Ukulele Origins

Hello Everyone,
in this post I talk about the ukulele origins and its history up to the present day.

What is the Ukulele

There are five versions of the ukulele. They differ in terms of the length of the keyboard and the size of the body. In order from the smallest there are: they are: sopranino, soprano, concerto, tenor and baritone. All the versions are mentioned sharing the fact of having four strings even if on the market you can find versions with six strings.

The Birth

The ukulele was tiny in shape, with the body and small handle, and was invented in 1879 by Portuguese immigrants who had moved to Hawaii. To be precise, on August 23, 1879 the Ravenscrag ship landed in Honolulu Hawaii with 423 people mostly peasants who left months before from the island of Madeira.
In this ship three musicians and luthiers had also embarked: Augusto Dias, Manuel Nunes and José do Espirito.

Among the instruments that brought with them the most particular was a revisitation of the machete de rajão, a traditional Portuguese instrument tuned to D4-G4-B4-D4. This instrument immediately aroused great curiosity among the inhabitants of Hawaii delighted with songs and rhythms.

For this reason the ukulele is commonly associated with the music of Hawaii. In the Hawaiian language ukulele means hopping flea and seems to be linked to the speed with which this instrument is usually played. Even King Kalakaua was fascinated by the instrument and not indifferent to the instrument if he had one built.

Dias was the first to open a luthier’s shop in 1884 on the archipelago. Only four years later, in 1888, Nunes and Santo also had their shop. During the jubilee celebrations of 1886 for the first time the Hula dances, a tradition very dear to the king, are accompanied by the ukulele. Beginning in 1892, concerts with ukuleles spread to major US cities. From Hawaii to the islands of Polynesia the pace was short.

Ukulele Models

Normally when we talk about UKULELE we always think of a small guitar. Instead, make a distinction for models as mentioned above.

SOPRANO: is the size of the first ukulele made in Hawaii. The same measure that has conquered the world since the beginning of the 1900s and have become famous through different musical genres. It’s sound is dry and brilliant with 12-15 necks. The compact size and low price make it the most popular size in the world.

CONCERTO: is the intermediate measure. The aromatic box is larger, making a sound richer despite the timbre being always easily recognizable. The neck is longer and for this reason also the keys. People with big hands prefer this model.

TENOR: is the most common measure among guitarists. It has a wider neck, the wider harmonic case guarantees a rich sound. Although it is not the original measure it is very common among the virtuosos of the instrument.

BARITONE and SOPRANINO: these are the latest measures created. The baritone has an EBGD tuning an ocatave above the guitar. The sopranino instead can be tuned in various possibilities.

1900-1930 the Golden Age of the Ukulele

The Hawaiian Islands became part of the USA in 1900 and in 1915 the Panama-Pacific International Exposition was held in San Francisco, where each state promoted its products, its territory and its culture. On this occasion the ukulele received its first official recognition, delighting hundreds of visitors with exotic music.  The Tin Pan Alley, New York music industry begins to produce many songs accompanied by ukulele decreeing an incredible success. Meanwhile, the popularity of artists accompanied by their own ukulele is increasing in the United States.

The 50s and 70s

1950: the first model of baritone ukulele was made by the Vega company. The same year the first manual for this size was released by Herk Favilla who claimed the invention of this new instrument in 1940 by his father who created it with the aim of facilitating the learning of the guitar.

1952: William Mihalyi began experimentally teaching music through ukulele in American public schools.

1967: the Canadian school also introduced the ukulele from the Halifax district, defining a method still used today “Ukulele in the classroom”. many Canadian artists like James Hill grew up with this method. In England in the 1960s while the Beatles enjoyed playing the ukulele on many occasions.

1968: Tiny Tim appeared for the first time on British television: an eccletic artist who presented his sketches accompanied by the ukulele during the “Laugh-In” program. In 1969 the images of Neil Armstrong became famous as he played the ukulele in the quarantine chamber, after the famous trip to Apollo 11.

The Ukulele today

In 1993 the medley of the songs “Over the Rainbow” and “What a Wonderful World,” arranged by the Hawaiian Israel Kamakawiwo’ole comes out: the song has an incredible success and decrees the return of the ukulele on the world scene. In May 2011 the singer and composer Eddie Vedder leader of the rock band Pearl Jam recorded his album entirely played by the ukulele.
Since 2016, the ukulele is the most sold musical instrument in the world.

I hope you enjoyed this post too. In case you have curiosity to ask or doubts check the other posts or contact me via email.

Rock on

Fabio