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Roy Smeck Concert Ukulele

Original Post By: southcoastukes Date: 8/3/2011 12:34:36 AM

What we know as a "Concert" today, was first called a "Tenor". Why was it later changed to "Concert". I have a theory, but don't know for sure.

Anyone have a definite answer?
Posted By: Ukester Brown Date: 8/3/2011 8:22:49 AM
I thought I read that when the Tenor was made the concert would not be an Alto because it was not tuned differently than the soprano. It was just louder/bigger to handle a concert. You are right about the concert size being called Tenor though. The "Johnny Marvin Professional" was/is actually the concert scale.

Anybody else have an opinion on this?
Posted By: Mitch Chang Date: 8/3/2011 10:37:17 AM
Mike DaSilva was talking about this at the San Diego Ukulele Festival - it was quite interesting, wish I could remember it all.

Basically, it has nothing to do with someone saying "gee, I wish this came in a bigger size", the different sizes came about as a result of mimicking other instruments from abroad that happened to be in those bigger sizes. I think he said Martin was the first to make the concert size so maybe that'd be something to Google.

Anywho, it was a cool story, you should ask him next time you see him
Posted By: AlanJ Date: 8/3/2011 11:31:02 AM
Martin introduced the Concert size in 1925 and the Tenor size in 1928. Were any other manufacturers doing larger than Soprano sizes in 1925? The Johnny Marvin Professional was introduced in 1928.
Posted By: southcoastukes Date: 8/3/2011 7:44:11 PM   (Updated: 8/3/2011 7:46:29 PM)
I had assumed / guessed the same thing as Ukester; maybe the bigger size for a concert setting is actually right, but there's one detail he misses with that idea.

Originally, the Concert and Soprano had different tunings - Soprano: key of D; Concert: key of C.
Posted By: earnest Date: 8/3/2011 7:45:34 PM
I seem to recall that the Johnny marvin had a longer scale than standard concert shorter than tenor, similar to the Washburn Deluxe "Tenor" which was 15 5/8".
Posted By: southcoastukes Date: 8/3/2011 7:51:30 PM


You may well be right - I'm not sure. I do think Cliff Edwards also had some concert sized instruments he called Tenors.

The main thing I'm curious about, however, is why the name "Concert" came into being in the first place.

I've got a theory about it, but am hoping someone has a somewhat definitive answer.
Posted By: don peyton Date: 8/3/2011 8:48:49 PM
I've got a Regal with a 16 3/4" scale that has "Baritone" stenciled across the headstock.
Posted By: William Date: 8/3/2011 10:44:29 PM
Oh,PLEASE..some of us have high anxiety levels!!
Spit it out...tell us your theory, please.
Posted By: southcoastukes Date: 8/4/2011 12:11:00 AM   (Updated: 8/4/2011 12:11:34 AM)
O.K. - here goes.

Music written in the key of C is usually referred to as being written in a "concert pitch". For piano, this scale is all white keys.

Since the Concert was the only ukulele originally designed for tuning to the key of C - hence: "Concert Ukulele"!

What'ya think!
Posted By: Jim T. Date: 8/4/2011 12:46:28 AM
Lyon & Healy appears to have introduced the tenor ukulele in 1923, advertising it as having "double the volume of the ordinary ukulele." Schulz & Moenning, also of Chicago, debuted what it called a concert-size ukulele in the fall of 1925, "of unusually big tone and carrying power." The following year, the Standardization Committee of the National Association of Musical Instrument and Accessories Manufacturers drafted a series of specifications for ukulele, including string lengths: 13 to 13.75" for standard (soprano), 13.75 to 15.5" for concert, and 14.5 to 15.75" for tenor. Conforming instruments would carry the Association's official seal of approval.
Posted By: Ukester Brown Date: 8/4/2011 8:16:03 AM
southcoastukes: I like your theory... Interesting discussion.
Posted By: ChefJeff Date: 8/4/2011 8:49:49 AM
Actually, it was never called that until Jerry Garcia played one during a 1966 Dead concert in Paradox, Idaho.
Posted By: FiL Date: 8/4/2011 10:04:21 AM
My understanding is that the concert-sized ukulele was originally just a four-string version of the Martin taropatch.

I always assumed the "concert" moniker was taken from Martin's guitar line, where the concert guitar (single-O) was the first "big" guitar Martin made. I'm guessing the intent was that because it was bigger, it was loud enough to be played in concert setting, rather than just in a parlor.

Here's a nice, but short, article on the concert uke:


And a little bit more info here:

Posted By: Ernie Date: 8/4/2011 11:09:54 AM
I have to assume you're making a joke, although I must admit I don't get it.
Posted By: AlanJ Date: 8/4/2011 11:19:06 AM   (Updated: 8/4/2011 11:20:44 AM)
Your assumption is that the Soprano tuning was always D tuning (ADF#B). This isn't quite correct. C tuning (GCEA) pre-dates D tuning for the ukulele. This is born out by sheet music and instruction books dating back to the early 1900's. It wasn't until later that May Singh Breen strove to get the publishers of uke instruction book and music to standardize on a tuning, selecting D tuning.

Although I can't specifically find anything on the terms, I believe the term "Concert" was introduced by Martin in order to specify a uke that had more volume than a soprano. Perhaps the tuning dropped back to C tuning to place less stress on the top and neck.

Jim T., awesome info and thanks!
Posted By: Ukester Brown Date: 8/4/2011 12:39:49 PM
Thanks FiL-
Posted By: Doug Skinner Date: 8/4/2011 9:53:24 PM
Based on my stack of crumbling sheet music, ukes were tuned in B♭, C, D, or E♭ back in the teens, depending on the song. And based on the old uke strings in my collection, strings were sometimes gut for the lower strings, and steel for the higher. I wonder how that affected the stress...

Posted By: southcoastukes Date: 8/4/2011 11:07:42 PM   (Updated: 8/4/2011 11:21:07 PM)
You guys always have some great info. Seems like we have a tuning timeline of sorts coming together.

Alan J- Original instructional manuals in C (do you have any more info on those - or actually have one by chance?)

Doug S - Tuning all over the place in the Teens (B flat on a standard? - Wow!).

Alan J - Breen helps eastablish early standard of D tuning for Sopranos (D has always seemed liked the best fit to me).

Jerry Garcia "in Concert"?

At any rate, D was the standard tuning when the Concert came out.

Fil suggests the Concert evolved from Martin's Taropatch in 1924. Kamaka has aparently also claimed to have originated the name - changing it from what was then called an "Alto Ukulele" to Concert.

Anyone know whether Kamaka Concerts predate 1924?

Posted By: dave pasant Date: 8/4/2011 11:28:21 PM
I have a "concert" Kamaka. It is the same scale and shape as a soprano, but the body is double deep. It's very early, but I don't know if it Pre-dates 1924. It must not have been very popular as I have never seen another, and of course, they went with the larger scale/body that Martin used eventually.
Posted By: ConciertoUkulele Date: 8/5/2011 4:38:05 AM
Aloha everyone! Maybe I may add my 2 cents. Let's say, Martin was the instrumental people to come up with an idea of the concert size ukulele back then. To follow, I believe back in the late sixties or early seventies, when Mr. Herb Ohta(Ohta-san) ask Mr. Kamaka to designed a specific concert ukulele for his playing style. I guess He made a drawing, and gave it to Mr. Kamaka. I believe the scale was extended to about 16 inches, a longer concert scale. He called it a bell shape, but more like your dreadnought shape. Mr. Ohta started off playing a Martin Soprano ukulele, do this day it is the same ukulele. At that time, I believe he wanted a ukulele that will project more and have a more sweeter sound. As you see that ukulele has more belle, as per say, the lower bout. Mr. Ohta was instrumental at presenting the Low "G" string. It is the reason why this Ohta San Model was made. For a longer extended scale, that is the reason why Mr. Ohta could play all different kinds of music. I had the great honor to watch Ohta San play his Ohta San Concert Ukulele in those days. Awesome! I know their are lots of Ukulele Luthier out there now days trying to simulate this design, and also, the Martin Concert Ukulele. Yes, keep on improving the sound of the Ukulele. Aloha!
Posted By: Dutch Date: 8/5/2011 7:42:33 AM
I don't know about "concert" for sure. But relavant to the discussion is: Islanders used to call C tuning "Mainland tuning" because they tuned in D. In addition, Cliff Edwards worked with jazz players (horn players) and started tuning to Bb early on to make life easier for himself. Check the keys on even the early material. It's not definitive but is indicative of early Bb tuning.
Strength & Honor
Posted By: Doug Skinner Date: 8/5/2011 11:39:25 AM
Just to confuse matters: I have here a 1924 method book ("Dick's Improved Ukulele Method," by Richard Konter). Dick tells us to tune in C, but adds that D tuning is also used. He also says the tenor uke is tuned in G, and the baritone uke in D.

He gives instructions on how to restring a tenor banjo to play uke chords, so maybe that's what he means by "tenor uke." And since the baritone wasn't introduced until the '40s, he may mean a concert: he just says it's "a large sized ukulele," but tuned in D. He doesn't explain why a larger uke would be tuned higher.

This is all perplexing; but does show that tuning and names were not standardized!
Posted By: AlanJ Date: 8/5/2011 12:51:37 PM
SCUkes - Yes, I have several instruction manuals in C tuning. My fav (and relatively easy to find) is Peterson's Ukulele Method by Prof. J. Kalani Peterson, published by Irving Berlin Music in 1924. It gives instruction on tuning to GCEA. It also lists out other tunings. I love old uke instruction books. Reminds me, I have to peek at what's new on ebay :)

Dutch - from postings and references I've read, my experience has been the opposite with regards to Mainland tuning. I've always seen D tuning as Mainland and C tuning as "normal" (whatever that means!). I'd have to rummage through my old books to see if the terminology is used there. But I believe John King did some research on this. Spot on regarding Cliff Edwards' tunings. I have a Cliff Edwards songbook (Collection for the Ukulele #1) where there are tunes in D tuning, C tuning and Bb tuning. I've also seen him use Eb tuning.
Posted By: Jim T. Date: 8/6/2011 3:04:55 AM

The earliest known 'ukulele method, Edward Holstein's "Chords of the Taro-Patch Guitar" (Honolulu, 1894) uses C tuning, as does Ernest Kaai's "The Ukulele: A Hawaiian Guitar and How To Play It." (Honolulu, 1906). The first mainland method, T.H. Rollinson's "Method for the Ukulele (Hawaiian Guitar)" (Boston, 1909), also uses C tuning (not surprising, since he seems to have borrowed liberally from Kaai). That's where the consensus ends. Mekia Kealakai, in both his 1909 chord book and 1914 method, advocated D tuning, as did George Kia in his 1914 method. The other major method published in 1914, N.B. Bailey's "A Practical Method for Self Instruction on the Ukulele," advocates C tuning.
Posted By: Bill1 Date: 8/7/2011 1:40:45 AM
Is it possible that the professional musicians of the early 20th century never got hung up on the tuning and just used whatever fitted the songs they wanted to play? Possibly not unlike current professional musicians?
Also is it possible that Martin had a marketing department in the 1920s that just came up with new names for no other reason than trying to get a marketing edge?
A search on "concert pitch" indicates that the term refers to having the note "A" tuned to 440hz, and discusses the fact that musicians over the ages have used a range of frequencies around 440hz to tune to A. A D tuned uke has an open string tuned to "A". is there any indication that ukes were ever tuned with an "A" note other than 440hz?
Posted By: Doug Skinner Date: 8/7/2011 8:59:28 AM
A440 wasn't standardized until 1939; before that A was usually (but not always) lower. My c. 1910 monochord gives an equal-tempered A as 430.5, and a just A as 426.7 (from a C of 256), which is typical of the time. So, tuning in D back then was probably often closer to our current C anyway...
Posted By: Bill1 Date: 8/8/2011 3:23:08 AM
Thanks Doug. Does that mean that those who want their early 20th ukes to sound authentic should consider tuning with A = 430?. I have an old Favilla that is very sweet toned, so I think I will try it and see what happens. On my tuner it, can calibrate A from 410 to 480, but I have never tried it on any setting other than A=440.
Going back to the thread and the "Concert" name, could the term "Concert Pitch" have existed when it was first used?
Posted By: Doug Skinner Date: 8/8/2011 10:22:57 AM
Well, you could always see what happens. Of course, if you really want to be authentic, you'll have to go with gut strings; but that way madness lies...
Posted By: The Ukulele Dude Date: 5/25/2017 1:14:43 PM
The Martin Ukulele by Tom Walsh & John King has quite a bit on the story. In the early 20's the was a lot of confusion between Tenor, Concert and Barytone[sic]. The first time Martin heard it from a customer they didn't know what it meant, though they were selling a Taropatch with only 4 strings. It was 1925 before they listed the Concert size in their catalog. For a while they considered the concert and tenor to be so similar that they would only carry one. It was the same size as the L&H Tenor, but Martin called it the Concert.
Posted By: Geoff Rezek Date: 5/28/2017 7:15:15 AM   (Updated: 5/28/2017 7:16:18 AM)
I was was told that the larger concert fret board size ukulele was produced and preferred by players who had large hands. It can be tuned to D.
Posted By: karl Date: 6/8/2017 9:37:45 AM
The ukulele dude is quite correct on this. Martin used this 'sized for different music rooms' system, and a concert room is slightly larger than a parlour room. And they did start out with a four-string taropatch, simply renamed as a different instrument.

The 'Tenor' term was launched by Lyon & Healy, 'barytone' was a later development in that vein.

Hand size was not really the sales pitch for these larger sizes, but volume was.
Posted By: looney tunes Date: 8/30/2017 11:07:20 AM
I had been told, years ago at some uke fest, that the soprano uke was not 'loud' enough to play for a larger audience to hear well so the increase in size to the 'Concert' uke was so it could be played at concerts. Have no recall of the source but then again, not sure what I had for breakfast.

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Flea Market Music offers an on-line community for ukulele players, informative books on the ukulele, ukulele CDs,songbooks, videos and information on our instrument manufacturing of the FLUKE ukulele. Brought to you by "Jumpin" Jim Beloff. -