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Thursday
Apr182013

Hercules BS100B Music Stands - a preliminary review

Those of you who have played uke with me for any amount of time are probably familiar with my music-stand woes: I end up having to buy a new one every couple of months. Screws get stripped, wing nuts or other parts fall off and get lost, and the next thing I know I'm stuck with a useless piece of metal that won't hold a thing.

I did a bit of homework and determined that there are two truly heavy-duty, yet truly portable, stands out there: the Hercules BS100B, and the K&M Heavy Duty. Both got decent reviews on Amazon and on Musician's Friend; being the cheapskate that I am, I opted for the Hercules at fifteen bucks cheaper.

It arrived this afternoon and - I am far more impressed than I expected to be! The stand supports my heavy notebooks of uke songs without wobbling, and it doesn't have three or four screws or wing nuts to mess around with - the adjustability is all internal. I'll be bringing this with me to my uke class on Monday for a proper road test, but so far this is the sturdiest portable stand I've ever encountered. Additionally, it has little arms that fold out on the sides to expand the desk area, really convenient for all of those three-page arrangements we have.

The downside? It does not fold as compactly as the cheaper music stands I am used to (like I said, fewer screws and wing nuts!), and therefore does not fit in my everyday-carry bag, nor does it fit into any of the bags I have left over from all of my broken music stands. So, I had to fork over an additional $15 for a branded bag. As someone who hates logos, this annoyed me a bit - hopefully I'll soon have the time and the inspiration to sew my own non-branded bag.

And like the 1914 Ford Model T, the Hercules BS100B is available in any color you want - so long as it is black :)

Wednesday
Oct312012

Using an iPad as a music stand

After belonging to a number of ukulele groups, and accumulating a number of music books, I decided to simplify my sheet music management with an iPad. I was tired of carrying reams of paper that weighed more than my ukulele, and I was tired of sorting out what songs to bring to different occasions.

I am quite the shopper, so I researched my options. An early consideration was my laptop computer, but it was too heavy (being an old 17" MacBook Pro), and there was no secure way to hold it up. I couldn't trust a traditional fold-up music stand to hold a laptop securely, and it would be way too top-heavy to stay steady under foot traffic walking by at break time. Page turning would be a problem.

Another consideration was a Kindle, but I felt the screen was too small for my needs, and didn't offer enough contrast.

The iPad 3 was about to come out, so I waited patiently for it. It would have the Retina display, good for details on scanned tabs, and had a large bright screen. By that time, there were some good options for holding it as a music stand. I chose "The Gig Easy" which I am very happy with. It is paired with a short (Concertino) microphone stand , and a foot pedal switch. "The Gig Easy" is the holder for the iPad, and it is lightweight and well built. It feels sturdy and secure, and rotates smoothly. It is made in the USA and is well worth the price. Make sure you get the right one for your iPad, because there is a difference in design between the one for iPad 1 and the iPad with cameras. To finish off the system, I bought the OnSong app. There is "TheGigEasy" app, but I haven't tried it. It offers a nice mark-up feature, that would be convenient.

If you already have a mic stand, and like to stand while playing, you just need the iPad holder. The foot pedal is optional, depending on your needs. "The Gig Easy" also is offered with a tripod mount, so that can also reduce your costs if you already own a nice one.

After using the system for several months, these are my pros and cons about the system.

Pros

•Lightweight solution for carrying all your music, along with everything else the iPad can do (shoot video, take photos, internet access, email, Garage Band etc).

•Works great in low light.

•Wind will not blow pages away if outdoors.

•Songs written in the OnSong format can be transposed to different keys at will.

•OnSong responds well to the WiFi foot petal, which can scroll the page, or turn to the next page. Audio files can be played while the music scrolls. There are lots of good controls to customize and a lot of features I won't cover here.

•Easy to organize your songs into different sets.

•Download song sheets from the internet.

Cons

•Not necessarily as fast to set-up and tear down as paper and music stand.

•Takes a bit of time to get used to using the foot pedal properly.

•Might be difficult to see in bright sunlight.

•Expensive.

•Many music Kindle ebooks are not formatted for iPad, so unfortunately, you may need to scan songs you have in your books.

Since I bought my iPad, there have been several new tablets that have come to market. However, the iPad's screen size still is a stand out, and it's squarer screen ratio is better than a longer rectangular ratio for viewing sheet music.

If you only have one notebook of songs, and a couple of thin books, stick to using paper. If you have many binders of songs, and piles of books, you will appreciate the iPad option.

So yes, I would do it again… actually I was "sharing" the iPad with my husband, who needs to use it for his music too. It has been so successful, that it's time to get another one so he can have one to himself. I have definitely been hogging it, so he will get the newest iPad4.

–Lori Apthorp, Westside Ukulele Ensemble

Tuesday
Oct162012

Humidifying Ukuleles in West Los Angeles

With the quick change in the weather, I went though and refilled all my humidifiers for my ukuleles. Lately, summer in West Los Angeles has had relative humidity of about 45-55%. Today, the hot winds have shown up again, and I am seeing 40% and lower.

So, I thought I would talk about my favorite system for protecting my ukuleles from large swings in humidity. I have tried Oasis, Herco, and Humistat.

Oasis is a water absorbing gel in a fabric container. Herco is a piece of clay in a plastic pot, and Humistat is a small clear plastic vial, with water in it and special holes to release the moisture.

After trying all 3, I decided Oasis was the best one for me. Even though it was the most expensive ($19-$20), it gave me the confidence of a no leak design (the gel beads absorb the water very quickly) and the visual clue that indicates when a refill is needed (see photo). I also believe from my tests, it releases more moisture than the Herco. The Humistat is an interesting design, with a see-through reservoir, but I had a defective one that leaked. The customer service was very good at Humistat, but I was still nervous that the system might leak water into my case or on my ukulele.

I use the Oasis OH6, which is a case humidifier. I find it is easy to use, and can just float in the case near the headstock. It also comes with a magnetic clip and an adhesive magnetic strip, which can be handy in some circumstances. I have hand sewn the clip to the inside lining of some gig bags, and it has worked very well. There are no sharp corners on it, so even if it floats free, it won't damage your uke. There is another version that hangs from the strings into the sound hole (OH18), but that seems like a cumbersome procedure to have to follow, especially if you are picking up your uke to play several times a day, and like to have it sit in it's case.

Oasis Humidifiers

Humistat

Herco

The Herco is an economical option at about $3.50 to $4.00, but there is no visual clue on when to refill. I have to tell you, in different climates at different times of year, the need for refills changes. So, you would have to monitor your humidity level closely to make sure you didn't leave your uke unprotected. Time flies between refills, so if you are like me and very busy much of the time, then having an obvious visual indication for refill is very important. By the way, gig bags do not hold the moisture as well as the hard cases, so be prepared to check those more often.

If you have a laminate wood uke, the need for humidifying is not as important as it is for solid wood instruments. I still will provide some of my laminate ukes with a Herco, and make sure it is refilled whenever the Oasis units need it.

So that is my experience with ukulele humidifiers in the West Los Angeles/ Venice/ Santa Monica climate. When the desert winds come, we can get single digit humidity in a matter of hours. Even if you are 3-4 miles from the ocean, it can be exceedingly dry. Ideal ukulele humidity is suppose to be between 50%-60%, so you can imagine what a shock it is to the wood if it is suddenly 15%. Typically, I refill my Oasis Humidifiers every 1-2 weeks.

 –Lori Apthorp, Westside Ukulele Ensemble