1920s Unis & Co Hawaiian Soprano Ukulele

I hadn't heard of Unis & Co ukes but this one is legitimately a Hawaiian-made instrument. Interestingly enough, it's not made from koa as far as I can tell... this stuff looks like mahogany to me, though it does have some nice light flame and curl to it throughout. Mahogany is curious for a Hawaiian instrument but there are plenty of examples extant from the time. Perhaps it's something like a mainland returns to island connection where the market asked for mahogany...?

In any case this came in for consignment and before putting it up I went over it, leveled and dressed the frets, lightly shaved the (replacement, nicely-made?) bridge, and set it all up for 1/16" action at the 12th fret (and, yes, I replaced the 12th fret which was missing with some vintage fret stock I had in my parts bin). She sounds good! -- and has that distinctly sparkly Hawaiian flavor and feel.

It's a pretty uke, no doubt, and in good health. If you haven't played this style of old soprano (no raised fretboard) they can be a bit strange at first for modern tastes. I learned on them so they're more natural for me...!

They were built in the days when most folks just strummed and that's what they're excellent for: traditionally strumming right below the 12th fret. If you're a fingerpicker that needs clearance from the soundboard... look elsewhere. It has plenty of picking clearance near the bridge, however... though personally I just adjust my picking style from guitar and play right up at the 12th fret anyhow. You can hear all that in the soundclip.

The varnish finish has weather-crackled here and there.

The original frets are low and narrow just like the majority of this uke's brethren from the time. The 12th is replaced.

I love seeing a simple one-ring rosette.

This appears to me to be a nicely-made repro mahogany bridge. It was too tall so I cut it down and shaved the bone saddle just a bit. It looks great, in person, and gives the uke a good crisp sound vs. straight mahogany.

Pretty flame on the back, huh?

The replacement tuners (I'm guessing the originals were wood) work just fine.

And here's where my camera battery died...! So while the rest of the pics are from yesterday, these are from rainy today.

Gotta love an endstrip!

The label bears "Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii." Nice!

Anyone else know about Unis & Co? I'd love to know. Chime in, please!


Jack Rockwell said…
My grandmother obtained a Unis uke when she was a young woman growing up in Hilo, Hawaii some time after turn of the century. Looks much like the instrument in your post but with rope rosette and binding. I was 10 when she gave it to me in the early '60s. As much as I wanted to play it it stayed in its original case because the hand carved friction pegs wouldn't hold for more than a few seconds. Probably survived my youth by not being playable. More recently I had the Ukulele Source (San Jose, CA) look at it and they dated it around 1920. I play a fair amount so a few years ago I had it restored and started using it in performances. Very bright, perky tone. I could email pictures if you're interested.