the ukulele—it’s the next big thing these days, so strongly in fact, that it’s already here. and it’s so here that the tri-county area’s largest selection and supply is tucked into the former cherry’s flowers storefront in boyertown which is now the cozy musical home of funky frets.
at the center of it all with a curious and well-honed expertise on the subject (at least in this nugget of southeastern pennsylvania) is curt sheller who owns the fret-happy shop with his wife, bernadette, and his daughter, kelly thompson.
aside from bringing the widest selection and variety of ukuleles to the region, funky frets is gearing up to offer not only instruments for purchase and private lessons on all sorts of musical gems, but how-to workshops are also on the lineup, with some of them free. during the free ones, workshop-goers are welcome to borrow instruments hanging from the walls in the time when they test out their skills through curt’s instruction.
the family trio, from the pottstown area, chose boyertown for the home of funky frets because of its great location in proximity to so many nearby towns and based on one day renting some of their instruments out to boyertown students. right now, area students must travel to reading in order to sample-play and purchase instruments for school.
curt began playing the ukulele roughly twenty years ago, during a time when there was virtually no material on the instrument. he more or less had to teach himself. by 2003 though, he began to play it more seriously during a family trip to north dakota.
as a result of his years of research and experimentation, curt has published several dozen books about guitar, bass, and ukulele using his own publishing company, curt sheller publications, with many of the ukulele ones unique in that they’re at higher levels of playing, while most books available on playing the instrument are just introductory.
( the ukulele is an adaptation of an instrument brought
to hawaii by the portugeuese in the late 1800s )
a lot of the growing interest in ukuleles in the past year or so seems to stem from how happy, upbeat, and just plain charming the music from them sounds.
it’s interesting to observe though how the ukulele is an especially socially-oriented instrument, drawing people in and perking moods with each quick pluck. and even more peculiar yet smirk-worthy is how the blues can only sound happy when strummed on a ukulele.
“none of the stores are carrying the intermediate to higher-end brand ukuleles. they sort of treat them as a novelty. most of the people that work there, their knowledge is just passing knowledge, sort of jumping on the bandwagon. it starts out very easy, and you can take your guitar knowledge and play the ukulele, but then it quickly becomes an instrument of its own,” curt says.
the hardest thing about teaching someone how to play the ukulele or any instrument is that your mind and ears are the first to learn, while the fingers are lagging behind. people may think it looks easy, but it takes time to develop motor skills that haven’t been tested out before. it’s worth it, though, many agree, compelled by the love of making sound.
to read about funky frets’ ukuleles and to find out more, visit www.funkyfrets.com.