Guide to the Ukelin

You probably heard about the ukulele and the violin, but have you heard about the ukelin? One of the most mysterious and unique instruments that were recorded was this instrument called ukelin. It is a combination of a violin and Hawaiian ukulele that became popular in the year 1920s. This bowed psaltery that has zither strings utilizes two sets of strings: one has about sixteen strings that are tuned to the scale of C major, while the other set has four strings that are tuned in different chords. The neck of the ukelin has somewhat resembled the looks of the violin. Also, it has a guiding post that guides the players in where to move their bow to elicit the desired tune or melody. Meanwhile, the body of this instrument has accompanying chords that are meant to be picked or plucked depending on the song that will be played.

In playing the ukelin, the instrument must be placed on a flat surface in front of the player. The melody strings are usually played with the bow on the player’s right hand. Additionally, the bass strings were usually plucked or strummed either with the left hand or with the use of a plectrum or pick. Since this instrument is tuned in the scale of C major, it is unable to play scales or structures that are derived from the twelve-note scale. Therefore, the instrument is limited in what it can play. Nevertheless, the strings were given number for the amateurs who wanted to take a try at playing the ukelin. With these numbers, as well as tablature notation, it would somewhat become easier to play.

This uniquely complex instrument was said to be invented by a man named Paul Richter, who requested a patent to his invention in the year 1923, applying it to the Phonoharp Company. The patent was then granted in 1926. It was also the time when the Phonoharp Company had merged with Oscar Schimidt International, Inc. By then, the companies, as well as their subsidiaries, have sold the ukelin. Some of the companies’ subsidiaries were the Manufacturer’s Advertising Company of Newark, New Jersey, and the International Music Corporation. Aside from these companies, similar instruments were also sold by the Marxochime Colony. But instead of selling the ukulele-violin instrument under the name ukelin, they had sold it under the name Pianolin, Sol-o-lin, Pianoette, and Violin Uke. Other names include Hawaiian Art Violin and Banjolin.

By the 1930s, this odd instrument became a novelty hit. In selling this, the salesman would sell it door-to-door and play simple tunes for their potential customers. They would even convince the customers that the ukelin was a simple and easy-to-play instrument that they could learn ‘in a day.’ Even budding musicians were persuaded to buy the ukelin. However, once the salesman left, they were left with the instrument, along with lots of sheet music and instructions on how to play it. Once the bow was in the performer’s hand and settled down with sheets of music on the table, they soon found out that the instrument was indeed complex for a novice musician. With its two sets of strings that require different actions, the ukelin was impossible to learn in a day, just like the salesmen told them. Aside from its difficulty, the ukelin also needed tuning much like other stringed instruments.

Consequently, it soon lost its popularity in the 1970s. Since it was marketed under the impression that the ukelin was easy to play, several people expected it to be as it was said. However, after finding out the complexity of the ukelin, some instruments were often returned to the manufacturer before they even completely paid the ukelin. Back then, salesmen have misinterpreted the ukelin to their customers, who have felt that they were tricked into buying a worthless instrument.

In the year 1964, Oscar Schmidt, Inc. had stopped producing the ukelin after discovering the improper practice of their salesmen. In addition to that, the Maxochime also no longer made the same violin-uke since the year 1972. Surprisingly, as time goes by, it turns out that the ukelin can still be found in second-hand stores. Several musicians are also seen using this unique instrument. Also, the International Music Corporation had published an instruction booklet on the basics of ukelin, which was preserved by the Division of Music, Sports, and Entertainment.