So, apparently it's not enough that I'm addicted to ukuleles and the collection of said ukuleles. As you might recall, I recently got my hands on a Swagerty Singing Treholipee. Now, unfortunately, mine is a little janky. It's missing a tuning paddle (yup, paddle) and a string. But, that was enough to give me a taste. Especially after I started to hear back from other Swagerty fans.
One helpful fella (named Rick) informed me that he was the proud owner of 12 Swagerty ukuleles!! It was at this point that I realized that Swagerty didn't just make the Treholipee. They had a whole line of, what they called, their Kooky Ukes. This line included the Treholipee, the Kook-a-la-lee, the surf-a-lele and the double neck kook-a-la-lee. There is also something called the "Little Guitar" but I'm not sure if that was considered a Kooky Uke or not.
Before I talk more about that, I wanted to mention that my string dilemma is solved! Rick tells me that you can buy Worth tenor ukulele strings in 46" and 63" lengths. And, since the Treholipee is 47" long (in total) the 47" lengths are more than adequate to re-string this baby. It looks like Elderly Instruments might carry these, so let me know if you have luck getting some there and let them know I sent you. Maybe they'll hook me up. Because, something tells me I'm going to be doing a lot of string-buying for Kooky Ukes in the near future.
Now, about my broken tuning paddle, that's a whole 'nother problem. I've been waiting for one to pop up on eBay, but I imagine that's going to increasingly rare. Rick suggested taking a clay mold and casting a new one (maybe out of plastic). I might also bug some of my wood-working friends and see if they can't put something together for me. Another fella contacted me and let me know he bought a Treholipee at a garage sale for $1. Grrrr... but he had the same problem of a broken tuning paddle. But, he fixed that by using (get this) a chopstick! Awesome!
So, back to my addiction. Today, I found myself buying another Treholipee. Yup, that's right. I bought another one and this one has all of its paddles and strings! So, while I anxiously await my Treholipee's arrival I can tell you what I've learned so far.
Swagerty was a copy started, and owned, by Ancil Swagerty. It sounds like he started out making guitars and ukuleles more as art or wall decorations and then was convinced to turn them into playable instruments. His company (whose full name was "Swagerty Specialties Company, Artistry in Woods") made instruments, oddities and other things from the 50s through the 70s. Here's what I've found out about some of those instruments so far:
Treholipee - Ancil was granted a patent for the Treholipee in 1966. I think I read that roughly 60,000 of these little babies were manufactured. The Treholipee seems to have been the flagship for Swagerty's Kooky Ukes line of instruments. Both the Treholipee and the Kook-a-Lele had long headstocks and the idea was the surfers could stick the instruments upside-down in the sand when it was time for surfin'. The Treholipee is 47" long and, as far as I can tell, they can in yellow, orange or green. You might wonder where the name came for this little beauty? Well, it seems like the "Tre" is for three. The "Holi" is for holes (or holy, get it). And I have no idea what the "pee" is all about. Here's a picture from the Frets.com Ukulele museum. You see, the sound holes are those three little music notes.
Swagerty Singing Treholipee
Kook-a-La-Lee - The Kook-a-La-Lee seems to have been a close relation to the Treholipee. The main differences are that it was two inches shorter (at 45") and the headstock was straight and not curved. Another difference is that the Kook-a-La-Lee has a heart-shaped sound hole and not the three music note holes sported by the Treholipee. Here's a picture from Eldery Instruments.
Double-neck Kook-a-La-Lee - There was, apparently a variation of the Kook-a-La-Lee that had two necks!! From what I've read, these were made specially for friends and were never marketed to the general public. Besides having two necks, they are also different from the standard Kook-a-La-Lee in that the sound holes are round and not heart-shaped. The decal on the body also just says Kook-a-La-Lee. I'm almost certainly going to have to kill someone to get one of these. Here's a picture from the Frets.com ukulele museum.
Surf-a-Lele - The Surf-a-Lele was like a compact version of the Kook-a-La-Lee. I think the idea was that it needed to be smaller so that you could play it while you were surfing. Now, how anyone was going to hear you over the raging surf, or what was going to happen to your Surf-a-Lele when you fell into the water? Well, I can't answer that. He's a picture from Elderly Instruments.
Little Guitar - From what I've read so far, this little number is the white Sasquatch of the Kooky-Ukes line. Meaning, it's crazy rare. That's weird to me, because it probably has the most "normal" appearance of the whole line. These made their appearance somewhere between 1964 and 1968.
Swagerty Little Guitar
Ok. That's enough lesson time for today. Next time we can talk about the knock-offs that were spawned by the Kooky Uke series. That would include the Polk-a-Lay-Lee and the Wander-Le-Le. Time enough for that later, though.