At various times in my life I’ve surrendered to the urge to collect musical instruments. It’s a common ailment among my peers, and probably one of the less damaging addictions one might suffer. But over the past few years I’ve tried to go straight, stick with the instruments I have and definitely stay away from oddball stuff that once called out to me.
Then I ran across an Ebay auction for a Martin Tiple. Now the “tiple” is one of a number of smallish stringed instruments played throughout the Spanish and Portuguese speaking world, where the word is pronounced “teeplay.” But a Martin Tiple is a strange member of the `ukulele family, an instrument that was vitally important to the CF Martin company in their history. I’ve learned a lot about the Martin Tiple by visiting Uncle Emile’s Blog, The Martin Tiple.
I started off tuning this tiple like a modern tenor uke, G C E A or C6 tuning. But we discovered that it plays and tunes better one step higher in a D6 tuning of A D F# B.
There’s something about the organic glow of a fine vintage instrument, the battle scars contribute to the feeling that this is a special object, simply by having survived. The instrument I received from my Ebay seller has been loved pretty hard and had a fair amount of repair work along the way, but the cost reflected that so I’m happy with the result. Martin built these instruments in their common styles of 15/17 (mahogany top, back and sides), 18 (spruce top, mahogany back and sides), and 28 (spruce top, rosewood back and sides). I’ve seen tiples as early as 1925 and as late as the 1970s, this one is from 1949 according to the serial number database on the CF Martin site. It’s easy to see why people fall under the spell of old Martins.
The peghead is one of the most distinctive in the world of stringed instruments, with those five-on-a-plate tuners marching down each side and the forest of strings scurrying over the nut.
This instrument got plenty of legitimate play but not abuse. Looks like someone really had fun with this tiple. If you look carefully you can see that the saddle has been compensated slightly for each course, but not for the intonation difference between the plain and wound strings. This makes tuning accuracy a bit marginal.
The bridge is a block with wings, carved from rosewood with holes drilled through for string attachment. The angled bone saddle drops into a slot in the rosewood.
The ball ends serve to hold the string in place against the bridge. This arrangement gives a very shallow break angle over the saddle, probably adding a bit to the jangle and chime.
There are faintly visible lateral waves in the mahogany back, I can’t tell if it’s a figure in the wood or saw marks from the resawing, but in any case it’s lovely to look at.
So What Does a Tiple Sound Like?
The sound of this little box is pretty amazing. At time it sounds like a 12 string guitar, sometimes like a mandolin, or a Tahitian banjo. It really came to life when Hawaiian slack key and `ukulele master Ledward Kaapana showed up at our house. Ledward told me that one of his Aunties back in Kalapana featured a tiple as her musical contribution to the legendary house parties of his youth. He quickly got the tuning sweetened up and began finding his voice on the tiple.
We’ve been staying pretty busy playing shows around Northern California, but with a few days off I persuaded Ledward to join me in the Digital Duck Studio to do a little video featuring his tiple stylings. I pulled out my Wingert Model E, tuned to taropatch slack key, and we came up with a couple of old Hawaiian songs to share.
How’s that for some jangly fun? If you search around YouTube you can hear some other examples of the tiple being played in a variety of styles.
Since this is a techie blog I should take a moment to address the recording process. I’ve been experimenting with the ORTF mic array lately. It gives a “big” but natural representation of a solo guitar, and I really liked the result in a recent duet recording. So I left the pair of Schoeps cardioid mics in their ORTF arrangement, about two feet in front of our instruments. I used the Panasonic GH2 along with two Sanyo Xacti HD2000 cameras to provide several camera angles.
The audio came through the RME UFX interface and was captured in REAPER. I used no EQ or reverb, the only adjustment was a level boost along with a brickwall limiter to prevent overs. I assembled the audio with the multiple cameras in Edius Neo Booster and rendered as a 720p AVCHD video for upload to YouTube.
This entry was posted on Friday, February 8th, 2013 at 6:43 pm and is filed under Guitar. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.