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We’ve been hearing the humble ukulele a lot lately. The four-string instrument we remember from Hawaiian vacations has become a contemporary craze--Eddie Vedder based an album on it, Kickstarter phenom Amanda Palmer touts it as an antidepressant, and we hear its happy plink-plinking in lots of commercials. 

But recently, when a dinner party host pulled out a mother-of-pearl-inlaid model for an impromptu sing-along, we knew the uke was taking center stage. We discovered that even $60 models sound good, and non-musicians can learn a handful of songs in an hour, so we went to Santa Monica’s legendary McCabe’s Guitar Shop for a $40 lesson. 

Our instructor, actress/musician Heidi Swedberg, let us borrow an instrument and instantly made us feel at ease with her cheeriness and vast musical knowledge. In an hour, she covered a smidge of uke history and musical theory and showed us three easy chords she promised we’d use to play hundreds of songs. (We learned "Ho Hey" by the Lumineers.)

The lesson was such fun, we’re psyched for more. In September, there’s a ukulele festival in Napa with concerts, instruction and wine tasting. A little Cabernet plus a few chords--now that’s what we call a social lubricant.

McCabe’s Guitar Shop, 3101 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica; 310-828-4497 or

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