Friday, February 16, 2024

Smeck Harmony Bag Find

Friend o' the Blog Rachel Manke recently scored a sweet, nearly mint condition Smeck Harmony uke. But the most remarkable part of her find was this printed paper back that uke originally came in.

In my quarter-century of sleuthing out arcane ukulele artifacts, I've never seen one of these until today. I've found one other one, but Rachel's seems to be in much better condition.

Have you? If so, drop us a note in the comments!

Friday, February 09, 2024

Will Rogers Ukulele Quote: A Surprising Find

Over the years I've seen several versions of a quote attributed to Will Rogers to the effect that no one could tell if you were playing the ukulele or just monkeying around with with it. Lil Rev has a version of the quote in his Ukulele Method Book 1 (my go-to intro book for adult learners).

I always wondered why old Will had it in for our favorite instrument (even though it's been the butt of jokes almost since it hit American shores...)

Curiosity got the better of me the other day and so I did some searching to see if I could find the original quote. 

Turns out it's from a Chicago Examiner newspaper article, ca. March 3, 1918.

What's even more interesting is the context in which the quote is found, particularly in light of the current war between Ukraine and Russia.

The article begins,

"Now they've asked me to write about Russia. 

"That's fine! There's some sense to that. I can write about Russia for I know that my readers don't know any more about Russia than I do..."

"There is always this to look forward to with Russia. Pick up the morning paper and look for Russian news and have a fear of reading the worst; you won't be disappointed."

Rogers is writing about the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which would have been in the news. The treaty gave independence to Ukraine. Rogers continues,

"You see, Germany was willing to treat for peace as long as Russia did all the treating.

"Now they have given German freedom to some province called Ukrainia (sic); sounds like ukulele, and I doubt it it will flourish even as long as that short-lived instrument."

(Ukulele –'s word-play! And note that Rogers seemed to have considered the ukulele passé by 1918!) 

"The ukulele had this advantage: Not even a trained musician could tell if you were playing on it or just monkeying with it, but the Ukrainian liberty can't fool anybody; those poor independents have "Made in Germany" stamped all over it."

(Emphasis mine) 

The rest of the article is primarily about Russia being taken for fools by Germany. Perhaps a reader/historian more conversant with the treaty and the geopolitics of the time can chime in in the comments. I'll leave it there.

You'll find Rogers' full article in The Papers of Will Rogers: From the Broadway stage to the national stage, September 1915-July 1928, University of Oklahoma Press, 2005, p 121- 122.


Thursday, January 11, 2024

Chaz Chase Eats a Ukulele

Legendary physical comedian Chaz Chase, eating a (gulp) ukulele. Don't try this with your Kamaka. 

Chaz's turn begins at 2:10.  Link

Saturday, December 23, 2023

Upwood Ukuleles Christmas Video 2023 - Walking in the Air

My friend and fellow JHUI Mentor Carol Hudson shared this amazing Christmas Video with me. 

Featuring the members of Upwood Ukuleles from Cambridgeshire, UK, and produced by Tim "Tim'll Fix It" Howard, the video features the ensemble performing Walking in the Air, from the 1982 animated holiday classic The Snowman.

Upwood Ukuleles' designated charity is Magpas Air Ambulance. Thus far, they've raised almost £66,000! Well done!

If you'd like to donate to Magpas Air Ambulance on behalf of Upwood Ukuleles, here's a link.

Friday, December 22, 2023

Arlo Claus: Updated

A dashing Arlo Guthrie wishing everyone Happy Holidays!

(Anyone recognize the make of his uke?)


h/t to Howlin’ Hobbit for identifying the instrument as a Pegasus. 

Here’s an update from Arlo:

 The holiday instrument of choice. Concert is between a soprano and a tenor size ukulele. This one was made by Pegasus Bob on the big island of Hawaii. Bob said he'd used some special koa wood he'd been saving. I was thrilled.

Sunday, November 12, 2023

That's Doctor Muir, Thank You...

Cheers to newly-minted Doctor Samantha Muir, who recently earned her PhD from University of Surrey. 

Sam is the first person in history known to have earned a doctorate in 'ukulele! 

Here's Sam's doctoral thesis. I can't wait to read it...

And if you don't know Sam and her work, here's her website. I'm working through a couple of her Studies books with my students who've suddenly developed an interest in classical music. Her arrangements are really great. Link

(And btw, Sam's Little Book of Giulani does not contain The Four Seasons...)

Monday, October 02, 2023

Gofundme for Dave Talsma

An update on luthier Dave Talsma, who today is having his 11th surgery following a motorcycle accident a few weeks ago. 

Denise Talsma reports that Dave remains in good spirits and is making progress like a champ. TALSMASTRONG!

If you're a fan of Dave and his work, you can help Dave and Denise out with a gift of support during Dave's surgeries and recovery. Here's the Gofundme page where you can make a donation: Link

And it being October now, here's a Halloween treat. Dave's Jack Skellington camp style ukulele!

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Aloha, Jimmy

 With the passing of Jimmy Buffett earlier this week, we were reminded of of a couple of his memorable ukulele performances.

Here is an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon...

Jimmy making a surprise appearance with his cousin Warren at a Berkshire Hathaway event for MBA students. Stay through the end for Warren's remarks...

Jimmy was also instrumental in introducing Jake Shimabukuro to Parrotheads. Here's a nice little clip of Jake telling the story of Jimmy inviting him to sit in with the band.

And a little of Jimmy singing Jake's praises...

Have another memory to share? Post it in the comments.

Thursday, September 07, 2023

Dave Talsma Recovering from Motorcycle Accident

Sending much aloha to our friend and master luthier Dave Talsma, who is recovering from a recent motorcycle accident.

It seems his injuries were significant, but that he's making progress and is remaining in good spirits.

Love, too, to his wife Denise and the entire Talsma family.

If you'd like to send Dave a card, here is his mailing address:

7550 Church Street 

Swartz Creek, Michigan 48473

If you don't yet know Dave's work, check it out now. He's the genius builder of the legendary Warren Buffett Dairy Queen Ukulele. Amazing work, and truly fine player's instruments. Link

Tuesday, August 01, 2023

Ford Hawaiians in Ukulele Magazine

Pleased to announce that fellow ukulele educator and bon vivant Jim D'Ville and I have an article in the Fall, 2023 issue of Ukulele Magazine.

Jim moved to my boyhood environs (The Motor City) a while ago and I asked him if he was aware that Henry Ford was instrumental (ahem) in popularizing Hawaiian Music. Jim was not, and thus began a little research project, the fruits of which you can read for yourself in Issue 42. 

The topline is that Henry Ford was smitten by the music played by Henry Kailimai and his ensemble at the 1915 Pan Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. So much so that he hired the band after the PPIE closed, renamed them "Ford's Hawaiians" and moved them to Detroit.

I've written about Henry Kailimai and Ford's Hawaiians (aka "Ford Hawaiians") previously (golly, 18 years ago), but sadly most of the related links are dead.

But here are links to recordings by Ford's Hawaiians (not included in the magazine article) for your enjoyment!

If you don't already subscribe to Ukulele Magazine (and you really should, you know), you can buy issue 42 here: Link

Mahalo nui loa to Peter T. Young for his research and excellent article on Ford Hawaiians. Also to Jim Tranquada and the late John King for their pieces on Kailimai and Ford in their seminal The 'Ukulele: A History. And to the archivists at the Benson Ford Research Center at The Henry Ford museum.

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Aloha, Pineapple Princess

We have learned of the passing of Pamela Schulting, one-half (with Beth Allen) of the early Third-Wave ukulele duo, Pineapple Princess.

Pineapple Princess was featured in the 2003 documentary "Rock That Uke" by our friend Bill Robertson.

"Pineapple Princess is a San Francisco-based electric punk uke duo who play raucously scatalogical anthems to booze and sex.  The duo is comprised of Beth Allen, a former bassist for the punk band The Loudmouths, and Pamela Schulting, a school teacher and highly accomplished hula dancer with the Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu dance troupe."

 If you haven't seen Rock That Uke, do yourself a favor and check it out. Especially if you weren't around before the 'uke went mainstream, and only true kooks (guilty) were strumming...

The film's YouTube site is here. Buy the DVD here.

Earlier Ukulelia post here: Link

At Auction: Aaron Keim Kingdom Era 'Ukulele

Master luthier Aaron Keim has been devoting his energies to learning early building techniques. He recently traveled to Hawai'i to study period instruments and research materials with the goal of building instruments true to the earliest designs. He's built two to date, and the second is currently on eBay at auction. He'll use the proceeds to fund a future research trip back to Hawai'i and will share a portion of the proceeds with the non-profit Saving Hawaii's Forests (link may not work: their site seems to be down).

Sez Aaron:
"This is the second instrument I’ve made as part of my Kingdom Era Ukulele project, where I have been researching the original instruments made in Hawaii in the 1890’s. I used the same hand tools, techniques and most of the same materials as the instruments I examined in the Bishop Museum and in Shawn’s collection from  The body, neck and fretboard are made from Koa from our friend’s sawmill on Oahu.  I made the rope binding from Maple, Cherry, Walnut and Mahogany.  It is soprano scale, with a flat fretboard and white side dots. In order to be more comfortable for modern players, I’ve used geared Peghed tuners, fluorocarbon strings and small fret wire. The ukulele is finished with shellac and wax. It comes with a handmade case made in the old style from Mahogany scraps with rope binding and Kapa style cloth."
Bidding ends Wednesday, May 24th, 2023. Just in time for my birthday (hint, hint).

Link to eBay Auction

Saturday, April 01, 2023

World's Best Arrangement of Wagon Wheel (The World's Best Ukulele Song of All Time)

Unless you just picked up the ukulele for the first time this morning, you know that the very best song you can play is Wagon Wheel, co-written by Bob Dylan (perhaps most remembered for Wiggle Wiggle) and Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show.

With its awesome and completely original chord progression, Wagon Wheel is sadly rarely played today, which is really sad, because it it indisputably The World's Best Ukulele Song of All Time. 

Here is a link to the Very Best Recording Ever. And, finally, for your enjoyment today, the World's Best Arrangement of The World's Best Ukulele Song of All Time.


Photo credit: Countryside Antiques and Primitives

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Cuttle Up a Little Closer

Check out this cephalopod chordophone! Link

Cary Kelly over at Mya-Moe Ukuleles recently completed this custom Sycamore Tenor Cutaway (Cuttle-away?) featuring a sweet squid graphic etched onto the soundboard via pyrography. The pyrograph here was done by Dumitru “Dino” Muradian, who was profiled in the Fall, 2020 issue of Ukulele Magazine.

Cary says he's now built three ukes with pyrography on the soundboard. Victoria Vox owns one, which she uses for both recording and performances. He notes that he hasn't noticed any adverse affect on tone: "I’ve heard some argue that it opens up the soundboard, much like torrefied soundboards, but I’m not fully convinced of that."

By the way, I was so captivated by this design that it took me a couple of weeks to realize that it's a left-hand set-up.

I wonder if there's ever been a Kala-Mari uke...

Thursday, March 09, 2023

The Secret of the Ukulele Finally Revealed!

I'm proud as punch to share that the good folks at Ukulele Magazine interviewed me for their Spring 2023 issue.

It's a great honor to recognized for having edited this little blog for over 20 (!) years and to have been able to chronicle, in particular, the early years of this Third Wave of ukulele popularity.

If you've come here via the profile in Ukulele Magazine: welcome! (And if you're not yet a subscriber, it's a terrific publication. I look forward to it arriving in my mailbox four times a year. You really should subscribe. It's about the cost of two sets of strings...)

A big thank you to Blair Jackson at Ukulele Magazine for the opportunity. Also to Craig Robertson, who was a treasured co-editor for a few years. And finally, to Mark Frauenfelder, who created Ukulelia (Your Passport to Four Stringed Paradise!) as an offshoot of Boing Boing back in the late 90s before generously handing me the keys in the early 00s.

I guess now I have to be a bit more diligent about turning up more remarkable stuff to share. It's a real challenge to find hidden treasures today. Stay tuned!

Here's the issue. Spoiler: I'm on the back page.

And as for that clickbait headline: it's a little inside joke for my friends who constantly remind me how bad I am at self-promotion...
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