Introduction | Original Instructions | Tuning to a Piano | New Instruction Book
Holding | Bow Replacement | Bowing | Plucking | Amplification | MIDI
Building a Ukelin | Scale Reference and Alt. Tunings | Tuning Techniques
Buying Replacement Strings | Do-It-Yourself Replacing Strings | Cleaning | Stuffing and Mounting
Serial Numbers | The Great Ukelin Registry | Restoration Photos | Futher Reading
home | history | playing | strings | songbook | buy/sell | discography | interviews | mailbag | myspace
"Lessons or complicated instructions are entirely unnecessary for those who desire to play the UKELIN. The following simple directions will enable anyone to become a proficient player."
-- Quote from original instructional booklet.
Transcript of the Original Playing Instructions
DIRECTIONS FOR PLAYING THE UKELIN
OSCAR SCHMIDT-INTERNATIONAL CORP.
87-101 FERRY ST.
JERSEY CITY, N.J.
Copyright 1925, by International Musical Corp.
Made in USA
The Ukelin has been adapted carefully to the requirements of the American Player.
The instrument has been scaled so that the numbered form of music, published for many years for certain instruments , may be used. This is important, because it provides a great variety of numbered music for players of the UKELIN.
Bow guides have been placed upon the instrument. The constant movement of the bow from one position to another made this feature necessary. The beginner will find is surprisingly easy to run over the instrument with the bow. It must be remembered that ease of playing always adds greatly to the enjoyment of playing.
Bows of proper length and quality have been secured. Strings have been carefully and scientifically gauged. Elaborate apparatus has been set up in the factory to insure the proper position and alignment of all parts. Only high grade material has been allowed to go into the instrument.
In a word, everything possible has been done to insure the owner of a UKELIN, ease in playing, and the lasting enjoyment of a well made instrument.
Copyright 1925, by International Musical Corp.
Made in USA
DIRECTIONS FOR PLAYING
Lessons or complicated instructions are entirely unnecessary for those who desire to play the UKELIN. The following simple directions will enable anyone to become a proficient player.
PREPARE THE BOW FOR PLAYING. Tighten the hair of the bow with the small nut at the end. Tighten just enough to secure a slight tension on the hair. Next, rosin the bow thoroughly. Make a little dust on the rosin by scratching into the rosin with a pin. Draw the bow over this evenly. With a new bow, it is better to repeat this several times, till the bow takes hold of the strings properly. (Caution: do not rub the finger or hand over the hair of the bow, as the oil from the skin will make the bow slip on the strings. When not using the bow, always loosen the hair.
PLACE THE INSTRUMENT on the table directly before you, with the larger part of the instrument nearest you. Place the left hand on the bass chords, and hold the bow in the right hand.
PLAY THE MELODY STRINGS WITH THE BOW. The weight of the bow is not enough to sound the strings. Therefore, you must hold the bow firmly enough that you may press down slightly as you draw the bow over the strings. You will soon find that the large strings require more pressure than the small or fine strings. Always play the bow as nearly square across the string as possible. Dray the bow evenly and steadily. Do not "chop" the strings with the bow in ordinary playing. (Note: The quality of the tone will depend much upon how you use the bow. It is important, therefore, that you follow carefully the suggestions given above.)
PLAY THE BASS CHORDS WITH THE LEFT HAND. There are four groups of bass strings. Each group is tuned to produce beautiful harmony when the thumb or first finger is drawn lightly over the group. The nail of the thumb or first finger is the best pick, but commercial picks or rings may be used.
THE NUMBER SYSTEM OF MUSIC. The bass chords are numbered: 1-2-3 and 4. The melody strings are numbered 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11-12-13-14-15-16. In the numbered music, you will find the melody numbers written above a line or staff; while the bass numbers are written below the line or staff. For example:
You will notice that the melody numbers are not spaced equal distances apart. They are arranged thus to convey to you the idea of the time on each tone. The bass number is played, of course, at the same time the melody number directly above it is played.
DIFFERENT BASS EFFECTS
Many delightful effects may be secured in playing the bass chords of the UKELIN, if careful attention is given to the following directions.
SIMPLE MELODIES, HYMNS, ETC...
The mark ( under each of the bass numbers means to play ALL STRINGS of each chord with one sweep of the thumb or finger.
In the first measure of the above, pluck the LARGE BASS STRING for the first count. Then sweep the thumb or finger over the THREE SMALL STRINGS for the second sound and again for the third count.
You will now understand that :
1. (without a dot beneath it) means the LARGE STRING ONLY.
2. (with a dot beneath it) means the THREE SMALL STRINGS played together.
The bowing is continued through all the counts. That it, the bow is drawn over 3 during the first two counts and changed to 5 on the third count of the first measure.
In playing the above, pluck the large bass string, for the first count. Then sweep the thumb or finger over the three small strings only for the second count. (You will notice that the melody number 11 is played just after the three small strings are plucked.)
SYNCOPATED OR "RAG TIME"
The bass is struck after the melody is sounded in each case above. This is rather a puzzling effect to produce on first trial, but familiarity with the instrument and practice will enable you to do this in time.
TO TUNE THE UKELIN TUNING THE MELODY
The numbers 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11-12-13-14-15-16 on the Piano Keyboard correspond with same numbers on the UKELIN. Tune string number 1 on the UKELIN to Key number 1 on the Piano keyboard, etc. The key marked "1" is Middle C on the Piano.
TUNING THE BASS
The bass strings of the UKELIN are drawn below the Piano Keyboard. Each string is connected with its proper note on the Piano Keyboard by a line and a black dot. The bass chords and strings are numbered the same as the UKELIN.
HOW TO NUMBER YOUR OWN PIANO MUSIC
It is possible for you to number your piano music so that it may be played more readily on the UKELIN. The higher notes on the piano music are the ones to number. If the first note on your piano music is on the third line of the staff, for instance, find the third line of staff on the Numbering Scale and below it you will find the number to be written on your piano music. If your piano music is written in three sharps, select the number opposite the Key of A, three sharps, etc. At the bottom of the Numbering Chart, you will find the Bass chords indicated. A bass chord is generally written under the first note in each measure.
To Get a Copy
Don't miss these chances to get ukelin training and music by the number!
A complete copy of the original playing instructions is preserved at the Smithsonian in the files of the Division of Cultural History. A photocopy of its 17 pages, which include playing and tuning instructions and 14 tunes, may be ordered from the Smithsonian for $5.00 from the Division of Cultural History, National Museum of American History, Room 4127, MRC 616, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC 20560 (please make your check or money order payable to the Smithsonian Institution).
You can also visit the America's Shrine to Music Museum to see scanned portions of the above transcript online, including numerically coded music for "Carnival of Venice". (Careful, some images take awhile to download.)
Ukelin / Violin-Uke/Tremoloa Instruction Book
The long awaited Ukelin and Violin-Uke Method Vol. 1 and the Hawaiian Tremoloa Method Vol. 1 are ready! Jim Calhoun, the first actual ukelin/violin-uke/tremoloa teacher I've run across, may just be the ukelin's Mel Bay. There's a wealth of information on care, storage, tuning, playing and songs. Hey, these things even come with a cassette or CD with exercises, tunings and whatnots. It's $19.95 plus $3.50 shipping. 1-800-774-8830 Broadway Music Company 834 E. Broadway Cushing, OK 74023 Will there be a Vol. II?
Holding Your Ukelin
Here's some of my additions to the playing instructions above.
There are various ways to support a ukelin:
- The ukelin rests on a table or chair before the performer, larger side towards the player.
- The ukelin is held in the performer's left hand. Only the melody strings (not the chords) are played.
- The ukelin balance on the performer's lap. Whew!
- The ukelin may be mounted on a tripod or platform.
Garry Harrison invented "uke tables" for the ukelin players in his group (one is pictured below right). Email him for a plan of it or more details. He describes them here:
"...the time since I last wrote has seen the birth of the UKE table. It's pretty funny. This gal that plays in the "group" likes it at a pretty steep slant, so I custom built" her a table (of sorts). She loves it; it makes her uke way louder.
I made it to where the uke actually rests on two pieces of 1/4" poplar (how appropriate...the very stuff ukes are made of). These pieces are about 1 1/2" wide and are situated at each end, under the pin blocks. So the vast majority of the uke's back is suspended 1/4" off the table top, in mid-air. This is a big part of what makes it louder, and it does in effect the same thing the thumb tacks in the backs of the zithers do, just to get the back up off the table, because if the whole back is in contact with the table it kills the sound, as I'm sure you're aware.
The other "ukeist" in the "group" likes his laid flat to play it. Early on, back when I first started playing with these things, I built the first prototype uke table, which amounted to a 1x8 with 4 of those hardwood table legs that thread into steel plates. The plates are attached to the bottom side of the table top with screws, and they're made so they throw the legs outward at a slight angle to give it a little bigger "wheel base". Anyway, he uses that and likes it just fine. I didn't include a photo of it, because it's just a board and four legs. (just picture an ironing board) All of these tables, by the way, are "in the rough". They are all prototypes, of course, and I didn't know if they were going to need modifying or even not work at all, so they're just raw wood and drywall screws. But apparently I made my measurements well enough...or just got lucky. So yes, they have yet to be painted black and glitzed up with gold decals...oh but they will be!"
Update! Garry writes again:
"Since I wrote about the tables, I HAVE actually managed to get them painted, and have reproduced some old zither decals and bonded them to foil, and have started to adorn the tables. Yes, started...I fully intend to dec. them out to an altogether distasteful degree; it's only right."
The world is waiting (somewhat un-breathlessly) for someone to invent a ukelin holder/strap (ala the nyckleharpa) that will allow standing performance with bowing/accompaniment/plucking. Will you rise to this challenge? I didn't think so.
Lost Your Bow?
Replacement Bows for Bowed Psalteries are perfect for the ukelin. A simple internet search should soon locate one for you.
As a replacement bow I also suggest going to your local music store and buying a 3/4 violin bow with real horsehair and a nylon shaft. They aren't too expensive and work just fine for the ukelin.
I suggest that you DO NOT attempt to rehair or reribbon your bow. The cost to rehair a bow is more than the value of your instrument, and the reribboning is not worth the time. Better to buy a new psaltery bow or violin bow that will give you years of enjoyment.
The only exception came in the form of an email from a gentleman who told me he'd been using his ukelin bow for the last 60 years and it was time for a retread. By all means, in that case, rehair!
Bowing and Alternative Bowing Techniques
Be sure you use enough rosin on the bow or it will squeak or not grab properly.
A harmonic effect (a note sounding an octave above the string played) can be produced by bowing softly and steadily on a string. This also makes a whispering sound you may wish to add to your ukelin vocabulary. Another harmonic effect can be achieved by running your finger along a string while bowing it.
Michael Masley of Cloud Chamber applies to the ukelin a system of eight "bowhammers" and thumbpicks that enable him to pick, bow or strike the strings in any combination (see photo on right).
Another effect to explore is double bowing. Virtuoso Gregg E. Scheeman plays a bowed psaltery mounted on a tripod with two bows, one in each hand, and as such has developed a whole new range of technique for the instrument. This innovation can be readily applied to the ukelin. A video of him is available from Mel Bay.
Plucking, Pinching or Snapping the Strings
For plucking of the ukelin, try this method using only the melody strings:
Put your right hand index finger through a wicket, resting the thumb atop the wicket. Let the index finger touch the string above it. Now pull the index finger to the right in a snapping motion to produce a tone. The same method is used for the left hand.The middle, ring and pinkie fingers can also be used, in a similarly snapping motion from inside the wickets, to create chords.
Duane Pitre plays the ukelin with two picks:
"I play it across my lap with a pick in each hand... just feels right to me. I actually like the strings.... they are all nice and dark...like an old piano."
Also try combining picking and pinching with bowing.
Barry Wood of Edison Suit volunteered:
"When I recorded the Ukelin I wanted to capture the erie sympathetic overtones that the instrument naturally has. To do this I used two Earthworks omnidirectional microphones, these mics have very small tips and I was able to actually insert them into the two sound holes."
This autoharp amplification page by Harvey Reid should prove useful to you.
Resting the ukelin on a table or podium will boost and enrich the sound as this effectly enlarges the soundbox.
Do you have anything to add to this section? How do you amplify/record your ukelin? Please write.
Boulder Sounds has digitally sampled a ukelin for the keyboard. No tuning required.
Building a Ukelin from Scratch
This gentleman was unsatisfied with his ukelin's sound quality, so he built his own! Meet Bill Kornovich, master ukelin maker.
Here's some excerpts from the article Kornovich feels ukelin makes a 'civil war sound' by Dawn Slade published in the Mille Lacs County Times:
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.
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.
"I don't know how he can spend so much time with it," his wife, Ellen, said. "He must really love it."
Article by Dawn Slade 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.
Scale Reference / Alternative Tunings
See accompanying page for scale grids.
Autoharp Quarterly kindly allowed me to reprint this great piece on tuning and string replacement. It's a must read for zitherers. Click here for the tuning section from an article entitled From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggety beasties and strings that go sprong in the night- Good Lord, deliver us.
For an instrument intended for someone lacking a musical education, the ukelin certainly is a demon to tune. While the original tuning instructions specified tuning with a piano, you practically need a piano tuner to tame it. To make your job easier, I suggest investing in a good electronic tuner. It will speed tuning, and might just improve your ear.
To tune, first look at the decal beneath the string you're tuning and find the note indicated. Put the electronic tuner next to the string. Pluck the string. The tuner reading will tell you the note you just plucked. Tighten or loosen the string till you find the note the decal calls for. It's that simple. Some tuners produce tones to match, but they are priced higher.
When tuning, if you have lost your key, you can use a harp or auto harp key. In a pinch I've also used a clock-winding key, a banjo head adjustor or a pair of pliers. Keys (auto harp or harp) are available or can be ordered from most music store. They can be ordered directly as well. (Ask for a "L" shaped tuning wrench with molded plastic handle and a tuning key for 3/16" zither pins). Be sure to measure your pin width however and confirm it with the seller as widths can vary.
Loose or slipping pins can be tightened with chair lock stuff from the hardware store. Pins that 'jump' between positions when tuning can be fixed with peg-dope for violins, available from music stores.
Be careful not to put too much tension on the string, or you'll be consulting our next section.
Buying Replacing Strings
BIG NEWS! COMING SOON!
UKELIN STRINGS FOR SALE
Follow this link for the full story!
Do-It-Yourself Replacement Strings
Garry Harrison has launched an online Zither String Self-Instruction Workshop. Incredibly comprehensive, use this site to create a brand new set of strings for all your zithery hybrids! New strings make these things actually tunable, and improving tone. WOW! Hats off the Garry and his Fretless Zither.com!
Why is it important to follow Garry's directions? Why can't you just run to the music store and buy a replacement string? Because noone (except me!) has offered ukelin or violin-uke strings for sale in some 35 odd years. The bass strings are unique to the stringed gizmos of the time. They make string replacement more tricky. The peculiar bass strings aren't wound on either ends, only in the middle. The winding ends before the bridges on the top and bottom. What to do? Follow Garry's directions!
Here's a useful Zither String Guage Guide, including string sizes for ukelin and pianette. Thanks to Sharon Kahn for her fine work.
Another must read on this subject is Kelly William's article about zither repair and maintenance.
For this subject I highly recommend the restringing section from an article entitled From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggety beasties and strings that go sprong in the night- Good Lord, deliver us. by Dr. George Orthey. Again, I'm grateful to Autoharp Quarterly for allowing me to reprint it.
I have also heard tell that auto harp strings can be used to replace the bass strings, and piano wire for the melody strings.
Kelly Williams wrote in:
"I've "fabricated" wound strings for my zithers by taking a guitar string and stripping the winding off until it's at the proper length. But those short wound strings are certainly the bugaboo of repairing all of those chord instruments. (Well, OK, when they've been pulled apart and warped by string tension, that's worse.)"
NOTE: When replacing many strings at once, loosen the tension on the instrument gradually, over hours or days. Remember, there is hundreds of pounds of pressure being exerted on the body of a tuned ukelin and the shock of changing tension too rapidly could do serious damage to the wood. Tighten the tension of the strings gradually as well, for the same reasons.
Repairs, Restorations and Building New Ukelins
For everything from minor repairs to building an instrument from scratch, I highly recommend the services of expert luthier Mr. John Trallo. Consider him for your:
--Ukelin tune-up (cleaning, tightening/fixing loose tuning pins and anchor pins, etc.)
--Putting on new strings
--Building a ukelin from scratch to your specifications!
Contact him here: www.johntrallo.com
I suggest using a feather-duster to clean between the strings. A violin polish may be applied to improve the finish.
Stuffing and Mounting
Yes I know that to many of you the ukelin is nothing more than a piece of eye-candy decor. So why not let Baxter's Frameworks.com be your Ukelin Taxidery Service? There's step-by-step online directions on how to create your very own Ukelin Diarama and Shadowbox. (No ukelins were harmed in the making of this art piece.)
The Meaning of Ukelin Serial Numbers
In this section Garry Harrison enlightens us as to the meaning of the ukelin serial number. (A big out-of-tune-ukelin Thank You to Garry!)
There is a four-digit serial number stamped into the back (underside) of most ukelins. This number is in fact a batch number. There can be any number of ukelins with the same serial number.
Beginning around 1945 these serial numbers allow us to date the instrument. The first two digits are the year of manufacture if the number is between 45 asnd 64. The last two digits are the batch number produced that year. Similar batch numbers are found on all Oscar Schimdt instruments from this time, most notably autoharps. Here's an explanatory Ukelin Serial Number Dating Chart:
First Two Digits =
Last Two Digits =
45XX 1945 XX 46XX 1946 XX 47XX 1947 XX 48XX 1948 XX 49XX 1949 XX 50XX 1950 XX 51XX 1951 XX 52XX 1952 XX 53XX 1953 XX 54XX 1954 XX 55XX 1955 XX 56XX 1956 XX 57XX 1957 XX 58XX 1958 XX 59XX 1959 XX 60XX 1960 XX 61XX 1961 XX 62XX 1962 XX 63XX 1963 XX 64XX 1964 XX
The earliest instruments, the Bosstones, made by the Phonoharp Co. until 1926, have no serial numbers. Any dated receipts with the instruments are very useful to us, especially if the date is before 1945 or after 1964.
The International Music Co. picked up the ukelin after the Phonoharp Co. went out of business in 1926, and it appears they used serial numbers. About 1930 the International Music Co was absorbed by Oscar Schmidt. The serial numbers from this time don't appear to corrospond to a year of manufacture. (The 07xx 08xx batch numbers are two examples, there are others).
To help us fill in the gaps of history above, I urge you to register your instrument in the section below.
The Great Ukelin Registry
This is your chance to register your ukelin and help posterity! One day I want to be able to roughly date any ukelin using the serial number on the back. I'll publish a Ukelin Serial Number Dating System here, making ukelin dating quick and easy.
But I need your help. If your ukelin came with hand-written or typed material with a date on it, such as a sales receipt, email me the date and the four digit serial number on the back of your ukelin.
(Please note that copyright and patent information do not count. Examples of dates I don't need: the 1925 copyright at the top of the instruction booklet, the patent date on the decal in the sound hole.)
When you write to register your ukelin, please also include your Ukelin Model Type (see photos below).
Ukelin Model Types
Classic Box Starburst
Ukelin Restoration Photos
A baby performing a full restoration on a ukelin? This you've got to see.
Kelly Williams has a page about repairing sad vintage instruments called How do you make sure it's playable?.
A MUST VISIT is Garry Harrison's Fretless Zithers.com
Ukelin photo in upper left courtesy of Ulf Skogsbergh. http://www.ulf-photo.com The information presented on this site represents my exhaustive search for ukelin information If you have anything to add to this site, or if you find any information in this site to be in error, please notify me at firstname.lastname@example.org.