North American Luthiers of the 20th C. click for more

W.H. Zerbe Paddle Ukulele
H W Zerbe Paddle
There were some great instrument makers and artists of the past who made some, often very nice, Ukuleles at some time during their careers, even if this wasn't their main output. It can sometimes be difficult to find out information about them, including if they actually made the instruments attributed to them?

Chris Knutsen

This is actually the pseudonym used by Johan Christian Kammen, (there is no record of him ever changing his name?), an early luthier/inventor who worked out of Washington State from 1895 until 1914 when he moved to Los Angeles. He is the man who if not invented, (there are some earlier obscure instruments like the Torban that had some similarities?), designed and patented Harp Guitars, Mandolins and Ukuleles. He is also the real inventor of the hollow square necked Lap Steel Guitar that has come to be known as the Weissenborn. His quality of luthiery was known to be a bit erratic with the use of short cuts like screws to overcome the difficult bits. It is also the case that he got other people to make some of the instrument too. Back the the Ukuleles, He is know to have made at least 35 Harp Ukuleles and 5 Harp Taropatches, usually as Spruce Top instruments but at least one was Koa. I have never heard of any non Harp Ukuleles or of any Lap Steel Ukuleles

Hermann Weissenborn

Hermann Weissenborn was born in Germany, emigrated to New York in 1902 and moved on to Los Angeles in 1910 where he set up his workshop as a luthier and instrument repairer. He made all sorts of instruments but he was certainly influenced by the Pan Pacific expo of 1915 and the rise in popularity of the Hawaiian sound. Thus he started to make Ukuleles and the instrument he is most famous for, the hollow square necked steel slide guitar often referred to and the Hawaiian or Weissenborn Guitar. (it should be noted that the invention of the hollow neck Lap Steel Guitar was probably the work of Chris Knutsen). The popularity of these instruments at the time was short lived, to be overtaken by Resonator Guitars, and Weisenborn died in relative poverty in in 1936, (he was apparently still building instruments to make ends meet, up to 3 weeks before his death). Henry Stadlmair was one of his major distributors so a lot of his Ukuleles are branded both as Weissenborn and Miami.

H W Zerbe

The Paddle Ukulele is branded inside a H W Z and there is a picture on the back that is signed and dated 1920 so this is probably the work of New York artist H W Zerbe

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