Monday, June 11, 2012

Ukuleles Are Hip

Sunday was either a really slow news day or a long-simmering story has finally been discovered by the MSM. The latter is, of course, the case.

As the NBC reporter says, ukuleles are hip. The ukulele revival has been in full swing for a few years now as evidenced by the 800-pound gorillas of the guitar market—first Martin, and now Taylor—producing ukes. (As well as smaller, but significant, builders like Collings.) Martin produced tens of thousands of ukes in the early part of the 20th century, then stopped as their popularity waned in the War years. But Martin ramped up to start building again a couple years ago and now Taylor has joined in.

The hottest builder of the moment is Mya-Moe Ukuleles, a boutique shop that is building gorgeous instruments. In fact, if you stop the NBC news piece at EXACTLY 50" you'll see two Mya Moes, one in the foreground and one in the background—notable by their distinctive headstock design.

Being a lover of stringed instruments, I scouted out my first uke about four years ago when I noted the interest building—a well-worn, vintage Martin soprano. Martin made so many thousands of these, in the classic soprano size, that they didn't even give them serial numbers—so they're impossible to date accurately. But judging from the condition and the case, I'm guessing this is a pre-War uke:


It had been played seriously as evidenced by the worn spots in the fretboard in the first 2-3 frets, and the back of the neck:



The bass side of the lower bout had been worn down considerably by the infinite number of up and down movements of the player's(s') arm:


I resold it after deciding the soprano size was too small for my mitts. But I marveled at the stories that little uke could probably have told. It was played down to a nub, the way instruments should be. I persevered and found another vintage Martin, this time a concert size, with a huge sound, and have since moved up to the tenor size as well. I confess that my motivation for the uke was fueled by Joe Brown's ukulele version of "I'll See You in My Dreams" -- the closing song at the Concert for George (2002 tribute concert for George Harrison held at the Royal Albert Hall—still the best concert video I've ever seen). Brown is playing a vintage soprano Martin:

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