last week, i took a trip out to the breezy, pancake-flat, norfolk countryside to the rambling farmhouse of an antiques dealer. i returned the proud owner of a keech banjulele. keech was the inventor's last name. he apparently was a hawaiian who relocated to london [nice move, eh?] banjulele was his portmanteau word for banjo+ukulele--a ukulele that resonates on a stretched head. it's designed to be as loud as possible for its small size, a function it serves brilliantly!
judging by some minor googling around on the internet, the instrument dates from between the 19-teens and the 20's. [it's about as old as my grandmother...and built just as well!!] the original gut strings are still on it, minus one!! [though it was strung incorrectly] the case is a time capsule: old gut string wrappers, 'the wright way' ukulele method book [very thorough], tuning key that oddly does not fit the lugs to tune the calfskin head, and a 'hawaiian plec-strum'. here's a picture:
a leaflet in my time capsule case states that the hawaiian plec-strum [a play on 'plectrum'] was made by violin makers to 'enable the ukulele player to perform with the correct arpeggio accompaniment', that is, sounding the notes separately and not at the same time. it took me a few minutes to figure out how to use it: you put your fingers through it like brass knuckles [not that i'd know] with the wood bar towards your palm, felt picks towards the strings. [felt is a typical pick material for ukes---firm and gentle at the same time]
it works brilliantly! i wonder if these, or something like it, are still made? if not, maybe i have another job ;-) the leaflet concludes, in run-on style:
'it has taken twelve months of experiment to make the invention correct, and in the form it is now made, it will be found to do all that is claimed, and to be a well made and finished article that will last for years.'
...and it has!