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)

More in News

A Princess Cruise Line ship is docked in Juneau on Aug. 25, 2021. (Michael Lockett / Juneau Empire File)
Ships in Port for the week of June 26

Here’s what to expect this week.

Drag queen Gigi Monroe reads a book about a wig during Drag Storytime at the Mendenhall Valley Public Library. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)
One for the books: Drag Storytime returns

Balloons, books, bustin’ moves.

FILE - Tara Sweeney, a Republican seeking the sole U.S. House seat in Alaska, speaks during a forum for candidates, May 12, 2022, in Anchorage, Alaska. Sweeney's campaign manager said, Wednesday, June 22, 2022, that the campaign did not plan to sue over a finding released by Alaska elections officials stating that she cannot advance to the special election for U.S. House following the withdrawal of another candidate. (AP Photo / Mark Thiessen, File)
Alaska Supreme Court ruling keeps Sweeney off House ballot

In a brief written order, the high court said it affirmed the decision of a Superior Court judge.

President Joe Biden signs into law S. 2938, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act gun safety bill, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Saturday, June 25, 2022. First lady Jill Biden looks on at right. (AP Photo / Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President signs landmark gun measure, says ‘lives will be saved’

The House gave final approval Friday, following Senate passage Thursday.

Three people were arrested over several days in a series of events stemming from a June 16 shoplifting incident, with a significant amount of methamphetamine seized. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire)
Shoplifting investigation leads to arrests on drug charges

Significant amounts of drugs and loose cash, as well as stolen goods, were found.

Ben Gaglioti, an ecologist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, stands next to a mountain hemlock tree damaged in winter on the outer coast of Glacier Bay National Park in Southeast Alaska. (Courtesy Photos / Ned Rozell)
Alaska Science Forum: Bonsai trees tell of winters long past

By Ned Rozell A GREEN PLATEAU NORTH OF LITUYA BAY — “These… Continue reading

This photo shows a return envelope from the recent special primary election for Alaska's lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. On Friday, a judge sided with the state elections office on a decision to omit fifth-place finisher Tara Sweeney from ballots in the special general election. Al Gross, who finished third in the special primary, dropped out of the race, creating confusing circumstances ahead of Alaska's first ranked choice vote. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)
Judge rules Sweeney wont advance to special election

Decision has Sweeney off the ballot for special election.

It's a police car until you look closely and see the details don't quite match. (Juneau Empire File / Michael Penn)
Police calls for Saturday, June 25, 2022

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

A Princess Cruise Line ship is docked in Juneau on Aug. 25, 2021. (Michael Lockett / Juneau Empire File)
Ships in Port for the week of June 19

Here’s what to expect this week.

Most Read