As some of you know, I’ve taken up the ukulele, aided and abetted by the lovely folks at Toronto’s Corktown Ukulele Jam. It’s a wonderfully fun instrument, easy to learn, and far more versatile than most would think. Unfortunately, the playing of this instrument leads to a condition known as UAS (Ukulele Acquisition Syndrome), of which I am in the early stages.
So far (yeah, so far…) I only have three and a half ukuleles. The extra “half” is not playable yet as it’s missing crucial parts, and it’s actually not a ukulele per se but a banjolele. A ukulele sized banjo. (Hey, I already own a zither, so a baby banjo is the next logical step, right?)
I found it in a place I wouldn’t have expected to find it: a used clothing store in Kensington Market. I’d just been invited to a Roaring Twenties birthday party and had gone in search of accessories to go with a flapper dress I planned to wear (Really? You’re surprised I own a flapper dress? I own a zither. Nothing should surprise you at this point.). Anyway, while pondering the historical accuracy of an elbow-length pair of gloves, I looked up at the ceiling (a rare occurance for a 5’0″ gal) and there she was, tucked away on a high shelf with a dented flugalhorn and toy guitar:
She only had one string; was missing a bridge; two of her tuning pegs were broken, and the other two were missing. She was splattered with mud, having likely been stored ignominiously in a barn. And judging from the wear patterns on her fretboard, she looks like she spent her entire life alternating between G7 and Gm.
But she was otherwise in decent shape, and she’s a genuine 1920s vintage instrument from the ukulele’s heyday. But best of all is the decoration on the drum skin: a man and a woman in a canoe, wearing old-style bathing costumes. In the background on a dock, another man and two women, also in bathing costumes, and the women are playing teeny, tiny ukuleles. How cute is that?!
The sales clerk originally thought it was from the 1930s, but the bobbed haircuts on the gals were fashionable in the twenties. Googling the logo told me that it was made by a Chicago company called J.R. Stewart, which went out of business in 1930, so ’20s it is.
I’ve found replacement tuning pegs for her, although they’re a more modern mechanism than the original all-wood (and hard to tune) ones. I’m going to take her to Corktown’s resident genius technician to make her playable again.