The Ukulele: A Visual History by Jim Beloff Review

Jim Beloff’s The Ukulele: A Visual History must be the longest surviving ukulele book in my collection. Others have been discarded as useless or had the info sucked out of them and left in a draw. So it’s about time I got round to giving it a review.

What You Get

125 very heavily illustrated pages.

Chapters:

History of the Ukulele
The Great Players and Personalities
The Great Ukulele Manufacturers
The Story Continues…

The review is for the 2nd Edition of the book.

The Good Stuff

Ultimate in uke pr0n – The book is jam packed with ukulele pictures (and ukulele-related pictures and sheet music covers). There’s a huge amount of fabulous stuff to look at. Some of my personal favourites:

– The most stunning Santo ukulele I have ever seen.
– Hank’s Eukadidles for the Ukulele
– Ancil Swagerty being the chicest geek on the beach.
– A 1993 UOGB grinning like kids’ TV presenters.

It’s made to be flicked through and stared at. And doing so is a real treat (this review has taken 10 times longer than necessary to write because of the amount of aimless perusing I’ve done).

Useful reference – I’ve regularly picked up the book to check a date, name or to to answer, “Where have I seen that uke before?” niggles. While it’s not designed as a reference book, I don’t think there’s anything out there that does a better job of it than this.

And, refreshingly, it has a section on the ukulele in Japan.

Coffee-table/toilet-side book – It’s heavily diverting and not at all taxing – making it perfect for those occasions when things are either going into or coming out of your body.

The Not So Good Stuff

Busy Backgrounds – I found it hard to concentrate on reading the book. There’s a lot going on visually and the backgrounds – sometimes photographs – make it tricky to read. Partly because of this (and partly because of the way the book is structured) I don’t think I’ve ever sat down and actually read it for a significant period of time.

Due For A New Edition – A lot has happened since the 2nd edition came out in 2003. The book is definitely deserving of an update and it feels like the right time for one.

Overall

If my copy was lost, eaten by mice or combusted on a bonfire of the vanities, I’d buy a new copy straight away. Definitely worth a buy if you’re interested in ukes (and I’m guessing you are).

The Ukulele: A Visual History on Amazon

View Comments

15 Comments

  1. Rob NY October 27th, 2010 6:48 pm

    Thanks for the review. I think I’ll get it

  2. Martine October 27th, 2010 7:10 pm

    I absolutely love this book. Every uke player should have one!

  3. Herman Vandecauter October 27th, 2010 7:19 pm

    Thank for this looks very nice! Imagine I want to have it also!

  4. J-Hob October 27th, 2010 9:15 pm

    It is a great book, really fun just to dip into now and again.

  5. Woodshed October 27th, 2010 9:47 pm

    Rob and Herman: Hope you enjoy it.

    Marine: Agreed!

    J-Hob: Yeah, I don’t think I’ve ever sat down and read it for a significant length of time. I should have mentioned it in the review really.

  6. Ron Hale October 27th, 2010 10:39 pm

    It’s really meant to be read only by those
    unfamiliar with the instrument. Yes, the visuals
    are nice, but chances are uke players have come
    upon most of the information from other sources already. A bit like watching Mighty Uke – if
    you’ve been around ukes for a while, not much of it is really new to you. Which is a big reason that reading Jim’s book is unsatisfying – it’s not really new to most of us ukers any more.

    An update, if presented in the
    same fashion, will have the same results. The pictures will be nice and will be worth coming back to again and again, but chances are the information will not be new to most of us by now.

    So, Al, do you prefer Mighty Uke or Rock That Uke?
    I go with Rock That Uke every time.

  7. Tony Boland October 28th, 2010 1:46 am

    Its a nice way to spend a half hour or so looking at great photos of ukuleles but overall found it a bit unsatisfying.
    There is still room for a good book on the ukulele and cant help but feel if the late great John King had lived longer, he would likely have been the person to write it.
    His blog is still a wonderful reference point for anyone seriously interested in the the origins and development of the ukulele.

  8. Michael October 28th, 2010 8:16 am

    I love my 1997 ex-library copy (bought, not stolen)

  9. Lorraine Bow October 28th, 2010 9:35 am

    Great choice Al!

    I nearly strayed from ukulele once. A friend bought me this. I fell back in love and have not strayed again, thanks to its’ magic!

  10. Phredd October 28th, 2010 10:41 am

    I loaned my first copy to someone. I couldn’t remember who. I have yet to get it back. So I had to get another one. So I wholeheartedly agree with and have experienced your Bonfire of the Vanities scenario.

  11. Woodshed October 28th, 2010 10:02 pm

    Ron: I completely disagree. I learnt plenty from it and consult it regularly.

    Tony: I think you’re right that there’s room for an indepth book on the ukulele.

    I’m hoping John King did write it. He and Jim Tranquada were working on a book together when he died and it’s due out soon.

    Michael: Libraries. I remember those.

    Lorraine: I’m glad your friend did that.

    Phredd: The swine!

  12. Zoe October 29th, 2010 2:03 am

    I love my copy of this book. I even had Jim sign it, because I’m nerd like that. It satisfies my eye candy and uke info appetite like no other.

  13. Tamster October 30th, 2010 8:37 pm

    I bought the 1st edition back in 1998 and learned more than I knew at that point. Back then a lot of the info was new to me and I suspect to a lot of people back then. I remember being thrilled to see all the great old ukes in the photos. I bought the 2nd edition too for the updates.
    I suppose now that the uke is more popular and with the internet,uke websites like this one, and Youtube, the info in the book might not be new to a lot of uke players.
    I hope the John King , Jim Tranquada book does come out soon.

  14. Herman Vandecauter November 9th, 2010 9:16 am

    I did receive my copy yesterday and I am happy with it! It is like what is mentioned in the title. Of coarse I would also like a more readable format etc….but it is a book in line with ukulele philosophy!

  15. Woodshed November 10th, 2010 10:52 am

    Zoe: Yes, I think asking Jim Beloff for his signature qualifies you as a nerd.

    Tamster: I think you’re right that this book was more useful when there was less uke stuff on the net. But having it in one place is definitely an advantage.

    Herman: Glad you like it.

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