I have known Sandor (it's Hungarian and pronounced "Shawn-door") for about 5 years now. He is one of the original triumvirate of leaders of the World Famous Ukulele Club of Santa Cruz and is one of those rare individuals that makes everyone feel very welcomed. Sandor always has a great intensity for this fine instrument and will engage all inquiring minds with enthusiastic vigor. At the club meetings he wears many hats: greeter, M.C., teacher, techmeister, recorder, sound man, dancer, and of course, musician...
His love for woodworking, as well as his having written more than a dozen books in the past 20 years (quite a few are now, sadly, out of print) and he's written literally hundreds of magazine articles on woodworking, tools, and DIY topics. He was Senior Editor of Fine Woodworking magazine, West Coast Editor of American Woodworker, and is currently a Contributing Editor to the Woodworker's Journal magazine. His business travels gave him many opportunities to explore the country in search of the humble ukulele. He also has his own author page on Amazon were you can see his books
I had the opportunity to visit Sandor's home recently and he shared his treasures with me. Now here is your chance to see some of his baritone ukuleles and get a taste of his eloquent writing. I am honored to be able to share this with you...
I’ve been playing ukulele for more than 35 years, and collecting ukes for nearly 30 of those years. In addition to the many soprano and concert sized ukes in my collection, are a number of baritone instruments (as well as a handful of tenor guitars). My favorite baritones are the ones shown in the photograph: Standing on the far left is a Favilla B-2 baritone, built by the company who’s founder, Herk Favilla, likely invented the baritone-sized ukulele. The B-2 is a real “bomber” of a instrument, with a deep mahogany body and a very loud, full tone. It’s a well constructed uke with good intonation and it’s a pleasure to play. Because it’s loud and hearty, I really like to use when performing at outdoor venues, like around the campfire at “Burning Uke” (the annual campout of the Ukulele Club of Santa Cruz).
Standing next to the Favilla is the odd Arthur Godfrey baritone. The uke’s manufacturer Vega chose to call this instrument a “Solo Lute,” probably to distinguish it from the two lesser-model baris that the company made back then. The Solo Lute is a dream to play on jazzier songs, as it’s neck joins the body all the way up at the 17th fret! This allows easy access to the upper register, great for soloing and playing more complex chord melodies. It has a spruce top, so it’s quite a loud instrument which has a decent voice that’s different from other mahogany or koa baris that I’ve played. The shaded (sunburst) finish applied to the top, back, sides and even the neck of the Solo Lute make it look like a real jazz instrument (think of a vintage Gibson L-5).
On a stand at the right of the photo is my trusty Martin style 51 baritone uke—the first
I ever purchased (I think I paid $250. for it back in the late 80s) It’s an
all-solid-mahogany instrument, with celluloid tortoiseshell purfling, probably
built in the 60s. The Martin was my “go-to” instrument for most of the 10 years
that I performed with the “UkeAholics,” a vintage rock trio that featured myself
on bari or
bass, well-known crooner Ukulele Dick on soprano uke and Eric Conly on tenor.
We all sang as well. The 51 Martin has a very even tone—not too bassy or
trebly—and thus is a terrific instrument to record with. In fact, I used this bari on several cuts on
the UkeAholic’s 2009 CD: “Vintage Rock ‘N Roll with a Twist.” It’s also got
great intonation—which is more than I can say for the Harmony baritone that’s laying
on the case in the lower part of the photo.
Also probably of 60s vintage, the Harmony is, by far, the cheapest bari I own, both in terms of its purchase price and construction integrity. Since it’s made out of mahogany plywood, it sounds pretty cheap too—no rich harmonics from this beast. But it’s a sturdy, serviceable uke and I’m glad I own it. It’s the uke to take on any excursion where my uke might take a beating or get a soaking (beach soirees; canoe trips, drunken picnics, etc.). I actually had two of these Harmonies, one of which was given to me as a gift. I re-gifted that
to a friend for his young son. My friend wanted to start his son out on an
“easy to play” instrument that would allow him to transition to guitar as he
got older—which is exactly what happened.
A real jewel in my ukulele quiver is the baritone that I’m holding: A custom-made Tony Graziano instrument. Acquired as part of a trade deal (I photograph all of Tony’s instruments for his website, portfolio, and promotional materials), this uke has a creamy German-spruce top with sides and back made from precious Brazilian rosewood that has a stunningly beautiful grain figure. Its 14-fret neck is carved out of mahogany and capped with an ebony fret board. The uke’s tone is graceful and lovely: bright without being tinny; deep without being boomy. It also records very well, and it’s slightly-wide fret board makes it a great finger picking instrument; I used it for the Flamenco introduction to “California Dreaming” on the UkeAholic’s CD. My only complaint in recording this instrument is that the spruce top gives this
bari a tone that sounds too much like
classical guitar. In fact, quite a few people who heard “California Dreaming”
thought it was played on a guitar!
I’m happy to have acquired quite a few other baritone ukes over the years, including three different Mastro “Islander” models, all made from injection-molded styron plastic by none other than Mario Maccaferri (he designed the famous Selmer jazz guitars popularized by Django Reinhardt). I also own several “electric” baritones, including a custom Graziano that’s designed after the famous Hofner violin-bodied “Beatle Bass.” (More on these other baritones in a later installment).