View Full Version : Martin Backpacker ukulele

03-02-2012, 10:45 AM
I love the simplicity of the original Martin Backpacker guitar design. Only 7 pieces of wood on the surface:

neck & sides is the same piece
headstock extension

My sample has steel strings. Doesnít say much without amplifying, but the pick-ups and the on-board pre-amp are good, so that the amplified sound is full with good sustain.

More or less by accident I found a Martin Backpacker ukulele, which sadly wasnít for sale for my country:

http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&_trksid=p4340.l2557&rt=nc&n ma=true&item=320859386400&si=2ICLS9Y26ti%252FOp%25 2FUDM0taakZJDU%253D&viewitem=&orig_cvip=true&rt=nc

Did they also come in an electrified version?

Are there dealers specializing in these?

Any telling about these instruments would be of interest.


03-02-2012, 11:39 AM
Can't help with the backpacker ukulele, but I have a backpacker mandolin that I picked up at a garage sale for $40.00 USD. It is a great little instrument, and although the mandolin crowd seemed to hate them because they don't sound like a full mandolin......I think it sounds great for what it is. Plus, the construction lends itself to being very durable.

I know the ukulele community also didn't love the backpacker ukulele but I suspect it is good if you are not expecting it to sound like a full bodied ukulele......

03-02-2012, 07:27 PM
I speak Martin Backpacker ukulele and backpacker mandolin. There are some minor changes which makes it a pleasant sounding instrument. They were more popular in France than the USA. My mandolin has the f holes covered and a sound hole at the end of the fingerboard. the /\ shaped " braces were cut apart and thinned as far as I could reach back through the 1 1/2" hole. The top was relieved by gunstock checkering in front of and behind where the bridge sets.. I have recently removed that much of the top material, and am going to checker another time to lighten the top even more. It is tuned dD Gg Bb EE with Aquila strings for a tenor. It is a very compact taropatch. Both of these are early enough that the Martin is across the top, not hidden under the stringswhere the hand picks or strums. The MBP ukulele has PEGHEDS on it. The top and back have been thinned by sanding, and a thin mahogany baffle extends across the back half of the hole. There is 3/4" of space at the bottom of the baffle. It makes a much less nasal kind of a sound. It wears soprano Aquila strings with a low G.
I have a M I N T MBP ukulele which has yet to be pulled up to tension. It is in the original box inside of another box.
No serious Martin collector' collection will be complete without one of them. I would include pictures, but I have yet to learn how to get fotos from my A drive to the site. Help??

03-03-2012, 02:02 AM
Most interesting replies!

English isnít my first language and I donít understand gunstock checkering and baffle too well, so photos would be welcome. You have to reply via the Go Advanced option down right under the Quick Reply frame. Once there you click the square under the smiling sun. Then a window pops up with Options to load photos from the web or from your disk.

As I get it the MBP mandolin is lightened up because of the nylon strings versus the original set-up for steel strings. I am aware of the problems, as I decided to keep the steel strings, albeit with different gauges, when I tuned my Portuguese flatback mandolin to g'g'c'c'e'e'a'a'. Basically like a reentrant soprano uke. The strings havenít settled fully yet, so they take a lot of retuning to avoid too much of a chorus effect. It also is a problem that I sometimes bend the strings a bit differently, if my fingers slide into position, so that an otherwise in tune choir goes funny.


03-03-2012, 02:26 AM
Hi, Imperial. For what it's worth, I had a friend that had a backpacker uke, but it was ten years ago, and it sounded atrocious. Tinny and small. Hard to hold since it has such a thin body. He owned it and didn't even like it. I was not a uker at the time, but I agree; it's hard to hold (a strap would help) lol

With that used Martin Backpacker at auction for $185 (includes shipping), you are getting fairly close to a new, under warranty Kiwaya KS-O thinline series, which is a fabulous uke. Retails for $270, usually free shipping, and are the best made laminate (made in Japan) ukuleles around.

Here's a review of KS-1 (the slightly bigger brother of KS-0): http://ukeeku.com/2011/01/11/kiwaya-ks-1-full-review/

Here's a sound sample of the Kiwaya KS-0 Thinline:

And here's one of many retailers (free shipping, new with warranty):

Cheers and happy travels!

03-03-2012, 04:11 AM
I understand your points of view, coolkayaker1!

Only as a collector I think a bit differently. I mainly collect brass instruments, but I wanted to retrain my left hand after some nerve damages. I am used to thinking in lines from being an arranger. Also know a bit about piano. Even if I can write parts for classical style guitar, I didnít really play them. So I started out with an Ovation Applause soprano uke between Christmas and New Year 2010. Since then 5 more ukes, the Martin Backpacker guitar, and the mandoline have arrived. My Ovation Viper classical neck guitar has returned from a friendís studio. Not that I have become good, but I can play major (extended), minor 7th, half diminished 7th, and major 7th chords in all keys on the ukes. Same goal might be achieved on the guitars within the next months.

My experience is that my solid wood instruments sound very good from the soundboard, but less good from partially behind that plane. So I preferably play through a very clean amplifier. For the instruments without pick-upís I use a Shadow contact pick-up. Not ideal, but not too bad either. Even the Kala sopranino had an interesting sound, even it it is not loud when not amplified.

And then I mainly want to follow two themes: Ovation roundbacks and Martin backpackers. Maybe odd in the eyes of others, but then I collect for my own pleasure. The floatability of my instruments hopefully never becomes a relevant parameter, as i do no kayaking.


03-03-2012, 04:16 AM
I see, Klaus. Good explanation. Keep on uking. Steve

03-03-2012, 04:48 AM
As for the impractical shape of the Martin Backpacker: I sit in a recliner and play while relaxing with silly late night crime shows on the TV. The instrument(-s) are on the big cushion I bring everywhere, even when bathing. My left thumb is not the strongest, but I strive to use a workaround inspired by a double bass technique promoted by a Viennese (VPO) player a couple of decades ago. He supported the back of bass so that it would counteract the pressure on the strings by the index trough pinkie fingers.

My version for the plucked strings is that I anchor my right forearm on the front edge of the guitar/uke, so that the body (and by implication the neck) sits firmly between my paunch and my right arm. Sometimes when my laziness allows, I use a guitar strap.