Craig Wilson helps someone at the weekly ukulele jam tune their instrument. Wislon is one of the Juneau Jambusters likely to have a spare ukulele during the Sunday gatherings. (Ben Hohenstatt | Capital City Weekly)

Craig Wilson helps someone at the weekly ukulele jam tune their instrument. Wislon is one of the Juneau Jambusters likely to have a spare ukulele during the Sunday gatherings. (Ben Hohenstatt | Capital City Weekly)

Hope uke like jamming too

Weekly ukulele jam is fun — even if you’re bad, like me

Juneau Jambusters say anyone of any skill level is welcome to the weekly ukulele jam.

Even if the last time someone picked up an instrument was in high school while slowly picking out AC/DC power chords, they can join in with the group that meets 11 a.m.-1 p.m. at TK Maguire’s restaurant in the Prospector Hotel.

I know because that’s my exact level of proficiency, and I recently went to the jam with my wonderful fiancée, even though I am objectively terrible at ukulele and most other forms of music making.

A groggy pirate waking up from a rum-induced slumber required for a double amputation and hook installation would play circles around me.

I am bad.

But I was welcomed and lent one of the spare ukuleles the group keeps on hand for interlopers or the otherwise curious.

On any Sunday, the number of musicians fluctuates between four or five to over a dozen depending on work and play schedules. Gray skies tend to drive more group members to the Prospector for the jam.

The number of instruments almost always outnumbers the musicians, said Rhonda Jenkins-Gardinier, who helped found the group almost a decade ago.

That’s because many people may dabble in ukulele and run into the group by chance, or play a different string instrument and want to join in the group music fun.

“It’s a very approachable instrument,” Jenkins-Gardinier said.

That’s sort of how longtime Jambuster Reid Tippets ended up joining on.

He was at Echo Ranch and saw Amy O’Neil Houck, another one of the Jambusters founding members, playing ukulele.

“I said, ‘Oh, I have one in my attic,” Tippets said.

He’d bought it years ago when visiting Hawaii and jamming “So Happy Together” by the Turtles with a shop owner but mostly had forgotten about it and favored the guitar.

“It was kind of this synchronicity of meeting Amy,” Tippets said.

In part because just about all the members are multi-instrumentalists, there are many types of ukuleles at the weekly jam — some play more like a more familiar instrument and some cover different ranges of sound.

Some of the instruments aren’t even ukuleles.

There’s a four-stringed, Venezuelan instrument called a cuatro, which John Lager makes sing with string-bending playing, a twangy banjolele played by Jessica Breyer and a plugged-in bass ukulele played by her husband, Rodney Breyer.

Rodney Breyer said the bass ukulele is exactly like a normal bass, but “more compact.”

The group dynamic of the jam creates a firing squad effect that means it’s never clear who issued a fatal errant note or mistimed strum.

However, unique contributions to the sound, like Lager’s solos or rumbling bass do stand out and add texture to the pleasant sounds.

Hearing the group break out into “500 Miles” made famous by Peter, Paul and Mary, it’s hard to not catch choral vibes with every individual voice adding a vibrant thread to a grander tapestry.

The jam approach also means, if you’re total dead weight and clumsily strumming the same C string over and over whenever you recognize it on one of the sheet of tabs shared among the group, you don’t drag things down.

And, in between songs, someone will probably show you a new chord.


• Contact arts and culture reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com.


Rodney Breyer and Read Tippets look at ukulele tabs before playing a song during the weekly Sunday ukulele jam. Breyer plays an electric ukulele bass that’s similar to a bass guitar. (Ben Hohenstatt | Capital City Weekly)

Rodney Breyer and Read Tippets look at ukulele tabs before playing a song during the weekly Sunday ukulele jam. Breyer plays an electric ukulele bass that’s similar to a bass guitar. (Ben Hohenstatt | Capital City Weekly)

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