Jake Shimabukuro on Arranging

February 3, 2012

The Jimi Hendrix of the ukulele is back. Jake Shimabukuro, known all over the world as a captivating solo performer, is playing with a full band and orchestration on his latest, Peace Love Ukulele. In addition to his own compositions, Jake delivers an astounding version of “Bohemian Rhapsody” that might just rival his game-changing rendition of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” the YouTube video for which is currently at almost 9,000,000 views. —Matt Blackett

“There are times when I’m playing a solo ukulele arrangement,” says Shimabukuro, “but in my head I’m hearing a drum groove or a bass line, so I’ll do things with my fingers to mimic those different parts. I’ll do a percussive thing against the strings or I’ll play a line that I wish a violin or a piano could play. The whole idea actually came from the “Bohemian Rhapsody” arrangement. I realized that the only reason it works so well on ukulele is because everyone has such a strong reference of the original. I’m playing it as a solo uke piece, but in your mind you’re already deciphering, ‘Okay, that’s Freddie Mercury singing, that’s the electric guitar solo, that’s the piano part.’ So I recorded my original pieces as full band arrangements to create a reference for people. Then, when they hear me play it solo, they’ll understand what parts I’m trying to mimic. That was the approach for this album and it was a lot of fun.

“I started most of the songs as solo pieces, but I love being able to take advantage of the studio and the multiple tracks in order to express more things with the instrument. Take the song ‘Piano Forte.’ The middle section is two ukuleles— one playing a tremolo line and one doing an arpeggiated part—and a string bass. But in the second half of that section there’s a third uke part that plays a higher harmony to the tremolo, and it swells in like a string section. That was kind of an experiment. It’s hard when you start layering too many ukuleles doing the tremolo because it gets noisy. I’m using my fingernail to pick up and down, and you can hear that clicking sound. I tried some tremolo parts where it was three- or four-part ukulele harmony but the clicking sound bothered me. So for that piece I kept it to two layers, and I approached it very delicately so that you wouldn’t hear a lot of the nail. Then in the mix we put some reverb on it to make it swell more. Reverb is always a ukulele’s best friend!”

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