Ukelins combine two sets of strings, one group of sixteen strings tuned to
the scale of C (from middle C on a piano to the C two octaves above) plus four
groups of four strings, each group tuned to a chord. The instrument is meant to
be placed on a table with the larger end toward the performer, and while the
right hand plays the melody on the treble strings with a violin bow,
accompanying chords are played on the bass strings with the left hand using
either the fingers or a pick. Each string and chord group is numbered, and sheet
music is provided in a special numerical system intended to simplify playing for
persons unable to read standard musical notation.
were sold by the Phonoharp Company of East Boston, Massachusetts, and
its subsidiaries, which apparently included the Bosstone Company. A patent for
the instrument was awarded to Paul F. Richter on
April 6, 1926. He then assigned it to the Phonoharp Company. In
1926, the Phonoharp Company merged with Oscar Schmidt International, Inc., of
New Jersey, and Ukelins were then sold by them and their subsidiaries, which
included the International Music Corporation and the Manufacturers' Advertising
Company of Newark, New Jersey.
The Ukelin depicted in the photograph was purchased by Anna Hodge Babb from a
traveling salesman during the late 1920's or early 30's. Ukelins and Ukelin-type instruments were usually sold by
salesmen, often on a time-payment plan, and were intended for home music-making
by persons without a formal musical education. These instruments are not rare
and often turn up in attics and second-hand stores.