Hawaiian Ukuleles – A Beginning Guide to Their Identification Using the Standalone Program MEKA or the Online Program SLIKS…
Those of us who love old Hawaiian ukuleles and collect them are often faced with a persistent difficulty: trying to identify the maker of an instrument having no label or special identifying decal. The roaches always eat the label first…
Recently I have been looking into the development of a key or sorting device to use when trying to identify a “No Name” (pronounced “no ‘nah may” in Hawaiian style). I have settled on two different software programs, both free to use.
The online program, called SLIKS and developed by Gerald F. Guala (aka “Stinger”), is on my website HERE. When you bring up the screen, there is a listing of measured properties in the left frame and a list of ukulele manufacturers in the right frame. Simply check the box(es) whose measurements are appropriate for your ukulele and then click on the “Matching Taxa” button on the upper left of the screen. Those manufacturers whose instruments share the chosen properties will remain and the others will drop off the list. “Stinger” prefers that the program be run in Internet Explorer but I’ve found that it works in FireFox as well.
The standalone program is called MEKA by Christopher Meacham of UC Berkley.
The program is a synoptic key which means that variables may be entered in any order from a menu-like listing and the remaining taxa (that is brands of ukuleles) are shown simultaneously. Meacham has done most of the hard work of writing the program, which now works with Windows 2000, XP and Vista; I have gone to the trouble of creating the menu of variables (called characteristics in MEKA), the list of ukulele makers (called taxa in the program), and the taxa/characteristic data matrix, as well as a short introduction.
I suggest that the reader download two files from the MEKA URL : Meka31.exe and MekaAndEdit01.exe. Meka 3.1 is the actual program and Meka-Edit allows the reader to add to, modify the data set or create a new one of their own. A very nice write-up regarding the use of MEKA is here.
The ukulele files I have created for the MEKA synoptic key can be obtained here as the zip file
1297uked.zip (to download shift-click or option-click). Unzip the file into the Meka folder and you’re ready to start the program.
RUNNING THE PROGRAM:
Click on the Meka icon on your desktop and the program will come up. In the upper left of the screen, choose Key, then Close. This will give you a fresh beginning. Now choose Key, Open and choose the file uked1297.des. This will bring up an introduction and the ukulele database. Now choose F4 and a listing of the ukulele names in the database will appear on the left side of the screen. On the right hand side of the screen are a list of physical characteristics of the ukuleles in the database. With ruler in one hand and ukulele in the other, make a measurement such as the total ukulele length and see which measurement on the listing comes closest. Note that these measurements are for soprano sized ukuleles. Highlight the closest measurement in the listing and then choose “present” in the buttons above the listing. Note that those manufacturers which don’t make ukuleles fitting the measurement immediately “fall off” the listing. Now continue your measurements and choices until there is only one choice left. The likelihood that the remaining choice and your instrument are from the same maker is now very high.
The data are also available in spreadsheet format:
UKEHAWN.ZIP (to download shift-click or option-click)
I strongly recommend making a reference copy of the spreadsheet after downloading so that if the “sort” software does something weird to the file, you can always re-copy the reference file. You also need to remember that you need to include ALL the columns in the sort otherwise you may never untangle what goes with what. I use an ancient version of Quattro Pro to create *.WQ1 files. Somehow my server doesn’t like spreadsheet files per se, but prefers them as *.zip files. Further since it appears easier for most folks to translate Lotus 1-2-3 files, all of the files below are ZIP files of *.wk1 Lotus 1-2-3 translations of my Quattro Pro files. The names of the file looks a little strange, but when unzipped with WinZip or PKUNZIP will make more sense. Sigh…computers
The key can only be as accurate as the measurements put into it. In a few cases, I have many of the same brand, but in most cases I have only 1 or 2 samples. If you have old Hawaiian ukuleles from the time period late 1940’s or earlier and are willing to share a little of your time making one or more descriptions, we can all benefit.
Here’s a listing of what brands I have measurements for and the number of samples (in parentheses) for each brand: An Tao Kam (3); Anahu (2); Hanalei (1); Hawaiian Mahogany Co. (4); Hawaiian Ukulele MFG. (1); J. F. Rosa (1); Jonah Kumalae (13); Kaneala Makini (2); Ka-Lae (2); Ka-Lai(1); Kaholas (1); Leonardo Nunes (1); Manual Nunes & Sons (3); Mossman (2); Mouna Loa (1); Paul Summers (3); Royal Hawaiian (2); Sam Chang (1); Singers Ukulele Mfg. (1); Ukulele Mfg. (2); Unis (1); Y’Ke’Ke (1).
I know that there is also a Kaai brand and there must be others as well. Further, it’s also known that several of the brands above were made by someone else: Paul Summers, Royal Hawaiian and Y’Ke’Ke for sure…, but who? Jonah Kumalae made a tremendous number of instruments and may have been the maker for a number of stores and players such as Paul Summers. Thank you for your interest and participation in this project. Anyone having additional questions, please contact me directly at the e-mail address on the home page of this website.
I’ve made about 40-45 different either numerical measurements or verbal observations on each ukulele. To some it’s a lot, to others too little. As I’ve mentioned, it’s a start. What follows now is a listing and description of the variable names along with a simple drawing of the instrument to help to illustrate the various measurements. I’ve made the measurements in inches and tried to be reasonably accurate — I think for most large measurements, that to within a tenth of an inch is OK; factory manufacturing variability is at least that great. As questions arise, I will expand the descriptions . The first figure below describes the general parts of the ukulele, while the second and third give locations of some of the variable measurements for illustrative purposes.
General Ukulele Parts
Variables Listing :
the first column has no label; it’s just the order in which data were entered
I.D. – the owner of the ukulele at the time of measurement
TOTLEN – total length of the instrument
BODLEN – total length of the top of the body
SCALLEN – scale length or distance from nut to saddle; the scale length is indicative of the size of the instrument and is the actual playing length of the strings. For details of scale lengths and other general dimensions for different size ukuleles see Sounds and Strings
UPBODWID – greatest width of the upper body
LOBODWID – greatest width of the lower body
WAISWID – width of the waist
NEBODDEP – body depth at neck
TAILDEP – body depth at tail block
UPBODDEP – body depth at mid upper body
LOBODDEP – body depth at mid lower body
FBWIDNUT – the width of the fretboard at the nut
FBWIDBOD – the width of the fretboard at the body
SNDHOLDI – the soundhole diameter
NUMFRET – the total number of frets. This is often a general indicator of older ukuleles – they generally had no separate fretboard and only 12 frets.
NECKWOOD – type of wood used in neck (koa, mahogany, etc.)
BODYWOOD – type of wood used in body (koa, mahogany, etc.)
HDTPSHAP – shape of the top of the headstock. The most common type of headstock type is the crown (pictured below). A much older type is a kind of figure 8 much like the body outline but inverted. Akai ukuleles sometimes have an asymmetrical shape like a Dairy Queen hair-do or Cupie Doll.
BOTTHICK – thickness of bottom of the headstock
TOPTHICK – thickness of top of the headstock
BOTWIDTH – width at bottom of the headstock
TOPWIDTH – width at top of the headstock
TUNERS – type of tuners (wood, patent, etc.)The 1920’s was a great time for ukulele tuners because manufacturers such as Grover could gear up and do an imaginative and professional job. Sadly, those days are long gone…
NUTCOMP – composition of the nut
NUTSHAPE – side profile of the nut (square, 1/2 round, etc)
FRETCOMP – composition of the frets (brass, nickel silver, etc)
FRETSHAP – side profile of the fret (V,T, etc.)
FRETBRD – separate fret board or frets directly on neck? As mentioned above, this gives an indication of the style and tradition of the maker, the volume of instruments being created and the intended look or feel of the instrument.
SDHELSHP – side profile of neck heel
NDHELSHP – end profie of neck heel
NK2BODY – style of joining neck to body (spanish, dowel, dovetail). Most older Hawaiian ukuleles are built in the “Spanish” style, that is, slots are cut in the side of the neck and the sides fitted into them; to cover the slots, the back extends over the heel cap. Most Mainland ukuleles use either dowel or dovetail connection joints, although Kamaka did use a dowel joint for some indeterminant period in their soprano production.
BODYSHAP – general body shape; size of top relative to bottom
FRBKBR – number of front and back braces
LINCOMP – composition of lining (wood, bamboo or rattan, etc.)
LINCTST – style of slotting the linings
LINCTDIR – which way do the lining slots face?
BRNSDL – are bridge and saddle one piece or separate?
BRTOTHIT – the bridge + saddle thickness. This measurement depends on the angle of the neck to the body and whether or not there is a fretboard on the neck.
BRTHICK – the thickness of the bridge without the saddle
BRTOTWID – total width of the bridge
BRTOTDEP – total depth of the bridge
KNOTSLOT – shape of the knot slots. Remarkably enough, this is an extremely diagnostic characteristic of different makers, because nearly every ukulele maker’s bridge is different!
I enjoy writing these pages and hope that they are interesting and useful to the reader. I’ve stopped building at this time and still need to generate some income in order to continue to expand this website with more useful articles. If this page was helpful to you and you would like to make a $5.00 donation in order to have more pages like it, please use the donation button below. Thank you.