View Full Version : C or D tuning

Public Enemy
10-28-2010, 08:08 PM
Ok so here's the deal,

i found a very old Ukulele on Ebay, made in Australia some time between 1920' - 1930's. The ukulele has all of it's patent pending marks and numbers in the sound hole and company logo and shop address on the head stock .

So i did a little research and found that not only was this Uke famous ( In Australia, as it belonged to a vaudeville family of the time) but there were only about 10 of these Ukulele's made and all for this vaudevillian family.

In the mean time i have bid and won the Ukulele for around $50.

Some further research lead me to the Sydney Powerhouse museum where there are 3 of these Ukulele's on display.

( please be advised that at this time this is my first ever venture into buying and old/vintage Ukulele, I love to play and have 5 Ukes none over 3 years old )

Without view the uke, the Museum has valued it at over $7,000 ( yep, had to pick myself off the floor after that little nugget of gold)

Now for the question .....

The Uke has no strings and is a soprano size but a lot wider in the body, how do i tell, if it even makes a difference, whether it was made for C or D tuning?

Mainly i want to make sure the right strings go on it so not only will it look great but it will sound great too !

In the mean time the museum has offered to restore the uke if it can be used in displays or exhibitions from time to time

Any help is greatly appreciated

Public Enemy

mm stan
10-28-2010, 10:15 PM
Aloha Steve,
Congrats on your find and score....I'm sure you can use either tunig....get the right strings for which one you choose...
Btw....I'd take up the museum's offer....but keep it as original as much as you can...

10-29-2010, 03:56 AM
Vaudevillians generally played in D tuning because it's a bit louder (good for an unamplified stage) and a tone higer in pitch.

10-29-2010, 01:41 PM
First things first: for an instrument with that kind of provenance, put gut strings on it!

As to the tuning, Ian is on the mark when he makes reference to your ukes' use in vaudeville. Generally the D tuning would project better. One thing makes me hesitate on that, however, and that is when you mention that the body appears to be a bit larger than normal. These folks probably had some very particular performance criteria in mind, and it could have been made for C tuning.

I would string it up both ways, and send it off to the museum with whichever tuning projects better.

Don't make the mistake of getting some kind of "Soprano" set of strings, unless it says what tuning it was intended for. Even then be leery, as most folks just put GCEA on everything, even their "Soprano/Concert" (what?) sets. To really find out which tuning sounds better, go with two sets of gut. There are those who just "pull up" a set with adequate C tuning tension, but the sound will not resonate properly in D. The same thing the other way around where a good sounding D set tension will be somewhat loose and not perform well in C.

I have always bought gut from Curtis Daly at Aquila USA. He may even calculate the diameters for you in a special case like this one. I see a note on his page:


that some gauges may be unavailable. In that case, LaBella has them in their early instrument catalog:


It has been awhile since I played with gut strings. The sound is wonderful, especially on the small size ukes, but I like to play on the porch, and they stretch badly in the Louisiana humidity. According to my old notes this should put you in the neighborhood for key of D:

1st string: .025 / .62mm
2nd string .031 / .79mm
3rd string .036 / .91mm
4th string .026 / .66mm

I would then go up one guage for each string to try it in key of C. Finally, just to make sure, I would always get two more sets of gauges: 1 step thinner, and one step thicker. The gut strings are expensive, but buying like that will give you enough of a variety that you should be able to get both tunings right on the money (and only pay freight once!).

You should end up with a beautiful and historically correct tone on what sounds to be a wonderful instrument! Pictures?

mm stan
10-29-2010, 01:55 PM
I'd also think maybe, let the museum restore it for you and they will provide the period correct strings for you...whether it be C or D tuning.....gut strings would be fine for period correct sound...
if you like the sound of them..I'm sure the musuem is going for period correct look rather than sound preformance and durability....

Public Enemy
10-29-2010, 04:20 PM
Im sure the museum will want correct look rather than sound performance and durability, but that will be part of my conditions , it must be playable . In my mind, why own the instrument if it cant be played? It is still in average condition and still sounds reasonable ( i threw some Aquila's on it to try it out)... but it has given me something to think about .......

mm stan
10-29-2010, 04:47 PM
Aloha PE,
If I had a really rare vintage uke, I would like it for more than just eye appeal, it would have to sound nice and playable otherwiise it'll just be a wall hanger or dust collecter...and I'll just be a custodian of it...
Owning something for looking pleasure and playing pleasure is quite a big difference, I'd pick the later any day...anytime....like you said, what's the use...if you don't enjoy playing it......

Public Enemy
10-29-2010, 04:51 PM
Some pics of the uke

10-29-2010, 05:20 PM
Thanks for the pictures PE. Very unusual design! With that width, I'd say the key of C, maybe even lower.

As far as strings, gut will not keep peak performance as long as the synthetics, but they're not going to die on you overnight either. At least in the higher tunings, it is still unmatched in sound quality.

mm stan
10-29-2010, 06:17 PM
Aloha PE,
Wow it's actually looks way better condition than I though, and Like southcoastukes said, I like the wider lower bout.....
does it have some nice deep tones????thanks for sharing and the Pic....MM Stan...

Public Enemy
10-31-2010, 08:13 PM
I haven't put terrific strings on it yet , just some old ones i had lying around , but it sounds quite good ( i chuckle to myself every time i play something modern on it )The main reason i hadn't put good one's on being i wasn't sure what to put on it.