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Unique instruments in bands: Good idea or not?

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by pushbuttonfour, Jan 9, 2013.

  1. pushbuttonfour


    Dec 20, 2012
    I recently learned the ukulele and love it for its easiness, size, and novelty. Do you think a uke would work well with electric guitars, in a pop punk band?

    One of the only bands I can think of that uses a different instrument is Yellowcard, with a violin, and they incorporate it pretty well.

    Having "exotic" or uncommon instruments tends to add a uniqueness to your band and elicit more of a respponse form the crowd. For example, the band Flatfoot 56 has bagpipes, and, due to their uniqueness, they tend to be the staple of the band.

    What do you think about working instruments into genres about which they are not generally found, like my example of a ukulele in a pop punk band, or any other example? Is it to gimmicky? Could it draw people away? Or will it be beneficial and set you apart?
  2. mellowinman

    mellowinman Free Man

    Oct 19, 2011
    Any instrument that will enhance your sound is a great idea. I use my keyboard to replicate certain sounds, and I am not above putting pre-recorded stuff onto my iPod. We keep various cowbells, shakers, vibra-slap, tambourine and other rhythm instruments handy at all times, and play a lot more 12-string guitar than most hard rock/classic rock bands do.

    We don't do anything "exotic," or altogether uncommon, but I think it's a great idea to add any sounds and textures that you can.

    One time when we photographed a wedding, they hired an Irish/Punk band, where the drummer's kit was a shopping cart. It was a cool idea, but they were awful, and actually talked the DJ into letting them play through HIS PA, since they didn't have one of their own. I told that DJ he was nuts if he let them, but apparently, he was nuts. I'm betting he had to replace speakers after that mess.
  3. pushbuttonfour


    Dec 20, 2012
    lol sounds like they took it too far. But I agree with you that anything to enhance the sound should be used. My question is, should I really take the big risk of making the ukulele a standing feature in my band and use it for many songs consistently, or should I just use it for one or two as a novelty?

    It's also worth noting that we write our songs, and I have not actually written anything to incorporate a uke, so I have no idea how it would go over. I do like the idea of experimentation, though.
  4. two fingers

    two fingers Opinionated blowhard. But not mad about it. Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2005
    Eastern NC USA
    Fiddle? Yes. Uke. In pop punk? If you are going for a good laugh maybe. But for "serious exotic effect" not so much. If you are able to pull it off, please post a video. You will be one creative son of a gun.
  5. pushbuttonfour


    Dec 20, 2012
    yeah, that's the opinion I was afraid of :rolleyes: maybe I'm just thinking irrationally because I just got the uke and have loved playing it. I think I'll try a song or two with it, and I'll definitely post a video if it works out and see where it goes from there :)
  6. JohnMCA72


    Feb 4, 2009
    My band has a violin (with lots of effects) & a glockenspiel. We don't even have a "traditional" lead guitar. The violin covers most of that territory pretty well, plus it can do some things that a guitar doesn't (at least not very often, or very well). It also doesn't hurt that the guy is just plain good! Glockenspiel is used sparingly, & usually echos a line set down by the bass. The ultra-high, crisp, piercing bell tone contrasts & complements the bass pretty well. It's like a repeating theme at both extreme ends of the scale.

    I rather like putting in some unusual instruments. Gotta' be careful of overdoing it, though. If it adds some texture or depth, or serves a role that's "traditionally" served by another instrument, that's good. If it's just gratuitously different, maybe not so much. I imagine if you approach it like a gimmick, it will come across that way. Not every "weird" instrument necessarily works for every genre, especially in larger doses. I know in our case, our instrumentation sets us apart from other bands in our market. I think it also reduces the sense of "competition" among bands, too, & we're not perceived as being just like every other band, both by audience & other bands.
  7. mellowinman

    mellowinman Free Man

    Oct 19, 2011
    Definitely give it a try. You should always give things a try.

    Man, I hope these mushrooms aren't poisonous.
  8. If you like playing the uke and it sounds good to you, PLAY THE UKE!!! Don't give into some sort of idea that the ukulele is lame or whatever. It either sounds good or not, regardless of how 'cool' you think the uke may be. If you've got a smile on your face and it sounds good, I guarantee people will dig it, and the lameness factor will totally disappear. 100% money back guarantee! No great music ever came from that attitude. It may not work, but if it does sound good, then PLAY THE UKE!

    If I was at a festival with a bunch of bands, I'd certainly stick around longer to see the band with the ukulele player, and I'm sure I'd remember them more then the other bands, even if they were terrible and the uke was a gimmick. This business is crazy hard, and anything you can do to get your name out there more is better. I am totally not opposed to using gimmicks, but also sort of lack morals in general, so take that advice with a grain of salt.

    Also, don't mandolins have the same tuning? You could be one of 'those' guys that seems to pick up a new and different instrument for every song. I am totally envious of 'those' guys.
  9. pushbuttonfour


    Dec 20, 2012
    haha, I can't say I'm one of "those" guys, but thanks for the inspiration. I guess I'll just have to wait and see how it sounds with the rest of the instruments, and then I'll decide based solely on if it works well. :)

    edit: I especially don't really need the gimmick now that I think of it, because we already sort of have one. Me and my identical twin brother are the bass and guitar players, as well as vocalists, so that's pretty unique.
  10. pklima


    May 2, 2003
    Kraków, Polska
    Go for it. I know pop punk has turned all serious in the past few years, but as long as the uke has a pickup and isn't a pain to amplify I can't imagine anybody having a problem with it, especially if you start off just using it on a few songs.

    I've played a lot of songs on DB which were originally done with sequenced bass - we're talking Nicki Minaj and Don Omar kind of stuff, very far from any music normally associated with DB. It does look kinda artsy, but sounds fine and I never had any problem with it. It is a great way to get away with playing 2 Unlimited to middle-aged English-speaking crowds in five-star hotels without anyone complaining.

    If you really get into it, look up electric cavaquinhos - it's basically a steel-string uke from Brazil. There are some great looking miniature Les Pauls and the like.

  11. hrodbert696

    hrodbert696 Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    No. Mandolin standard tuning is in fifths, GDAE, like a violin. Ukulele is tuned GCEA, but the G is between the E and A, not below the C - the old "my dog has fleas" line.

    I'm all in favor of getting outside the box of the same old instruments. Actually I wouldn't consider a ukulele terribly "exotic," they've been all over lots of pop songs over the last few years. We had a kind of teen open mic event playing under kids' poetry, and the combo wound up being guitar, bass, harp, and two flutes. THAT was a lot of fun (and the harpist knew how to jam!).

    I'd say that it's only "gimmicky" if YOU treat it that way. Take the instruments seriously and ask how their sound contributes to the music.
  12. craig.p


    Sep 28, 2008
    New Hampshire
    I do regular bass+vocal duty in a P&W band that does Tomlin, Baloche, Third Day, Redman, Casting Crowns, etc., and the BL/MD's wife runs a 5-string fiddle through pretty much all those songs, to great effect. However, she's a wizard when it comes to texture, harmony, blend, and so forth. In less-capable hands, might be a huge fail.
  13. Factor88


    Jun 21, 2011
    Cool. I saw a trio who were fronted by twins on bass and guitar almost 30 years ago, and thought they were only one step away from the coolest gimmick ever; that would have been each one playing a double neck Guitar/bass combo, and they would switch off playing bass and guitar, sometimes in the middle of a song.
  14. pushbuttonfour


    Dec 20, 2012
    sounds like most people are in favor of mixing it up. And I know a uke isn't that "exotic," but I can't think of a band that uses it permanently, only ones that use it for one or two songs. Also, I posed this question kinda as a general question, but in my specific case, would mic'ing my uke with a SM57 work as opposed to a pickup?
  15. JohnMCA72


    Feb 4, 2009
    I'd use a pickup if possible, otherwise you're pretty much nailed down to the spot where the mic is placed. A little movement helps call attention & focus to the uke player. A pickup also helps with consistency of sound because you wouldn't be moving around, in & out of the mic's pickup zone. Whether one sounds "better" than the other is debatable, but I'd favor consistency for most shows.
  16. AleemRadunzel


    Jul 8, 2009
    i wouldnt worry about using strange instruments...

    espec a uke or banjit.

    try fitting turntables on a "toilet" floor.

    my dj gave up and learnt rhythm guitar. :meh:

    true story:cool:
  17. pklima


    May 2, 2003
    Kraków, Polska
    Yeah, pickup will let you move around more and be less prone to feedback at high stage volumes. Definitely more practical for pop punk. (Not ska, got the two threads confused for a second)
  18. Staredge


    Aug 7, 2010
    Germantown, MD
  19. Mystic Michael

    Mystic Michael Hip No Ties

    Apr 1, 2004
    New York, NY
    Hey, if you can make it work...then make it work. :meh:

    This is a question almost impossible to answer in the abstract: One would have to hear the final results, on a case by case basis, in order to judge for oneself.

    If you're asking, 'Is there anything about the use of a non-traditional instrument that should automatically preclude its use for (fill in the name of the genre here)', then the answer is "no". Other than that, you're the artist. You decide the kind of instrumentation that makes aesthetic sense for the kind of concept you're trying to pull off... :eyebrow: