If you've been in a guitar shop lately, you'll have noticed that ukulele fever is gripping the nation - in fact the uke is now Britain's best-selling musical instrument. But learning a new instrument is so much fuss... wouldn't it be great if you could just play all the guitar chords and songs you already know, but still be down with the uke kids? Enter the Yamaha GL-1, a six-string uke for guitar players.
The Guitalele was actually launched way back in 1997, but back then there wasn't a uke orchestra on every street corner, so it hardly made waves. But it wouldn't be the first time Yamaha has been ahead of the game, and so, 15 years late, we're writing about the GL-1.
"The six strings are tuned like a guitar, capo'd at the 5th fret"
The key thing here for guitarists is that, as well as having six familiar strings, it's designed to be tuned like a standard guitar, capo'd at the 5th fret. This means that, low to high, it goes ADGCEA - the top three strings are the same as a uke, the fourth string the same note but an octave lower. In practice, it means that when you play the chords of your favourite song on the GL-1, it will sound just the same as it does on your full-sized guitar, but a little higher.
Like most low-end guitars and ukes, the GL-1's body is made from all laminated woods - a spruce top and meranti back and sides. It's pretty tidy and made in Yamaha's own Indonesian factory where many of the firm's lower-end instruments are constructed.
For such a small guitar, it has a pretty wide nut width at 49mm. It's wider than a Fender Strat, for example, though tighter than a classical guitar. The outer strings sit some way into the fingerboard, however, and there's not a huge amount of room at the bridge should you fancy trying some fingerpicking.
"There's not a lot of oomph from the small body but like a uke it projects pretty well"
The nato neck, is a well-shaped handful and the flat fingerboard has 17 full width frets plus a half fret that sits on a slight extension over the soundhole. You might want to give the frets a bit of a polish and oil the rather dry- looking sonokeling fingerboard to make it a smoother player, but on the whole, it's okay.
As with any nylon-string guitar, we get a set of classical style 'roller' tuners at one end and a tie-block bridge at the other. This bridge is tidily made and the GL-1 uses standard nylon strings (just cut them to length), which tie-on - a technique that takes a little getting used to. The plastic bridge saddle is a tad high on our sample, but at least it's compensated, so higher position chords and noodles, in theory, will be more in-tune.
It sounds pretty good. There's not a lot of oomph from the small body but like a uke it projects pretty well, although it can be a tad annoying. That hasn't stopped the hordes of uke-ists to date, of course, but at least we have those lower strings to add a little depth. And as well as a choice of colours, the GL-1 even comes with a mini gigbag.