What’s the perfect instrument to bring to a party? No, the answer is not tuba or marimba. They’re way too big. Electric guitar and amp stack? Nope. Too loud. Nobody likes plaster falling from the ceiling. If you said ukulele, you’re right on the money!
What comes to mind when you think of the ukulele, or “uke” as it is lovingly called? Don Ho? Tiny Tim? Adam Sandler? How about venerable rock icons like George Harrison, Tom Petty, and Eric Clapton? The ukulele is a versatile little instrument and the choice of many fine musicians.
A Brief History of the Ukulele
Portuguese immigrants to Hawaii are credited with the first ukuleles, fashioned after earlier Portuguese stringed instruments, such as the cavaquinho (also called the machete) and its slightly larger cousin, the rajao. In late 1879, three Portuguese cabinetmakers began delighting the islanders with nightly concerts, and quickly attracting the attention and patronage of King Kalākaua.
The name ukulele translates into two rough definitions from the Hawaiian, one meaning “jumping flea,” after a fidgety English player, the other meaning “the gift that came here,” from the Hawaiian words uku (gift) and lele (to come).
Here in America, the ukulele became a hit with the Tin Pan Alley songwriters in 1915, then later became a staple in early jazz, and American country music. The ukulele has been enjoying a revival in America since the 1990s, and especially after the 2003 release of Hawaiian musician Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s “Over the Rainbow,” and “What a Wonderful World.”
At the 2002 Concert for George tribute to George Harrison, Paul McCartney fondly recalls many a night at George’s house playing ukuleles into the wee hours. Tom Petty, who spent time with George in The Traveling Wilburys, tells a similar tale. George had a deep love for the ukulele, and he loved to share it with his friends.
The ukulele comes in four sizes: soprano (or standard), concert, tenor, and baritone. These instruments are 13, 15, 17, and 19 inches. The soprano is the one commonly recognized as the instrument of Hawaii, but due to its small size, many players like the concert ukulele.
Check Out Our Ukes
Do you want to dazzle your friends with your very own rendition of “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” or “Tiny Bubbles?” Drop by our store and check out our line of ukuleles. Check things to do in Austin by yourself or see our ukes online here: Andy’s Ukes. Don’t wait – you might be your generation’s next Don Ho!