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  The Ukelin and Related Instruments
 
 

"Ukelin" is one of the more common trade names of a type of stringed musical instrument marketed from the early 1920s until about 1965.

Ukelins combine two sets of strings, one group of sixteen strings tuned to the scale of C (from middle C on a piano to the C two octaves above) plus four groups of four strings, each group tuned to a chord. The instrument is meant to be placed on a table with the larger end toward the performer, and while the right hand plays the melody on the treble strings with a violin bow, accompanying chords are played on the bass strings with the left hand using either the fingers or a pick. Each string and chord group is numbered, and sheet music is provided in a special numerical system intended to simplify playing for persons unable to read standard musical notation.

Ukelins were sold by the Phonoharp Company of East Boston, Massachusetts, and its subsidiaries, which apparently included the Bosstone Company. A patent for this instrument (Patent #1,579,780) was filed December 3, 1923, and awarded April 6, 1926, to Paul F. Richter, who assigned it to the Phonoharp Company. In 1926, the Phonoharp Company merged with Oscar Schmidt International, Inc., of New Jersey, and ukelins were then sold by them and their subsidiaries, which included the International Music Corporation and the Manufacturers' Advertising Company of Newark, New Jersey. Similar instruments were sold by the Marxochime Colony, New Troy, Michigan, under the names Pianoette, Pianolin, Sol-o-lin and Violin Uke. Other names sometimes encountered include Banjolin and Hawaiian Art Violin.

Ukelin-type instruments were usually sold by door-to-door commission salesmen, often on a time-payment plan, and were intended for home music-making by persons without a formal musical education. Judging from the volume of inquiries received by the Division of Music, Sports and Entertainment they are not yet rare and frequently turn up in attics and second-hand stores. The International Music Corporation published an instruction booklet for the Ukelin, a complete copy of which is preserved in the files of the Division of Music, Sports and Entertainment. A photocopy of its 17 pages, which include playing and tuning instructions and 14 tunes, may be ordered for $5.00 from the Division of Music, Sports and Entertainment, National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center, Smithsonian Institution, PO Box 37012,  AHB 4127, MRC 616, Washington, DC 20013-7012 (please make your check or money order payable to the Smithsonian Institution).

 

Prepared by the Division of Music, Sports and Entertainment,
in cooperation with Public Inquiry Services,
Smithsonian Institution

PIMS/Mus37/8-97

 

 
 

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