pre war german chordmaster concert ukulele

My Hess with autoplayer

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1939 Hess German made Ukulele with Juka Autoplayer

1939 catalogue picture

Tuned g~C~E~A

Ernst Hess Nachf.  Juka autoplayer

Until I invited this one, I had only ever seen pictures of them from a German catalogue put out in 1939, and 1939 was not the greatest chapter in German history. The company who made it, Ernst Hess Nachf. was founded in the 19th century and predates the Nazi party by a number of years, so unless there are swastikas on it somewhere, (I will know once it gets here and I have a good look at it), I think its safe to assume it had nothing to do with "Kristallnacht" or any of that stupidity. The Juka autoplayer is a similar sort of thing the the KeyKords put out by Kay in the early 30's, (I believe this copied Kay, not visa versa) though on a much smaller Soprano scale, and is probably more sophisticated than the later plastic Chordmasters. Once it is here I will learn a lot more about it as all I knew before was that it existed. What I won't know, but would probably be an interesting story, is how it got here from Klingenthal? I would guess, though it was made before the war, (the firm Ernst Hess Nachf. didn't survive the war), it was brought back as some kind of souvenir by soldiers returning after the war?

It's here now and no swastikas on it anywhere (phew! Ukulele Corner prides itself on being a very inclusive place), There is also no "made in Germany" or "foreign made" stamps on it which probably means that it was never originally sold in the UK and came here some time after the war. All it does say apart from Juka (the brand name) is "D.R.P - Auslandspatente" which means the Juka was patented in countries other than Germany before 1939 but also suggests that it was meant for the domestic market. The Ukulele itself is very solidly made though not of especially high craftsmanship and the wood is laminate. It has a scale length of about 360mm, (it's hard to measure because it has a zero fret but no twelfth fret and the juka device is in the way), so a big Soprano or possibly a small Concert. Like the KeyKord it has steel strings but unlike the KeyKord it would be fairly easy to unscrew it to replace the strings. There is a small gap between the Juka and the fretboard so you can kind of see what it happening when you press one of the leavers (they are leavers rather than buttons) and in addition to the zero fret there is also the first 3 frets. this is helpful as there is no chord notation in the box just numbers 1 to 8, (1 - 4 on the treble side and 5 - 8 on the bass side), and with no accompanying documentation, (I'm guessing there was when it was new; and not looted), I have to try and work out what the corresponding chords are, (though since I have to guess what the original tuning was suppose to be too D tuning was the standard in Germany at the time but it could just as easily be C tuning or the steel strings some kind of Cavaquinho tuning, D~G~B~D or maybe D~G~B~E? Even Mandolin tuning; steel Mandolin string would have been much more common at the time). With the string on it at the moment it is re-entrant but I don't know how original the strings are, (they look a bit good for 80 odd years old and certainly have a lot of sustain? - the tuners do look very much like they are 80 years old though), still all of this adds to the fun and mystery of having it here at Ukulele Corner.