulele's are growing in popularity.
The unassuming ukulele has gone viral. No longer are the instruments seen as a frivolous novelty. They are popping up all over YouTube -- and being strummed in chart-topping hits.
As a result, music stores are having a hard time keeping up with demand for the four-string instruments.
"Within the past year we've doubled our sales of ukuleles," said John Sandoval, manager at Nicholson Music in Folsom, Calif.
Two years ago, Sandoval said, it was normal to sell two or three ukuleles. This year, he is selling that many in a day.
The instrument has been popularized by such artists as Eddie Vedder, Bruno Mars and actress-singer Zooey Deschanel. And 35-year-old ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro has led the charge on YouTube, with his rendition of George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" tallying 9 million views.
The uke's status has climbed so high that future generations likely will encounter it for the first time in a school
setting -- as part of a music class or club.
The instruments range in price from $35 for an entry model to handmade Hawaiian instruments that fetch $1,300.
The soprano ukulele is the smallest and most popular of the four varieties. Ukuleles increase in size from there -- concert models, then larger tenors and finally the baritones.
Internationally, the number of ukuleles sold jumped 16 percent last year, said Scott Robertson, spokesman for the National Association of Music Merchants, while retail sales figures increased by 26 percent last year.
That fact is not lost on instrument makers, Robertson said. "At the most recent NAMM show, we saw many more music companies coming out with ukuleles," Robertson said. "Taylor Guitars came out with its first ukulele, and ukuleles were much more present at this show than we've ever seen before."
The instrument received its most profound artistic expression on the Hawaiian Islands, although it hails from the Portuguese islands of Madeira.
One of its greatest appeals is that playing it is easy for the novice.
"The fact that the instrument only has four strings means that you can play a lot of chords with just one finger -- so from a learning standpoint, it's an easy instrument," Sandoval said.
The instrument's popularity has risen so steadily that at Nicholson Music, Sandoval now leads a ukulele clinic every Saturday afternoon. On a recent Saturday, 20 players gathered to take part, with ages ranging from preteens to senior citizens.
One of those was Angelina Francisco, an 11-year-old who taught herself how to play the popular tune "Honey Baby" on the ukulele by watching a YouTube how-to video.
"I first saw the ukulele when my cousin brought a ukulele to a party," Francisco said. "He played it and I liked it."