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Ukuleles are a Hawai'ian musical instrument. They are a modification of a guitar, and were developed in the Hawaiian islands during the 19th century. The year 1915 always comes up in discussion of Hawaiian music and Hawaiian instruments - in that year, Hawaiian musicians played at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, celebrating the completion of the Panama Canal. The following year, more Hawaiian records were sold in the North America than any other type of record.


I am familiar with this story because I am a steel guitarist. In my mind, this event is when the steel guitar arrived in North America. But this is also when the ukuleles arrived. One big difference in the 90 years since - the steel guitar has evolved from being an acoustic 6-string instrument to this electric 20-stringed foot-pedaled knee-levered monstrosity (the 'Pedal Steel') I have here beside me, whereas the ukulele has not changed, not one whit. It was more common to tune it a full tone higher back then, but that's about the only difference.

For me, Hawaiian music comes from a steel guitar, preferably a 1930's cast aluminimun 7-string lap steel. So even though I am developing a website that teaches how to play ukulele, I am helplessly insulated from it's cultural significance by another instrument that I have spent probably 100 times as many hours learning to play.

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