Cliff Edwards ukulele tuning - the definitive answer!

tim_mantis

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Cliff Edwards, at least in his later recordings (e.g. If I Had You), used a Martin tenor ukulele with the first and fourth strings an octave lower than normal re-entrant tuning. So taking a hypothetical GCEA tuning, the uke would be tuned low G and low A.

That said, ignore what key he tuned his uke to; C, Bb, sub-C, whatever - it is irrelevant - tune your uke to itself. Find strings that can cope with low tuning - aquila reds are good but Ike used gut strings - and string them on top and bottom (i.e. 1 and 4) on a concert or tenor uke. Leave your normal strings on 2 and 3. Tune your uke as described above and you are on the road to playing like Cliff. It really is as simple as that; find a 'low' first and fourth string and tune your uke to itself.

I mentioned this in passing on the ukulele cosmos forum several years ago and was rewarded with belligerent and grumpy replies and so didn't pursue it. Out of curiosity I looked just now to see if anyone else has picked up on it and it seems not so I thought I'd mention Ukulele Ike's secret tuning here.

Try it - when you do it will be a revelation! have fun :)
 
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lakesideglenn

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You did mean GCEA didnt you? That said your idea sounds worth trying. I always wondered why I could never get his sound right. Will give it a go and get back to you.
Cheers ��������
 

tim_mantis

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Ooops! I did - thanks for pointing it out. GCEA with a low G and low A. I've edited so it should now make sense.
 

Croaky Keith

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I joined the 'Cosmos' didn't stay long, you can probably guess why, so thanks for mentioning it over here, I like my ukes low G, so maybe I'll try it with a low A as well & see how that makes me feel about strumming. :)
 

Jim Hanks

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This is called "low reentrant" or "cuatro" tuning and Southcoast makes sets specifically for this tuning. I had one of my tenor-scaled instruments built for Eb cuatro which works great as the unwound Bb and C strings aren't so thick. You can get GCEA as well but I haven't tried it. Either way you're almost certainly going to need to get a new nut made.
 

lakesideglenn

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Good point about the nut, Jim. I'm gonna try it on my Boat Paddle with the pinned nut. Shouldn't be a problem.
 

tim_mantis

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This is called "low reentrant" or "cuatro" tuning

Exactly! I had my nut filed out to be slightly wider (not as painful as it sounds) to accommodate the thicker strings, but it still works fine on standard re-entrant strings too, so no damage done. No need to have a new nut made. Great that there are string sets available. I like the Aquila reds as they have a nice floppiness that sounds similar to the old recordings with gut strings.

Now the real question: is there anyone here with expertise on genuine gut strings who can advise on which gauges would be suitable for this tuning on a tenor? Would be a great experiment.
 

Nikoslikos

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I am almost certain that Ike just tuned his uke a whole step down which would be an open Bb6 chord with a low F note... the reason he did that is most probably to be able to play in horn friendly keys (Bb..Eb..F..) using easy fingerings...think re-entrant C..F...G.. keys respectively.
I myself can't hear a low A fourth note at all.. watch this video closely and you see and hear he's playing in the key of Eb..just like in most of his recordings..using F key re-entrant fingerings.. but then again, maybe I'm mistaken

https://youtu.be/-AGL3tdw0T8
 
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Nikoslikos

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I have tried the cuatro tuning as suggested above (low G&A 1st and 4th strings). I regret to say that's nothing close to Cliff Edwards sound..its deep enough (as Ike sounded) but no trembles at all..Ike's uke had lots of them. So I figure low F and a Bb tuning is the closest one can get to Cliff Edwards sound. Oh and those old gut strings and the way he strummed the damn thing made all the diference I guess..☺
 

tim_mantis

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Ondrej

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Here's a recording I made using the tuning I mentioned above - it really is the Cliff Edwards trick! Modern strings have more sustain so the top and bottom are a bit more noticeable than in his recordings:

https://soundcloud.com/tim-cockerill/hang-on-to-me-cliff-edwards-cover

Here Cliff has his uke tuned in Bb (F Bb D G with a low F and low G) https://youtu.be/kpDCSrcx9JM

and here in C (G C E A with a low G and low A) https://youtu.be/45DUyvc0iT0

Thanks for sharing. I didn't know, but I was very interested.
 

merlin666

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Here's a recording I made using the tuning I mentioned above - it really is the Cliff Edwards trick! Modern strings have more sustain so the top and bottom are a bit more noticeable than in his recordings:

https://soundcloud.com/tim-cockerill/hang-on-to-me-cliff-edwards-cover

Here Cliff has his uke tuned in Bb (F Bb D G with a low F and low G) https://youtu.be/kpDCSrcx9JM

and here in C (G C E A with a low G and low A) https://youtu.be/45DUyvc0iT0

Thank you that sounds great. Cliff Edwards was not on my radar and this sounds way out of the league of what I would aspire to play. I am quite surprised that uke with two low strings can sound so pleasant. I assume that he used a tenor size for this as soon as it became available?
 

BigJackBrass

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Since it makes sense to keep this information in one place I hope you’ll forgive me for the slight thread necromancy.

Generally I play soprano, but last week I picked up a secondhand Pono mahogany tenor, in large part because I’ve been searching for that later Cliff Edwards sound for quite a while. Not an exact duplication—for one thing I’ll never be able to play like Ike—just the general tone of it, which I like so much. The Pono sounded great tuned to Bb, though I’ve now changed it as I discovered that Ken Middleton sells a cuatro tuning set of his Living Water strings for tenor or baritone, for C or D tuning with low 1st and 4th. My order arrived today.

Tuned to C the general tension is pretty good, although very noticeably lessened on the 1st and 4th, and the sound is really interesting. The strings are still settling of course, and I need to get used to this setup, but so far I’m happy. We’ll see how it goes as I try some more tunes.

Not cheap, but good quality and reliably quick delivery. They are fluorocarbon which obviously isn’t going to sound precisely like the gut or nylon used by Cliff Edwards, but on the other hand they didn’t require any modification of the Pono’s nut.
 

Ondrej

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I was also interested in this tuning. Here is my playlist.
I had to put the strings together every time.
Here are the strings worth

and here the red aquila
 

BigJackBrass

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Thanks for those sound samples. As I expected the Aquila Reds are considerably brighter, probably too bright for my purposes. I’ve been looking around for some nylons to try, but I suspect the string thickness will be too great.
 

Ondrej

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Thanks for those sound samples. As I expected the Aquila Reds are considerably brighter, probably too bright for my purposes. I’ve been looking around for some nylons to try, but I suspect the string thickness will be too great.
I liked the sound of the Aquili strings better. But the strings did not hold and broke.