The Hawaiian Mandolin click for more

Paul Stark
Paul Stark
From very early on the the Ukuleles history there have been a number of instruments coming out of Germany (or Shoenbach, Southern Bohemia, a German speaking region of Czechoslovakia). Slingerland, for example, originally started out importing and reselling Ukuleles from German before WW1. The War did put a serious dent in this business and it wasn't until the mid 1920's before it was seriously under way again. By this time the Chicago makers were in full swing so the US market was fairly saturated therefore most of the exports were to the UK and the rest of Europe. Even so it appears Schoenhut and others were importing German instruments into the US at this time. it should also be remembered that because of the hyper-inflation and instability of Germany in the late 20's a lot of manufacture was moved across the border to Shoenbach, including some of the factories owned by US Makers, (Oscar Schmidt died while visiting one of his factories in this region). Of course World War II (which partly started with Germany claiming the Shoenback area as part of a "Greater Germany" and coincidentally? reclaiming all of the industry it had lost to the area), put an end to this trade and the post war industry was rebuilt under a different model by companies like Framus in the West and Musima in the East, though some of the firms far away from the cold war problems, like Brüko managed to continue.

At the top of this page I said that the German manufacturers had been in Ukulele production from very early on in the Ukulele history, exactly how early is a very interesting question. Most of the information I have for the early German Makers has come from old musical instrument catalogues and some of these date to the late 19th century, (although sometimes that actual date of the catalogue is moot). The earliest that has bearing on Ukulele manufacture is one that was produced by a German Distributor called Paul Stark for the Chicago worlds fair of 1893 (the dating for this catalogue is fairly firm because the cost of it production led to the bankruptcy of Paul Stark shortly after - perhaps he should have produced it in English for distribution in Chicago?) In this catalogue, which contains over 380 pages and covers pretty much everything except pianos, there are 2 images of instruments that look very much like they are Ukuleles, though they are not described as such. The proper translation in the catalogue is that they are 1/8 guitars and Musicaviva who own a copy of catalogue, so can study it more closely than me say they are Cavaquinhos made in Portugal, (though this is a guess by them). I would leave this, a couple of instruments that may or may not be meant as Ukuleles and may or may not be made in Germany... But there are other catalogues that are almost as old showing German Ukulele like instruments. The Standard Musical Association, USA catalogue of 1897 shows one for example, then there are some catalogues with dubious dates like Fritz Strobels and I have seen a lot of early references to German makers producing a flat top 4 string Mandolin that by 1910 had been renamed the Hawaiian Mandolin?

It could be argued that these early four string Chordophones were meant as Cavaquinhos, and that may be true but the Cavaquinho existed in Portugal for a long time before this period and I have seen no evidence of much export or use of them beyond the (rapidly declining) Portuguese Empire prior to the trip to Hawaii, so if the Germans were making Cavaquinhos, who were they making them for?

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