Manuel Nunes is one of the first manufacturers of ukuleles in Hawaiian history. He came to Oahu in 1879 as a laborer and also worked as a manufacturer of machetes. He had skills as a guitar maker, however, and would eventually make Nunes Ukuleles. Besides making guitars, he was a skilled woodworker, and made cabinetry in addition to musical instruments. He gradually moved into manufacturing ukuleles and became synonymous with the instruments during the early 20th Century.
Nunes originally had partners in the business, but the illness of one and the death of the other made it into a more or less a family affair. The business was listed as M. Nunes and Sons and Nunes marketed himself as the "Inventor of the Original Ukulele". He did not live for long after the company became famous and died in 1922, but had stopped manufacturing ukuleles by the year 1917.
There are many of these instruments still in existence and they can fetch an impressive price on the market. There are also instruments that bear the label "Ukulele of Hawaii" that were manufactured in Los Angeles by Nunes's son.
Nunes was one of the first manufacturers of the instrument but, soon after he started manufacturing them, Mainland companies started imitating the instruments and marketing them as "Made in Hawaii". This resulted in a legal battle culminating in the creation of a distinctive crest that only Hawaiian ukulele makers are allowed to use. The instruments became very popular very quickly and, as they started to spread across the Mainland US, demand increased rapidly. The companies that made ukuleles en mass oftentimes pattered their designs from what Nunes had created and that basic design endures today.
Nunes ukuleles are made out of Koa wood. There are standard instruments available as well as an eight-string version called the taro patch ukulele. The company also manufactured 6-string ukuleles, which have doubled strings rather than courses of a higher or lower pitch.
While Manuel Nunes stopped manufacturing in the late 1910s, his sons did keep producing and continued manufacturing throughout the ukulele craze of the 20s and 30s. The instruments are no longer manufactured and, if you happen to have one of these instruments, you have something rather important on your hands.
Nunes ukuleles are very sought after among collectors. Some of them can fetch very high prices and they merit proper preservation. These instruments come from either one of the first ukulele manufacturers ever or from his sons, so they have a significant place in Hawaiian history and in American music history in general.
An expert can authenticate the instruments for you, but checking the label inside is always the first step. If it reads "Manuel Nunes" on it, you may have something that's not only worth quite a bit of money, but that has other value to it, as well, and should investigate to make sure.Return to Home Page
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