The term Vintage ukuleles is usually used to describe ukuleles made before World War II.
The ukulele is a four string instrument that originates from Hawaii and gained huge popularity in the United States during the early and mid-twentieth century.
The design of the ukulele was developed in 1880 and was originally a Hawaiian interpretation of the small guitar like instruments, such as braguinha or cavaquinho, which had been introduced to the Hawaii Islands in the nineteenth century via Portuguese immigrants. Maderian cabinet makers, Augusto Dias, Jose do Espírito Santo and Manuel Nunes are generally credited as the first ukulele makers.
During the early twenties, the ukulele crossed the Pacific Ocean and became widespread in the United States and gained a cult status in the Jazz Age. Due to its small size, relative ease to play and cheapness, it also became highly popular for amateur players throughout the 1920s.
Ukuleles come in a variety of sizes and materials which affect the tone and volume of the instruments. However, ukuleles can usually be put into four classifications; baritone, tenor, concert and soprano.
The majority of vintage ukuleles are generally made out of wood, although variants have occasionally been composed either partially or entirely of plastic. As a rule, cheaper ukuleles are produced from ply or laminate woods, though superior woods, like spruce, are occasionally included to increase the quality of their acoustics.
The more expensive ukuleles are made of solid hardwoods such as cedar, mahogany and even willow. Collectors should look out for ukuleles made from koa, a Hawaiian hardwood, as this constitutes the most expensive ukuleles ever built and can cost thousands of dollars.
Very few vintage ukuleles appear at top end auction houses and are usually the domain of established online ukulele specialists, such as Ukulelefriend.com and Dolphinmusic.co.uk. However, vintage ukuleles of varying conditions frequently appear on online bidding sites such as eBay and Amazon for a small percentage of their potential price.
Furthermore, in recent years there has been an increase in demand for ukuleles since their revival in contemporary music, popularised by folk bands such as Mumford & Sons and Train.
The most desirable vintage ukuleles were made between 1920 and 1940. Ludwig, Gibson and Jack Abbot are the most well-known American companies, however, Hawaiian ukulele manufactures, such as C.Q. Yee Hop & Co of Honolulu and Kumalae are especially sought after by collectors. Kamaka Hawaii, Inc. is often credited as the original designer of the pineapple ukulele.
Ukuleles produced by the American manufacturer C.F Martin & Company are considered as some of the finest ever made. Vintage Martin ukuleles have been in great demand in recent years and some of the older models, such as the Martin Style 1k, can sell up to a thousand dollars. Again, the models produced from the Hawaiian koa wood are the most collectable, as there were only a limited amount made.
In 2004, a Kumalae ukulele, once owned by the famous American singer and ukulele player Tiny Tim Khaury was sold on eBay for a reported $2,900.
In January 2012, an extremely rare C.F. Martin & Co. Wurlitzer 3k ukulele dating from the early 1920s was sold through Ukulelefriend.com for $4,300
A 1915 signed Jonah Kumale Hawaiian koa wood ukuele gold award, was sold in January 2012 on eBay.com for $350.
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