Lot 113

A HARMONY ROY SMECK VITA-UKE
c.1927

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A HARMONY ROY SMECK VITA-UKE
c.1927
Lute-shaped bound spruce top featuring twin soundholes cut in the shape of seals, mahogany back and sides, rosewood fretboard with mother of pearl dot markers, mahogany neck.
Provenance: Santa Barbara Surfing Museum.

Roy Smeck was a guitar/banjo/ukulele virtuoso who enjoyed a successful vaudeville career in the 1920s. In 1926 he starred in a Warner Bros. Vitaphone short film titled His Pastimes, which accompanied Don Juan, the studio's first feature-length picture with prerecorded sound effects and music (though not dialogue). In the short film, Smeck dazzled the audience with his phenomenal ukulele skills and soon became a national sensation. The Harmony Company, at the time the largest American manufacturer of string instruments, engaged Smeck to endorse a new line of instruments, but Warner Bros. refused to let them use the Vitaphone name. In response, Harmony came up with clever workarounds (which probably would not fly today): the Vita-Guitar, Vita-Mandolin, and this instrument, which introduced the series, the Vita-Uke. The soundholes cut in the shape of seals are supposed to create the instrument's signature quality of tone. The instruments were of much higher quality than most of the other instruments that Harmony had created and are now highly collectable.

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