Volume 55 - KeyKord Baritone Uke

Written by Patrick Podpadec on . Posted in Northcoast Voice


Stay in Tune
By Luthier Patrick Podpadec

As I'm writing this I can feel the fall weather creeping up on us. The outside festivals are coming to a close and it's almost time to turn up the heaters for winter. I hope I'm not jumping the gun here, but the weather is starting to turn. This means that you will have to start putting instruments back in their cases when your not playing them and checking the humidity levels now and then .The air is much dryer in the winter months and this means that your instrument may need some additional care, such as adding a humidifier to your instrument. These “humidifiers” can be purchased at most music stores. All they consist of is a sponge that can hold a small amount of water that can be slowly released with evaporation. I know it's a little early to be concerned with this but I feel that an ounce of prevention can save you a lot of problems in the future.

  I've had some cool instruments come into my shop in the past few weeks. I always enjoy sharing my experiences of all these cool guitars that I get to see, study and play. I got a stand up electric bass that a customer wanted to have some side position markers added so that it would be easier for him to negotiate his fingering positions. I don't get very many stand up basses in and even fewer electric ones . This one was a BSX 2000, that was built almost 15 yrs ago. It has a hollow fiberglass rectangular box with piezo and magnetic pickups. It actually is one of the better designs that I have seen on this type of instrument. This one, because of it's hollow body (even though the chamber was small) had the ability to be heard a little bit when you played it so that you could practice in a quiet environment. This is not possible with many electric instruments.
I had an opportunity too see and work on one of the coolest instruments that I have probably ever seen this last week . It was brought to me by our own Trenda Jones. (check out her articles in the Voice). It is owned by her father who got it from an admiring neighbor many yrs ago. Here's how the story goes,

“The older gentleman that left the guitar to my dad, did not teach him. He lived across the street, and always enjoyed hearing my dad play, as he and his bandmates (The Rock-a-Bouts) practiced in the yard, Dad left for the marines, and the man died. His widow knocked on the door one day, guitar in hand, gave it to my grandma to keep for dad. She said her husband instructed her to give it to him, because of the pleasure always got from listening to him play. When he came home on leave, he was surprised with his gift. He went to thank her, but she had moved and never found how to get in touch with her. It still bothers dad that he was never able to thank her properly”.
On behalf of Trenda's father and myself I hope that this article about this unique instrument can be in some way a gesture of “Thank You!” for this special gift. Not only for Trenda's father, but to all of us who get to see and hear these rare treasures of the past!

It is a Kay Kraft baritone ukelele called a “KeyKord”.KeyKord- angle- front- view

The body design was created by a man named Joseph Zorzi from the Stromberg/ Voisenet instrument company. It has two points on the upper bouts and is been often described as a “Venetian” style The unique feature of this instrument is that it has a “mechanism” attached to the neck that has 21 buttons that when each or multiple buttons are pressed, it creates different chord sounds. At first glance you might think that it operates similarly to an autoharp , where as there are felt pads placed under each key that produces the chord. This is not the case at all. The mechanism has a chrome cover on it that hides most of the working levers . Of course I had to remove the cover to see what was actually going on inside. To my amazement, I found an engineering marvel under that cover.

   top half of keypad mechanismThere was 12 different levers that were operated individually or in combination with each button . When you press a certain button on the keypad it will operate a combination of levers and flat plates with springs attached that will sound out the appropriate chord. The interesting thing is that the chord diagram that is shown on the button is not at all the chord that is played. This “machine” actually transposed the ukelele chord to a guitar chord. I think that this might have led to the confusion of this instrument This mechanism was developed by a man from Cleveland named Dean M. Solenburger and he was granted a patented for his invention in April 12th, 1932. According to the patent text, the aim of the invention was "to obtain a construction with which the playing is so simplified as to fall within the skill of the average person without special musical education".  How cool is that?

Apparently, the Stromburg /Voisenet company had added this mechanism to other instruments as well. They produced a banjo ukelele with this “keypad” on it too.
I am still trying to find out more about this unique instrument and it's counterparts and would be very appreciative of any forthcoming info on these or other instruments like it. If anyone has some additional sources or value info I would be glad to hear from you.(This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.liamguitars.com) And please keep bringing me these cool musical gems so that we can all learn a little more about the many interesting instruments that our ears have had the pleasure to encounter from the past and present.

There are additional pictures at http://liamguitars.com/index.php/misc/photos/121-stromberg-voisinet-keykord-baritone-uke

Thanks Again!
Patrick from Liam Guitars