Augusto Dias was one of the first ukulele makers ever. He arrived in the Hawaiian Islands in the late 1800s and, before moving into his profession as a furniture maker, he worked in the cane fields. He eventually became one of the innovators of the ukulele. A friendship with King Kalakaua certainly didn't hurt the instrument; he performed often for the king and, eventually, the king took such a liking to the instrument that he worked hard to build the association between it and the island.
The first three ukulele makers are generally accepted to be Augusto Dias, Manuel Nunes and Jose do Espirito Santo. All three of these men were also cabinet makers and began building ukuleles in the late 1800s. All three of them also arrived on the same ship, the Ravenscrag.
There is some controversy as to who is actually responsible for the creation of the ukulele. Manuel Nunes advertised himself as the inventor of the instrument, but several sources point out that there is little evidence to back up this claim. Whomever invented it, Dias was most certainly among the first. He opened up his first shop in 1884, the same year as did Nunes.
In addition to ukuleles, the early builders also made instruments that came to be known as Taro patch fiddles. These were modeled on the machete; an instrument that the Portuguese brought with them, not the large knife used for cutting foliage. The instrument from which the ukulele was a direct descendant was the braguinha. According to some historians, none of the three original ukulele builders could play this instrument when they brought it along with them.
Ukuleles grew in popularity once tourism to the islands became popular. In the early 20th Century, some vaudeville and Tin Pan Alley artists started using ukuleles in their acts. The instruments were far less expensive than most others and, even though this was the case, it was possible to get a very high quality instrument for the reduced price. This led to an explosion in ukulele manufacturing in the US, much to the chagrin of the skilled island builders. The Hawaiian ukuleles eventually bore a crest that mainland manufacturers were not allowed to use.
Augusto Dias ukuleles are considered among the most beautiful examples of the instruments. They are also exceedingly rare. They have an unusual, curved headstock that sets them apart from most instruments of the item and, in fact, from most contemporary instruments, as well.
These instruments can fetch many thousands of dollars from collectors. If you happen to have one, it should be considered a collector's item and be treated as such. Having them appraised and seeking advice on how to preserve them is highly recommended as these are most certainly historical objects. Whomever may have actually invented the ukulele, it was most certainly one of the three woodworkers that came over on the Ravenscrag and Dias was among them. The style of Dias's instruments is still imitated in some contemporary instruments.
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