The Samson portable USB Go Mic

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The Samson portable USB Go Mic

Living on the road, you really pay attention to every 100g that must be part of the adventure. And as I share Podcasts and recordings with you during these travels, I need a decent mic that won't take over half my house (i.e. my Backpack).

The Varna Episode of the Podcast, Bulgaria, was recorded with the Samson USB Go mic

The Varna Episode of the Podcast, Bulgaria, was recorded with the Samson USB Go mic

The Perfect Size

And the Samson portable mic does just that! It takes a tiny amount of space, is extremely light and enables me to record and share content with you from the road. I use it for the recordings of the Ukulele Road Trips Podcast, and also when recording arrangements to add to my musical videos filmed with a camera. 

It's about the size of a thumb and folds nicely back into it's little stand. As you can see from the picture, it's really easy to place and to get the direction right.

 

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My Tenor Ukulele Oscar Schmidt OU8T

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My Tenor Ukulele Oscar Schmidt OU8T

I travel with two Ukes, and this one is my very dear 'bigger' Uke.

 

The Tenor Oscar Schmidt OU8T travelled with me the whole adventure in Eastern Europe, and I feel very lucky to have had its lovely sound with me. It helped me develop my ukulele playing in a way a little soprano Uke never would have, and it even changed the way I wrote certain songs. I'll explain why a bit further down.

But first, here's a to-the-point illustration of what it looks and sounds like. Straight from Transylvania's Sibiu.

 
 

For those who might not know, a tenor ukulele is one of the bigger kind of ukuleles. The strings still play the same notes as on the other regular ukes (GCEA) but the body is larger. Which means you can't shove it in your backpack as easily but it comes with a lot of musical bonuses.

I want to be perfectly transparent with you here, and want you to know that Oscar Schmidt sent me this uke as I was about to embark on the adventure. I had sent a few emails around the month before leaving home and Oscar Schmidt were very happy to just send me on my way with one of their own. Which I duly did, and am very glad I did too, as you'll read.

The Sound

This Ukulele has a very rich sound, and a strong resonance, which you simply will never get from little soprano ukes. Just playing an simple C chord makes you realise how openly it rings.

And the song above is a good example of this, because my inspiration for the chords and the playing style in "See You in Sibiu", really feeds off of the openness of the sound of the OU8T.

Strolling around in Student City Cluj with my Oscar Schmidt OU8T, Romania

Strolling around in Student City Cluj with my Oscar Schmidt OU8T, Romania

During a concert in Chisinau, Moldova, singing about a certain Stefan

During a concert in Chisinau, Moldova, singing about a certain Stefan

I'll get technical briefly but I play a C5 here (GCG highC). I tapped into its resonance, and starting to improvise on the last string, keeping the beautiful openness of the C5 going. And that's how I came up with the riff.

I would have ended up frustrated if I couldn't switch from fooling around with the little uke to the much richer sound of this one. As you can see in the video however, one of my T-shirts is stuffed into the sound hole of my OU8T. And that's because it is quite loud, and when I use it to accompany my singing voice, the balance is altered slightly. So when I'm singing with it, and especially when I'm recording, I dampen the sound a bit that way.

Comfort

Because of it's resonance and of the bigger size of the frets, I was able to improvise and write songs with more finger picking, and subtle things like pulling and tapping the strings with the left hand's fingers.

Ben&OU8T, recording the first song on the road, in village Koprivshtitsa, Bulgaria

Ben&OU8T, recording the first song on the road, in village Koprivshtitsa, Bulgaria

 

A song like Sighisoara, for example, is completely influenced by the musical comfort that comes with this ukulele. In chords that use open strings a lot (here, in A minor) you don't have to play ceaselessly like you would a tiny banjo on cocaine. Instead, the ringing can accompany a bit more freedom in your singing. Your musicality then becomes free, and a song like that one can truly bloom.

The OU8T is also the Ukulele I used the most during the recording sessions for the various albums. My sopranos had an instantly "cheap" feel once passed through the mics, while this one really filled the sound scope.

All in all,

As I was travelling through Eastern Europe for more than 9 months, this Uke had its own bag, while the tiny blue soprano of mine was shoved (lovingly, of course) in the front pouch of my Backpack. 

Singer Sha-Sha tries out my OU8T after a show, in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

Singer Sha-Sha tries out my OU8T after a show, in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

 

Which is fitting, because I had always tended to see cheap little ukes as half toys/half intrument hybrids, but with the OU8T, I really felt like I was carrying a real musical instrument. And its expanding sound, expanded in turn my playing and my musical ideas, throughout the whole adventure.

And the "shoving T-shirts or underwear in the soundwhole" meant I could adjust its loudness for different situations (jamming with other musicians, recodring uke+voice, recording the uke solo...).

For the seasoned Ukers

I'm very grateful it's part of these adventures, and I'd definitely recommend it, not as a very first uke, but for those looking to expand their playing, their musicality. It's an instrument you don't just play, but that you also really listen to.

The Oscar Schmidt OU8T chilling on an Odessan beach, Ukraine

The Oscar Schmidt OU8T chilling on an Odessan beach, Ukraine

 

And a last little melody, here's a video of us (Ben+OU8T), without socks or T-shirts in use in the sound hole, straight from Veliko Tarnovo in Bulgaria:

 
 

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My Backpack, the Gregory Z55

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My Backpack, the Gregory Z55

The Backpack. The most important object a Backpacker can own.

I mean, it's literally in the name.

Backpack-er.

So if you want to fly away and do some backpack-ing, you better be sure to have one you feel comfortable with, and one you like.

I've been out and about on my Ukulele Road Trips with the Gregory Z55. And I love it.

Martenitza decoration walk around with my Gregory Z55 in Varna, Bulgaria

Martenitza decoration walk around with my Gregory Z55 in Varna, Bulgaria

 

I'm not going expand on the depth of my affection for it here, as you might start thinking I'm mad. But for many many uninterrupted months, this bag, was my house. And you don't do that without developing feelings. And during this cohabitation, the Z55 (or, "Greg") has proved to be everything I needed, and has made my life on the road much smoother. Also, I love it. I may have mentioned that.

There's a bunch of practical features for the (musical) adventurer that I'll chat about underneath, but also, as you can see, it straps itself nicely around the backpacker, still enabling movement, dancing, and singing on the Stefan cel Mare street of Romania's old capital:

 
 

Because I want to be completely honest with you here, I must tell you that before my big adventure, I wrote to a couple of Backpack companies and Gregory were enthusiastic about the project and were kind enough to send me this Z55. I chose the colour though. And couldn't have chosen better anyway.

What makes life easier is that it's just really well designed. You get lots of quick access pockets and such. But the best part for me was the special ukulele pouch at the front of it.

The Ukulele/baby kangaroo Pouch

Now, I don't know if it was designed with ukuleles in mind, but it has got a sort of pouch at the front, where you can just shove stuff in without opening the whole bag. I guess it's used for scarves, jumpers, or large items (it's got small openings at the bottom, so small stuff would fall out - I think I lost a maracas and a musical egg like that), but that's what made it so comfortable with my little blue soprano uke. I have a bigger ukulele in its bag, and then I'd just shove the little one in the pouch.

The Z55 and the ukes have a ballad in the (very square) central square on Lviv, Ukraine

The Z55 and the ukes have a ballad in the (very square) central square on Lviv, Ukraine

 

The best thing is that, that way, music and singing are only ever a quick movement of the arm away! Hop, hop, glingedygling! It really influenced the way I becme so spontaneous with music and singing during the Road Trips.

Fancy Snazzy

My second favourite feature is that it looks very good. That is all. But it's true. You're welcome Greg.

Pockets and Features

Third favourite feature(s): all these pockets!! Everyone knows, an important use of a home is putting stuff in it. Well, travelling for more than 9 months with House on your back, it's important to keep it organised and practical. There two quick access pockets in the belly straps (not the technical term), great for gum, nuts&raisins, or in my case, my 'business' cards for the project.

Behind the famous pouch, there's a cool flat secret pocket, that you open from the outside, quick access practical. And in front of the pouch, as you can see from the pics, a vertical huge pocket. That's where I keep my books, leaflets, maps, and all kinds of stuff I'm too lazy to organise.

Pockets, pockets everywhere

Pockets, pockets everywhere

 

In the bonnet head thing, there's a pocket on top and underneath. When the backpack is all strapped-up, you may need stuff quickly in emergency situations. So in the easy access top-bonnet pocket I keep my backpack's rain cover, and leg's rain plastic trousers (gotta keep those jeans dry). The pocket underneath that is handy also, for documents and such, as you have to unstrap the top bit of the bag but not open the whole thing to get to them.

And inside the main area, there's a hidden pocket, good for important documents you don't need too often. I had clothes, a coat, a camera, books, my (rather heavy) laptop and charger in this Backpack for more than 9 months on the road in 2015 and if you've got a good system, space isn't too much of an issue.

Sending updates from the road, with everything at hand in my Gregory Backpack. This was somewhere in the Bulgarian countryside between Kazanluk and Burgas.

Sending updates from the road, with everything at hand in my Gregory Backpack. This was somewhere in the Bulgarian countryside between Kazanluk and Burgas.

 

Solidity

It's a fantastic adventure-partner, but what you may need to keep an eye out for, is the weight you put in it. Not only for your back's sake, but starting at 12kg I felt the straps might be a bit more vulnerable to a brisk grab up from the floor.

Mine has never torn (sigh of relief) and it's been through its fair share of adventure-ing. Actually it still feels pretty much new. But when it's full and not on your shoulders, it's best to carry it with the solid middle strap, just above the shoulder-straps to avoid the strain of the whole bag on just one of the two shoulder straps..

Talking about strain, the bag has two sets of on-your-body-click-click straps. One goes across your chest slightly sideways and the other, across your belly. It's really useful for long hikes as it takes the weight off of your back. I think the top one is sideways for the ladies' sake, but I might have to get some insider info on that one.

All in all,

Did I mention I really like this bag? 

Backpacking with a couple of ukes, and with lots of little stuff I like to put away here and there, I really don't want to backpack with any other. *reminder to place a heart emoticon here*

I haven't tried many others to be fair, but I really got the right fit for myself with this one.

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