Monday, May 13, 2013

Interview w/ plastic ukulele collector Antoine Carolus


Antoine Carolus is a man that is slightly obsessed.  That's not always a bad thing though!  Especially in the ukulele world.  The above picture is his personal collection of plastic ukuleles...all 65 of 'em.  This obsession prompted him to create the website www.ChordMaster.org  
The site serves as a personal nirvana for those who love plastic ukes.  If you are interested in info about any plastic uke that you've seen or acquired, chances are excellent that you'll find it there.
Antoine was kind enough to sit down and answer a few questions about his collection and his passion for plastic ukes.  Hope you enjoy it!


Q: How many plastic ukuleles do you own and which one has been your favorite?

A: Well, I own some … 60+ plastic ukes, in more or less good shape…
My favorites have always been of 2 kinds : the beautiful ones and, for sure, the good ones.
The beautiful ones are either the Carnival with funny graphics, or the ones with incredible swirled psychedelic plastics.
The good ones are with no doubt the ones made by Mario Maccaferri. He was a real luthier before a businessman,
and he had worked with Dow Plastics to find the best sounding polystyrene, the Styron.
Among my Maccaferri Islanders, some have an incredible swirled colors back : they are my favs among all.

Q: How did your obsession and fascination with plastic ukes begin?

A: After having seen a video by my scottish friend Angus, of 'Gus and Fin', I bought a standard Islander.
I was so delighted by its sound and playability, plus the by the fact I was allowed to play under the rain or in the sea…
More, it was a real 50+ years old vintage for $50! (well, prices have increased now:)
So, I decided to build the website chordmaster.org, and looking for new pics and models,
I also found good opportunities. The virus was there, I began a collection.

Q: I see a lot of these come up for sale on ebay.  What would be your recommendation(s) for a first plastic ukulele?  Are there any that should be avoided for a first timer?

A: If you are rich enough, buy an Islander. Be sure the neck is straight (action is low) and that it has no big cracks.
If you are not rich, get a TV Pal, by maccaferri too. They are almost the same that Islanders, but they have cheaper plastic pegs instead of screawable mechanics.
The PlayTunes are the exact same ukes that TV Pal (but generally more difficult to find, and so more expensive).
Totally avoid the TV Pals that have been produced lately by Carnival because of their poor plastics
(They have a cream top and a black neck)
At around the same price than a TV Pal, you can get a Lisa or a Mauna Loa, which are not so bad.
Avoid the Fin-Der (or Surf-Rider) unless you are totally sure that the pegs can still hold the strings tension.
All Emenee are very disappointing (Flamingo, Wai-ki-ki, etc.)
Carnivals are generally nice, but sound not good.
In any case : claim for pictures showing the action height and ask if the pegs works well.

Q: Which make and model in the plastic uke family is the most valued or most prized possession amongst collectors?

A: Undoubtedly the "special color" Islanders are the most valued.
They are great players, they have wonderful back colors, and very seeked for.
Some are incredibly rare : I saw once a silver one. I don't know how much it could be sold on Ebay, but I'm sure it would be over $500.
The Beatles series by Maccaferri can reach very high prices.
There are also other rarities. I have a PlayTune with a swirled red top I bought from UkeJackson in New York.
I've never seen another "special color" PlayTune.
I personally love my ukettes. I finally gathered the whole series of those produced by Maccaferri, including the Beatles one.

Q:  On your site, you have a wonderful section devoted to plastic uke repairs - everything from fixing cracks to molding your own parts!  Have you ever considered selling replacement parts?  Maybe becoming a plastic ukulele luthier and fixing other people's plastic ukes?

A: Thank you! Yes, there was no "fix and repair" page anywhere, and the techniques are quite different that what we can apply to woodies.
So, I had to invent those techniques, and find ones that everybody can apply at home.
(I personally do not own a steam press to be used to straighten the plastic necks!!)
I'm not a business man, and I would hate (trying) to make money with my hobbies.
If I did so, I would transform my leisures into work. And work, I have enough:)
With work, you get stress and responsibilities. With leisures, you are free.
Anyway making and selling spare pegs would be a fail.
The kind of mold I make with silicone can be used only a limited time.
One cast out of two goes in the garbage. It is very very time consuming and expensive.
I think I would not be able to sell a peg under $10 !!!
All I did was "research". I published them in order to share the results, to help people like me,
(the plastic ukes lovers) when they get a nice but… broken new uke.
Becoming a plastic luthier? I tried to build a plastic uke from scratch. Woooh!
So difficult! I wanted to cast resins… So many problems...
No, you need a real steel mold and injection device. It's for industry, not for the garage.
Repairing plastic ukes as a job? Sorry, I already have a wonderful job
(I teach architecture) and have many other activities.
I'm currently preparing an art exhibition [with some plastic ukes in my photographs]
I also write a blog about nose flutes ( noseflute.org ) in which I make the same kind of researches
(history, experiments, castings plastics and metals, etc.)

Q: I LOVE the chord master simulator on your site!  What inspired you to create it?

A: Hahaha!!! Thank you! I'm glad someone else loves it :)
Well, the real ChordMaster was a very funny and kitsch device. (I also collect those "auto chording" machines)
It was used mostly by fresh uke newbies to produce 6 basic chords by pushing a button.
But there probably was another goal in Maccaferri's brain with the Chordmaster.
In 1933, Mario Maccaferri had an accident, his wrist was damaged, and he had to stop playing the guitar at a high level.
And today, I regularly receive mail from (hand) disabled people looking for such a device.
So, the Chordmaster was not 100% kitsch, but also a kind of real tool.
How I got the idea of my Chordmaster Simulator?
I do not remember, but it's probable that's after having seen an online uke tuner.

Q: One final question - coffee or tea?

A: Tea!!!! Totally tea! I drink half a gallon of tea each day, from the morning till the night.
Mostly green japanese in the morning (Tamaryokucha, senshas…) but also Darjeeling first flush.
Then in the day, it depends. I love Wu-longs like the Tye Guan Yin. And other great chinese teas.
Evening and night, mostly white teas or aged Pu-Ehr.
All brewed in Yixing clay tea pots. Very snobbish, ain't I ?
You also could have ask "Dogs or Cats"?
My kitty is named Patafix, and she also has her blog ( www.patablog.fr )








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