Kornovich Feels Ukelin Makes a 'Civil War Sound'
By Dawn Slade
This article originally appeared here on the Mille Lacs County Times website and is
reprinted with kind permission of both the author and publication. All rights reserved.
Few people have probably heard of a unique, vintage instrument called the ukelin, but Bill Kornovich has and he can tell you all about them.
Patented in the early 1920s, the ukelin, pronounced "you-ka-lin," is a combination violin and Hawaiian ukulele. The instrument was sold and manufactured from the 1920s until 1972.
The 32-string instrument lies flat on a surface. At one end, the musician plucks at 16 strings while, in the middle, a bow is weaved back and forth over the remaining 16 strings.
The ukelin is basically long and narrow, but some have a guitar, hour-glass shape at one end.
Kornovich, who lives in Foreston, knows a man in St. Cloud who has been playing the ukelin for 70 years. After listening to him, Kornovich knew he wanted to learn how to play a ukelin, but finding one was another matter.
He says he has looked for one most of his life. But it took the miracle of the internet to finally locate one.
Last year, Kornovich bought his first ukelin over the internet. Not only did he immediately begin playing it, but he has been using it as a pattern to make more.
At 25 inches long and one and one-half inches deep, the original ukelin Kornovich bought doesn't have the sound quality he prefers, So, he created his own.
Kornovich is now working on his fourth ukelin. One of them is three inches deep, while another is four inches - giving the instrument a deeper, richer sound.
He's never had a lesson, of course finding someone to teach ukelin lessons might be difficult, but Kornovich has an "ear" for music.
Throughout the interview, Kornovich plays tunes like "How Great Thou Art" and "Bobby McGee" on his ukelin.
"I just grabbed the bow and started fiddling around until I played something that sounded right," Kornovich said.
He took the ukelin to the Milaca school to have it tuned with a piano. The ukelin has decals beneath the strings indicating the note the string should be tuned to.
"The biggest job is keeping the 32 strings tuned," Kornovich said.
His enthusiasm for the instrument is obvious.
"I don't know how he can spend so much time with it," his wife, Ellen, said. "He must really love it."
Kornovich said he enjoys playing waltzes and old country songs, especially those of Johnny Cash. "I'm just an amateur at it yet," Kornovich says modestly.
It takes him approximately 60 hours to create a ukelin, using mostly maple and mahogany wood. And since Kornovich has been a carpenter for over 50 years, he's quickly become a master ukelin maker.
His daughter helps him locate old ukelins on the internet to use for parts, especially the horsehair bows, which are shorter than a violin bow.
And though he keeps making more, Kornovich doesn't think he'll sell any of his ukelins, citing the cost would be too prohibitive.
But if Kornovich, who after just one year is playing as well as he does, can teach others to play.... Who knows, maybe a new generation of players will be in the market for ukelins.
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