Friday, December 3, 2010

Ukuleles of "One Ukulele" #3: TCK's Martin Type 3M

Dave, better known as TCK on, sent me a link to a story on his “In My Head” blog about his Martin Type 3M that appears in One Ukulele. Dave was kind enough to let me reprint it here and I do so with great pride. This post is also the first one to go on the One Ukulele Inspiration page, as I feel this story qualifies–let me know what you think (I feel like Paul Harvey here—and now, “here is the rest of the story…”

Sunday, August 15, 2010

An Old Ukulele

About a month ago, my wife came home and said "you should play the Ukulele." Seems she was provoked by a fellow at the art gallery she volunteers at who was learning.
This was coupled by the odd fact that she had been talking about learning the banjo lately. Now, understand there is always music playing in our house and she, in 18 years, has never expressed any interest in learning anything in spite of the fact that there are instruments all over the place.

Noting that a Banjo is a pretty expensive proposition and worried she would not stick with it, I figured I would run out to the music store and buy her an Ukulele...precisely what I got her, a $45 Makala Soprano that has a decent sound and intonation (it is what it is, but far better than anything else in that price range) and look what happened...she loves it.

Nightly practice got me going, and I figured it was time I had one too—went out and got a matching Makala Tenor (again, not the greatest Uke, but passable for a learner). The nights of practicing and laughing became more fun with two, and I realized it was time for a homecoming.

Ukulele was my first instrument in fact. I guess we are here to tell the story-right?
In college, we all worked at a pet store. My girlfriend (now my wife), my friends—one big happy family. At the front counter was a gal we will call Shirley. Older than the rest of us and having just lost her husband (who was another 30 years her senior), a bit emotionally fragile and obviously extremely lonely. We all did what we could to include her in our tom-foolery and little jokes and make her smile. Probably a good move on my part in hindsight, but I try to be nice to everyone.

"Do you play and instrument?" she asks one day.
"Nope" I replied.
"Would you like to play an instrument?"
"Well sure- I suppose that is next on the list of things to do." I smiled and went back to work.

A few days later she comes in and hands me the tiniest, rattiest looking guitar case I have ever seen..."what the hell is that?"
"It was my husbands- it's a Ukulele".

Hilarious! This is going to be so rad- I am going to play punk rock covers all day on this thing...perfect.

"OK- but you have to promise to play me "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" someday"
"Righto- when I figure it out...done"

So that last bit was a little weird (being a song her husband obviously played for her), but I am over it. I have a little tiny guitar and I am off to the music store for new strings and a songbook (hmmm—let me call you sweetheart...the RAMONES don't do that, so I am stuck).

Thinking of course that a Uke is just a toy and I have some ancient neglected thing in my box here, I begin to dream about a real guitar. Better call dad first and see if I can figure out how to read music.

Sufficed to say, pops is excited I am playing ANYTHING as I had never shown interest until now, but I tell him I want a guitar. He says to come down and we can go guitar shopping, so about two weeks later I do just that, armed with three Uke chords and a fistfull of money.

"So let me see it"
"You didn't tell me it was a Martin! I think that's a pretty good one."
"Hmm- wanna see me play a RAMONES cover on it?"

Off to shop we go...and I quickly realize that, like my father, I was not given great hands for guitar. Crestfallen, on a whim Dad suggests we go to Gryphon Stringed Instruments—local Martin Dealer and experts. OK. Sure. I am a little pissed at this point that I am doomed to spend the rest of my life playing this little novelty, so we head off in the car and write the most flattering Ukulele punk rock song I can imagine for my girlfriend—she was ecstatic.

Anyway—Martin dealer is pretty excited about this little guy when I open the case, and starts offering money for it. He never once told me what it was worth, but he was bantering around $700. Wait—are Ukuleles worth $700? Who the heck buys something like that?

Confused, intrigued and a little heartbroken yet, I look at dad (who now loves this thing more than anyone) and I said to him "I ain't selling it- it was a gift. Not to mention it is a really cool one and I will just regret it later- will you take it so I am not in a position to pawn it?"
"Sure" he says..."What about the accordion?"

There is a whole different really crazy story regarding the accordion, but I can say there are now 18 of them in my house. I love playing them and I will be sure to tell you how an accordion last seen in 1964 just pops up out of nowhere soon. This is how my life works.
So when I called him last week to see if he ever played [the Martin] he said no, but that he likes to show it off. With good reason...but I figured we would play it, so today it came home. Let me tell you what I know about my little jumping flea.

This little gem is a Martin Type 3M (meaning Mahogany) Ukulele. The style 3 was a "professional" model and production began on it in 1920. There was also a Koa version before the war (until Koa became hard to get). You can tell it is a style 3 by the intricate binding (the stuff on the edges), the fact that the fretboard extends to the sound hole (ROCKSTAR NOTES!), and the characteristic "skunk stripe" on the fretboard. A fancier "Type 5" was made until 1943, but it is my understanding that those would have "mother of pearl" binding and inlay- I have never seen one.

This one is post 1940 I have learned, because that is when the shift went from diamond markers on the fret board to circular ones. Now here is the funny part. Apparently, the celluloid whoop-de-do at the bottom was discontinued in 1940...leaving me with a real dilemma. Is this a 1940 that was caught in those changes mid-way? That is where my knowledge ends and I hope to get some help.

In any event...this is one great little Uke and I am glad I had the foresight to save it from a trade-in for brakes for my 83 Subaru (what a piece of crap that was). I take myself a lot less seriously now than I did then, and I am happily a Uke player, without reservations.
While it is priceless to me, I am estimating its value, based on searching for them and condition, at over $2500...who the heck would buy an Ukulele for that much money? Oh well, I can't be tempted is safe with me forever.

Thanks for reading,

Editor’s Note: By the way, Dave told me that he recently did learn how to play “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” on the ukulele and that he is confident he will run into “Shirley” one day and play it for her.

Reprinted with permission from "In My Head," located at

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Mike- best of luck in your Ukulele endeavors here...honored to have my little Martin featured here first- Cheers