creative commons photo by Tam Tam
About 125 years ago, immigrants from Portugal sailed to Hawaii and brought with them an 8-stringed instrument called the “machete”. Three cabinet-makers, Dias, Nunes and Santo opened up a shop in Honolulu in 1886 that created and sold the machete instruments. This instrument became very popular with people on the island, and it soon was changed into the ukulele.
The main difference between the machete and the ukulele is that the machete has 8 strings, and the ukulele only has 4. Also, the ukulele is made from koa wood, which is a tree native to Hawaii. These changes helped Hawaii to create a unique sounding instrument in the ukulele.
At this time, the King of Hawaii - David Kalakaua – discovered the ukulele and began learning how to play it. As a musician and composer, he became good at playing the ukulele, and he loved the sound that it made. During this time, King David helped promote it to Hawaiians.
In the early 1900’s, mainland Americans fell in love with Hawaiian culture, including the ukulele. At this time, many American musicians used the ukulele to create tropical sounding music. By 1916, Hawaiian music became a national craze, and the ukulele was incorporated into popular American culture.
Soon, many manufacturers were making different types and sizes of ukes to appeal to different players. Some were high quality and expensive while others had a cheaper price tag. These cheaper ukuleles became popular in the 1920’s because they were so affordable and portable.
Ukulele Extra Facts
1. You may have heard that ukulele means “jumping flea” in Hawaiian. However, the last queen of the Kingdom of Hawaii, Liliuokalani, translated ukelele as “gift from afar”.
2. Similar to a classical guitar, most ukulele strings are made of nylon.
3. The four strings of the ukulele are G, C, E and A (from top to bottom). A good way to remember this is “Good Chefs Eat Always,” or “Good Children Eat Apples.”
4. Jason Mraz’s 2008 single, “I’m Yours,” is the best-selling ukulele song of all time.
5. There is a Ukelele Orchestra in Great Britain that is very popular.
6. The first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong, loved to play the ukulele
7. It is estimated that over 2 million ukuleles are sold every year.
8. The ukulele is the national instrument of Hawaii.