Category Archives: ‘Uke History

A Ukulele on the Moon?

Astronaut Neil Armstrong strumming his Ukulele while in isolation upon returning from the moon in 1969.

Astronaut Neil Armstrong strumming his Ukulele while in isolation upon returning from the moon in 1969.

 

Well, not exactly. But this is pretty close.

In honor of the 45th Anniversary of the first men to walk on the moon (last weekend July 21), we present you with Astronaut Neil Armstrong, strumming his Ukulele while in isolation upon his return from the moon in 1969.

For those of you not up on your history, Armstrong is the first man to walk on the moon.

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George Said Everyone Should Own a Ukulele

George Harrison spells out the reasons everyone should own a play a Ukulele

George Harrison spells out the reasons everyone should own a play a Ukulele

 

And who am I to argue?

Seems like sage advice from George Harrison. And he should know. Being a pretty decent Ukulele player and all.

Apparently whenever he was in Hawaii, Harrison would go around to all the shops and buy up as many Kamaka Ukes as he could get his hands on. He would then give them out to his friends.

In a letter written on Flea Market Music stationery in 1999, Harrison spells out why he thinks everyone should own and play a Ukulele.

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The Honolulu Baby

Book of Magic – International Doll Cut Outs in the Washington Times – Feb. 19, 1922

Book of Magic – International Doll Cut Outs in the Washington Times – Feb. 19, 1922

 

Back in the day, you could often find something like this in your local newspaper.

This page is from the Washington (D.C.) Times on Feb. 19, 1922, at the height of the “first wave” of the Ukulele craze in the U.S.

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Here’s Your Chance to Own the ‘Holy Grail’ of Ukes

Circa 1926 Gibson Poinsettia Ukulele

Circa 1926 Gibson Poinsettia Ukulele

 

From the “Rare as Hen’s Teeth” Department comes this little tidbit: The Holy Grail of Ukes is for sale! That’s right, now you too can own the Holy Grail of the Ukulele world.

Up for sale on various auction sites like eBay and GBase is one 1926 Gibson Poinsettia Ukulele. And for a mere $11,579.00 it can be all yours.

Granted, these are pretty rare Ukuleles. There just aren’t a whole lot of them available anymore. I’m not sure how many exactly were made and how many survived, but I know of at least one other in existence, which is owned by a Ukulele Underground member, who posted about it here a few years ago.

The one being sold now is owned by Distinctive Guitar of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The condition is listed in various places as “Fair” and in others as “VG/EXC,” so take that as you will. The seller does acknowledge that this model has had some cracks repaired.

“This ukulele is in VG/EXC Vintage condition, there were some cracks on the back that were professionally sealed by Third Coast Guitar Service in Chicago, IL a couple weeks ago,” he notes.

According to the seller:

The headstock has “The Gibson” which puts is pre-1928 so this is one of the earliest ones made. Post 1928 you see just “Gibson” on the headstock logo and the fingerboard markers are often painted poinsettia’s instead of hand inlaid designs on the real vintage bakelite.

I’ve often wondered why Gibson made these Ukuleles with Mahogany bodies and plastic fretboards. Bakelite, as you probably know, is  a form of plastic, which was used for lots of things in the 1920s. Whole Ukuleles were made of plastic in those days. The fretboards on these Ukes are not Bakelite, however, they are another form of plastic called Ivoroid. Why Gibson chose to make a hybrid wood-plastic Uke is interesting.

According to Gruhn’s Guide to Vintage Guitars, the Gibson Poinsettia was available from 1927-1928 and featured “custom floral ornamentation with red poinsettia flowers on body and fingerboard, ivoroid fingerboard and peghead veneer, pearl logo.” They also were available as custom models from 1929 until the early 1930s.

I have to admit, it’s a very pretty Uke. Gibson spent a lot of time and care preparing these models. And with its original case, it’s a pretty cool find. But I’m not sure it’s worth the asking price. Possibly half the asking price is more appropriate, considering this one has been repaired and has wear from use. But it certainly would look nice in anyone’s collection.

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You Don’t Look a Day Over 75!

1918 Martin Style 3 Ukulele

1918 Martin Style 3 Ukulele

 

This is allegedly a 96 year old Martin Ukulele. Apparently it’s been in its case under the bed for the past 96 years.

It looks brand new and never played. Even the case looks brand new. But I guess it’s possible that it was purchased new and shoved under the bed and never taken out again.

No matter, it’s still a pretty cool Uke. Probably sounds really nice too, seeing as how the wood has aged all these years.

This one looks to be a Martin Style 3 Soprano from 1918, which has these features:

  • Introduced in 1918.
  • Mahogany body.
  • 7 layer top binding.
  • 3 layer back binding.
  • 5 layer soundhole ring.
  • Celluloid ornament on top, behind bridge (known as the “parend”).
  • 17 fret ebony fingerboard extents to the soundhole.
  • Bar frets.
  • Small pearl paired-diamond inlays at fret 5, 7, 9.
  • 3 lines inlaid down center of fingerboard.
  • Nut of 3 ply plastic.
  • C.F.Martin & Co. on back of headstock.
  • Kite-shaped celluloid peghead ornament.
  • Friction pegs.

In the late 1940s the diamond inlays were changed to dots. Friction pegs were used between 1918 and 1922. They sold for $25 when new.

These Martin Style 3 was discontinued in the 1977.

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Beer and a Plastic Banjo Uke

1050s Mastro Plastics Banjo Uke

1950s Mastro Plastics Banjo Uke

 

We recently told you that plastic Ukes are making a comeback. Well, here’s one of the originals.

And this is a pretty rare find: a plastic Mastro Banjo Uke from the 1950s. It looks to be in perfect condition with its original box and song sheet.

Imgur user baldylox posted a few photos of a Mastro he (she?) has in his collection. And it’s a pretty rare one at that. It’s a Mastro issued as a promotion for Carling Black Label beer. Made by Maccaferri, I’m sure there weren’t that many produced. It may even be the only one still around.

Here’s how he describes the Mastro:

This is an old 1950’s Maccafferi Mastro banjo uke. It’s made of bakelite plastic. Maccafferi made a few of these bakelite plastic banjo ukuleles (in the US), but I’ve never seen one like this. It’s meant to be a promotional item for Carling Black Label Beer. The strings are the original color-coded nylon strings from 60 years ago. It comes with the original box and a little pamphlet with ukulele chords and a few songs, including a Carling Black Label jingle. When I got it the head was loose. The bakelite plastic ring holding it on had snapped at some point, rendering it unplayable. I tried some super glue, but the tension involved was too much for it. A little washer that holds the head together at the break did the trick. This little thing is so much fun to play. It sounds great, plays great, it’s weird. It’s an awesome little uke.

According to the Tiki King, Mastro Plastics was the name given to Mario Maccaferri’s French American Reed Company in 1964.

Maccaferri’s Mastro Plastics produced the Islander, the Islander Semi Deluxe, Islander Deluxe, (with an extended fretboard) The Islander Ukette, also known as “Sparkle Plenty”(a sort of small soprano) The Islander Baritone, The T.V. Pal, and the Playtune Senior. The Mastro line also included a Banjo Uke, and in the ’60s they even made a Beatles theme Banjo Uke (with the fab fours’ faces on the head) several Beatles theme “Jr. Guitar” Ukes, and other toy instruments such as bongo drums.

Not bad for a Ukulele that’s getting up there in years!

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A Bit of Uke Wisdom From Jake

Ukulele master Jake Shimabukuro

Ukulele master Jake Shimabukuro

 

Anyone who follows the Ukulele world at all, even on the most peripheral level, is aware of Jake Shimabukuro. He’s probably the Uke’s greatest modern-day ambassador (and a damn good musician as well).

In the last segment of a four-part Portuguese documentary called “History of the Ukulele,” Jake explains the reason for the Uke’s popularity. He nails it in a few sentences. The documentary is narrated in Portuguese, but the interviews are in English.

Here’s what he has to say on the subject:

The Ukulele is special because the Ukulele is one of the easiest instruments to play. You know, first of all, you don’t have to be a musician to play the Ukulele. All you have to do is get one and you can learn a simple chord like this [plays a C chord] and play it for five days and be happy. Be totally happy and content.

This pretty much says it all.

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