The Orfeus Ukulele
I could never comfortably call myself a musician. I can at best clumisly string a few chords together into something that is just about recognisable, most successfully if I don’t even try and think about the lyrics, but this ebay listing recently caught my eye and I was quicky overcome by a desire to own this peculiar looking thing.
The more I looked at it, the more intrigued I became. The seller described it as, ‘a ukulele size 6 string electric guitar’ from the Soviet era, a truly excellent proposition appeared to have manifested before me as a real instrument for sale. I tried to rationalise the situation, it clearly needs work to make it playable, I can’t be the only person with an eye on it, its unusual and therefore probably quite rare….I quickly decided to do a little research and forget about rationality.
The problem was there did not seem to be a single reference to it on the whole of the internet other than the ebay listing I had spotted. Nothing at all. The only images available from a search were the ones taken by the seller for his listing.
I wasn’t about to leave it there though. What about the make? There must be some information about the manufacturers. I’ve invested considerable time looking into Soviet and Eastern Bloc cameras in the past and learned a fair amount about the history of Zenit, Praktica, Lomo and more, how hard could it be to do some cursory research into Soviet era instruments?
The truth is whilst a quick search will yield a whole stack of funky looking Soviet electric guitars for sale (and for fairly reasonable prices it would seem) it will not reveal that much detail on their history. It seems that there is probably a market for them and probably a community of enthusiasts as well, but the history books are yet to be written.
The name on the headstock is ‘Orfeus’ and I did learn that they were indeed a Soviet era, Eastern Bloc maker of electric guitars based in Bulagria. You can pick one up on ebay in what looks like an at least playable condition for around £200. Incomplete information about some of their products is out there if you wish to peruse for yourself. Needless to say there is no mention of electric 6 string ukuleles…
Still undefeated I went back to the listing and the images provided. With my admittedly limited knowledge I quickly concluded that something was off. Was this a 6 string uke? Could it be a guitarlele? No, This instrument I decided was not ‘a ukulele size 6 string electric guitar’ at all. This instrument I have decided is (most likely) an electric 8 string soprano ukulele. Whilst I do accept that this does not actually seem to be a thing, I don’t see what else it could possibly be.
I have contacted the seller who also admits to being a bit clueless about stringed instruments, he did tell me though that he found it in a pile of fire wood in an old barn (in Hungary) and thought it worth saving, so he is the real hero in this story.
The images clearly show two missing tuners and that is why I have opted to conclude that it has to be an 8 string ukulele with the strings arranged into 4 courses, also the tail piece appears to be constructed to take 4 strings and I therefore conclude this is for 4 courses, not 4 strings.
I cannot reiterate enough that I actually know nothing and am merely speculating, but never-the-less it seems the most likely explanation.
Anyway all will hopefully be revelaed as a few days ago I set my alarm for an ungodly hour in the morning and entered my highest bid. Long story short this unusual little instrument in need of some care and attention is (as I write) travelling across Europe from Hungary to the UK and should be with me soon.
More to follow……