Wherever here is - and I am in trouble there are lots of things I should be doing rather than buying new Ukuleles, especially as all of the others are packed away. But it's nice to have a new Ukulele; even if I can't play it much, and I have no idea when I can take some proper photos of it. Or how? It is clear and so it going to present a few challenges, not least keeping it clean because at the moment it would be the dirt and grease spots that would show up the most. its also tricky because the strings need stretching but it makes a noise and I'm not suppose to make much of a Ukulele noise until I get my own house. At the moment it is more likely I write a review of it that I take photos or do a sound clip But then I did say in the last Aqulele review that the big elephant in the room was the lack of a waterman to compare it with, and now I can remedy this.
The "I'm about to loose control" line is wrong though because I think I have already lost control First I buy a new home for Ukulele Corner so now it will be Ukulele Corner of Ukulele Island then I do one of those looking at ebay and seeing a nice, in this case, Banjolele about to end and no one bidding on it very low starting price and no reserve, bound to have a load of action in the last minute but I'll still have a punt at the low asking price - and then there was no last minute action! What I have invited is a MISCo (Musical Instrument Specialities Co. of Elkhart, Indiana) metal body banjolele in a copper finish; one of the classic pre war US Banjoleles! This one is the less deluxe version with the "gumby" headstock and no metal pan resonator, (but it does come with a contemporary hard case so shows it never had one - they didn't all). These were most often sold in the US under Bruno's Maxitone branding, and the Banjo-ette Elkhart, Indiana branding too but a number of people distributed them, (including it would seem someone in the UK but I don't know who? - maybe the case will give me a clue), and you do see a lot that were never branded. It needs a new bridge and the frets apparently need dressing both of which I can sort out so this should be a welcome new resident - once the new, purpose built, Corner is up and holding residents
And very coppery it is too. The case is on the used side but it has kept the little banjo fairly shiny and bright. I don't like the strings much (but then I have the set I put on the Shanghai Skylark to replace them with) and I seem to have packed all of my spare bridges already (so I have had to "borrow" one from one of the Banjoleles that's still here) but the skin is perfect so even with the strings it came with its very playable and I'm about to loose control and I think I like it...
Anyway usual routine up this one pops on eBay - I thought it looked interesting, a lot of experience showing on the finish but from the pictures it looks basically sound and whilst I know I have seen that S shaped fret board end before I couldn't remember if I saw it on a 1930's German model or a 1950's Japanese one? Either way it looked interesting and I though I would at least have a small punt, (like I do for interesting instruments and generally get outbid) Well this time I didn't so its coming to the original Ukulele Corner just in time to be packed up and moved. Never mind I am excited at having it come and looking forward to finding out if the pretty binding is inlay or decal, if there are any makers marks and if it is pre war solid woods or post war laminate? (but possibly still solid woods). Meanwhile I will hunt through my notes to see if I can remember where I had seen the design before? Now the tuners are the 60's shark tooth ones but they may be replacements - or a number of Occupied Japanese makers copied Harmonies design and they are original? The bridge is a one piece wooden affair but its not a design I recognise but I enjoy all of the detective work, as well as playing the Ukulele and the workmanship that went into making it and I shall look forward to reporting who made it once I have solved the misery.
Once I unpacked it there were two main problems - the first is its in a lot worse condition than I was led to expect with a crack that runs the length of the sound board, (which at least shows it is solid wood though probably pine; and the binding is a decal), and a place where the body is coming away from the soundboard. There might also be a crack in the side and a place where the back is coming away from the sides too; on top of all the clear scuffing and chips shown in the picture. I'm tempted to return it as "not as described" given that there was no mention of any cracks, but given what I paid for it and the cost of sending it back, its probably not worth it. The other thing and its not a problem other than a problem of my attribution, but as soon as I took it out of the packing I knew it as a late 20th c. Skylark Ukulele made in Shanghai, Peoples, Republic of China, not a brand, location or period that was known for its quality! Now I knew that one day one would find its way to Ukulele Corner, there are just too many about but I was expecting to be given one or find one and if I was going to buy one... Well I have passed up lots in the past for the same sort of money in much better condition. Oh well its here now so I will have a good look at it so I can recognise them more easily, (its already made me go back and look at a lot of the unbranded Ukulele pictures I have to see if I have miss-attributed them to pre-war Germany), clean it up a bit and learn to love it for what it is. I'm not so sure I will try to get the cracks fixed though? I try and string it and make a sound sample and it can hang with all the other clunkers representing a period and a location that done make up the full history of the Ukulele.
I tried putting some strings on - and surprisingly it sounded a lot better than I though it would! For a bit - the string tension causes the crack to widen making a dreadful buzz and clearly damaging the soundboard further! It said quite clearly on the eBay description "No Cracks" and as this is clearly cracked and unusable I have decided to return it and get for my money back. Given the 5 minutes that the tone was OK though I may be a little more favourable about the next top end Shanghai Skylark I see?
I'm always a little sad when I can't home a Ukulele at the corner but I don't have space for every thing. I learned a lot from it and it took a reasonable photo for what it was I still had to pay postage one way for these privileges and given the seller I fully expect to see it back on eBay shortly
Aqulele Soprano, I thought for a modern plastic Ukulele it sounded very good, the build quality was a little suspect but then I did have one of the first ones from the production run; and it was free, because Bugsgear asked me to review it! And that's the big maybe here too because Bugsgear have once again asked me to review this Concert one; thanks Bugsgear I would be delighted. Now it's a fairly different design with the slot head and the ƒ hole, (and everyone knows I'm a sucker for ƒ holes). With the little pick guard and the cutaway too; I think it looks, from the pictures I have seen, quite distinctive and given the poor quality of the competition in Concert scale plastic ukuleles I hope they will be on to a winner. I just hope they really do sent me one.
And its quite colourful but with a painted on ƒ hole, (slightly disappointed as I thought it actually had one and I like ƒ holes), the pickguard is a separate item though and a slot head always looks classy. It also came tuned as a low G which surprised me, especially as the G string is wound so was thinner than the C. My first impression is "a lot of sustain" but I will let it settle for a bit (as it is new out of the factory via Normans music again) before doing any proper evaluation. Anyway though Thank you Bugsgear (and thank you Normans too)
And what I have gone for is an "ultra thin bodied" (4cm) spruce top Soprano in a high gloss black finish. Well there isn't any thin body Ukuleles at the corner (and I do need to have a good example set as I HAVE to lose a lot of weight) and this one does look quite stylish with the very close to Lag and Leho styling. It is a Chinese brand I have not heard of before and I'm not sure from the logo if it's suppose to be Z I or, (more likely for the marketing), I Z? Whatever the case, if it does look as good as the picture? it will come at a very reasonable price especially if it does come from the same factory as the more famous brands it copies so closely
and its very shiny and black
well it would be but there are a few dirt and finger marks on it (so far they have all cleaned off and its very shiny underneath - clearly this is going to be a fun one to keep shiny) It is also quite Head heavy with its small ultrathin body but one of the chunkiest necks I've seen on a Soprano and quite heavy closed geared tuners. This leaves it with an odd balance that means you can almost balance it on the chord hand alone so don't have to put much pressure on with the strumming arm which does add to the volume but also leads to an interesting technique when playing
How many sons did he have?Well I guess it doesn't matter now (apart from for accuracies sake) but there are a lot of British made Banjoleles with his name on and ever a few Ukuleles too. And now one of the Ukuleles is coming to Ukulele Corner! From the photos it looks in really good nick and it is very likely a London made instrument but I am keen to find out all I can about its history, thats one of the reasons I invited it. That and that is is a lovely pre WWII sunburst Ukulele that looks (again from the photos) very pretty. Who knows, once it it here maybe it will tell me if John and his family did exist?
And it is in every bit as good a condition as the photos suggested. There are a few chips, the finish is a little crazed and the tuners are fairly modern replacements, (oh and it has a funny mothbally smell!) but for the money it's bloody good! Its also very tuneful too Everything is firmly fixed with a 12½ fret neck there are no worries about losing the 12 fret to neck movement, (though I can see no signs of neck movement) A good original bridge no seam separation, no cracks just the replacement tuners and these have been done pretty well. It has the "made in England" label in so must date from the 1930's but is much better made that a lot of the British made ones of the time I have seen and is at least equal to any of the US made ones of the time it is also interesting to see the John Grey bridge and neck heel (though I've not seen them on anything else so possibly these weren't made for anyone else?) It doesn't tell me if john Grey existed but it does tell me Rose Morris made a fine Ukulele
Well after 6 months of waiting I finally gave up and changed my order. I had already paid as it was part of a larger order and with the Euro weakening against the Pound quite a bit in the intervening period I would have lost a fair amount if I had just asked for my money back so I decided to change the order. What I went for was Fenders re-issue of its famous 1950's Electric Mandolin, now branded the Mando-Strat, (because although everyone called the original a Mandocaster, Fender never officially did - it was just the Fender electric Mandolin - and in the intervening years a number of people had put out electric Mandolins they had officially called the Mandocaster). I really wanted one of the original 1950's versions, (and still do), but they run well into 4 figures for a good one so it looked very unlikely in reality that I would ever get one, and this re issue when it first came out wasn't cheap so I decided to wait before getting one in case I could get an original or until I could get a new one at a much lower price, (probably 2nd hand), I did keep a vague eye on them though, in case they were discontinued again (in which case I would have to buy one quick!) Well they haven't been discontinued yet but the price has dropped considerably, (by more than half at Thomann), so when I looked for a substitute there it was. (Truth to tell I wasn't particularly looking for a substitute but when I saw the price Thomann was now doing Mando-Strats for, I then decided to change the order) So now the Mando-Strat is on its way to Ukulele corner; I shall mess about with the strings and tune it like a Ukulele as I do with all my Mandolins and I will still dream about getting a Blond '56 one, (the reissue only comes as sunburst) I will even still say I would like one of the ones on sale in Japan that were actually built as Ukuleles (but these are very very expensive even without shipping and import tax however they do come in other finished too so I would get a blue one of those - and if I had all three, then I would tuned the Mando-Strat as a Mandolin)
And its a real real Fender - the bolt on neck and the headstock shape make it seem much more like a real Fender than my Fender Ukulele though they are both real Fenders(? so I'm not sure I'm conveying what I mean well here - anyway) Steel strings hurt my fingers but I have persevered with it and learned to play Sweet Home Alabama on the Mandolin so far though I'm still not sure whether to leave it tuned G~D~A~E (Mandolin) or go A~D~F#~B (Ukulele low A but I probably should change the B string if I do...
Nah its nowhere near as cheesegratery when its a little slack)
This was another Ukulele that I couldn't let go by without having a fairly serious go at. Its a 1959/60 Levin Honolulu Soprano, made in Sweden a few years before Martin brought Levin and for those that don't know Levin was reputedly a very, very good maker. So good in fact that they use to make instrument for Martin to brand, (which is why Martin brought them). However they are quite rare and don't come up for sale very often so when this one came up I knew I would have to have a go though really the amount I bid for it was more in the hope that no one else would know who Levin were; a hope that paid off and now it too is coming to Ukulele Corner as a welcome new resident. It will be interesting to compare it to my Martin which is of a similar vintage and see which one is the best?
and its a lot heavier that the Martin, (or the Vox thats just arrived) and with a 353mm scale a little bit bigger too. It is still a Soprano but only just. This is a quality instrument, and very solid but to answer the question I posed before it arrived, and with the caveat of them both being over 50 years old and me not knowing how hard a life either of them has led up to coming to Ukulele Corner, I would say the Martin is the better quality. However the strings on this one badly need replacing and I will probably think a lot more of it once I have done that; and with the distinctive stepped headstock this one looks cooler than the Martin
When the Vox Hello Kitty limited edition Ukuleles came out I was very taken with them, and a little confused too. First Vox; now its a name with a good rock'n'roll heritage and as such the kind of thing I wanted if only for the heritage name, but there is no history of Ukuleles in the brand? Ok so Korg had brought Vox since its heyday are the British Guitar and Amp maker of the 1960's and I know the Japanese do like their Ukuleles but it still seemed a little odd for Korg to put the name on this limited edition range? Even odder that they brought the range out in conjunction with Hello Kitty, (another thing I know the Japanese like, but why the link to Vox?) The next odd thing about the whole setup was These were very high quality Ukuleles, actually made in Japan by Headway, but they were very expensive, (more expensive that I thought Hello Kitty collectors would want to go - and I didn't think the Hello Kitty connection would appear to serious Ukulele collectors who would be willing to pay that sort of money for a Ukulele: when I say serious I don't mean me because I can never take myself seriously - its all a bit of fun) They were also only originally available in Japan so, though I liked the idea of owning a Vox and I thought the Kitty soundhole looked fun I'd never realistically get the chance to invite one to Ukulele Corner. Well after a year or so Korg international got hold of some and they became available in Europe but they were still very expensive and they were still Hello Kitty, there were a lot of other Ukuleles that I wanted more if I was going to spend that kind of money. Korg had also put out the Vox Teardrop electric Concert, it played far more to Vox's heritage and was a lot cheaper so it was a much better bet to feed my need for a Vox Ukulele, (I'll still get one when I get the chance at the right price), so the whole thing was well on the back burner. Then this one came up its from Korg UK and is an ex display model, and still not cheap, but a serious amount cheaper than they were originally, (cheaper even than the teardrop), and I still think the soundhole looks fun; and I still want a Vox, and I know Headway make very good Ukuleles So I set the invitation out and it was accepted and no 152 (of 400) is coming to stay at Ukulele Corner, Hello Kitty!
and Hello Kitty indead! this really is beautiful and it has a magnificent tone, every bit the true quality Ukulele I was hoping for; I even love the soft case (though I can't say that is spectacular quality but it does make me laugh - me with a Hello Kitty soft case - I shall use it in any situations where I use a soft case). It also came with a Vox owners user manual, a Gotoh Ukulele tuner user manual (that is entirely in Japanese apart from the heading?) and a label that says it is for sale in Japan only, (which I shall keep too). Maybe Milton Keynes has moved since I was last there? Whatever the case I love this Ukulele!
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