The ukelin is essentially a bowed psaltery with chords. A play-by-number instrument, it was sold door-to-door. It has 16 open bowed strings, played along the sides of the instrument, plus four open chords for strumming, for a total of 32 strings. The bowed strings, when tuned as designed, provide 2 major octaves plus one whole step above. Because each note has its own open bowed string, the notes hang in the air, overlap, and set up sympathetic resonance. Although the ukelin been dissed on the Antiques Roadshow and in other circles, it has potential in the right hands!
It was patented in the 1920s and manufactured in Hoboken, NJ, just a block away from the address of the Marxophone producer. Similar instruments, like Neuber’s violin-zither (also in my collection), were also being made in the 1920s in Germany (Indeed, some are still made there today). Other related American variants included the violin-guitar, Hawaiian art violin, pianolin, Marxolin, and more.
Here I play the ukelin to accompany the traditional Maine woods song The Lumberman’s Alphabet.
- Bob’s Ukelin Home is the place to go for ukelin info! In-depth history, advice on playing, numbered music, discography, and more…
- The Facebook page of the Ukelin and Fretless Zither Appreciation Society
- The bowed instruments page from a highly recommended site, known as (and formerly found at) FretlessZithers.com, started by the late Illinois/Indiana fiddler and folklorist Garry Harrison, and now maintained by his family
- Wikipedia on the bowed psaltery and its cousins
- Appalachian Strings on the history of the bowed psaltery