Swagerty Ukulele

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Swagerty ukuleles are some of the most distinctive, even startling, ukuleles ever produced.

Swagerty first began producing ukuleles the late 1950s and became massively popular during the surf craze of the 50s and 60s – the pointed ends of their ukes were intended to be driven into the sand while their owners were off catching waves.

They produced a number of models including the Surf-a-lay-lee, the Kook-A-Lele, and the Treholipee (you can see the original patent for the Treholipee here).

The Swagerty company ceased trading in the 1970s. so if you’re after one, your best bet is to keep a close eye on eBay. Be warned, when they do show up, bidding for these can be fierce.

On Video

UkeTube superstars GUGUG with their Swagerty Treholipee ukulele.

On eBay


  1. Mark April 28th, 2011 2:06 am

    I am From San Clemente and knew Swagerty. I have a kook-a-lele bought new. That was so fun watching you guys play that damm thing.

  2. Marti March 1st, 2012 2:29 am

    I went to San Clemente High School from 1968-1971 and my Dad bought The Singing Trehõlipee for the fun of it. It looks great hanging on a wall and there is always someone who says “what the . . . is that!” But no one ever tryed to play it. I inherited it and now it stays with me in a small town in Norway. Since the ukulele is now back in stile and there are a lot of new songs to play I am learning to play it. So if there is any one out there who knows where I can buy some very long strings for it please write a comment here. Thank You Kindly

  3. Dan Swagerty April 4th, 2012 12:57 am

    Ancil Swagerty was my uncle, Great fun watching those guys play the ukulele. Have a small collection myself, but never learned to play them. Dan Swagerty

  4. Robert April 30th, 2012 4:04 am

    I just bought a KOOK AL LEE Today for $15.00 needs some work. It is mustard yellow no notes painted on it. I need to glue it a little and Dream of finding two paddle tunners for it and a bridge i will make. Some fun though . great song.

  5. Chris Stebbing May 19th, 2012 6:15 am

    I’ve owned a Kook a lele for about 5 yrs now and I only ever played it when I first bought it. Now it hangs on display. I want to restring it now but I can’t work out what strings to use. I suppose I need to use guitar strings. The distance from the nut to the bridge is 18 inches or 47cm which is closest to a tenor scale.It is 80 inches from the tuning pegs to the bridge. Wikipaedia shows 4 different tuning options for tenor ukes, this just confused me. Can anyone help me please?

  6. Lyle June 9th, 2012 5:52 pm

    Picked up a Treholipee at a yard sale today, with the plan to re-sell it on EBay but after seeing you guys play it and reading what everyone else had to say I might just keep it for fun. Finding new strings would be great though if anyone has any ideas. Thanks!

  7. Woodshed June 10th, 2012 7:54 pm

    Lyle: Try Worth strings. They’re double length.

  8. GMD July 9th, 2012 6:15 am

    Inherited a Treholipee and am thinking of throwing it on eBay… now that I hear the potential this exceptional instrument has, I’m on the edge of learning how to play…

  9. keith September 26th, 2012 1:05 am

    i have a number of ukes made by swaggerty one of them being a double neck, this one being the kook-a-lele. anyone ever seen these?

  10. Tim Justice October 4th, 2012 5:52 pm

    I know the Swagerty family and am on the hunt for Swagerty ukes. I appreciate the history you’ve provided.

  11. Bill Swagerty, Jr. November 20th, 2012 11:35 pm

    Like Dan Swagerty (above), I am a nephew of Ancil A. Swagerty, the inventor and manufacturer of these ukes. He made a series of them: The Treholipee, Kookalalee, Little Guitar, Banana Bass (literal shaped like a big banana), Surfalalee (which could be taken on a surfboard and used as a paddle or played in between sets) and others. I worked in the small factory named Swagerty Specialties off of Pico Avenue in San Clemente during the summers of 1968 through 1973. Our largest client was Holiday Inn. That company ordered several thousand for its hotels in Hawaii to put in every room. They came in many colors and the painter was an auto-body man who my uncle recruited from our home base of Clayton, New Mexico. Ergo the bright colors which included gloss orange, red, yellow, natural grain matte brown, and two pastel shades–blue and green. A few were also black, but the Banana Bass was always bright yellow! He also made traditional harps and dulcimers in very limited numbers–really one-of-a-kind through orders.

    I recall his original idea was to modify instruments he had seen while serving in the US Navy in WW II. He was a pilot and traversed the Pacific several times during the war carrying men and materiel back and forth between Hawaii and US bases. Filipino and Japanese instruments influenced his designs, as well as his time among Polynesian cultures in Hawaii and elsewhere in the Pacific.

    I’m not a string player, only horns and the sax, and never learned to play one of these. I drilled the holes, glued the frames, set the fret, sanded them, and swept up the mess all those summers. Good memories. My Uncle Ancil was a living legend and creative inventor, as well as expert craftsman who also made Mission-style furniture, which is scattered across California and the Southwest. He died in 1991, age 80 and is buried in Newport Beach.

  12. Laurie Dolan April 9th, 2013 12:02 am

    Anyone have info on the Swagerty upright bass? One stringed instrument. I have pictures if it helps 🙂

  13. David Racki January 31st, 2014 1:09 am

    Just came across these cool ukes! They ought to erect a monument to Ancil Swagerty for giving his gift to the world!

  14. Tonelar February 12th, 2014 11:06 am

    Chris Stebbing; 80″? What model do you have? That’s over 6 feet!

  15. Rick Spears February 26th, 2014 8:45 pm

    I have the classic orange Treholipee that used to be on the wall of my dad’s donut shop in San Clemente. I graduated from SCHS in ’67 and his shop was “The Donut Roundup” I by chance just Googled Treholipee, and to my surprise I am learning a lot about this old friend. Rick

  16. Kurt Lang April 3rd, 2014 2:19 am

    I have the classic orange and my great uncle who lived in San Clemente evidently took it with him and his wife on a cruise on the original Queen Mary! My uncle had people from the cruise sign it and one was the captain of the ship John “Treasure” Jones and I’m trying to figure out the other signatures that are on it. I’m looking forward to learning to play it at some point. So the last voyage of the Queen Mary was in 1967 so I imagine this should be somewhat collectible? I really like the surfer on the back playing the uke plus there is a sticker on the front of the Queen Mary!lol

  17. mike May 2nd, 2014 10:53 pm

    I just bought a trehol[pee at an estate sale. Payed 200 for it. I am feeling better and better about it. I am actually going to put it in a music video. Everthing is there, pegs bridge strap, COOL!

  18. Bill June 9th, 2014 4:42 am

    Have a Treholipee that needs a bridge and a tuner peg. Does anyone have a 3D model of them, so we can 3D-Print new ones? Or have spares?

  19. melody October 31st, 2014 4:15 pm

    i just got a singing treholipee at the goodwill auction and i am so excited about giving it to my husband on his birthday tomorrow. I have been reading about it and watching utube. my 15 year old son even thoiught it was cool that surfers used to stick them in the sand and maybe play them later at a campfire.

  20. Ray Knight March 26th, 2015 9:35 am

    I just bought a Surf-A-Lele yesterday in Des Moines, Iowa (about as land locked as you can get)and can’t wait to begin to play it. It looks as if it has never been used, decals and tassel both intact.
    Someone mentioned this model could be “played while surfing and also used as a paddle”!
    I can’t imagine what kind of condition one of those would be in?
    Thanks for the history!

  21. Tony January 18th, 2016 6:03 am

    Did anyone find a file for the pegs? I can use 123d or sketchup… gladly make more if anyone needs them.

  22. Mr. Fisher November 23rd, 2016 5:08 am
  23. Paul November 24th, 2016 2:07 am

    I also just purchased a project swagerty. If anyone is 3D printing the tuning pegs I will buy. Does anyone know what the end pin looked like?

  24. Paul December 8th, 2016 3:15 am

    Does anyone know the stain formula for these? Are there any construction plans or details available?

  25. Marvin April 23rd, 2017 5:17 pm

    I have had a Surf-A-Lele since my children were little. They are now in their 40s. I bought some new strings thinking I would learn to play the thing, but my fingers aren’t strong enough anymore. Should I try Ebay? I have no idea what the thing is worth.

  26. Betty July 4th, 2017 4:57 pm

    I bought a singing treholipeein the mid 70’s at a yard sale for $20. Its green with all paddles and string very good shape. Whats it worth? Interested in selling

  27. Betty July 4th, 2017 5:15 pm

    can you tell me what my singing treholipee is worth

  28. Jean July 13th, 2017 8:28 pm

    I have a trecholipee Swagerty. I may want to sell it. It’s hard to tune.

  29. Mark May 5th, 2018 9:56 pm

    Really like the articles about the Swagerty ukes.

    Dig playing them. If some one wants some more info
    on them drop me a line.Or want sell any.Drop me a
    a line.


  30. katherine July 9th, 2018 1:56 am

    Hi I recently came across a double necked kook-a-la-lee in great condition with the Rick Griffin surfer decal intact. I was wondering if there is a market for this and if you have any contacts who might be interested in purchasing? I can post images. Thanks!

  31. Cathy Morehead July 9th, 2018 4:30 am

    Hi Mark,
    I have a double neck kook a la lee I will be selling on e bay in few weeks, it was never played. It was my mother’s.

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