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In the Hands Of A Master, The Ukulele Is No Toy

Think the ukulele is just a cheap, plastic toy to be played under a palm tree? One listen to Jake Shimabukuro and you'll change your mind. The Hawaiian-born ukulele virtuoso strums and plucks a variety of sounds out of the tiny instrument, from "Ave Maria" to "While My Guitar Gently Weeps."

Shimabukuro grew up playing traditional Hawaiian music on the ukulele, and has stuck with the instrument for 25 of his 29 years.

"I feel people get bored of playing the ukulele because they hear other things and they want to be able to play other things," he says. "But... I've always felt there was so much more to explore, and I really love it."

"There's a lot of different sounds that you can really get from the instrument," he says.

On an appearance last year on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, for example, Shimabukuro played an amplified rock solo that sounded very much like an electric guitar.

Shimabukuro named his latest CD Gently Weeps because of his affection for George Harrison. The late musician, whose primary instrument was guitar, also played ukulele and would take one along wherever he went.

"I really believe he got a lot of his ideas from the ukulele because they work so well with the instrument — songs like Something," Shimabukuro says.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.