RTU's Ukulele Consciousness - Archive 1


Ukulele Consciousness with robert wheeler

Ukulele Consciousness Archive 1

Session #1 Session #2 Session #3 Session #4 Session #5
Session #6 Session #7 Session #8 Session #9 Session #10
Session #11 Session #12 Session #13 Session #14 Session #15
Session #16Session #17Session #18Session #19 Session #20
Session #21Session #22 Session #23 Session #24Session #25
Session #26 Session #27 Session #28 Session #29 Session #30

Archive 2

Session #1 - February 11, 2003

Speaking of the founder........

William Preston Robertson, a very prestigious person in this shallow pond of ukulele interest, and co-director of that notorious revelation of the underbelly of the world of ukulele folk, "Rock That Uke", has made the kind offer of providing me, the founder, with a place on the World Wide Web, for what might be called a "column", as part of the "Rock That Uke" internet site.

With the understanding that I write what I want, when I what, about what I want ("In time all things come back to the ukulele, anyway." --W.P.Robertson), and that responses to my sessions will be treated as SPAM, (The founder will not respond to praise or criticism (my fourth wife provides all of both that I may require), I have agreed to this enterprise.

So we start.....................................

Since 1975 I have found the ukulele, and its reality and fantasy, an endless source of delight and wonderment.  An interest in ukuleles can provide personal pleasure, for you and those around you. It can also provide exposure to human enterprises and conduct in areas of commerce, manufacturing, entertainment, craftsmanship, creativity, and other things beyond expectation. It provides for personal musical growth, and frustration,  that may have preciously been denied because of total lack of talent.  At least in my experience.

I do not suggest that understanding the ukulele will give one an understanding of the meaning of life, but that as a "touch stone" that has history and a lot of affectionate acceptance, it may provide an opportunity for some perception.

I am planning, at this time, although I may change my mind  later, to address subjects as narrow as a single ukulele and as wide as ... "Did the astronaut take the ukulele to the moon with him, or did he have to return to earth play his ukulele?" (See "Rock That Uke").

I must say that likely the most enriching thing  about my interest in the ukulele has been the human relationships with those who share, in two ways or another, my passion.

For the ukulele.

It is not unusual for me to be asked ..... "What is Ukulele Consciousness?"

I always ask ..... "Do you know what a ukulele is?"

Most often the reply is ..... "Yes."

Then I ask .... "Do you know what consciousness is?"

Usually ..."Yes."

"Then you know." .... says I.

As you may recall, from previous sessions, ...........................


robert wheeler
Ukulele Consciousness



Session #2 - February 16, 2003

When some of my traditionalist ukulele associates became aware that a project titled "Rock That Uke" was in progress, some shuddered.

When given the  opportunity to experience, live, one of the musical aggravations that was to become a part of "Rock That Uke", the traditionalists exhibited a reaction that could best be described by using the old traditional saying, "....like dropping a fox in a hen house....".

Following the premier performance of "Rock That Uke" at Ukulele Hall of Fame Museum's Uke Expo '02, after the civilians had left the room, a number of those who had, for the first time, viewed their contributions to Bill Robertson & Sean Anderson's project, and the contributor's supporters, gathered together and chatted.  Punk Chat.  Perhaps.

One of the anointed suggested we sing and strum (there were a lot of ukes in the house) a song.

He suggested, "I've Been Working On The Railroad".  We formed a circle and sang and strummed.

It was endearing.

Later, when one of my most valued and beloved traditionalists had an opportunity to actually see the dreaded documentary, he remarked, or words to this effect, "....... but when they talk about the ukulele they are quite sweet." 

Aren't we all.

"Ain't we sweet. See us strumming down the street. Now I ask you very confidentially, ain't we sweet."   A variant from a cut on a two CD set, "Beatles at the BBC".


robert wheeler
Ukulele Consciousness

Fred Fallin and Casey Korder, Ukulele Players.
Photo: robert wheeler


Session #3 - February 18, 2003

I Love My Supertone

A most valuable ukulele came in to my possession through the societal altering enterprise called "eBay".

It arrived, this wondrous example of early 20th Century Chicago factory production, sold to the original owner by that legendary American Retailer, Sears & Roebuck, bearing the proud proprietary trade mark "Supertone"  It has a few flaws.

The instrument was strung with steel strings. Metal washers were attached to fasten the strings at the slots on the bridge, originally intended to fasten gut strings.  The bridge is somewhat damaged.

The wooden body, likely an American hardwood, "mahogany" finished,  had a top binding of white celluloid.  The flaws in the body are:

1. Two significant cracks on the back. Perhaps more.

2. Significant hairline cracks on the face below the bridge.

3. The back is separating from the side, significantly, in three places.

4. The connection between the body and the neck has given up all pretenses of holding the two parts together. 

5. And perhaps most strangely, and totally unexplainable, on the head are drilled four holes, each placed approximately 6/16ths of an inch above the pegs, which, based on comparison to other "Supertones" of the period, are in their original positions.  The drilled holes appear to have never been used. They are 1/4 inch in diameter.

I once saw a boxed LP recording set of music, written  by an unforgettable  classic  European composer, who was a wonderfully accomplished organ player, as well as composer.   The performer on this LP set, one E. Power Biggs, English organ player, traveled all over Europe, with attended sound recording engineers and other music business lackeys,  playing this unforgettable composer's compositions on organs that the composer, himself, had played on.  Perhaps, the actual compositions that had been played on those very organs, but I don't remember.

Now, it turns out, the composer was very young when his gift began pumping out these wonderful organ compositions. About as young as you and I were as we prepared to enter 6th or 7th grade.  Perhaps earlier.  So he, the composer, was a bit out of control and at one organ, carved his initials on some part of the organ.  Somewhere in Europe.   I don't remember on which part of the organ.

As part of this boxed set, a printed booklet discussed the compositions, described the organs, and gave their location.  In various parts of Europe.

The cover, or first page, of the booklet had a printed reverential representation of a rubbing of the young man's act of vandalism., his initials. Carved into the wood of the organ.

Given these remarks, what follows may be considered as flaws of this ukulele, or as reverential historic information.

In addition to the physical damage to the wood and the deterioration of adhesives, there are "markings".  All over the uke. Top.  Side. Back. Neck, Front, back and one side of the head. These markings, mostly alphabetic characters, with a few numbers and "strokes", have been crafted using white paint, black paint, and styluses of various kinds that were used to scratch through the finish into the living wood.

The "markings" are loosely divided into dates, names, phrases or sayings, graphics,  and geographical or institutional identification. 

DATES:  Deeply scratch on the back of the head, above the pegs, "1923". 

At the top of the front of the head, white paint, "Mush 30". (Which, parenthetically, will also be listed under the "names" section below.)

Scratched on the back of the uke's body, associated with a group of names (refer to  "parenthetically" comment above) with the title "The Wonder Boys" is the date 1931.

Also, scratched on the  back, and associated with a group of names (you know the drill!!!) with the title "The Lehigntonians" is the date "Oct. 1936".

The various inscribed dates would suggest that his instrument was not treated as a one-night-music-stand,  but rather as a long term source of pleasure and delight.

For purpose of brevity I will include initials as well as names, in the following section.

These "people" are listed as observed  on the uke, not alphabetically.  The sequence will be, front side, top to bottom, left side, top to bottom, back, top to bottom, and right side, top to bottom: 

FRONT: PEOPLE: Mush, Peg, Boops, Sizzle Kid, Mary, Paul, Nanky, Winnie,  Hal, Helen, Eve, Melvin Moyer, Bill, Honey, REG, Peppy, EH, Jazz One, Hell, Peppy, Wes K., Jack A., Roy K., Mush M., Bill, W.M.M.

SAYINGS: "Ain't She Hot", "Get Dirty", "Five Foot Two - sounds familiar - "Hot Lips", "Hot Uke", "One For All, All For One, Every Man For Himself".

GRAPHIC: ON the head are painted, in white, 4 small triangles, pointing at the unexplained holes drilled above the pegs.  At  6th fret are two painted dots, at 8th fret is one centered dot, at 10th fret is a curved line. Put them all together, 6, 8, 10, they spell, a face. Here's lookin' at you. At the 9th fret, across the width of the neck, is an attempt to carve a representation of snake skin, or an adolescent skin condition. At the base of the frets below the neck, painted on the top is a white painted representation of the pointed end of fancier uke's pointed fret board, my Supertone's frets are inbedded in the neck, no fret board. Within this, are the initials "LHS". I believe that the "HS" stands for High School. The "L"? I could guess.

LEFT SIDE: PEOPLE: Hot Joe, Nobby, Babs, Viola, Lill, Eddy.

SAYINGS: "Play That Thing???!!!"

BACK: PEOPLE: Mush - (I'm kind'a getting the feeling that this was Mush's uke -) , D.L.U., Blow, Al, Ming Tin Tom, R.B.G., M.P.A., "The Wonder Boys'- Webby, Mush, Gordy, Moony, F.S.S.- Hot Shot, "The  Lehightonians - Ute, Sleepy, Mush, Jerome, Boops.

SAYINGS: "And How".

GRAPHIC: A pumpkin like face is scratched on the heel. Here's lookin' at you.

RIGHT SIDE: PEOPLE: Jimme, B.K.L., Mel, Moddy, Swede, Mally.

SAYINGS: "If I could talk?1 Oh, Oh!*?@

Maybe there is no need to talk.  Dangling from the uke, on a cord, is a pair of baby shoes.

Need I say more? About the uke?

I will remark that although contemporary youth culture, is there any other kind?, suggests that "HOT" is the latest discovery, closely following on exposing one's navel while shopping, and other  social gatherings, .... that Mush knew HOT, if not in 1923, certainly by 1936. Years and years ago.

I just love my Silvertone.

Warm regards,




Session #4 - February 26, 2003

As you may or not recall the previous session was ended with the phrase, "I just love my Silvertone."

How could anyone love a Silvertone, one might ask. The exciting display of craftsmanship? The connection to an enterprise that rose to the tallest, for a while, building in the whole entire world?

Perhaps not.

How about the interaction of human beings and the tortured path of valued instruments to the founder?

Jake, long time musician friend, and former room mate, calls and says that the dream find of the century has been discovered, by a mutual friend, who shall remain nameless.

It turns out that a man who lived across the street from nameless has up and died. The dead guy, who had been a surgeon, or heart specialist, or some sort of high priced doctor, had left in his attic a large number of musical instruments. It turns out that this doc, while not a great musician, liked instruments, would buy them, and put them in his attic.

The widow asks her neighbor across the street, nameless, knowing that he has an interest in musical instruments, if he would look at them, and perhaps help her in "disposing" of them.

My heart stopped. "High Priced Doctor". Attic. Martin! Gibson!!! Koa!!!!!

Jake says that while most of the instruments are guitars and banjos and mandolins, there are a few ukuleles. Jake actually has one in his possession. Would I like to see it? He's doing a gig at a local farm stand, tomorrow. A drug and smoke free environment. Stop by.

The uke is a late teens, early 20's, Harmony. Blue paint. Hula dancer pointing at seagulls, seagulls, palm trees, wooden pegs, and early red garland Harmony decal. Used but not abused.

It turns out that all of the instruments are of Harmony quality. Which means good, but not Martin. Not Gibson. Not high priced.

My heart resumes its normal rhythm. Excellent condition. Priced reasonably. I now have another Harmony. Very nice.

There are other ukes in the attic. Jake will get in touch with nameless, and we can go over and look in the attic. Great. I'll call.

I call.

Nameless has take all of the instruments to the Music Emporium, a local and well respected local retail musical establishment.

"He took them to the Music Emporium!!!!!!?????" Why not take them to the Prince of Darkness or get your grammar school daughter a job in a Los Vegas dance ensemble.

They're all gone.

But wait. Jake says he bought a uke from the attic, before it fell in to the hands of the Prince of Darkness. A Silvertone. "Mahogany" finish. Early 50's. Frets in neck. Painted woman in grass skirt sitting in the grass playing a uke. Palm tree. Clouds. Dodge tail fin shaped plastic tuner pegs. "Silvertone" printed on head.

"What do you want a Silvertone for," says I. "It is no way matches the musical quality of the 20's Martin Style 0 I gave you." Emphasis on "I gave you." (I will just mention that if you have a lot of ukuleles you can occasionally give one away, thus enhancing your reputation as a giving and caring person.)

Jake wanted to keep the Silvertone.

I then used (must credit Woody Allen) an old Navajo Indian trick. Begging and pleading.

I just love my Silvertone.





Session #5 - February 27, 2003

Near Perfect

I awaken.

Moonlight, reflected by the deep snow cover all around the house, illuminates my bedroom.

I slip from 'neath the covers and quietly move towards the door. Ansel, our cat, from his current place on our bed, stretches, and then follows me through the doorway.

Carefully shutting the door, I go into the Uke Room.

A light. Ukuleles.

High on a special section is my Earnest Tululele, sunburst finish. Joel Eckhaus' respectful nod to Leo Fender's first is not only imitative, but also innovative. And cute.

The pitch of each string is tested with my electronic tuner. A Korg.

The official genuine leather Fender strap is fastened to the chromed buttons. One end of a cord is plugged into the Tululele and the other into my battery powered Pignose amplifier.

Softly, in the night, I strum cord progressions from my Fleetwood Mac music book.

"Sweet, wonderful you.........."

........... near to Perfect.


Session #6 - February 28, 2003

House of Correction

Discovering places to play your ukulele when you have no talent is easy.

Nursing homes. The sham of America's myth of caring.

Open mikes. Were the management has more interest in drunks than they do in ukulele players and Master of Ceremonies who believe that they are entitled to the amount of star suck usually given to Willie Nelson. They don't seem to get it that Willie's trouble with the IRS was firmly based on money he got from penning, humming and strumming, and not a day job or a one night a week MC gig.

Woman's prisons. It's not just that a room full of women, all whom have been convicted of felonies, are loud and boisterous and threatening, but the woman sitting at the side, expressionless, staring at me, at my only female prison performance, was the woman I had seen on TV being sentenced for murdering her two toddlers.

I might not have found the experience so displeasing had I not been required, when I arrived, to go into a small lavatory, with a male guard. He had me open my uke case, empty my pockets, take off my boots, and then fondle my balls to make sure I wasn't smuggling anything. Smuggling drugs was a continuing problem.

As for men's prisons, I was able to handle nine visits.

It should not have come as a surprise to me when, at my last ever prison performance, bless you J. Cash, extra guards had to come into the mess hall, scene of my performances, and assist in escorting my audience into "The Tunnel" - a passageway between the cell blocks and the mess hall.

As things grew out of control, I put my 1920's Martin soprano ukulele, Style 2K, into its case and held it by my side.

Out of the swirl of my audience's departure came two phrases that I remember.

A guard said .... "We'll leave them in "The Tunnel" a while. They'll work it out." Seems that some of my audience were pissed. They wanted to watch the ukulele player. Some didn't.

In the group of four punks, that initiated the shutdown, the tallest, and biggest, and lowest ranked, whose mouth, set in a cherubic face, appeared to be unable to close completely, said..."We were just having fun!"...as he was moved towards "The Tunnel".

Had I not been blinded by my show business ambitions I would have paid more attention to the initial comments of the soft hairdoed young woman who scheduled entertainment for the incarcerated.

"What you want in your audience is a real good murderer. The punks will behave themselves."

During my prison time I had two real good murderers.

I didn't know enough songs to fill the performance time, so, in addition to song and uke, I would read "MY POETRY. This was a period of my life when I had yet to understand how embarrassing "MY POETRY" was.

One Real Good Murderer, hearing that I was going to read some of "MY POETRY", asked if he could read some of his. Of course!

I judged the first man to emerge from "The Tunnel" into the mess hall as the "poet", not only by the manila folder he held but also by the sincere deference exhibited by his felonious peers. He sat close enough to me that he could have put his hand on my knee. Or my throat.

His poetry was about his world.

The other murderer looked well groomed, like a CEO of a fortune 500 company. In crisp button down shirt, pressed faded blue jeans and rubber "push and goes" with the thong pressing the bright white socks back between his big toe and the next. His peers were appropriately deferential.

He sat to the rear of the group and read a news paper. Folding and refolding it, like a subway rider.

One of "MY POEMS" I read was written in reaction to my son's death.

At the end of what might be called my performance, the man, the "Real Good Murderer", stood up, and with his folded paper in hand, walked through the group, right up to me. Actually he didn't walk "through" the group. The group parted for him to pass.

"How old was your son?"

"Twenty one."

"You had him that long."

He turned and walked, through the still opened pathway, into "The Tunnel". The others followed. It was the first emotionally meaningful remark that anyone had made to me following my son's death.

I'm glad I stopped "MY POETRY". Too embarrassing.

Saturday Afternoon

I sit on a bench
In the sharp, cool
Sunshine of a
Perfect day of
Spring, in
San Francisco.

I look over
The straits of
The Golden Gate
And the bridge that
Spans it.

Before me is a green
Proletarian fairway,
bordered by cypress
and eucalyptus,
On which the old cart,
And the more able walk,
As they let the object
Of their pursuit
Guide them
Through this

The bay beyond is
Covered with heeling,
Bowed triangles
of white,
A few pass beneath,
To feel the pull of
A stronger wind,
A stronger tide.

As they pass beneath
The bridge in their daring recreation,
I think of the
Laborers who built,
As a job of work,
The structure
That casts a
Momentary shadow
On bodies,
On decks.

I have a vision
Of construction
Coming loose;
Of "safety"
Net giving way;
Of a grainy
Moving image;
'30's newsreels;
Materials and
Workingmen falling,
Workingmen dying.

The vision re-runs
And each time it starts,
There is no way
To stay the ending.
No way that 1930's
Workingmen will end
Another day with
The anticipation of
The next day of work,
The next day of life.

My son died
Three days ago.

The Anticipation
Of days to come
has altered.

As I said, too embarrassing.


robert wheeler
Ukulele Consciousness


Session #7 - March 1, 2003

Effects of the Global Economy on things ukulele.

Early 20th Century - Made in The United States of America

Late 20th Century - Made in Mexico

Early 21st Century - Made in Mexico


robert wheeler
Ukulele Consciousness


Session #8 - March 5, 2003

Mexican Ukuleles
The Good, The Very Good, The Quite All Right, and The Ugly


Ah, yes tamales.

Like ukes there are all kinds of tamales.

Johnson's Tamale Parlor on Mission Street in my home town. This was in the days before plastic packaging, so if you took the tamales home, hot, they would be placed in paper pulp trays and wrapped in newspaper. Ambrosia.

Tamales in an Arlington, Massachusetts Mexican Restaurant who's owner had brought his recipe from the interior of Mexico, hundreds of miles away from the influence of Tex-Mex. Unbelievable.

Tamales at Playland At The Beach, a huge amusement park by the sea, now gone and replaced with condos, in a city of homelessness. The Mexican restaurant was architecturally shaped like Hollywood's vision of a Mexican village, starring Abbot and Costello. Eating tamales with the roar of the Pacific Ocean in front of you and the roar of a roller coaster behind you was unbelievably wonderful. Although I must confess, that if it were not for the theme of this piece, I would be writing about enchiladas. Like the big enchilada. "Cause I've always liked enchiladas better than tamales. Still do. If I had half a brain, I would have used a picture of an enchilada in the pervious Ukulele Consciousness piece. However, there's no turning back now.

Canned tamales. What was that I ate?

Also, like ukuleles, these, and many more, tamales, while differing in quality and delight, have a similar basic structure. Soft corn dough, often wrapped in corn husk, and some seasoned filling. Kind of like a body and neck and four strings.

It appears that some have been bad mouthing ukuleles made in Mexico. Considering these troubled times, and that things ukulele can spam historical and cultural boundaries, I feel compelled to comment.

GOOD: I first met Marc Silber, at his shop in Berkley, California. I was prompted to visit him by the information that I had seen about a ukulele that he was offering. The Frisco Uke. I had, by that time in my life, gotten over the arrogant objection to the word "Frisco" that my birth, and births of two earlier generations, in The City By The Bay had for so longed lumbered me. I used to get hostel when the unwashed addressed my city as "Frisco".

Marc Silber's "Frisco Uke", which he and Chuck Fayne, currently of Glen Iris, Victoria, Australia, and a prestigious and respected figure in the international ukulele community, designed, using the Roy Smeck Vita Ukulele, made by the Harmony Company at the time of the height of Smeck's career, the 1920's, as an inspiration.

The Roy Smeck Vita Uke was produced by the Harmony Company with care in material selection and detail of construction that far exceeded the standards that applied to the majority of ukuleles they were making at the time. Suffice to say that the difference in quality between the Vita Uke, and its companion instruments - mandolin - guitar - was as the difference between a Lincoln and a Model T, of the period.

Marc arranged to have the Frisco Ukes constructed in Mexico. He had earlier had guitars constructed in Mexico, and therefore had not only access to builders that he knew, but whose quality of workmanship he trusted. After all, his name was on the instruments.

Marc also exercised a regime of careful quality control.

Roy Smeck Vita Uke, circa 1920s

Marc Silber Frisco Uke, circa 2000

THE VERY GOOD: On the same trip on which I visited Marc Silber, I stopped by the shop of Kenny Hill in Felton California, a short hop up the mountain from Santa Cruz.

Before risking his fortune in the production of ukuleles, Kenny had enjoyed success as a guitar player, and then maker. His "Hill Guitar Co." has been identified with quality instruments for more than 20 years. Not only made in the Santa Cruz mountains of California, but also instruments made, under his control, in Mexico.

The ukulele that inspired Kenny to make ukes was a koa Kumalia, 1915 Panama Pacific Gold Medal model. The first one he encountered was damaged. Broken. All in pieces.

This gave Kenny an opportunity to look at the guts and construction techniques. He said..."....this is put together like a flamenco guitar. Hummmm.... interesting."

The first effort to get a "Uke Brand" uke made was in the shops of Mexico. Kenny wasn't satisfied with the musical characteristics of these efforts. There were a few of these "South of The Boarder" ukes in his shop. They were being offered at very low prices, they certainly were handsome enough, but before seeing these instruments I had seen, and played, one of the California Dreamin' instruments. I was droolin'.

The instruments made in Felton proved superior, so ever since that, Kenny's "Uke Brand" ukuleles have been made in Felton, California. Not only the Kumalia inspired koa instruments in plain and rope bound, soprano and concert, but also his most recent Mainland Concert models, that were inspired by the concert ukuleles made in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, by, arguably, the best ukulele makers in the history of the western world. Available in not only mahogany, as were the inspiration instruments, but also in koa and spruce topped rosewood. Extremely cool.

With skill, experience, and interest, Kenny Hill is making a wonderful contribution to the resurgence of interest in the ukulele. In construction detail and craftsmanship, inside as well as out, Uke Brand ukuleles are as good as any that ever came out of Nazareth, prior to WW II. There quality is matched by few and exceeded by fewer.

I find it highly unlikely that anyone would be disappointed in a "Uke Brand" instrument.

Panama Pacific Gold Medal Koa Kumalia, circa 1915 & Uke Brand Koa Kumalia Ukulele, circa 2001

QUITE ALL RIGHT: Would it seem inappropriate if I brought an Hawaiian influence into this rambling. I think not. I am, after all, talking about ukuleles.

A few years back, in a remote village, in New Jersey, I attended the Ukulele Hall of Fame Museum's Uke Expo. This was the year that it snowed. I met Paul Weinstein of Bounty Music, Kahului, Maui, Hawaii. Paul had a vendor's table and had brought many ukuleles from his shop.

Now Paul, like any traveler might, had encountered some difficulties. When he arrived at the car rental counter to get his reserved car, he, and the car rental clerk, discovered that his Hawaiian driver's license had expired. Paul's mother, a dear and wonderful woman, rescued her son and got him, and all of his ukuleles, to the hotel.

Upon hearing of Paul's travail, I offered to drive him and his ukes, back and fourth between the hotel and the site of the Uke Expo. As a gesture of thanks, Paul gave me a significant discount on a ukulele that I exhibited some interest in.

This ukulele, a "Kalia", had been crafted in Mexico. My principal interest in the uke was its spruce top. In addition to having a belief that spruce topped ukuleles sound more romantic, and are therefore better able to achieve the true purpose of the ukulele, the grain on this ukulele's top was lightly "quilted". A feature that costs extra if you order a D45. I had to have it!

Feature after feature of this ukulele was appealing. A mahogany neck with head veneer of some kind of magic Mexican hardwood. The same material as the back and sides, nicely bound, back and top. A separate saddle on a tie bridge. Like a dwarf classical guitar. Rosewood fret board with correctly proportioned position markers.

What was most impressive about the instrument was its craftsmanship. On a scale of 1 -10, it was clearly a 7 or 8.

The label on the inside of the ukulele read:

Hawaiian Ukulele
Made of the finest tonewoods and top
quality hardware available today.

Design, quality check, & critical detailing by custom luthier
Michael Rock in Maui, Hawaii, USA. Crafted in Mexico.

There was an "800" number should you want to talk to him about his Mexican ukulele.

Michael appears to be willing to put his mouth were your money goes.

Bounty Music Kalia, circa 1999

UGLY: Back Packer and SO. Made in Mexico.

I understand, from recent press, that a superceding model to the SO is being offered.

Following my purchase of a Back Packer, I was excited by the prospects of having a quality ukulele, with a Historical name and provenance, and the recognizable shape of a ukulele, and then so disappointed by the made in Mexico SO, that I've not had the courage to see if their new Mexican, stained, offering has addressed the quality issues of musical instruments made in Mexico.

Maybe I should call them up? I wonder who I would talk to? I wonder what I would talk about.

Years ago, when I had the opportunity to talk to C.F. Martin III, I asked him why the early Martin ukuleles where so crudely made. We had a wonderful conversation.


robert wheeler
Ukulele Consciousness


Session #9 - March 9, 2003

Seems Fair

I've spoken and not been listened to.

 I've listened and have not heard.

I would think, that like many other material things in the world, that focusing on ukuleles, and not the elements of human need that the ukulele supports, would tend to rob rather than enrich one's life.

The uke is a musical instrument that has the potential to bring to the inept small emotional pleasures.

As it became clearer to me that I was neither a singer nor a musician I gracefully withdrew from public performance.  Performance following the traditional standards of winning an audience. 

But a strange force kept driving me.  What to do?  What to do?

What I decided was to select a body of work, from American popular music, that had personal meaning to me, and rather than mastering enough songs to do traditional performances, I would practice one song.  Until I had it down cold.  And then go into a studio and record that one song.  Digitally.  With sheet music and a music stand.

With one microphone for my mouth and one for the uke, I would do the song, and listen to it.  I would repeat the song, or portions when necessary.  It often was. The sound engineer would use his skills to weave a version that made me feel as though I had done the song respectfully.  That it might have represented what I would have sung to someone who I loved and whom I could please.

I would only go into the studio when I felt prepared.  A meter was running.  There could be 4 to 6 weeks between studio visits.  Some times I would feel brave, and try two, maybe three tunes.

The songs that formed my selected repertoire came from the 1930's and 40's.  I found these songs to be little dramas.  Many had been created within the setting of musical dramas for stage and screen  and had become support for the romances of a nation.  Of a world.

One song I selected was titled "How About You".  Written in 1941 by Ralph Freed and Burton Lane for a movie entitled "Babes of Broadway".  The lyrics are the patter that might go on between two new lovers as they "get to know" each other.

I had decided to use ukuleles of only the highest musical worth.  Different ukes for different songs.  For "How About You" I selected a 1920's Gretsch, made in Brooklyn, New York, by a firm founded in 1883 by Friedrich Gretsch.

Gretsch ukes are wonderfully ignored in the current frenzy of ukulele acquiring,  and certinly deserve respectful attention.

 Originally "How About You" included, in its lyrics, the phrase, ".... and Franklin Roosevelt's looks give me a thrill......"  As this song became a classic in the Great American Song Book, artists would change the name from "Franklin" to someone they found more thrilling.  The printed version that I encountered suggested that Jimmy Durante's looks were thrilling.  That's hard to believe.  Even if he did get his name and image on a Maccaferri ukulele.

What thrilling name to sing?  In my mind was the image of a young woman who had appeared in Hollywood movies near the period of the songs I was recording.  I recalled a name and an aura of loveliness.  Over the years her image had come to my mind many times.  She was truly thrilling to me.

I did not know what had happened to her career.  Perhaps like Veronica Lake or Betty Hutton, she had, after a time, faded from public notice.

I awkwardly gave the internet an opportunity to get information about this woman.  No success.  And so I dropped my search.

I discovered that I was not spelling her name correctly.  Her name was Marta Toren.

Marta Toren was a Swedish actress who made one film in Sweden, and then was signed by Universal Pictures, came to Hollywood, where she made eleven films, from 1948 to 1953.  She died, at age 31, of a brain infection.

When the internet presented an image of  Marta Toren, I understood why, in part, her memory had stayed with me so strongly over the years. 

I had read of her sad fate before seeing her photograph.  When I did, I felt a physical wrenching. 

I had heard somewhere that in Chinese culture the site for romantic love was in the stomach, not the heart.  It just could be.

I wonder what Chinese Valentine candy looks like.


Session #10 - March 26, 2003

I Gave at the Movies

To the right of the entry to the company cafeteria sat a little gray hared lady. She was impeccably dressed. In front of her was a table which had on it printed forms and a placard which screamed, in a blood curtailing manner, "Blood Drive".

Her image of sweetness and caring was enhanced by the character of her voice as she stated, "The Blood Mobile will be here on Thursday", and asked, "...Would you like to sign up to donate?"

With a saddened expression, I replied, "I would like to, but since the war I've been unable to donate blood. Not even for relatives or dear friends in need."

"Korea? Vietnam?" as her face softened in expression.

"No, World War Two. Even though I was only six when Pearl Harbor happened....."

Her eyes became shinny as tears began to form.

" ..... our neighborhood was very much touched by the effects of the War.

"My own painful encounters with the ravage of this sad conflict were often experienced in the darkness of the Noe(*) Theater. Hollywood film after Hollywood film, and newsreels and the March of Times, weekly brought to me, and my neighborhood companions, the sad reality of activities far from our safe and secure homes.

"The film that impacted me the hardest was one about a Norwegian Village. The German Army had occupied this small village. On this quaint village, and on its traditionally dressed inhabitants, the cruel boot of the conqueror came down.

"Some of the younger men valiantly escaped by small boat to England, and then returned with radio transmitters, Webly revolvers, Sten guns, and explosives."

The lady's eyes, while still displaying interest in what I was saying, had dried.

"When the young men used their tools, and techniques, obtained from the British, against the occupiers of their village, the response of the dark force was swift and cruel. All of the children were rounded up and confined to the village's one room school house.

"The revered grandfatherly oldest man in the village voluntarily accompanied the upset children to provide comfort and support. The old man was played by Walter Brennan, a Hollywood character actor of great reputation.

"The soldiers drained all of the blood from the children to use in transfusions for their wounded."

Our lady of the blood's eyes had become, not only dry, but hard edged.

I went on.

"Since the War, I've tried to gather the courage to donate blood, but I have repeatedly failed."

As her eyes had abandoned me, appearing to be seeking the next "donor", I left the kind lady and got in the cafeteria's serving line.

(* "Noe"--pronounced NO-EEE--is, I understand, Spanish for "Noah". Noe Valley is a neighborhood in San Francisco. The Noe Theater was at 24th Street and Noe Street, the street I lived on, which is one block east of Castro Street, which may seem queer to some, but was perfectly normal when I was a boy.)

Warmest regards,

robert wheeler
Ukulele Consciousness


Session # 11 - March 31, 2003

Things Change

Time passes and things change. So it has been and so shall it always be.

I can remember always buying the same shoes from the same shop for years. The shoes were imported from England. When I was wearing those shoes I felt all was right with the world.

One day when I went in to purchase shoes, they didn't have any. Not of the kind I had bought over the years.

I had first seen those shoes on the feet of an actor who was playing Professor Henry Higgins in a London production of Shaw's "Pygmalion". Diana Rigg, renown for her roles on TV, was playing Eliza Doolittle. I lusted after Higgins' shoes.

My theater companion of the evening told me that the shoes were quite common in London, and that perhaps the next day, as part of my magic week in London, we could locate some shoes that would please me.

The next day we had a delightful time searching for shoes. We first tried the legendary Harrods. Shoes too wide. We went on to another shop. None that fit. It was looking pretty grim. Englishmen appear to have feet the width of shovels.

After a lunch in an historic pub, behind the Horse Guard, we came upon an establishment that was labeled "W & H. Gidden Ltd., Saddlery , By Appointment to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (and various lesser personages of title)". We entered the architecturally splendid shop. Impressively arrayed were accoutrements for man and beast. An impeccably tailored gentleman in a tweed coat and gray flannel trousers approached.

I explained to him that my search for a particular style of footwear was constantly being thwarted at other establishments in London by the narrowness of my foot.

The gentleman, in cultured tones that out did Henry Higgins, said, "We may be able to be of assistance to you, sir, as we have a very narrow last." It was stunning. I knew exactly what he was saying. A last is the wooden form on which a leather shoe is shaped.

The shoes were a credit to the art of shoe construction. The meeting of materials as the elements that made up the design came together. The classic exterior reflected sturdy and reliable service. The promise of fashionable presentation in business and pleasure was also evident. The promise of the interior's carefully crafted soft leather lining was of comfort.

I bought a black pair and a brown pair. I was informed that there was a shop in the pretentious city near where I lived, that carried the make of shoes that pleased me. So replacements would not require the expense of a trip to London.

While still feeling some disappointment at no longer being able to get the shoes I like at a local shop, I was delighted, when searching the internet, to find that W & H. Gidden Ltd., Saddlery , By Appointment To Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, has no online catalogue or e-mail address. It appears that if The Queen should require things equestrian she would be able to obtain them in a traditional manner. From an impeccably tailored gentleman. Likley to be delivered to the palace of her choice.

Let us hope that she does not seek out a contemporary ukulele, inspired by the Johnny Marvin Prince of Wales koa concert size ukulele, named in honor of her late uncle, when he held that title, by the Harmony Company of Chicago, Illinois. For they, like the shoes of my desire, are sadly gone.

If only other ukulele makers would have the decency to be gone.


Warm regards,

robert wheeler
Ukulele Consciousness

Queen Elizabeth II mounted on Burmese, a mare, a gift from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to Her Majesty in 1969.


Session # 12 - April 2, 2003

Pillow Talk

It is quite a stretch when you realize that for most of your life you have to relate to people who believe that pillows of various sizes and design enhance the places where one would want to sit.

It is my understanding that things on which humans sit are designed to conform to the human body. Sofas, sit up straight chairs, kick back and relax chairs, hide-a-beds closed, bicycle saddles, seating in public transport, etc., etc.

Having once designed and built a chair that did not conform to the human body, and therefore became firewood, I kind of sense the confirmation needs of things to sit on.

I wouldn't want anyone to think I'm some kind of a grumpy antifeminist regarding this issue. Coming from San Francisco, California, as I do, I'm well aware that there are also men who have this comfy view of pillows.

As I come in the front door ...... "Honey, look at the new pillows I got for the couch. I just love them."

"Great Sweet Pee. Makes the room look so, ......... so, ............. fresh!"

Daily life is different than being a witness in court. And that's the whole truth.



Warm regards,

robert wheeler
Ukulele Consciousness




Session # 13 - April 4, 2003

How Can You Tell?

I see that in his description of the usual suspects that appear in the documentary "Rock That Uke" William Preston Robertson, co-director, reveals that the founder has been married four times.

My revered late father once, with a puzzled sound in his voice, following my visit with one of the women in my life that I had been engaged to but didn't marry (great restraint on my part), asked, "Why so many women?"

People all over, even in rural parts of Utah, have fantasies about other's multiple marriages. Or relationships. Watch the "E" channel.

There appears to be a vision that it's all about slow dancing, candle lit suppers, walks along the surf-bordered sand in the moonlight, the turning down of covers in sweetly decorated rooms. It is not.

Although I must confess that there was quite a bit of that stuff in my life. Still is. A little bit. With my fourth wife.

My father was a man of great loyalty. My parents had come together when they were 17. He was steadfastly loyal until my mother's death.

His loyalty extended to things automotive. He had obtained his first Packard--1939 Straight Eight Four Door Black with huge distinctive grill--at the death of his father. The car provided years of service, and when it needed replacement, he went to the local palace-like showroom where Packard motor cars were sold and serviced, and acquired a 1947 Packard. It was not as physically impressive as the car his father had bought. The grill had shrunk to a mere remnant of the make's former glory and the art deco streaming winged lady hood ornament had evaporated. Be that as it may. The new Packard was fine.

The Packard Motor Car Company was acquired by the Studebaker Motor Car Company, a firm whose long history had begun with the manufacture of vehicles that had the kind of horse power in front that ate hay and dirtied the road behind. So when the '47 Packard needed replacement, my father went to talk to the same car salesman, at the same palacial showroom--now a Studebaker Dealership--and bought a Studebaker. While he changed brand names, he remained loyal to the salesman and his palacial showroom.

When the green Studebaker Lark gave up the ghost, as did the Studebaker Motor Car Company (despite the help of Raymond Loewy's Avanti), a Chevrolet was purchased.

I asked my father if he was planning on being in attendance for the demise of General Motors Corporation.

I am very often amazed at people's brand loyalty to ukuleles.

In recent conversation with a respected friend who has considerable understanding of things ukulele I advised him that I was working on a piece about the "going to hell in a hand basket" of quality ukulele production, using as an example instruments made by the Gretsch Company.

He was shocked.

He was stunned.

According to my dear respected friend, Gretsch ukuleles, from the 20s until the end of production some time in the 50s, were all clearly superior musical instruments.

I know the futility of trying to convince someone that "loving" a particular brand of ukulele is a very subjective thing, so I changed the conversation. We have a lot of different things to talk about.

I'll just have to prepare a column about Gretsch ukes as horrible examples.

I have five of them.

Why so many Gretsch ukuleles?

Stay tuned.




Session # 14 - April 13, 2003


Our guest, Mike, came in from the barn into the kitchen. All packed and ready for the trip to the airport.

Margie, my wife, left for her day, and Mike and I began breakfast.

Margie called from her car and said we should turn on the TV. Something was happening in New York City.

As the TV screen brightened, The World Trade Center Towers were revealed, one of them streaming smoke. As we watched silently, an airplane came into view and sliced into the other tower. The far side of the tower erupted in flames.

We had a plane to catch.

As we drove away from the house we turned the radio on. National Public Radio. About a mile from the house the radio said all flights were canceled. Planes in the air were landing at points closes to their present positions.

Back at the house Mike said he had to get home. His health required he be near his health care provider. He did not have enough medication for more than a day or two.

I would drive him. How far is it to Bell Buckle, Tennessee? Nine hundred and thirty one miles. We could do that in two days.

Medication was needed for the trip so we went to a near by Veterans Hospital. Mike having been in the military service received medical care from a grateful nation.

It took a bit of time, and some arguing, and some bureaucratic dancing, but we got the medication needed.

I told Mike that although, on our usual trips we would have separate rooms, we would just get one motel room on this trip. We would drive as far as I could, crash for the night, and get up the next morning and head on in to Bell Buckle.

Mike said, "I guess I'll find out if your circumcised."

The next day was bright and clear. We got on the road and made good time. By the time we got to US Route 81 I realized that there were parts of this country, and things going on it, that I wasn't much aware of. I had never seen so many big trucks. Miles and miles of them. Seems that Route 81 is a major North/South commercial trucking route.

As we passed road signs of our country's history, Gettysburg, Shenandoah, other bloody times for our nation came to mind.

The people at places where we stopped were subdued. Waiters would talk softly about what had happened in New York. Flags began to appear on cars and trucks.

We drove well into the night and finally stopped at one of the many motels along our route.

When we went to the room I got some soda from the nearby vending machine. As tired as we were we didn't feel like dropping right off to sleep. We washed up and then sat and talked for a while.

We were sitting in these two motel chairs, facing each other, with our soda cans on the motel lamp table. We were in our underwear.

Mike was wearing boxer shorts and I was wearing jockey briefs.

As we talked Mike shifted in his chair. The fly of his shorts parted, just a bit, and I saw a view of smooth flesh. Another movement, and the view vanished.

More conversation brought on more movement, and the fly opened and closed. I felt a little uncomfortable. "His eyes! Look at his eyes!"

With a shift of his legs, the fly opened to its maximum capacity.

The flesh of his substantial stomach was resting on the seat of the chair. What I feared I would see was hidden from my view.

Talk about a lucky break.

Photo by Margie Wheeler.


robert wheeler
Ukulele Consciousness

P.S. In death we remember the living.



Session # 15 - April 22, 2003

I Had A 5K and You Didn't

Now during the period from 1916 to the time of this tale, C. F. Martin & Company of Nazareth, Pennsylvania, had made a great number of ukuleles. They were made in different sizes, two different principle woods, and with varying elements of decoration. These elements of decoration were identified by a "Style" number. "0" (Zero), near zero decoration, "1" a bit, "2" a bit more, "3" quite a bit more, and "5" over the top. The bodies of the ukuleles were most often made of mahogany, but, meeting mounting public demand, some bodies were made of koa, a wood from Hawaii, birthplace of the musical instrument called the ukulele. When a ukulele was made with a koa body, the letter "K" was added to the Style number: 1K, 2K, 3K, 5K.

There were no production Style 0 (Zero) K or any 4 Style ukuleles. There was, and is not to my knowledge, an explanation for the absence of a Style 4.

I drove into the parking lot at the end of my long journey to Nazareth, Pennsylvania.

From the parking lot I crossed the street towards the low modern industrial building decorated with the lettering, "C. F. Martin & Company".

The paved walk lead to an entrance with two sets of double doors into the lobby.

At the receptionist's desk I inquired if there was anyone who would have an interest in ukuleles.

The receptionist made a call and Mike Longworth appeared. I recognized him from the photo on the dust cover of his book, "A History of Martin Guitars". Mike introduced himself as the "Consumer Relations Manager." I told Mike that I had enjoyed his book, especially the section about ukuleles. His response, "So you're the guy who bought the other book." The comment, I later became aware, was part of Mike's act.

I told him that I had some Martin ukes in my car, and asked if he would like to see them.


I went back across the street to the parking lot, to my car and gathered together the cases holding thirteen vintage Martin ukes. One case held four, two cases held two each, and the remaining five cases each held one.

By the use of skill and dogged determination, grasping multiple case handles in each hand and pressing a couple of cases between my upper arms and my body, I crossed the street and, twisting and turning, pushed my way through the sets of double doors into the lobby.

Mike, returning to the lobby, seemed surprised at seeing me festooned with ukulele cases. He invited me to his office.

What with my condition of being a terminal show-and-tell freak, the next bit of time delightfully passed as I exposed ukulele after ukulele for Mike's examination. All the while telling stories of my ukulele-acquiring adventures.

After a while, noticing that there wasn't one in my many cases, Mike asked if I had ever seen a 5K. "In your book," says I. The 5K Martin Ukulele was, and may still be, the Holy Grail of ukuleles, except nothing bad happens to you if you discover one.

Mike guided me into the Martin Museum. Along with Company memorabilia and many Martin instruments, most of which were not ukes, was a Martin Style 5K. In a transparent display case. It sparkled like a jewel.

The 5K ukulele was on loan from a retired Martin employee, Lester Davidson.

The display case was cylindrical and about as wide as the 5K Ukulele it contained, plus a little breathing room. I walked all around the case and got a real close look at something I'd only heard about before. I don't think I licked the case. But tempted.

It turned out that Lester Davidson, who, following a heart attack, had retired after a long career with Martin, had two 5K ukuleles. The other one was at home with his other interesting Martin vintage instruments, some of which, as it later turned out, were ukuleles. "Would I like to see Lester's other 5K?" I was asked.

"Of course", says I.

We went to Mike's office and he called Lester, who, within 10 minutes, walked through the office door with a vintage ukulele case in one hand. Nazareth is a small town.
I shook his other hand.

I sat down with the case in my lap and opened it. What to my wondrous eyes should appear? Sitting snuggly in the case was a most beautiful ukulele. I took it out. I turned it over. I held it at arms length. I twisted it around. My fingers traced the abalone mother of pearl that followed the outline of the bindings on the back and front of the instrument.
I softly strummed the strings.

Mike and Lester didn't say anything while I caressed and fondled the 5K.

Lester finally asked if I would have an interest in the instrument. He could tell. "Perhaps you would like to look at the one in the Museum?"

So Mike got a screw driver, and we went into the Museum, and he unscrewed the case and handed me the other 5K. Now I had one in each hand.

I handed the first 5K to Lester and sat down on a bench with the second. After waiting for a bit, Lester said, "Well, which one do you like best???" By now, Mike had left so that Lester and I could "be alone."

"Well they're both so very nice, and it's real hard to tell how the sound compares, and I've never even seen a price on a 5K, and maybe I don't really need a 5K, after all I have 13 Martin ukuleles and that should be enough for any one, and I bet it would, whichever one I liked best, be unbelievably expensive........."

Lester suggested that I might like to think it over. Perhaps we could meet for breakfast. In the morning. I had come straight to the factory without first acquiring accommodations, so Lester suggested I spend the night at the Holiday Inn near the main highway.

Lester (left) and Mike. Photo by robert wheeler

We went back to Mike's office and Lester left. I told Mike that Lester suggested I stay at the Holiday Inn and that we will meet in the morning to talk about his 5Ks. Mike said that Lester liked the fancy bar and restaurant at the Holiday Inn, which is why he always recommended it, but I might like the cost and convenience of the "Nazareth Motel," right there in Nazareth--known, to the locals and ones in the know, as the "Nazmo." The legendary, it turned out, Nazmo.

There are some who think there is nothing more interesting than a ukulele. I don't subscribe to that. I believe that there are a few things more interesting than ukuleles and some things that are just as interesting. The Nazmo falls into the second category.
The Nazmo was a motel that was designed, and likely built, before the Eisenhower National System of Highways was constructed. Close to the center of town on the Nazareth Pike, and across the road from a huge National Speed Way. Mario Andretti was Nazareth's third claim to fame, a maker of guitars and a maker of coloring crayons, being one and two.

The Nazmo was a long low building with an office, bar and restaurant at the south end and a line of single doors and windows running north. There might have been 10 or 20 rooms.

The Nazmo might not have ranked high on the fame scale, but as to colorful, it held its own. Not colorful in a decorative sense, but rather in a reputation sense. The people who "stayed at" the Nazmo where able to park their car right in front of their door and dash into their room. They didn't have to drag their luggage, if they had any, through a lobby.

In talking to one of the Nazmo's functionaries I learned that some folks would rent a room for only a couple of hours, on a regular basis. Folks with a lot of kids often had difficulty finding a quite and private moment. The Nazmo, I was told, provided quiet time.

Most of the Nazmo's clients were from out of town. Some, like myself, from distant places. Some from nearby. With most of the available parking space being right on the Nazareth Pike near the center of town, people who lived right in Nazareth usually took their own "close to home" motel needs to Bethlehem or Easton.

I became worried that folks might think Lester's car in front of a Nazmo room might mean something other than "Ukuleles." Something like ....... So the next day, when Mike gets to the factory, one of the guys says to him, "Mike, I saw Lester's car in front of Room 9 of the Nazmo. What do you thing that old devil is up to???"

"I don't know what you might be thinking Gregory, but Lester is talking to a uke nut from the Boston area about his 5K's. The guy had me take one out of the Museum case. Looks like he's hot to trot."

The Nazmo was a motel that didn't try to induce folk to stay because of clever construction craftsmanship and luxurious bed and bath linens.

The walls between the rooms where built before the discovery of fiberglass and its use as a sound insulation material. The metal shower stall at the back of the room appeared to have been stuffed into what was originally designed as a closet. An afterthought. The top of the stall was opened and revealed roof rafters to the shower's occupant.

The interior decor of my room, which included a TV and a Gideon Bible, was enhanced by a curiously symmetrical stain on the beige and white bed spread. Just below belt level. In the middle of the bed. The stain color coordinated with the beige of the spread, brought to mind either a Rorschach Test or the missionary position, depending on your view of life.

After a pleasant dinner in the Nazmo's restaurant, and an interesting conversation with a man who had worked for Bethlehem Steel Corporation for 35 years before he severely crushed one of his legs in an accident that involved moving railroad gondolas with steel cables and a winch, I repaired to Room 9.

My trip to Nazareth had been the first stop on a vacation that was to include driving up into the English-speaking part of Canada, as I had already enjoyed the delights of traveling in the French-speaking part, with the conclusion that I preferred the company of New York City cab drivers.

I had not planned on buying a 5K. The cash money I had with me was my guess at what would be required to get me through my trip, taking about 2 weeks. I got all of my cash from the various places in which I had stored it for safe keeping. My toilet bag. The bottom of my suitcase. My right front pocket. The lining of my left cowboy boot. Almost all 20 dollar bills. I gathered the 20 dollar bills together in one pile. I counted them. I re-counted them.

I calculated how much money I would need if I went straight back home, for gas and tolls, plus lodging and dinner, and the breakfast tab, for two, which I planned to "pick up" in the morning. I took the calculated amount, rounded up to the nearest 20, from the cash on the bed and set that next to the principal pile, from which I had taken it.

Considering that this was a time in our nation's history before people had absolutely lost their ability to judge the true value of anything, let alone ukuleles, I must say that the remaining, and much larger, pile of 20's was staggering to me. That amount of money for one ukulele? Even given the fact that it was much less than was rumored the amount C.F. Martin & Co. charged to build a contemporary 5K.

Also, considering that the 13 Martin ukuleles in my car, accumulated over some period of time, in total only cost me $67.18, almost made my heart stop.

Just kidding. My heart didn't actually stop.

Knowing that my bank account wouldn't provide much support, and how strongly I felt the urge to acquire one of Lester's ukes, I decided that I would offer just the principal pile to Lester in the morning. Win or lose. No more.

As I composed myself for sleep, I heard through the wall the sound of a female voice. I couldn't understand what she was saying , but after a time the rhythmic sound faded, and all was still.

In the morning, as I dressed, I heard the front door of the room next to mine, the room of the rhythmic sounds, open. I peered through a gap in the curtains.

Parked in front of Room 8 was a small, red, sporty hardtop two-seater automobile. From the room an immaculate woman, dressed in a business suit and carrying a substantial brown leather attaché case, walked to the driver's side door of the car, opened it, placed the attaché case behind the seat, and slipped behind the wheel. She was followed by a man whose casual dress bordered on scruffy. He was clutching to his chest a large brown paper bag. His unkempt hair suggested that his overnight kit included neither shampoo nor a brush.

The man got into the passenger seat of the automobile, clutching his traveling bag. The car backed, and then drove south on the Nazareth Pike.

Soon Lester drove up to Room 9 with two vintage ukulele cases. He came into the room and placed the uke cases on the bed. I opened them. Two 5k's.

"Well, " said Lester, " What do you think?"

I said that as desirable as his 5K's were, I didn't think I could afford the going price, or at least what I understood the going price to be. I told him of my vacation plans and of my principal pile, minus the cost of going right home and canceling the Canadian trip.

Lester asked, " How much in the pile?" I told him. Lester said, "I'll take that. Which 5k do you want?"

Stunned, I looked at the two ukuleles, one of which was mine. One was absolutely perfect. And the other one, the one that had been unscrewed from the display case in the Martin Museum, had one small flaw, only visible to the eye of the worthy.

The slightly flawed one, from the Museum case, was somehow more endearing. I selected that one, and its vintage Martin uke case.

Lester then brought in a few more ukes. A couple of banjo ukes and two Martins. I told him that one of the Martin ukes was incomplete and broken and had drafting tape, old aged drafting tape, stuck to the face and that I wouldn't want it on a bet. He said I just had to have it and he would accept any amount for it. $1.25? He took my $1.25 and added it to my previous principal pile.

The other uke was a Martin Employee's uke, which I didn't buy at the time, but which is the best ukulele in the world. Charlie. But that's another story.

We got into Lester's car and drove into downtown Nazareth for breakfast. On the way to the restaurant Lester stopped at the bank. "I'll get this cash deposited."
As I waited in the car I opened the case and gazed at my 5K.

After breakfast, Lester dropped me off at the Nazmo. I shook his hand, said, "I'll be in touch," and he drove away. I packed up my car and headed north.

I drove into New York State. The Catskill Mountains. In the late afternoon I stopped at Catskill resort and checked in. It was some time before dinner, which I was looking forward to because of the reputation for huge Yiddish meals at such establishments, and took my 5K for a walk. With my camera. I took a lot of pictures of ukuleles and was looking for artful back grounds for pictures with my new treasure.

I came across an abandon building with windows boarded up with weathered panels of plywood. I placed the 5K on a window sill and composed. It looked so good I went back to my room and got a few more ukes. My 3K. My 2K. My 1K. And my $1.25 broken uke Lester had forced on me.

Martin 5K

Martin 3K

Martin 2K

Martin 1K

Lester's Uke

All photos by: robert wheeler

Following a memorable meal, a good night's sleep and a breakfast of bagel, lox and cream cheese, I drove in the morning directly to my apartment in Somerville, Massachusetts, near Boston.

Upon arrival, my first act was to sit down in front of my music stand, take MY Martin 5K out of the case and strum. I strummed for hours. With my soft felt plectrum. It was so pleasing.

After I while I paused and reverentially gazed upon my 5K. The richness of the woods. Koa, mahogany, and ebony. The skilled matching and shaping of the parts. The substantial Grover crafted tuning pegs with genuine African Elephant ivory buttons. I'm not kidding. The sparkling reflections from the iridescent surface of the abalone mother of pearl that outlined the top and back of the koa body and the sound hole, that formed a torch inlaid into the koa veneer on the head stock, and that marked six inlaid fret positions on the bound ebony fret board.

At the 3rd fret was a large "snow flake". At the 5th fret were two small "snow flakes". At the 7th fret was a medium sized "snow" flake. At the 10th fret were two small "snow flakes" positioned artistically a bit further apart than the ones at the 5th fret. What craftsmanship.

The decoration at the 12th fret, where the neck met the body, was a centered small "snow flake" with a "cat's eye" shaped inlay on either side. At the 15th fret was a deep empty "cat's eye" shaped pocket, empty, in the ebony surface of the fret board. No abalone mother of pearl "cat's eye" shaped inlay.

Hold on there. I had seen that abalone many times since this 5K had become mine. Even before that. When it was in the case at the Martin Museum. Now all I saw at the 15th fret was an empty "cat's eye" socket.

Could I have "stroked" that inlay out of its socket?

I looked down at the floor. Which was covered with a green shag carpet. Actually there were several more colors than green in the carpet. The carpet was on of the best things about my apartment.

The apartment was the scene of the longest period of my life of being single, and I loved it. Whenever something would fall onto the carpet and I couldn't see it, I would leave it there. Saved hundreds of hours of vacuuming, scrubbing, shampooing and brushing. Thankfully my mother had passed on so I didn't have to worry about her seeing my green shag carpet and discussing, as she had been willing to do with other elements of my life, my standards, of housekeeping.

I didn't see any "cat's eye" shaped abalone mother of pearl on the rug.

I did a careful evaluation of the strumming strokes, up and down, that I had been doing for the last few hours, and roughly estimated the amount of force that would have been applied, and from these elements calculated the radius of an imaginary circle, centered on my current position, of the portion of green shag carpet that a small "cat's eye" fragment of abalone might have landed in. While it is referred to as the "green shag carpet," it actually had several other colored threads, as well as various minute pieces of color not present at the time of the original installation. Poppy seeds, sesame seeds, bits of other food.

A very careful perusal of this imaginary circle was fruitless.
I then did something that I rarely do, even though I come from San Francisco. I got down on my knees.

I faced Nazareth, Pennsylvania, and brought my nose down within an inch or two of the center of imaginary circle of green shag carpet. There I found the small beautifully shinny piece of "cat's eye" shaped abalone mother of pearl.

Somewhere, whereever it may now be, a beautiful 1920's Martin Vintage Koa 5K Ukulele has two flaws. The first flaw was not my responsibility, so I won't mention it.

The second flaw is that instead of being held in by careful fitting or traditional hot hide animal glue, the "cat's eye" position marker at the 15th fret is held in by Elmer's White Glue, applied by the founder.

Ukuleles gone, but not forgotten.




Session # 16 - May 16, 2003

What's Afoot?

I've been trying to use my extensive inquiry into things ukulele to assist me in determining when things in this great nation of ours began to appear to be heading to hell in a hand basket.

Over the past year, giving major focus to the behavior of the television media, mainly because a daily dose of the New York Times, with poorly registered printed color images and no comics, is in no way as interesting as is modern television with between 50 and 978 channels, depending on what amount of your monthly income you want to transfer to cable and/or satellite enterprises.

I have been pursuing the possibility that recent use of sacred music in enterprises that want an amount of my money to be transubstantiated in to their money could be in some small way responsible.

My reference to sacred music of course refers to classic music and lyrics that accompanied us as a whole generation, with a new explanation, as we sought strength and courage in exploring intimate physical relationships with persons of our choosing.

In the commercial media, hearing dearly loved music being used to encourage the purchase of every thing from automobiles to personal hygiene products seriously damages the youthful memory of making love on a mattress, on the floor, of a room, that in no way would have satisfied your mother's standards for decor or housekeeping, let alone the actual activity you were involved in, as the hi-fi oozed ... ".... you make me feel....." ooh ".....you make me feel....." Ooh ".... you make me feel like a ....." OOH, OOH....... and you oozed back. And the candles flickered.

Not that the non-commercial (a fantasy in which you are not suppose to notice that proceeding many of these Public Television Presentations, one is able to view brand new cars that are offered for sale by the shows "underwriters" ) media is not involved with this desecration of our sacred music. In fact, their exploitation is even more hurtful.

During apparently never ending begging for you to become a "member", these public stations repeatedly present either legendary performers of this sacred music, who have died, thus reminding you, as you sit or lie comfortably before your TV, that you are close to death, or still living legendary performers, often supported by performers who for reasons of not being born or not being noticed, when the legendary performers were initially involved in this sacred music, you've never seen or heard of. These legendary performers, whose bodies and facial features have radically altered from the time you "went to the mattress", cause you to gain the clear understanding that you to might be overweight, wrinkled and dress in bad taste.

Near enough to discouraging to make you chuck your last pair of bell bottoms.

A nation that mocks and uses badly the heroes and remembrances of our past does a disservice to our future.

photo: robert wheeler / twitch effect: wpr

The legendary entertainer, Herbert Khaury, aka "Tiny Tim," leaving his interrupted performance at Montague Grange Hall in Montague, Massachusetts at the Uke Expo, September 1996.


Session # 17 - June 16, 2003

Faux Electrifying

So a woman, who my fourth wife likes a little, or a lot, or not at all (my wife is an equal opportunity kind of person, she treats every one equally in social interchanges, so it is hard for me to tell) is holding one of my ukuleles. Kind of on her lap. She looks down, and sees a small triangular piece of electrical tape stuck to the side of the neck, at the 5th fret.

It is my view that fret board position markers on the surface of the fret board of fretted musical instruments are useless, except for fancy pearl markers which show the world how much money you are willing to spend on useless decoration, should that be of importance to you. A player of a fretted instrument, looking down at the instrument in the playing position, can only see the markers on the face of the fret board if he leans forward or twists the instrument towards his body.

Quality fretted instruments usually have very small position markers on the side of the fret board. Ukuleles, being of such low position on the Quality Scale, usually don't have these. As I'm so low on the Quality Scale of fretted instrument players, I've found it invaluable to have, at the 5th fret, a small marker on the side of the fret board of my ukuleles.

Snipping a small triangle from the end of a roll of electrical tape gave me a marker that I could latter remove, and clean off the sticky stuff. Almost all of my ukuleles, including most of my Martins - (except for 5s and 3s, which come with markings) - have this little bit of black tape.

So this woman is looking down at my ukulele, in her lap, reaches down, and with one of her finger nails, begins to scrape my Electrical Tape 5th Fret Position Marker, off.

"What are you doing??????" ..... I inquire.

"I'm scrapping off this piece of tape." ..... says she.

"DON'T!!!!!!!" .... says I, as I snatch my ukulele from her grasp.

She seemed a bit huffed as I pressed that part of the Position Marker that she had worked loose, back onto the neck.

When I described this event to my friend Mike Longworth, who was in the progress of whittling a couple of ukes for me, he suggested that inlaying a small triangle of black binding materia - in essence, faux electrical tape - on the ukes would be amusing.

At the first opportunity, following my receiving Mike's ukes, I showed one to my wife's woman friend. Mike and I had fantasized that were she to attempt to loosen the faux electrical tape with her finger nail again, she would in the end have to drag a nail file out of her purse. I didn't tell her our fantasy.

She said something like ....."Very nice." .... and handed it backed to me.

I pointed out the little black triangle.

She was not amused.

photos: robert wheeler


Session # 18 - June 24, 2003

If the Truth Be Told

I was talking to a friend who has had some success as a writer. I asked, how does one write autobiographical stuff that shows your bad side. "Fiction", he replied.

Once upon a time in a beautiful city of many hills, in a flat area near the sea, my third wife and I were working out the domestic requirements for ending our relationship. I was out of work again and the financial situation looked dim. My teenage children where responding to the familial stress in manners that required my interaction with school authorities and mental health professionals. My wife was concerned with her young daughter's emotional well being. The goddamn dog was out of control and I was no dog trainer.

On this day, my third wife was off at her temporary secretarial job and I, with nothing to do, was in the basement garage working on the metal dressing table that was to be placed in the bedroom of my step daughter, where ever that might be, when her mother found an apartment or flat. The table was a dirty green and it was decided that pink would be a better color for a little girl's bedroom. I had agreed to paint it.

The table came apart and I lined the various parts up on newspaper spread on the floor. The top. The three drawers. The four legs. The parts rested on strips of wood that kept them above the newspaper.

I began by painting the four legs. I had started on the second drawer when the front door opened. My wife, seeing that the basement door was opened, came in to where I was painting.

I've never been able to recall exactly what she said. "Hard day at the office." "Wrong color pink." "I found an apartment." What ever it was, it really pissed me off. I picked up one of the wet pink legs, and swung it like a baseball bat, aiming at one of the timbers that supported the upper floors of the house.

As it made contact with the timber, the metal leg bent and then twisted in my hands, slippery with wet paint, and flew across the garage.

She screamed and turned, running through the basement door and up the stairs into the house.

Wanting to calm her and reassure her that I had no intent of hitting her with the dresser leg, I followed. As I went up the stairway touches of pink paint were left on the banister and walls.

Her cries of fear intensified as I came up the stairs. I thought of what I could do to calm her. I decided that if I gave her a cold shower she would calm. It actually made things worst.

I took her down the steps, soaking wet, to the front door, opened it and put her outside. I closed and locked the door.

After a time I looked out through the front door. She was sitting on the front stoop, crying.

The next time I looked out, a police car had pulled up to the curb across the street and two officers were getting out. They slid their batons through the chrome rings attached to their gun belts, and crossed the street. My wife went to meet them. She had stopped crying. I opened the door and stepped out on to the stoop.

The three of them came up to the stoop and we all talked. My wife had calmed down and, except for wondering why they need all those extra bullets on their gun belts, I was fairly calm also.

After a time my wife indicated that she wanted to go into the house to get things that she wanted to take away with her. One of the officers told me that my wife had the right to enter the house. As she went though the front door I turned to follow her. One of the officers stepped towards me and said that I should wait with them. Outside. Until my wife returned.

So the three of us, the two police officers and I, talked.

Now it turns out that a month or so before this wonderful day, a man from my old neighborhood, who had been the best man at my brothers wedding, and had been a policeman, had been shot dead as he entered a local branch bank in response to a robbery. While sitting in the church with family and neighborhood folk, waiting for the honor guards and the mayor and other public figures to form up for the funeral service, a bomb exploded at the front of the church.

There was shock. There was evacuation. Some of the elderly had difficulty. After I had escorted my mother and children out of the church. I started back inside to assist my father, who was helping an old man who didn't appear to be able to get out of his pew.

I was stopped by a police officer who barred my entry to the church. With words, a hard stare, and, eventually, silent tears, I was able to convince him that I should re-enter the church, while all around us sirens wailed and the authorities were looking for another bomb.

The two officers were from the same station as my neighbor, so we had something to talk about besides current domestic violence. They had been at the church service. All three of us relaxed a bit from the tense state we had been in at our first meeting, as we talked.

A small yellow school bus stopped in front of the house and my step-daughter got out. She looked concerned at the grouping on the front stoop. I opened the door and told her that every thing was OK. Mommy was upstairs. She went in.

After some time my third wife and her daughter came out. They were holding hands and each had a traveling bag of appropriate size.

Avoiding eye contact with me, my wife asked if the officers could take her somewhere.

One of my new friends said...".... in a domestic situation we must be entirely neutral. We can only take you somewhere if your husband agrees."

Gathering together what remained of my human caring and concern, ...."If she wants to go off on her own, I don't see why she can't start at our door step."

Wordlessly my wife turned, and holding her daughter's hand, walked to the sidewalk, turned north and began her journey.

My new friends and I exchanged the masculine eye contact and the nod of the head. They crossed the street to their car, removing their batons from the chrome rings on their gun belts as they went. They drove away.

And we all lived happily ever after.

How's that for fiction?


Session # 19 - July 15, 2003


My wife and I are driving along in my car. Radio playing tuned to one of my favorite stations.

Suddenly, without any warning, she changes the station, using one of the "pre-set" station buttons.

"How do you change the bass?" She punches some of the other controls.

My wife doesn't believe in reading user manuals. If she wants a contemporary device to perform a certain function, she beats it until it does what she wants. Or breaks.

I struggle to get my progressive lens spectacles on my face so that both the road and the dash will be in focus.

I reach out and press the control marked "BASS" and show her how to twist the volume knob to change the bass setting displayed on the display panel. Advise her to wait for the current station to be displayed again.

She places one of her fingers on another of the "pre-set" buttons, and leans on it for a while.

My radio "pre-set" buttons will now select 10 different stations and one station with 2 of the buttons. Her finger moves towards another button. Another "pre-set" button. I reach down in an attempt stay her next "re-set" of another "pre-set" button.

I look up and in front of me, head on, is a Big Yellow School Bus!!!!

I twist the steering wheel, and get back into my lane, just in time. As I pass the Big Yellow School Bus, I glance into my rear side mirror.

The Big Yellow School Bus, tires streaming smoke, veers to the right. Veers to the left. Rolls over. Twice. Bursts into a huge yellow fire ball.

I pull to the side of the road.

I race back towards the Big Yellow, flame engulfed, School Bus.

There is nothing that I can do.

Thirty six grammar school children and the driver. A single mother of three.

I walk back to my car, shaken.

I wait for the authorities.

When they arrive, I describe what occurred.

They take my beloved fourth wife into custody.



Session #20 - August 17, 2003

Pleasure and Pain

Following my return from Uke Expo '03 in Providence, RI, I was thinking about how warm and supportive and polite we ukulele folk can be. Even in the occasional discussion of things that individuals disagreed with, no rancor seemed to appear.

I was additionally blessed, following the Expo, by having as a house guest for a few days, once again, Fred Fallin, of Chicago, Illinois. Other than Fred not liking the way I bad mouth some ukulele makers, and performers, of the past and present, Fred and I get along, even in disagreement, real well.

Fred appears to follow Thumper's mother's advice, "If you have nothing good to say about somebody, you shouldn't say anything at all.", while I follow the thinking of Alice Roosevelt Longworth, daughter of TR and long time, though now gone, respected member of Washington, D.C. society, "If you have nothing good to say about somebody, come and sit next to me."

To note, in human relationships that enrich and bring growth, an understanding that to gain one must give, seems appropriate here.

My "goody-two-shoes" view of ukulele folk was then challenged by reading the continual dismal interchange in the Bulletin Board on Jim Beloff's Flea Market Internet Site, for which we should all be grateful. Jim's site. Not the dismal stuff.

I had to give up thinking about junk thoughts in order to attend, with my beloved 4th wife, a social gathering of a considerable number of people. As I sat amongst them, enduring people's vision of warm weather fashion for significant events, I saw in a rack on the back of the seating unit in front me a book. Actually a number of books. To distract my mind, I took one and place it on my lap. I opened it.

Then what to my wonderious eyes should appear:

To the Chief Musician.

Hear my voice, O God, in my meditation;
Preserve my life from fear of the enemy.
Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked,
From the rebellion of the workers of iniquity,
Who sharpen their tongue like a sword,
And bend their bows to shoot their arrows - bitter words.
That they may shoot in secret at the blameless;
Suddenly they shoot at him and do not fear.

They encourage themselves in an evil matter;
They talk of laying snares secretly;
They say, "Who will see them?"
They devise iniquities:
"We have perfected a shrewd scheme."
Both the inward thought and the heart of man are deep.

But God shall shoot at them with an arrow;
Suddenly they shall be wounded.
So He will make them stumble over their own tongue;
All who see them shall flee away.
All men shall fear.
And shall declare the work of God;
For they shall wisely consider His doings.

The righteous shall be glad in the Lord, and trust in Him.
And all the upright in heart shall glory.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version.
Copyright (c) 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson Inc.
Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Will you still need me, will you still feed me, if I quote Psalm 64?

While it certainly seems extreme to call upon wrath of Biblical proportions, it is reassuring to know that for thousands of years, man has struggled with ninnies.

robert wheeler
Ukulele Consciousness


........and Country.

Session #21 - October 27, 2003

If You Like A Ukulele

In an effort to convince myself that I am a tolerant person, I like to say that it is my understanding that some people in this world put their children through college using resources acquired from the sale of artificial canine excrement and human vomit...and that's OK by me. The effort is usually futile.

Despite the noblest attempts to be tolerant, one is still bound to run into things that jar one to the bone.  Rather than quoting chapter and verse from bone jarring examples, for the purpose of this rambling piece I will just refer you to the daily flood supplied by the various media sources available to us in these swell times.

Considering the relative unimportance of the ukulele it might be thought that in the study of the ukulele, one might not have to dig real deep looking for tolerance.  Dumb and happy, strumming my ukulele.  What could possibly go wrong? Absolutely nothing. Right?

Welllllll, maybe not.  Human nature has never allowed the unimportant to restrict its passion. For example take coffee, donuts, and childhood games.  There are people who go bananas if Starbucks is mentioned or if Krispy Kreme opens a shop in a Dunkin' Donuts territory.  Not to mention one parent murdering another over a disagreement about a youth hockey game.  It happens.

Not likely in the ukulele world, you say?  Well, I haven't heard of anyone getting killed over things ukulele, but I have heard an amazing amount of mature male bovine fecal matter being spread around that has tempted me.  And as always--that's OK by me. 

The reason for all of this noise up to now is that I would really like to present my view of what should be considered the elements that contribute to a superior musical instrument.

I will be using as an illustration of the physical characteristics of what constitutes a good ukulele, by stating my understanding of the sad decline of the quality of instruments created by a legendary name, Gretch.

There are ukuleles made today that, for affordable prices, exhibit qualities of superior musical instrument.  I will mention three. These are the Johnson, UK-150, The Bradda uke by Mele, and the Applause UA 20 by Ovation.  My view of these ukuleles has been formed as I result of my acquiring and playing them.

Be that as it may.

I have used my very first, and earliest, Gretch in recording one of my favorite pieces, "How About You".  As a musical instrument, especially in comparison to my voice, it was, and is, superior.  My other five Gretch ukes are less so.

My first Gretch

Considering that Gretch made ukuleles from the 1920's into the 1950's, all in Brooklyn, New York, one would think--applying the old adage "practice makes perfect"--their ukuleles would have become better and better.  Not the case.

Take one element of ukulele construction.  Internal braces.  The earliest Gretch braces were shaped and finely sanded, displaying the level of craftsmanship that could be observed in Martin Ukuleles of the period, the actual King of the Hill in superior ukulele construction of that time.  By the time of Gretch production in the 1940's and 50's, braces were no longer finely shaped and sanded.  They appear to have been rough sawn, from the visible markings on the braces. 

Rounded brace with binding.

Sharp edged brace with binding.

Sharp edged brace - no binding.

Gretch never, as far as I understand, did sink to the level of having no braces at all, which was a feature with some Harmony instruments.  While Gretch did continue to have braces, top and back, they were able to remove another internal construction feature, the lining.  Lining, solid or kerfed, is that element of construction that bonds the sides to the top and back of the instrument.  In implementing this cost reducing "feature", Gretch surpassed Harmony, which continued to have internal lining for the majority of their ukes.

No binding.

Even in the earliest days of production a thing as basic as the proportion of the body altered.  Good or bad?  Who would say?

Early body proportion.

From the earliest to the latest ukes, the shape of the neck block altered from a curved hand shaped configuration to one of straight block like form.  Much easier and faster to produce.  The photo also reveals the absence of binding.

Older neck block.

Later neck block.

I could go on, mean spiritedly calling attention to things like deterioration in the quality of the finish and the reduced thickness of the material of the fret board in this attempt to suggest that any prestige attached to the company named Gretch must have been for instruments other than ukuleles, but I must note that an element of the Gretch ukulele was constant.  From the first to the last. Never deteriorating.

Superior ukuleles have saddles of a denser material than the bridge of the instrument.  Usual materials are bone, ivory, or perhaps a dense wood, ebony?  Gretch from day one never had a saddle on their ukuleles. An integral shaped ridge of the material of the bridge performed some of the functions of a bridge saddle.  As did the bridges of the average Harmony.  At least Harmony had the understanding to use separate saddles of denser material for their superior models.  Johnny Marvin, Roy Smeck, and other instruments of quality.

A ukulele without a separate saddle may be loved and may entertain your friends and acquaintances, but it will transmit string vibrations less effectively,  will limit the options for "setting up" the instrument, and most certainly will wear in a manner that will effect the functioning of the instrument.

A closeup of the dearly loved and much played Gretch below shows that the strings have "carved" their way through the "saddle" ridge.  While the effect on the scale length might not be noticed over the lifetime of the uke player, it would appear to have been altered.  In addition the strings vibrations are not communicated to the top via the "ridge" on the bridge, substituting for a saddle, but rather, now that the strings have worked their way through the "ridge", across the width of the bridge itself.  This is unlikely to be acoustically a good thing.

Worn bridge.

Worn bridge - closeup.

As with most things ukulele there are likely folk who have a warmer feeling about Gretch ukuleles than do I.  I'm quite sure that there have been, over the years, many who have just loved their Gretch ukuleles.  Bless them all, for who knows more about love than the giver.

"Larry Love" with Gretch - 1952

While there are many more elements that affect the creation of a superior ukulele than the ones I've mentioned here it is not my intent to present them all, even if I knew of all of them.  Rather I am suggesting that when a maker of ukuleles makes design decisions to reduce the cost of construction, as it would appear that Gretch did over the years, it is unlikely that a superior instrument is their goal.  


Session #22 - Nov. 9, 2003

Letter to Augie LoPrinzi, Luthier

Dear Augie,

I'm enclosing a picture of you holding the uke I bought at the Expo '03.

Photography is sort of a background pleasure, so I just got around to doing this print.

My current principal uke project is to see if I can pull together some tunes to create my 3rd CD.  My initial thought is to do additional music from the 30s 40s, as I did in my previous 2 recordings.  I am looking at other genres of tunes that may be within my narrow range of not sounding too terrible.  

Not being a singer or a musician doesn't necessarily mean that I can't please someone with my musical efforts.  After all, isn't that what the ukulele is principally about?

I kind of think that the ukulele is the principal musical instrument, in terms of shear numbers produced, that is most associated with the inept.  The cello - Yoyo Ma - the guitar - Breen, Williams, Atkins - the fiddle - Horowitz - Grapelie  - (pay no attention to my spelling which is in the same league as my musicianship) - and, to make my point - the uke - Tiny Tim.  Not to speak disrespectfully of  the dead,  but I play the uke better than Tim did. 

Now the point of mentioning my current project is to tell you that I plan to record only with ukes made by folks that I've had personal contact with.  Like - shook their hand, hung out with, shared dinner, traveled to the Uke Expo with, talked on the phone more than 12 times about one ukulele, gone absolutely crazy, shouting and screaming in their work shops (two such events) about getting off their asses and completing promised ukuleles. 

Right now I'm working with nine ukes that meet the above requirements, including your lovely mahogany model 2T (2980).  I am patiently awaiting the first uke from Julius Borges (of one of the above mentioned events fame), so I should have ten ukes for my project.

All of these ukes are clearly superior, and not just because they've been custom made.  One of my dearest ukes from one of my most respected makers failed to make the cut,  although another uke by the same maker is included. 

I choose the ukes by carefully "playing" each with one of the fibrous white felt picks that I carefully shape with my favorite scalpel sharp Chinese cleaver.  Not just any pick, but one that has been well worn.  It turns out that the picks I use are like a favorite pair of shoes.  New, they're a little stiff, then they get just right, and then they're too floppy.  (I've enclosed one of my legendary picks for your entertainment.  After all, Steinway hears their instruments struck with felt.)

The principal characteristic that I'm listening to hear is uniformity of tone across the strings, open and fretted.  I've played ukes were each string sounds like it is on a different instrument.

Your ukulele is supersuperior in clarity and uniformity of tone.  You certainly made a wonderfully sounding ukulele.

As I write this note, I have your uke on my desk.  As with many ukuleles that I've acquired it takes some amount of time to appreciate a fine instrument.  When I looked at your uke at your table at the Uke Expo there where qualities that made me decide to purchase it.  Quality of construction was certainly most compelling, as the tone might not have been clear in a room with 200 uke crazies milling about.

Today, for the first time since I've had the uke, I've become aware of  the construction details of the head.  In craftsmanship and design, the head is wonderfully executed, as are the other elements. 

Your efforts enrich my Ukulele Consciousness. Thank you.

Please extend my regards to Mrs. LoPrinzi, as I would think that her efforts with the attaché case in the picture are equally important to your efforts with my pictured ukulele.


robert wheeler
Ukulele Consciousness

 P.S. I trust you'll be accepting of my plan to post this note on my internet column (At rockthatuke.com) as I see no flaw in letting folks know that I like your ukulele.


Session #23 - Nov. 23, 2003

Quite a Stew

A contemporary newspaper essay about a reunion of female flight attendants of one of the legendary evaporated giants of the golden years of air travel emphasized required physical characteristics, top designer uniforms worn, and the toothsome meals they served.

 An aging male. at the reunion, was reported to have begun a blushing reminiscence about a stewardess he once surreptitiously dated. 

Give me a break!

Being embarrassed or covert about dating stewardesses is not, in either my own or the lives of other men with whom I may have tastelessly discussed this subject, reality.  Using, of course, the traditional meaning of the word "reality", as opposed to the current use of the word for the wave of television presentations identified as "reality TV".

The tempo of the Allison 501-D13A turboprops accelerated as the L-188A Lockheed Electra turned from the taxi way to aligned it self with the center of the runway.   The increasing thrust settled me more comfortably into the seat.  As the aircraft lifted into the air, we turned towards the center of the Great State of California.

I was looking forward to a few days away from the turmoil and upset that had become the focus of my life.  Even though my second wife and I were separated, living in separate cities, and a long way from resolving issues of our lives, we had found that occasionally spending a few days together, alone, no parents,  children or concerned friends, had meaning and gave us strength. 

During our short times together we would be charming, respectful, enthusiastically intimate, and then return, sadly, to our separate places to deal with the world as it was.

These times together were like a date, without the tension of worrying about wither or not you'd score.  Given rituals of the period for dating, I had had a fresh haircut and had carefully donned handsome casual apparel, including a white turtle necked cotton shirt, for my journey.  

I had pinned to the collar a pink colored badge with the image of a bear, Winnie the Pooh, printed on it.   Bed time ritual in our relationship had always included bedtime readings, and A. A. Milne's writings were a favorite.  The badge was the size of a fifty cent piece, a coin in wide distribution at the time, and therefore easy to see, as some might be able to recall.

After a time of looking out the window of the view at 22,000 feet,  I heard some one speak the word "Sir."  I turned, and beyond the empty seat, in the aisle, was a handsome uniformed lady.  She asked if I would like a drink.  Of course.

When she returned, with the drink, she spoke admiringly of the Pooh button.  She asked if I liked Milne.  "A favorite," I said.

A short time after the lady left, another uniformed lady appeared and sat in the empty seat next to me.  She said that her colleague had told her that I was a Milne fan.  We talked for a while.  She recited, turned towards me in the next seat,  a Milne poem.  "The Knight Whose Armor Squeaked".  The whole long poem.  As she spoke, I listened, and we looked closely at each other's eyes.

Stunning.  She went away, and then returned and handed me a folded piece of paper.  Her name and phone number.

She stood near the door, as stewardesses do, when I left, and I squeezed her hand and thanked her. 

My second wife met me inside the terminal.  She loved the Pooh button.

A few weeks after returning to San Francisco,  I telephoned the Electra Lady. 

We would meet in the small town south of San Francisco, near the airport, where her apartment was.  A few commuter train stations away.

From her apartment we strolled to a restaurant in the center of her town, dined, and then returned, through softly lit streets.  As we walked we were talking and doing public lover touching.

I sat on a chair as E.L. went into the bed room.  She came back into the front room wearing a flannel night gown, carrying a classical guitar.  We had talked about her interest in the instrument.

Sitting on a couch across from me, she crossed her legs, at the ankles, rearranged the hem of her night gown and settled the guitar between her thighs.  For a moment I could see that all of her hair was the same color.

She played soft pleasant pieces.  For a bit.  She then put the guitar aside, took my hand and led me into the bedroom. 

She pulled the nightgown over her head, revealing a beautiful body.  Wonderful.  I followed her lead in the manner of dress and joined her on the bed.

Gently touching, and nibbling, we embraced and came together.

After a time she asked, "What are you doing?"


"Why are you taking so long?  Please stop.  Please get off of me."

On the way back to the city, in a nearly empty railroad car, I wondered what had happened?  What had I done wrong?

A few weeks later I got a package from E.L. with a book that I had lent her and a note saying that she was moving to another town, had enjoyed meeting me and wished me well.

My life went on, with its ups and downs, and after a number of years, and a third wife, I found myself, single and living in a beach community a few miles north of Los Angeles International Airport.  In addition to providing a warm and comfortable setting, this community, because of its location close to a major airport, provided housing opportunities for those associated with the airline industry. 

Next  to my apartment was an apartment occupied by a stewardess who worked for the same airline as had the lady of the "Squeaking Armor". 

Other elements of my relationship with my neighbor are yet to be told, but we both shared a life experience.  Having friends, who don't live at the beach wanting to hang out with you, at the beach, except in California's bitter winter. 

One fine summer day my neighbor was hosting three of her work colleagues.  When I came out of my apartment I saw them, the neighbor and three friends, artfully gathered together on beach towels on the sand.  Attired in beach wear, as were they, I  joined them.

One lady I had met before.  I was introduced to the other two.  In typical beach fashion we lounged about, talking and drinking and snacking.  As occurs with most people who work together they were talking about other colleagues. 

In their conversation, some of the information about one of their stewardess friends seemed vaguely familiar.  I listened and heard one say "E.L." in reference to the person being discussed.

I inquired if the person that they were talking about could possibly been the lady who was an A. A. Milen fan?

"Did you know E.L.?" asked one of the circle of bikini attired colleagues, as we lounged in the warm sand.

"Know her?" said I, "I fucked her!!!!!" I joyfully shouted.

The response of E.L.'s colleagues, to my apparently tasteless answer, was unbelievably cold and hostile.   Had they all been wearing religious habits, they could have not appeared any more shocked and displeased, though I was dead certain that one of the group would have failed the celibacy requirement to wear such garb.

From the Pope to the promiscuous, from the casual acquaintance to the intimate, you never know how the "F" word will be received.

I once said "fuck" in front of my mother.  She died. 

The founder, BC (Before Consciousness).


Session #24 - Jan. 18, 2004

From the Ukulele Consciousness Mailbag



Session #25 - Jan. 25, 2004

Keeping Abreast of the Times

Once, when I was young.  Pre-hormonal.  I was standing in an isle in Mark's Corner Grocery Store.  The flat in which I grew up was directly above Mark's Store.

The most accomplished baseball player of our block, who was a few years older than I,  came into the store.  She was wearing Levi's and  a loose  fitting tea shirt, not tucked in.  Standard attire.

Our association had been as block play companions for many years.  On this day I noticed something different about the front of her tee shirt, and said to her, "Aren't you too young to have those things?"

Immediately, as if from a puff of smoke, my mother appeared from the next isle.  I was surprised.  I didn't know she was in the store.

"Go to your room!!!" ... said Mom.

I went out of Mark's, up the stairs to our front door, through the front door, up the stairs to our flat,  and into my room.  

I waited.

Tonight I watched, but not the whole thing, don't get me wrong, on television, a great American (not a great World) cultural event, the Golden Globe Show Business Awards.  The style of dress of the majority of the female attendees not only emphasized the entertainment business, but recalled to my mind a time in my life when I noticed something different, not knowing that I was supposed to leer and not say anything.

 Had I known that, that I was suppose to leer, and not say anything, the conversation, when my mother came up stairs from Mark's, might have been less awkward.  But I wouldn't bet on it.


(Note: In the interest of fairness, the article by Ukulele Hall of Fame Museum board member Tom Walsh that appeared in the UHOFM newsletter Uke Said It and that is critiqued in this session of Ukulele Consciousness has been REPRINTED after the column.)

Session #26 - Feb. 2, 2004



When I think of the ukulele, and the pleasures it has brought, the word "endearing" comes to my mind.

When I encounter displays of mean spirit in things ukulele I shudder.

An important and respected place for exchange of information about ukuleles is the
Flea Market Bulletin Board, one element of the enrichment that Jim Beloff's passion for the ukulele has brought.

There are occasionally examples of mean spirited exchanges on the Bulletin Board, some so depressing that grown men groan and vow never to return.  I'm fairly sure that instigators of such exchanges are likley individuals who have wandered from other Bulletin Boards on the wonderful world wide internet and lack even a single gram of Ukulele Consciousness.  They would appear to belong to the "smart ass" branch of humanity who sit in front of PCs in their underwear, and feel their might jump from their lap to affect people and institutions all over the world.

I'm saddened when such exchanges appear to wound uke folks who are known to me.  Not nice.

Another terrifically important element in my ukulele world is the
Ukulele Hall of Fame Museum

In 1990, at the first-ever
"Uke Expo" at The Montague Bookmill, in Montague, Mass., as an alleged guest expert, I stunned a small but devoted ukulele audience, with a demonstration of how little talent one needed to enjoy the ukulele.  Thankfully,  it appears that I caused no permanent damage as The Ukulele Hall of Fame Museum has grown and, sometimes in association with others, has made meaningful contributions to the ukulele's stature.

When the Hall of Fame began the publishing of "Uke Said It", yet another pleasure was added to my interest in the ukulele.  History, contemporary people, and activities.  Enriching.

In the Winter 2004
"Uke Said It" there was a piece titled "Who Are the Real Ukulele History Experts?" by Tom Walsh, board member of UHOFM, and editor of "Uke Said It".  I was stunned.

I noticed a few comments on the Bulletin Board about Tom's article.  The second comment on the bulletin board was to the effect "maybe it would have been best to ignore...."  This suggestion motivated me to post the announcement that I was withdrawing from The Ukulele Hall of Fame organization in protest.  I later re-thought my action, based on my long time association with UHOFM, and posted a note about my continuing support.

I followed the postings on the Bulletin Board regarding Tom's article and it appeared to whine down to an apology from Tom to Chuck Fayne, a valued and respected ukulele nut, followed by  Chuck's gracious acceptance, with no hard feelings. 

There then followed an outpouring of "Tom's great ..... Chuck is great ...... wonderful gentlemen ...  we are all warm and wonderful ......"  and then a contributor indicated that "belonging to the community gave him an sense of pride...." 

I lost it.

I was already a bit concerned about "the community" since one BB contributor didn't, and wouldn't, read the article, but was nevertheless willing to join the learned discussion.  Considering that only recipients of "Uke  Said It" (i.e. members of UHOFM) would have been able to read the article, the "didn't/wouldn't" contributor might not have had the  same understanding that UHOFM contributors did...assuming they read more than just the article's "Chuck Fayne" paragraph.   But I don't think they did.

When I, in my initial BB posting on the subject, identified the article as "mean spirited," I was not saying that Tom was mean spirited toward Chuck...what he wrote about Chuck was merely rude.  Having a knowledge of Chuck Fayne gained from an association of many years, I had no sense that I needed to speak in his behalf.  Chuck has strengths.

My intent was that the entire article--nearly every subject covered in every paragraph--reeked with bile.  I meant that the whole thing was mean spirited.

Having enjoyed Tom's articles in the past, I was stunned and unable to account for the tone of this one.  That someone with apparent commitment to the uke  behaved so badly is still puzzling to me.  An induced apology to Chuck Fayne provides me no clarification.

Considering that this question appears to have been closed on the Bulletin Board,  and not wanting to wear out my welcome there (stop laughing...its not nice to laugh at the founder), I will address, as a session of Ukulele Consciousness, my perception of points of venom. 

I'll just ramble sequentially through the article, making bitchy remarks about things small and huge.

My main thrust is that the article was in tone generally disrespectful, not just to Chuck--which it was, in a way big enough to choke a horse--but also to others.

♦The first paragraph.   

Tom, in his apology to Chuck on the Bulletin Board, indicated that the views of the article do not reflect the views of UHOFM collectively, but are his alone.  However, in the article he uses the editorial "we" (as in ".....we thought...." ) which suggests that the article reflects the views of all of the UHOFM board.  But even changing "we" to "I" doesn't improve the situation.  This is a quarterly put out by a nonprofit group to its membership.  Not much thought appears to have been applied regarding this.

♦The second paragraph.

For a column in the official journal of the UHOFM that is called "The Collector's Corner Presents," which one must assume to be written by an individual who is a collector,  the dismissive phrase "....people who consider themselves to be ukulele collectors ....." seems mean spirited.  There are people who are ukulele collectors and there are people who are not.  It is not a competition.  There is no ranking.  The phrase, "consider themselves" is an editorial hiss.  A judgmental shrug.   Speaking as a gatherer of the small endearing instrument, and self appointed "founder", I would think that a collector and self appointed co-founder of the only Ukulele Hall of Fame on the mainland would be secure enough in his position not to resort to such pettiness.

♦The third paragraph.

Tom ends the second paragraph with a remark about "Those who share and those who don't...." an idea he expounds upon in the third paragraph.  Not to nitpick, but wishing that knowledgeable ukulele people would be more sharing is  a bit presumptuous. Who's to say that they are not sharing? But with heavy use of the editorial-organizational "we" Tom goes on to separate the ukulele world into the "good" and the "evil" when it comes to "sharing".  He lists examples of the "good" in the form of a brief roster of websites and publications, and, by a total lack of recognition, casts the "evil" into the darkness.

In fairness, he does end the brief roster with an ambiguous "etc."  So there's still a chance for some of us.  But when moralizing, it would seem that being very specific might be somewhat critical.  Moses, after all, did not present a tablet that said, "Thou Shalt Not Kill, etc.   To his credit, Tom does seem to lean heavily on "wishing" to encourage the "evil" to march over to the "good".  Hate the sin, love the.....etc.

♦The fourth paragraph.

This one is the " Chuck basher" paragraph about which much has been said already.  I'll leave defending and comforting Chuck to others.  But in this paragraph Tom uses what to my mind is one of the least courageous phrases in the English language: "Don't get me wrong..."!  In the humble opinion of the founder, self appointed as "we" may be, the translated meaning of this phrase is ...."I'm going to say something really nasty that doesn't reflect well on my character and which I hope my mother doesn't ever  know about.....and please don't think badly of me, though I'm going to say it anyway.  Oh, please, let me be nasty without suffering the consequences, please.......!"  Editorially dishonest.

The last sentence of this paragraph gives me paws,  and makes me wonder if I may be all wrong about the mean spirited intent of the article, because at the end of the paragraph Tom again falls back on "wishing" for Chuck's conversion from "evil" to "goodness".  Could I be wrong?  Is it really just that Tom just can't write worth spit, and actually has no bad intentions?  I'm no expert.

♦The fifth paragraph.

The final sentence of this paragraph ends with the phrase "....even the so-called ukulele experts.....", which struck me as having the same mean spirit that "....people who consider themselves to be ukulele collectors ....." had in the second paragraph.  The chiding tone is arrogant and  condescending.

♦The sixth paragraph.

"To be honest..." (I love sincerity in articles) " ...I have not yet seen the book..."  Why in the name of the New York Times Book Review would Tom affect such a haughty air only to recommend a  book he hasn't read?  And one not even in his possession, but "on order"?  Though I do have to say I applaud the maturation he displays in this paragraph from simply "wishing" to "fully expecting".  Bold.  Very bold.

♦The seventh paragraph.

Although I was a bit confused by seeing "...oral tradition..." distinguished from  "...memories of people many years after the events occurred....", which some might identify as being the same thing, I can't help but admire Tom's support of "....history based on accounts  written at the time the history was occurring....".   The courage shown in bashing the oral histories  of a musical instrument that evolved from a society heavily dependent on oral history for its understanding of its own past and its cultural identity must be admired by the descendants of missionaries everywhere.

There is, in publishing, editorial integrity.

There is, in the administration of non-profit organizations, institutional responsibility.

Tom's article, I believe, doesn't support either of these values.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm not suggesting that we not recognize Mr. Walsh's contribution to the Ukulele Hall of Fame Museum and to the community of so-called collectors and experts that it serves.  What I am wishing is that he not write mean spirited things in the name of the ukulele about specific ukulele folk, and that the community not close this issue with insincere, warm words and comments about how cool we all are.....because we ain't.

But I fully expect they will. 

robert wheeler
Ukulele Consciousness


robert wheeler at the 2000 Ukulele Expo. Ukuleles by Mike Longworth.


The Collector's Corner Presents:


by Tom Walsh

Who Are the Real Ukulele History Experts?

There has been an unquestionable resurgence of interet in the ukulele in the past ten or so year.  It seems safe to say that there are more people playing, performing, recording and listening to ukulele music that at any time in the last 40 years.  There has also been a resurgence in interest in ukulele history, possibly more so that at any time before.  For this reason we thought it would be good idea to write about John King, who we consider the single person who has done the most to accurately research and publish information on the subject of ukulele history.

There are many different types of "Ukulele Experts".  Some are expert players or builders, but this article is not about them.  This article is about experts in ukulele history and manufacture.  There are a great number of people who consider themselves to be ukulele collectors.  The fact that the ukulele is small and that it came in so many colors and styles make it a target for collectors.  It can also be a reasonably affordable instrument to collect.  As collectors amass ukuleles they also amass information.  As a matter of fact, some people are more interested in amassing information about ukuleles than collecting the actual instruments.  In  general, these people who have amassed information about the ukulele fall in 'to two categories - those who make an effort to share their knowledge with others and those who do not.

Obviously,  the Ukulele Hall of Fame Museum is an organization that supports the idea of making historical ukulele information available to the public.  We wish that more people would share their amassed knowledge.  We appreciate the work of the various websites (Flea Market Music, Ukulelia, the 4th peg, Nalu-Music, etc.) and publications (MDHF, The Ukulele Guild of Hawaii, Newsletter, The Ukulele Occasional) in which ukulele-related knowledge is shared.  We only wish that all the knowledgeable ukulele people out there would all be so open with their information.

Based on Internet discussions, it seems many people consider Chuck Fayne to be the foremost authority on the ukulele.  Chuck has been writing his "Uke-Yak" column as a part of Jim Beloff's Flea-Market-Music website for the past six or so years.  Chuck provides entertaining and sometimes  informative answers to questions about collectible ukuleles.  Unfortunately,  his answers are not always well researched and are sometimes incommplete or, worse yet, incorrect.  Chuck has seen and owned a great range of ukuleles over the years, but his informatio non vintage ukuleles and ukulele history is not as accurate as it could be.  Don't get me wrong,  I like reading Chuck's column, and I appreciate the fact that he is trying to help people, but I do sometimes wish that he would research his answers more carefully.

When it comes to making scholarly research on ukulele history available to the public, I feel that nobody comes close to what John King has done in recent years.  John jumped to the attention of the ukulele world in 2001 as his book The Hawaiian Ukulele and Guitar Makers 1884 to 1930  was produced and as his first CD became known.  His ukulele playing is truly masterful and unlike anything else anyone else has ever recorded, but as far as ukulele history is concerned, his book was the huge breakthrough.  Many people (myself included) had gone through the old Honolulu directories and done somewhat similar preliminary research, but John's book was a monumental compilation of the available information - well organized, comprehensive and containing much information that even the so-called ukulele experts had never before seen.

More recently John has published a companion to this first work.  Titled Selected U.S. Trademarks & Patents for Ukuleles, Banjo Ukuleles, and Accessories,  it is just that - a look at United States ukulele trademarks and patents.  It is another work that compiles information that is available to the public, and that many people have  looked into.  You may even remember that a recent Uke Said It  featured an article about unusual patents.  However, Mr. King has put together a work with over 250 pages of material and even greater of illustrations.  He has done the hard work and put all of the information together in one place.  To be honest, I have not yet seen the book - mine is on order.  But I fully expect it will be up to Mr. King's excellent standards.

Mr. King's most recent accomplishment is an article that he co-wrote with Jim Tranquada for the Hawaiian Journal of History.   Mr. Tranquada is the great-great-granson of Augusto Dias,  one of the original three ukulele makers in Honolulu.  their article, A New History of the Origins and Development of the Uukulele, 1838 - 1915,  is the definitive early history of the ukulele.  Unlike so many of the various printed early histories of the instrument, King and Tranquada do not rely on the various books and magazine articles that relied on oral tradition or the memories of people many years after the events occurred.  Instead, the authors try to present a view of ukulele history based on accounts written at the time the history was occurring.  Their stated intention is to "provide a broader social, historical, and economic perspective on the origins, introduction, and early dissemination of the 'ukulele".  In the article, King and Tranquada present the most complete, painstakingly researched and carefully thought out history of the ukulele ever produced.  Anyone seriously interested in ukulele history should get a copy.  The Journal is available in bookstores in Hawaii and directly from the Hawaiian Historical Society for $12.00.   For more information contact the Hawaiian Historical Society, by mail at 560 Kawaiaha'o Street, Honolulu, HI 96813 or by phone at (808) 537-6271 or be e-mail at hhskaren@lava.net.


Session #27 - Feb. 10, 2004

Ukulele Freedom Front

I was born, raised, achieved maturity, cast my first vote, got married, the first time, had children, on, and on, and on, ..........in San Francisco, California.

Ever since the California gold rush, (1849 +) Frisco has had "same sex", primarily male, residents.  Now having "same sex", primarily male, residents, in one's community led to things like having "same sex", primarily male, residents, as lawyers, store owners, middle management in insurance companies, proctologists (just kidding) and on and on.  Well up until the 60's (drugs and rock and roll, where are you when we .... ) accepted behavior was generally of the "closet" style, one found that friends and acquaintances of the "same sex", primarily male, residents type became your friends,  and neighbors, and co-workers, and organizational superiors.

Getting to the point, if I'm able, person "A" was my organizational superior in a hi-tech, or as high tech as a PDP-8 was capable at that time in history, and person "B" was "A"'s current main squeeze and room - mate, if you know what  I mean.  Now "A", my boss, was an MIT grad from a conservative New England family who had stumbled upon San Francisco, on a vacation prior to beginning grad school, and had stayed.  Screw grad school.

Once, God only knows why, perhaps because he wanted to share his happiness with his parents,  "A" took "B" along on a trip to the Boston area, and "stayed" with "A"'s parents.  Very "closet" like.  Separate guest room, as I understand it,

Now I must say that this "Visit the Folks" tale was told to me by the two west coast travelers,  as we sat in their luxurious front room, in San Francisco, loafing about in overstuff furniture illuminated by soft light, and drinking alcoholic spirits of the quality that PDP-8 techies were able to afford, and smoking cigarettes,  this being of a time before the Surgeon General jumped into the fray.  The telling of the tale was occasionally interrupted by gales of altered laughter.

The visit with Mom and Dad went off with out a hitch.  Some time latter, "A", on a business trip, stopped by and visited Mom and Dad. 

Over tea, Mom asked, Do you still have that "B" room mate?  "A" said, to Mom, "Yes, "B" is still my room mate.".

Mom said, "Don't you think "B" is a bit effeminate?"

When "A" spoke these words, we, "A", "B" and me, went hysterical.  We laughed until tears flowed, our sides hurt, 'till we rolled off of the luxurious furniture, onto the luxurious rug.  It took some time to compose ourselves.

"B", was, in the terms of our social circles, in San Francisco, a "leaper and screamer".  He may have been effeminate,  but "bit" was cutting him short.

In sharing an office, as well as a project, with "A", one found that normal life was normal life.  Like other business colleagues I've associate with, when talking on the phone with a loved one, "A"'s voice would soften.   Domestic conversations about household needs and social activities were gender non-committal.  It could have been Ward,  talking to June Cleaver.

Once "A"'s  voice, after picking up the phone, altered.  With quality of alarm, which recalled my own response to phone calls of childhood injuries and trips to the emergency, "A" said, "I'll be right home!!!"  "A" hung up the phone, turned to me, grabbing his jacket and moving towards the door, and said "B"'s been mugged.  I'm going home."  "Is he all right?  Is he hurt?" Says I.

"He's OK. I'll see you in the morning." And he was gone.

Actually "B" was more than OK.  He was stomping around like a bull moose.  As he was leaving a super market two muggers approached and demanded money.  "B", in addition to other interest,  was a classically trained dancer and he had a body configuration usually only seen in Navy Seal training movies.   He kicked their mugging asses. 

"B" called "A" to come home and comfort him because he felt bad because he wasn't able to restrain the muggers until the police came.  They got away.  The muggers.

My third wife loved to double date  with "A" and "B" because "B" was such a great dancer.  "A" and I would sit on the side line and watch the them dance.  We didn't dance. "A" and me. 

My general feelings about such things, that seem to drive some folk over the wall,  is when inappropriately approached, just say no, and what others do is what others do.  It is, however, always nice, if who they do it with is pretty.  And "B" was very pretty.

The Ukulele Freedom Front was the first ukulele aware site I encountered on the internet.  Being alone in the ukulele wilderness, I was delighted to find them.  There was interchange between ukulele people. 

In the years since the initial encounter, a lot of weirdness may have gone on with UFF and those associated with it, as may have gone on with the founder.  If what the UFF suggests pisses you off, just say no. 

Warm regards,



Session #28 - March 2, 2004


Who knows what evil lurks in the heart and mind of ukulele collectors.

I live in a little town in New England.  Some folks have lived here for generations, in sequence.  

This generational town loyalty can provide sustenance for one of my many enthusiasms.  Garage Sales, and variants. 

As winter wanders into spring, the promise of pleasant weather gives rise to the thoughts of "Yard Sales", and variants, to both those who would want to sell and those who would want to buy.

During the week I had seen a number of "Garage/Yard Sale" signs about town, so I was looking forward to Saturday.

Another Saturday event to look forward to was "The Dump", known to the truly caring as "The Recycling Center".  Having been born and having lived for most of my life in major metropolitan centers, taking one's own garbage to "The Dump", as opposed to having people come to your house or apartment to take it away, was border line charming.

When Saturday arrived it was raining like a cow pissing on a flat rock.  This had two effects.  Yard sales were unlikely, and, because the car I used to go to "The Dump" was a Volkswagen convertible, I would have to go with the top "closed".  Usually I would do "The Dump" with the top "open", so it was more like a traveling trash can than an automobile.  Convenient.

So I crammed the garbage awkwardly into my car, on that raining Saturday morning, and headed to "The Dump".  Lamenting, but accepting, that there would be no Yard Sale pleasures.  Right to "The Dump", and then home.

Now, with the rain pouring down, and the top "closed", and a week's worth of garbage all around me, my convertible didn't feel as carefree as it would on a warm summer, early evening, as I would artfully shift the gears as I negotiated my way down New England tree bordered lanes.  As fast as the windshield wipers wiped, the rain poured down faster.  Hunched over the wheel in rain gear, surrounded by garbage,  I drove carefully, and slowly,  which one can do in a small town without someone coming up behind and honking their horn and saying bad words, which you couldn't hear anyway.

After unloading at "The Recycling Center" (a.k.a. "The Dump") I proceed, in the continuing torrential downpour, towards the Post Office.  The route to the Post Office, from "The Dump", was a different route than to my house.  It went past the town cemetery.

As I came even with the cemetery, I saw a sign nailed to a tree.  "Garage Sale".  Almost instinctually, I made a sudden left turn, across on coming traffic, in the pelting rain, to follow the pointing arrow on the "Garage Sale" sign.

Now this happened so fast that I made a mistake.  Instead of driving down the road at the side of the cemetery, which is where the arrow was pointing, I drove up into the cemetery itself.

No big deal.  I would just drive about the cemetery, get turned around, and then follow the arrow.  As I drove in this spiritual place, past the antique tombstones, I thought ..."I have never, ever, in all the time I've looked for ukuleles, found one in a garage or yard sale.  ... I sure would like to find a ukulele where that arrow is pointing.  Nothing fancy.  Maybe even a plastic Maccaferri ....."

As I drove up the right road I was watching for "a sign".  As I passed the house with the sign, I saw no sign of activity, as one might expect, but glancing back, as I passed, I saw that the driveway went to the side of the house, ending at two garage doors in what might be the basement.  The two doors were open.

I turned and parked and walked down the driveway to the open garage doors.  The place where two cars would be parked was packed with stuff that on a sunny day would have been in the yard.  A classic little lady was standing there, and she welcomed me.

I began walking down one space of the double garage towards the rear.  As I casually sauntered I noticed an early 20th century iron and wood lawn mower.  I had a neighbor, my fourth wife's first husband, who loved to acquire these, and he had asked that should I see one in my wanderings that I acquire it and he would pay what ever it cost.  The lawn mower was in wonderful condition and had a tag on it. $35.

I strolled to the back of the garage, turned and began walking towards the front of the other car space.  About half way, I saw, in the dim light of this dark stormy day, a book case that was positioned in the middle, between the "two cars" space.  On top of the bookcase, lying on its face, barely visible, was a familiar form.  I paused, not going closer, and then went to the front of the garage to talk to the classic little lady.

"I see you have a little guitar on the bookcase.  What would the price be for it?"

"We don't have a price for it yet.  You see we're selling all of these things because my husband's mother has to go into a home.  She's 90 and got the little guitar when she was in high school.  We were going to see if we could get it appraised."

At this point her husband walks up and he joins the conversation.

So I say ..... "I really like your reel lawn mower, would you sell the lawn mower and the little guitar for $50?"

"Sure", he says.

"Do you think that's enough?" says his little old lady wife.

"Sure", he says.

I asked if he had a plastic bag.  Raining real hard outside.

With the little guitar, in the plastic bag, I pick up the lawn mower, very heavy, and dash through the rain to my VW.  I put the plastic bag on the floor in front of the passenger seat, and then wrestle the lawn mower into the rear seats.

Through the rain to my house. I pulled to a stop, got out, took the plastic bag, hiding it under my rain coat, and ran up the stairs and into the house, shouting ..."Guess what I got!!! Guess what I got at a yard sale?????"

Opening my coat, I withdrew from the plastic bag a 1920's Style Zero Oliver Ditson, Boston and New York, ukulele.  Manufactured by the C. F. Martin Co. of Nazareth Pennsylvania. 

The ukulele was pristine.  The wooden pegs were missing, but hey, nothing's perfect.

Being the wonderful kind of a person that I am, I gave my neighbor, my fourth wife's first husband, a deal on his twelfth reel lawn mower.

I only charged him $25 for a $35 lawn mower.


Session #29 - March 11, 2004

Singing Off Key

Not being a singer or a musician has, especially since the uke entered my life in 1975, caused endless pain.  The main source of pain is, of course, trying to follow the advice of "experts", be in it print or some other form of communication.

My first "official" ukulele music book said "Universal Tuning" - meaning, at that time in the universe "D" (A,D,F#,B).  So I went around trying to sing, with a feeling that my underwear was the wrong size.  My next "Universal Tuning" book had a "transposition circle" which guided me in changing all of the printed cords to penciled cords, which took a lot of time and meant that I continually had to learn different fingerings for the same song.

Now, remembering that sheet music of the period would show the uke tuning to use, most often, but not always "Universal", I came upon a little music book associated with a world famous ukulele player, published in 1949. selling for $2.95, titled "Ukulele Ike, Collection for the UKULELE, No.1. "

Each of the 32, or so, songs had notation for tuning.  "Tune Ukulele".  There was "D" - (A,D,F#,B) (take off your hat for UNIVERSAL TUNING), and "C" (G,C,E,A) (just a thought, but the two afore mentioned "A's" are 440 "A's" - which I won't go into because I set my Korg to A=442  - because I can), and "Bb" (F,Bb,D,G).

So realizing two things, one, they were my ukuleles, and , two, I could tune them any way I wanted (with historical support from Edwards), so with only learning one fingering patterns, I could, by tuning the ukes to different pitches (known to the knowable as "keys") I could play and sing songs with cord fingering originally intended for the girl's glee club, in such a manner that my underwear felt more comfortable.

Sadly, in books No.2,  No. 3, and No.4, which followed No. 1, it appears that the "Experts" had regained control, so even though each song in the subsequent books had the "Tune Ukulele" notation, they were all, for that period of universal time, "UNIVERSAL TUNING" D (A,D,F#,B). 

If we seek hysterical support for our musical short comings as we struggle to enjoy the ukulele, a good place to look would be the archives related to an English ukulele figure, George Formby.  In the book "George Formby Complete", Wise Publications, 78 Newman Street, London W1 England.

On page 67 of  this archival jewel are pictured a number of Mr. Formby's ukuleles, mostly banjo ukes, and one with an envelope taped to a case with the phrase, in pencil,  "This uke low". 

It would  appear,  that while being a wildly successful entertainer, he received an OBE, as did latter Great British musical acts, from his monarch, his Musical Theory was about equal to mine.  He would tune his ukuleles differently.  They would be lined up, perhaps behind "the curtain", identified as "This Uke Low", "Middle Uke", "Next To High Uke", "Really Truly Very High Uke" (just kidding). 

So I would like to say, if you can believe what you read, that ukuleles are for pleasure and enjoyment and one should not let "experts" or our own lack of musical theory understanding keep one from our appointed rounds.  Liking and enjoying the ukulele.

In closing, I would like to say, parenthetically, (....on page 67 of the "Formby Book", is printed "....Little Ukulele, [words and music by Jack Cottrell]  was considered rather blue in its day.  In fact
Joe Brown made a version of it that was banned by the BBC." ....)

Joe Brown, Joe Brown?  Who would think that in the 21st Century that Joe Brown and his ukulele, would gain more respect with one wonderful and respectful performance of "I'll See You In My Dreams", than the BBC enjoyed, as the top management tanked over simple things  like journalistic and political ethics.

Doesn't it give you the warm fuzzies to know that institutions have been, and are, on constant guard for our moral well being?

It sure would be nice to be able to see more of you, with your little ukulele in your hand, Mr. Brown.




Session #30 - April 4, 2004


It may be that the ukulele initially appealed to me because, unlike most, I'm not able to deal with issues of local, national or international consequences in areas of politics, finance, health care, education, or solid waste disposal.  Careful study over the years of information available and the use of that information in exercising the power available to me--my single vote--had left me feeling weak and ineffectual.

So I bought a ukulele.   I may have felt that a musical instrument of such diminutive size and minimal appeal in our world would provide an aura in my life that would sooth my disquiet whenever Alan Greenspan or a predecessor would make a statement about the Federal Reserve's interest rate. 

So I strummed a bit. And bought another ukulele. 

With the spirit of empowerment that associating with ukuleles brought to me, I was able to go out into the world and seek out more ukuleles.  In this search process I met and associated with various folk, some small number of which became valued friends from whom I could acquire ukuleles.

After a time I had enough ukuleles that I decided to get them off of the floor to a safe place.  The wall.

Now, one of my friendly ukulele associates sold me a ukulele that had many endearing features. It was smaller than any other uke I had.  It was older.  It was made of wood that was different.  Spruce top and Brazilian rosewood back and sides.  Wooden tuning pegs.  A wonderful, truly "coffin-shaped" original wooden case with a lock and key.  And it was labeled as having been made in Lisbon, Portugal.

In describing what happened to this small instrument, it is important to know two things.

One: my method for hanging a uke on the wall is to first hammer a picture hook to the wall. Then I tie loops at each end of a small piece of string and put these loops around the knobs of tuning pegs numbers one and four, finally suspending the uke by the string from the previously afixed picture hook.

Two: a precious feature of my newly acquired Portuguese ukulele's construction was an elephant ivory button at the base of the body.  It served as a "hitching post" for a rose colored cord with feminine tassels whose other end was attached to the uke's head, making an instrument "strap".

And so, with the hanger properly positioned on the wall and the string correctly attached, I took the Portugese instrument, reached up, placed it at its new station, and released.

I had failed to hook the string, and the instrument traveled straight down the wall to the floor.

As soon as I released the uke, and it began its too-brief journey down the wall, my heart stopped. When the uke reached the floor, it hit the ivory button dead on.  The effect was as if a rose's blossom had exploded.

Because this ancient and revered instrument had been made prior to Superglue or epoxy, it had been fastened together using animal hide glue.  Hot animal hide glue.  The shock of landing on the floor, as focused and transmitted by the ivory button, fractured the major glue joints of the body.  The wood, fortunately was undamaged.

Heart sick barely describes my feelings.  However, having established a relationship with a master luthier, one Peter Kyvelos (http://www.helleniccomserve.com/kyvelos.html), who had performed wood whittling magic on a number of my ukuleles, I was not without hope.

Peter's restoration work was as perfect as the work he does on instruments for members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.  Another event that reveals the great potential for enriching human interaction that an interest in ukuleles brings.

Recently, the uke returned to my consciousness as I was reading the website (http://www.nalu-music.com/) of John King, a recognized ukulele figure. I was inspired to key an e-missive to John.  My e-missive  "said":

"....John, (I keyed)

...and what to my wonderous eyes should appear, as I surfed through your site, but:

Pereira-Santos, Manuel 1870-1888

Manuel Pereira en Lisboa - label from a guitar; Manuel Pereira fabricante de rebecas, violas francezas, guitarras, cavacos et violas braguezas. Vende cordas e engrenagens para os menos Concerta rebecas antigas. A perfeicao de trabalho, afinacao e modicadade preces e conhecida. No 15907 Rua das Portas de Santo Antao 189-191. Lisboa - Label from a cavaco: Vannes V. I, p.273

Identical to a label in my dearly beloved bragina, except my No 20:396 and address is printed ...189 R.das Portas de S. to Antao 191, above last line, LISBOA.

Is the period, 1879 -1888, period of work? I assume it wasn't born, dead.

Another small reward for my interest.

robert -founder"

John was kind enough to reply:


Yes, it is a treasure. So is the post card, depicting as it does the Madeiran duo of viola francese and machete. A manuscript collection of pieces for machete and guitar dated 1846 was purchased in a shop in Funchal a few years ago and has recently been published. It is the only known music surviving for the instrument........

The dates are ones of known activity, or when the maker "flourished" as they say.



Often inquiry is made as to why I have so many ukuleles.  I think it's like giving a thousand kisses.  You never know which will generate a very special and delightful event. 

Warm regards,

robert wheeler