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Tom Walsh and John King

The Martin Ukulele: The Little Instrument That Helped Create a Guitar Giant
 

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C.F. Martin’s ukuleles have long been the standard by which all others were judged. Though bookcases brim with books about Martin guitars, the merest mention of the company’s extraordinary ukes has been largely absent – or at best treated as comic relief. The recent surge in ukulele popularity is helping pique new curiosity, and Tom Walsh and John King’s new book arrives in the nick of time.

Martin’s initial approach to building ukes was cautious: the firm first offered three mahogany styles, available only in soprano size. But the line developed, blossoming to a complicated matrix of offerings that grew to dwarf the company’s guitar and mandolin models. By the 1930s, you could buy a Martin-made uke in any of three different sizes, in two body shapes, in mahogany or koa, in four or eight strings (and 10 if you count tiples), and in five levels of ornamentation.

Until now, trying to identify and date one of these ukes (which, except for the first hundred or so, bore
no serial numbers) was an imperfect science at best. For its utility at identification alone, this volume puts all previous reference guides to shame.

But it gets even better, as this thoroughly researched and lavishly illustrated softcover volume is a beaut. Given full access to company records, the authors undertook the daunting task of compiling complete shipping totals from 1915 to the present, and this section alone is worth the price.

Equally apropos gracing your swanky coffeetable or in your glovebox on the way to a guitar show, this book is a must-have for any vintage instrument fan.

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This article originally appeared in VG‘s January ’14 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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