“Ukulele is the easiest musical instrument in the world to learn and play,” says Ukulele Ray, Fender’s first sponsored ukulele artist. “With a single finger on a single string, one can create a chord, with many of the chords needing only one or two fingers. It’s the perfect instrument for children because of its small size, making it easier than a guitar, and it’s truly the gateway to guitar, as it shares the same chord shapes.”
The author of the Hal Leonard music book Ukulele for Guitar Players, Ray points out that it was the first instrument picked up by guitarists like George Harrison.
“I would not be Ukulele Ray had it not been for George, who came to my home to view my ukulele collection and inspired and encouraged me to be a steward to the ukulele to help play it forward. This is the reason why I don the Sgt. Pepper motif, in honor and memory of George.”
Before relocating to Escondido, Ray headed a Las Vegas uke review called Ukapalooza (“The show featured me doing songs saluting the American pinup girl from each decade”) and ran a ukulele museum in San Francisco housing more than 1000 vintage ukes. “I’ve been working on plans to reopen here in San Diego and should be securing the right location soon, which will not only house my vast collection, but will also be a restaurant café and concert venue.”
However, Ray’s handmade custom instruments are what he’s probably best known for, including the Lunchbox-A-Lele, which combines a ukulele and a lunchbox, and the Warhol Soup-A-Lele, made from a Campbell’s soup can. “I’ve been creating and building cigar-box ukuleles since 1981, but it wasn’t until 2001 when I was inspired to create a ukulele from a tin lunchbox…. I’ve made custom pieces for Paul McCartney, Gene Simmons, Cheech and Chong, and Steven Tyler, and have made well over 1000 pieces to date.” Most instruments run $250 and up.
“San Diego has been the inspiration for many of my newest creations, including the world’s first Quadra-lele, a four-necked Campbell’s soup-can uke featuring all four scales of a ukulele: soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone.”
Most of his instruments are easier to create than the Quadra-lele. “Nothing difficult in wiring a lunchbox at all, since I’m able to work from the inside of the box. My lunchbox ukuleles still open after conversion, so it makes it easy to install anything, as well as still carry your lunch.”
Ukulele Ray will performing during the San Diego Film Awards at Humphrey’s on April 8.