The Magic Fluke specializes in what amounts to a tiny guitar
Sunday, January 24, 2010
By DAVID HUTTER
NEW HARTFORD – The Magic Fluke keeps churning out ukuleles, thanks to a growing market and a quality product.
Dale and Phyllis Webb started the company assembling the stringed musical instrument in 1999, after Dale left his corporate job. The couple brainstormed with Phyllis’ brother Jim Beloff, a former writer for Billboard magazine and an expert on ukuleles. In January 1999 Dale and Phyllis debuted their company at a National Association of Music Merchants convention, where they accepted orders from more than a few people.
More than a decade later, they keep rocking in the free world.
“We’ve produced more than 38,000 ukuleles and support 150 stores around the world,” Dale said. “It’s been a very consistent and strong market.”
Located at 790 Litchfield Turnpike, the Magic Fluke employs Grace Felten, Diane Hale, Mike Doerr and Ron Renouf. Exuding a sharp focus, these folks hand-craft each instrument.
“Music is the universal language and an important part of life,” Phyllis said. “One of things we are proud of is that we are here when in many parts of the United States, manufacturing has flown the coop. The ukulele is a lot easier to play than the guitar. It is showing up in a lot of popular music.”
The instrument became popular in the United States shortly after world wars I and II as American soldiers brought it back from other nations. The instrument is experiencing a third wave of popularity, Dale and Phyllis said.
“We did it as a fun project, we did not expect it to take off,” Dale said of his venture with Phyllis in 1999. “The ukulele is recession-proof.”
Bette Midler plays a brand of their ukulele in her shows on Las Vegas, Phyllis and Dale Webb said.
The instrument traces its origin to Portuguese people who traveled by boat from their homeland around 1879. Many Portuguese people died during arduous journey across the Atlantic Ocean, below the southern tip on South America and across a huge swath of the Pacific Ocean.
The Pacific islanders welcomed the Portuguese, who created a lightweight instrument with four strings. The Europeans produced a beautiful sound with their instrument by strumming so quickly their hands resembled jumping fleas. Consequently, the Hawaiians named the device using their language’s words for “jumping fleas.” The term translated from the Hawaiian tongue as ukulele.
“Despite the flood of cheap Chinese instruments, we’ve maintained our look,” Phyllis said. “We’ve maintained a unique sound.”