By Aaron Keim | From the Summer 2019 issue of Ukulele
With summer here, it’s time to hit the road with your ukulele and make some musical memories! After all, its portability is one of the things that makes the ukulele perfect for any party or adventure. Before you take off, I’ll share a few tips to keep your ukulele safe and sound while traveling.
From years of repair experience, I need to share precautions with you about the three most common travel-related repairs I’ve seen:
- A ukulele left in a car in the heat. Even a mild, sunny day can quickly lead to glue-melting temperatures in a car. Always bring your instrument with you, even if you are heading into a restaurant. It’s easy to tell when a uke has had a heat-related event because of common effects such as loose binding, open seams, loose braces, and warped tops.
- If you are going to leave your ukulele on a chair while you go get another drink, just know that someone could sit on it. It happens all the time! I have fixed many ukes that accidentally were sat on and it’s not a cheap or easy fix.
- If you are going to put your ukulele in its case or gig bag, close the latches or zipper it up. I’ve seen many ukes tumble to the ground because someone picked up a case by the handle with the top unlatched. Latch it up, even if you are coming right back.
Speaking of cases, should you bring a hardshell case or gig bag on your trip? I have taken both around the world and like each for different reasons. A gig bag with backpack straps makes walking through the airport easy and you can add other carry-on items in the pockets. But keep in mind that a gig bag will lose a fight with someone else’s roller suitcase if slammed in an overhead compartment! A hardshell case with a shoulder strap is a good compromise and is my standard carry.
Flying with a Ukulele
This leads us to flying with your uke, which I do many times per year. First of all, no matter what size case you are using, insist that you keep it with you in the cabin. It’s really the best way to keep it safe and the law is on your side (see “plane truth” below). Second, airlines are permitted to decide if your instrument counts toward your number of carry-on items, so check with the airline’s policy before leaving home. When I travel with my family, we usually just carry on an instrument and a small tote bag each, we always check our suitcases so we can keep our ukes close. Third, the head flight attendant, and captain, are who is really in charge of what comes in the cabin. The gate agent or ticket agent is not really the decider, so try to wait to plead your case when you get into the cabin. Make friends with the flight attendants, because sometimes you can convince them to let you stash an instrument in the crew coat-closet, in the gap behind the last row of first class, or other “secret” spots. Watch for overhead bins that already have strange-sized items in there instead of normal rolling bags. You can often add your uke to double-up with other odd- sized items.
Selecting the Right Ukulele for Travel
Which leads us to the eternal question: which uke to bring? I often hear from customers that they take a cheap uke when they travel because they are scared to bring their handmade instrument out in the world. I understand, but it also makes me sad because ukuleles are made to be played, after all. As long as you are careful, having your favorite uke on adventures with you will only serve to improve the experience. Yes, some adventures, like rafting trips, call for a plastic ukulele like an Outdoor Ukulele, but I prefer a wooden uke while on the road.
What Else to Bring?
What about maintenance? A few simple items slipped in your case are good insurance. Namely: an extra set of strings, a small screwdriver for adjusting tuning pegs, nail file and nail clippers, and a humidifier are key. I also add a small musical notebook and my phone for making digital recordings and I’m ready to hit the road!
Wherever you are traveling this summer, I hope you have a safe and happy trip. Keep on strummin’!
The “Plane” Truth About Flying With Your Uke
Flights have become a major source of stress for many musicians, yet there is reason for hope because the law is on your side— even if the flight attendant is not. The American Federation of Musicians (afm.org) worked closely with the U.S. government and other musician-advocacy groups to have clear rules about instruments on airplanes enshrined in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. On its website, the AFM offers excellent advice on the limits of your rights: “Airlines are required to allow musicians to carry on instruments if there is room on the flight and instruments fit safely in overhead compartments or under seats. Board your flight as early as possible since overhead compartments are distributed on a first-come basis. Once an instrument is stowed in- cabin, it cannot be removed or be replaced by other passengers’ items. The reverse is also true— airlines are not required to remove other passengers’ items to make room for your instrument.” For further guidance and resources, visit afm.org. —Greg Olwell
The Ukulele Owner’s Manual is the book that belongs in every ukulele player’s instrument case. Each chapter was written by the experts and performers at Ukulele Magazine, with topics ranging from commonsense instrument care to fixing rattles and buzzes to a pictorial history of the instrument. Book owners can also download how-to videos with step-by-step guidance on common set-up and maintenance topics.