Hey Ma! I gotta have it, I gotta have it!

       The mighty Ukelin. 32 strings of pure confusion, Civil War sound and the great distinction of being completely unplayable and sold by con men during the Great Depression. Who could ask for more? Well how about some strings to restring it? It uses a .26 plain unwound string. Try to find that at your local music shop. Try a hardware store instead.

           The center strings are played using your fingers, thumb pick or anyway you want. They are tuned so you have 4 chords to strum with each chord using 4 strings in the key of C. The angled strings are played with a bow and are tuned to the C major scale. The basic idea is to play the chords and bow a melody while small children dance and clap at your feet and your elders smile and nod off to dream happy musical dreams. In theory. Unfortunately the lack of any sharp or flat notes and being stuck with only 4 chords leaves it a bit, well, boring and the overall setup makes it a tough nut to crack to really get down and wail on it. 

          It does have one very cool aspect to it. When you bow a string, all of the other bowed strings ring out in a resonant sympathy. Or is that symphony? Anyway it gives out a cool Civil War era vibe and makes my Airedale sing along using something between a howl and a whine. Airedales are very smart dogs. They have the ability to reason, communicate clearly and identify when some things should be left alone. The Ukelin being one.

         Why did I buy it? Yes, I did pay US dollars to acquire it. Very few dollars. Someone contacted me by email and informed me that they existed. I looked it up on the web, saw that they were cheap and became a little fascinated. I walked into a music store that is very…unique….one of my favorites. It is a home for the cast offs. Not a pawn shop by any means…no….more like….something from a Steven King novel. Needful Things. The store is lit with a total of 3 60 watt light bulbs, no windows and the wall are painted black just to make sure that scrutiny is your responsibility. There it was, prominently displayed in the original oil stained box and included all of the original paperwork. Like it had been placed there. Just for me. Very strange indeed. 

        I have found it to be mesmerizing. It sits on a table, I walk by and the next thing I know I have rosined up the bow to produce very out of tune tunes. Did I forget to mention the process of tuning this little bugger? The strings are wrapped around a square headed screw that is screwed into a piece of wood. You place a key on the screw and raise and lower the pitch by twisting it but let's consider the fact that we are not using a nice sealed tuner with a ratio for fine tuning. Nope. Try a screw straight into wood. Now consider that it's the 1930's and electronic tuners are…nonexistent.  I am using an electronic strobe tuner and find it nearly impossible to tune. I guess that tuning 32 strings by ear using a wire wrapped around 32 course threaded screws might be just a little frustrating. How many of you tune your 6 string guitars by ear? Not many I bet. 

     What does this have to do with guitars? They both use strings and make music I guess. We are having an acoustic jam very soon and bet the old Ukelin will find its way beside the fire to really liven things up, or bring them to a screeching halt. Either way its OK. Just another way to stay fresh, be creative, improvise and expand my musical horizon. 

        Finally, when you are at somebody's home and you see one of these on the mantel or wall and the owner starts to tell you how it's been in the family for generations, is extremely rare and is worth lot's and lot's of money just remember something. The relative that was the sucker of a con job probably didn't want to advertise their gullibility to their children or extended family so nod your head in agreement with a very serious look on your face with a few well placed "You don't say?" comments and just have a nice little chuckle inside.

         Then ask to see the family photographs and try to spot the Ukelin player. Life is a party if you make it one. Trust me. I'm a teacher.


by Robert Gundry