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View Full Version : Please Help Identify Old Red Uke?



turtlebook
12-13-2014, 05:03 PM
Hello! I stumbled on this ukulele today at my favorite thrift shop, and bought it for a crazy $5, just in case it's worth playing. I'd been looking at soprano ukes online, and thinking of buying one to see if I'd like to learn it.

I don't see any identification on it, and couldn't find anything like it while Googling, except perhaps the plastic fretboard made me wonder if it's an old Kay or Harmony. It's about 21 1/4 inches long, tuners are plastic (faux bone?), and it seems to have held its shape well.

Just wondering what it is and how old it might be ... and if it's worth learning on, or really just something pretty for the wall.

Thanks much!

Two pics attached. I'm not sure how to get them to display in the body of the text.
74082
74083

janeray1940
12-13-2014, 05:24 PM
I knew I'd seen one before - there's one on page 122 of Jim Beloff's The Ukulele: a Visual History. It's identified as an "art deco uke" with no actual maker mentioned. The armchair historian in me is wondering if the painted design is a "V" for "victory," dating it to WWII...? Just a guess.

stevepetergal
12-13-2014, 05:37 PM
It's a Harmony.

turtlebook
12-13-2014, 05:48 PM
Thank you, janeray and stevepetergal! I appreciate your information.

Can you tell me some more about how you determined it's a Harmony? Is it possible to guess age and assess playability for a beginner? I'm not interested in selling it or anything, just a newbie trying to identify it and figure out if trying to learn on it will help me or deter me. Thanks again.

Hippie Dribble
12-13-2014, 05:59 PM
Thank you, janeray and stevepetergal! I appreciate your information.

Can you tell me some more about how you determined it's a Harmony? Is it possible to guess age and assess playability for a beginner? I'm not interested in selling it or anything, just a newbie trying to identify it and figure out if trying to learn on it will help me or deter me. Thanks again.
Congrats on an awesome bargain. That's a really pretty one.

I'm guessing 50's, the golden age of plywood Harmony's with their plastic fretboards. They are a dime a dozen, but there are a surprising number of different soundboard stencil variations. Lovely lil' things and don't sound half bad either. Got one myself quite similar to yours and I love it!!!

What a score though, 5 bucks!!! Happy days!!! Fine for a beginner uke, though they are quite bright and thin sounding generally and I think you may tire of the plastic fretboard quickly. There is an incredible difference in feel,comfort and playability when compared to a quality wooden board. Also, the intonation can be variable.

I say play it and get used to the chord shapes and then go buy a solid wood uke and be utterly amazed at how good you actually sound. :) But one to hang on to irrespective. Have fun on the journey turtlebbok. cheers

turtlebook
12-13-2014, 06:01 PM
Thanks for your cheerful note! I'm smiling as I type this. Cheers, HD! :)

turtlebook
12-13-2014, 06:11 PM
Did some Googling based on everyone's replies, and found this listing: http://www.ebay.com/itm/Set-of-3-Vintage-Ukulele-Soprano-Classic-Standard-40-60s-Regal-Harmony-Carry-Bag-/131185740383?_trksid=p2054897.l4275

Wow, I guess I got quite the bargain!

It identifies the uke this way: Vintage Harmony Ukulele 1950s , Soprano size. RED AIRLINE collection. Mahogany body (probably laminate) White Plastic fretboard.

Does anyone know anything about the "Airline" part?

spongeuke
12-13-2014, 08:32 PM
Airline was the name used for the Sears Roebuck line of instruments made in Chicago probably Harmony.

PhilUSAFRet
12-14-2014, 12:48 AM
Great score, congrats. My son once scored a beat up Martin O with wood tuning pegs at a yard sale for $7

Hippie Dribble
12-14-2014, 01:08 AM
Great score, congrats. My son once scored a beat up Martin O with wood tuning pegs at a yard sale for $7
WTF PHIL????!!!!!!! OMG. :shaka:

river_driver
12-14-2014, 06:53 AM
Agreed, it was made by Harmony in Chicago, 1950's, maybe early '60's. The tuner design gives it away as a Harmony build. Looks to be in good shape, and a heckuva deal at $5!! Fair retail is maybe $75 tops, I think (though people ask more on Ebay, they rarely sell at higher prices).

The body is probably solid birch, actually. You could do a lot worse for a first uke. These aren't especially loud, but the intonation is pretty decent, and the tuner design actually works pretty well, provided the buttons haven't become brittle with age and cracked. When my 70-yo mother decided she wanted to learn a musical instrument, I gave her one of these (sunburst with faux-flame finish), because I knew it would play good, and at $35 she wouldn't guilt trip me about 'spending too much on your mother...'


Airline was the name used for the Sears Roebuck line of instruments made in Chicago probably Harmony.

Actually, Airline was the brand Harmony put on instruments sold through Montgomery Ward. Silvertone was the Harmony/Sears brand. That said, they are all identical except the name screened or decaled on the headstock.

MutinousDoug
12-14-2014, 10:52 AM
I have an identical one my wife found in a Goodwill store for $4.99 a few years back. I found a picture from an old 1954 Monkey Wards catalog showing the same grafics. They originally came with an oval tinfoil "Airline" decal on the headstock but the tuner pegs and plastic fret board identify it as made by Harmony. Mine is missing this decal too but otherwise shows little signs of use. The strings on mine looked original: crazed and yellowed. Those I replaced with some red Auroras. Intonation as noted above is pretty good: within about 10 cents up to the tenth fret. I don't care much for the tone, actually prefer my Dolphin to the Airline (and the Makala Dolphin isn't my favorite sounding uke either). I've seen pictures of the same design in white on black.

stevepetergal
12-14-2014, 04:18 PM
Can you tell me some more about how you determined it's a Harmony?

Seen a hundred of them, maybe ten just like yours. I like these old ukes very much. It may seem sort of "toy-like" bur the plastic fretboard works very well.

turtlebook
12-14-2014, 08:13 PM
Thanks again, everyone! It's been really fun reading all your comments.

Two last questions. 1. Would you recommend changing the strings for a better sound? Not sure what these are, just that they're blue. And 2. Do you have a favorite beginning uke teacher on YouTube that you'd recommend? I'd like to learn some Beatles and Kingston Trio. Scarborough Fair?

Once again, thank you! Got it tuned up last night, and this afternoon, :) and strummed a bit earlier today. Got some arthritis in my hands, but a girl's gotta have music.

TheOnlyUkeThatMatters
12-14-2014, 08:23 PM
Welcome to UU, turtlebook. I've seen a couple ukes like yours with the "Airline" brand name, but stevepetergal's correct that your uke was manufactured by Harmony. I've got a uke very similar to yours---brown instead of red---that is a great little ukulele. I'd recommend you pick up a set of Aquila strings (they sound great on my similar uke) and enjoy learning to play on your classic uke.

ukegirl
12-15-2014, 03:19 PM
They can sound really nice and "uke'y" great buy!!

turtlebook
12-15-2014, 04:42 PM
I ordered a set of Aquila strings, they're in the mail!

Seeing the doc tomorrow about my red, achy hands. Sure hope I can keep playing.

IamNoMan
12-15-2014, 05:35 PM
I am happy for your good fortune Turtlebook. Not only do you get a ukulele but a story to tell in the: New Member Introductions Forum. Welcome to UU.

The Ukulele Hall of fame has a blog where the "expert" identifies vintage ukuleles. You might want to check it out.
http://www.ukulele.org/?Vintage_Ukulele_Q_%26amp%3B_A

Rock-A-Hula
12-15-2014, 10:13 PM
Airline was the name used for the Sears Roebuck line of instruments made in Chicago probably Harmony.

I always thought that "Airline" was a Montgomery Ward brand and that "Silvertone" was the Sears, Roebuck & Company brand? :confused:

Whoopsie! :p Just saw Post #11 above...
So umm -- never mind. :)

stevepetergal
12-17-2014, 04:07 AM
Thanks again, everyone! It's been really fun reading all your comments.

Two last questions. 1. Would you recommend changing the strings for a better sound? Not sure what these are, just that they're blue. And 2. Do you have a favorite beginning uke teacher on YouTube that you'd recommend? I'd like to learn some Beatles and Kingston Trio. Scarborough Fair?

Once again, thank you! Got it tuned up last night, and this afternoon, :) and strummed a bit earlier today. Got some arthritis in my hands, but a girl's gotta have music.

The strings are probably Auroras, which are perfectly acceptable for your instrument. You can change them, but I don't like to recommend changing strings to beginners. So much of quality of sound is learned and controlled by the player that I think it best you start learning to make the music as beautiful as you can by developing your technique. Once you can produce a lovely sound, then try experimenting with strings that might enhance the music. (It doesn't really work the other way around, no matter what you may read here)

Ukulele Mike Lynch is a wonderful teacher and has many lessons available on Youtube and his own site allthingsukulele.com. There are others, but his lessons are excellent from beginner to intermediate. In no time he'll have you making music, not just learning to play.

turtlebook
12-21-2014, 09:13 PM
Thanks, stevepetergal! I found Mike L on Youtube, well on my way to learning "Yellow Submarine". Great recommendation!