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6 January 2013

Maccaferri "T.V. Pal" Ukulele

It was apparent when I last spoke to Mike Simpson about his collection of plastic ukuleles, that we still had a lot of unfinished business to deal with. In my previous post we concentrated on the Maccaferri "Islander", but there were a heap of other ukes that Mike owns that also deserve a mention. As you can tell, I'm quite taken by this influential and interesting era of American Ukulele history. I've called this post T.V. Pal Ukuleles, but as before, you'll find me jumping all over the place. Most of the ukes mentioned in this post were manufactured in the US in the 1950s.

T.V. Pal Plastic Ukulele

Once again, I want to pay a special thanks to +Mike Simpson for his unwavering patience and enthusiasm. A number of the photos shown in this post are mashups of photos you can find in Mike's albums. Please go and check them out and drop Mike a comment or two... I know that he'd appreciate it.

The first plastic uke that I'm going to call out is this handsome T.V. Pal.
This might actually be my favourite of Mike's plastic ukes. The headstock
says "Mastro" rather than "Maccaferri", but don't be fooled; I've learnt that
Mastro was the name of Maccaferri's plastic injection molding company.
It does look more toy-like than the Islander, but you can see the
'trademark' wood effect in the plastic. Maccaferri's production
techniques were to try and achieve a wood-like grain (though he didn't
always use wood-like colours). The patterns you see are unique to
each instrument and I think this adds to the charm of his instruments.
The Pal in the picture above this one doesn't have Mastro on the head
and is an older model.

Maccaferri is famous for inventing the Selmer guitar
that was loved so much by Django Reinhardt. Look what I
found! I've pinched these pictures from Blue Dog Guitars.
The Moodyville Ukulele Company produces this uke
in the style of the guitar that Maccaferri invented.
See the distinctive soundhole. These ukes are made
by Shelley Park and look to be quality instruments. I love
the tidy look to the body. Note to self... I
probably need to return here in the future.

Sorry, I couldn't resist this little diversion. To me the Selmer
sound-hole looks a lot like a giant eye. Here's a fantastic
photo from Robert Armstrong's photo album of a one-eyed

Back to plastic ukes...
Whilst Maccaferri was undoubtedly the pioneer of plastic uke-making, he
wasn't the only one doing it. Inspired by the success he was having and
no doubt keen to cash in, a number of other entrepreneurs put out their
own wares. This picture shows a Mouna Loa ukulele (named after one
 of Hawaii's volcanoes). It is a good copy with the Maccaferri shape and
marble effect. Mike's one is dark, but I think that Loas were also produced
 in a much lighter plastic too. See how the tuning pegs have been angled
upwards. I wonder why they've done this? Loas were manufactured in the
US, but I haven't been able to discover who manufactured them. There
seems to be a strong suspicion that a number of different brands like
the Loa were in fact all coming from the same rival company. 

Harry Owens wasn't a native Hawaiian, but he fronted "the Royal
Hawaiians" as music director of The Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Waikiki. He
came into predominance through his music and later TV. This is a ukulele
that he put his name to. See the printed autograph on the front. I also
like the logo on the head

Check out Mickey Mouse on this uke that Mike bought as
a "wall-hanger". It doesn't have strings any more. If you look
closely you can see a small crank handle sticking out of the
body. This turns a music box that is broken and no longer
plays. Surprisingly this toy also dates to the 50s and
was produced as part of that first boom in plastic ukuleles.
In my mind it's got just as much of a right to be in this post
as the other ukes!

One of my blogging buddies +Lisa Thoms attended the Virginia Uke Fest
at the tail end of last year. She came back with some wonderful pictures.
She's been kind enough to let me share this one of a Carnival plastic uke
that dates from the 50s. I'd recommend checking out all of her photos.
The important thing about the Carnival uke for this story is that it was
manufactured by the Carnival Novelty Factory. When Maccaferri retired
in 1969, he sold most of his manufacturing molds to Carnival!
Carnival are still around today, but I don't know if they're making plastic

Having shown you a lot of vintage plastic ukes, I think it only right to also
show you some more modern ones. Here's a range of carbon fibre ukes
manufactured by Karadoo. I haven't found their main website, but I'm
suspicious that I might have found a blog being run by the Karadoo company.
The ukes have a very distinctive look to them from the front, but the magic
really starts when you turn them over to reveal a moulded back. See the finish
too with its textured dots. I get the impression that these high-end ukes can
be customised to your exacting specifications. I wonder if anyone would
send me one to review...    ;-)

Finally, here are some pictures that I've pinched from Uke Cafe of a
range of plastic ukes being sold in Japan. Yep... the "Amaze" is
 a modern copy of the Maccaferri! I like the translucent plastic being used
 for the body and the price doesn't seem too extortionate.

Okay.... I need to stop writing this post and do other things. There was a whole piece I wanted to do on strings... but due to lack of information and time, this will have to wait for another day.

Once again. Thanks to +Mike Simpson and everyone else mentioned in this post... I've really enjoyed putting it together for you.


  1. rednecktele@gmail.com6 January 2013 at 15:43

    Great Job +King Uke! I have greatly enjoyed chatting with you in the Google+ Chatbox. You have not only made a fine presentation to the world, BUT additionally helped me learn more about these fun little instruments that cave come to be entrusted to me for their safety and preservation.
    It has been fun to see how much more info is on the net now, compared to when I first began to gather up these little orphaned sheep, no-longer cared for by the children who were their first owners.
    Thanks to +King Uke for the great job introducing more of the world to the little Plastic Uke, especially the Maccaferri!

    aka Rednecktele

  2. It has been fun hasn't it Mike! Thanks for your comments and photos. Hey... I only added some words! Ha ha. Looking forwards to wherever we go next... :-)