View Full Version : South African Luthiers?

05-18-2015, 09:47 AM
I'll be heading out for a month in South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Madagascar later this year.
I know there are some widely respected guitar luthiers in SA. What about ukulele builders?

05-18-2015, 10:30 PM
There is a Guild of South African Luthiers, founded in 2000. Most of them work on guitars, some do however build ukuleles as well - Rob 'The Guitar Doctor' Drake in Capetown comes to mind.

Part of the abscence of ukuleles in the Southern part of Africa is because of the presence of a direct competitor, the ramkie (in Afrikaans 'blik kitaar', in Setswana 'katara', in Zulu 'igogogo'). It's the size of a ukulele, but box-shaped and tuned to an open chord, often open F (cfac) or open C (gceg), in a linear way (which is odd, because a lot of African music guitars have some sort of re-entrant tuning). It's quite a bit older than the ukulele, Saartjie Baartman (at the time forced to perform as the Hottentot Venus) played one from 1810 on. Some claim it's a primitive copy of the machete (Percival R. Kirby makes that point), others see similarities to banjo-like instruments from Central Africa (David Rycroft), one early 18th century source even claimed it was a copy of an Indian instrument (O.F. Mentzel). The way of playing was very similar to that of the machete: intricate chord-strumming, rather than playing melody.

Since ramkies are considered folk instruments, often made out of scrap material (tins, boxes, brake wire) they are made and sold everywhere but you have to search for playable ones.

05-19-2015, 01:20 AM
Thanks, I'll have to check them out. Web searches yesterday did not turn up the ramkie, . They appear to be very similar to cigar box guitars.

05-19-2015, 10:03 PM
Two more tips:

- Brian Fanner in Capetown makes what he calls ukuteles: size and tuning of a ukulele, but body and strings of a telecaster. He has a page on etsy (https://www.etsy.com/nl/shop/FannerGuitarWorks/about?ref=l2-more-about), if you wish to contact him.
- Also in Capetown, in the suburb of Somerset West, someone called Reg is making and selling RJ Ukuleles. Note that there is a eponimous ukulele brand made in the Far East, but these are handmade from hardwood. There's a Facebook page with an email adress (https://www.facebook.com/pages/RJ-Ukuleles/941166572594079?sk=info&tab=page_info).

Some ukulele websites have player directories with South African members, like here (http://www.ukulele.nl/players_worldwide/) and there (https://www.fleamarketmusic.com/directory/country.asp?ID=158). To the best of my knowledge, there are no clubs, festivals or gatherings. There are however lesson groups in the big cities (Cape Town, Johannesburg, Bloemfontein...), just walk into a big music store and ask about who teaches ukulele in the city.