• Uke-In-Focus: Tiny Tim’s Martin Soprano

    Renowned music publisher and uke collector Jim Beloff (above, with Tiny Tim) puts the spotlight on one of his prized instruments

    SOON after finding a Martin tenor ukulele at the Rose Bowl Flea Market in Pasadena, California in 1991, I was struck with ukulele acquisition syndrome or UAS. I don’t believe this particular disorder had a name in those early pre-Third Wave days but, nonetheless, I had it bad. 

    Suddenly, my heart would race if I happened to come upon any vintage uke or uke ephemera. In fact, anything seen from a distance that looked uke-ish at a flea market was likely to send me sprinting, even if it turned out to be a salad bowl or wall barometer. I was literally seeing ukuleles everywhere, even where they weren’t.

    By 1993, my wife Liz and I had published our first Jumpin’ Jim’s ukulele songbook and my collection of vintage ukes was growing. In addition to area flea markets, Liz and I began to frequent antique malls as well. 

    It was at the Santa Monica Antique Market that we walked by a glass case with a weird-looking Martin soprano in it. At first, it was hard to make sense of the paint on it, but when I read the description, I began to get excited. The story was that the dealer, Wes Parker, a former Los Angeles Dodger, was given the uke in 1970 by Tiny Tim after a game and in exchange for a baseball bat (Tiny was a huge baseball fan, especially of the Dodgers). 

    The uke had splotches of paint on the soundboard, the words ‘Miss Vicki’ finger-painted on the sides and a koala bear sticker on the bottom. The price was US$295, which was less than a vintage Martin soprano without a celebrity connection. I had to buy it, but realised I wouldn’t be absolutely convinced of the provenance until Tiny Tim himself confirmed the story.

    Later in 1993, I learnt that Tiny would be performing in a small Los Angeles club. Here was my chance to know with certainty that the uke had belonged to him. After the show, he stayed to greet fans and sign merchandise. When my turn came, I pulled the uke from its case and recounted the story. He looked the uke over and said the story was just as I said. Then he signed it.

    By the way, it sounds great.

    Jim’s excellent new book, UKEtopia! Adventures in the Ukulele World, is available now at Flea Market Music: fleamarketmusic.com

  • UKE-IN-FOCUS: Martin Taropatch

    SUPPOSEDLY derived from a guitar-like instrument brought to Hawaii by Portuguese sailors, the taropatch is similar in size to a concert ukulele and has eight strings, arranged in four pairs. 

    Although manufacturers such as Nunes, Kumalae and Oscar Schmidt produced the taropatch during the early-mid 1900s, it’s generally accepted that the finest examples were built by C.F. Martin & Co in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, USA.

    The first recorded sale of a Martin taropatch was on August 9, 1916, and it first appeared in the company’s price lists in 1918. Available in three styles of mahogany and koa, it didn’t sell as well as Martin’s easier-to-play, four-stringed ukes, particularly after the company released its own concert size in 1925. The taropatch was dropped from the Martin line in 1932.

    Pictured here is a Martin 1K (koa) taropatch dating from around 1929. The instrument was purchased in England in 1977 by Richard Maingôt and the case was made for it in 2004 by Cedar Creek Custom Case Shoppe (cedarcreekcases.com) in Oilville, Virginia, USA. 

    “I acquired my lovely taropatch while I was living in Richmond, Surrey,” says Mr Maingot. “I purchased it on the spot; an eight-stringed beauty without a scratch or blemish on her body. And what a tone! You are immediately transported to Hawaii when you hear this instrument.”

    Some contemporary manufacturers, such as Kamaka, Lanikai and Kala, make eight-string ukulele variants, but none are quite up to the standard of the vintage Martins. At least not yet…

  • Uke-In-Focus: Abbott Super De Luxe

    English ukulele-banjo enthusiast Richard Maingôt tells KAMUKE the story behind his beautiful, custom-made Abbott Super De Luxe.

    Photos: Alastair Murray

    TIME seems to have slipped by almost unobtrusively since my introduction to the ukulele some 65 years ago, when I heard George Formby on a Saturday night entertainment program on the radio.

    I was captivated, and motivated the next day to respond to an advertisement in the Daily Express by a firm called W. Davis offering a “genuine ukulele-banjo” for the sum of 18 shillings and sixpence, payable at three shillings and sixpence a month. By no stretch of imagination could this instrument be called a “genuine ukulele-banjo”. It was very basic, but to me it represented the real thing.

    My uke-banjo collection progressed over the years in direct proportion to my income; a Melody and whole stable of Dallas instruments. Most of my ukuleles were obtained from a little shop in Croydon, Surrey, where I lived. The owner of this musical emporium was a small, red-nosed alcoholic who always welcomed me because my purchases enabled him to shut up shop and retire to the sanctuary of the pub next door.

    In the early 1960s, my wife and I moved to a village just south of Manchester and it was there that I was introduced to Harold Fallows. Harold was an interesting man, who, through his work in the theatre, had got to know George Formby very well. Through Harold, I became a member of The George Formby Society. Some of the virtuosos I met there were nothing less than brilliant. Ray Bernard was such a player. He had a wonderful personality and was one of the most generous and helpful men I ever met. From Ray, I learnt to do the Formby ‘split stroke’ and some of his other excellent techniques.

    It was in Burslem, now part of Stoke-on-Trent, that I met Jack Abbott Jr and established a friendship with him which lasted until his death. In the mid-1970s, I commissioned Jack to make me the best ukulele-banjo he had ever made. This, I believe, he did.