I recently finished the book I mentioned picking up at AMIS: A Stowaway Ukulele Revealed: Richard Konter & the Byrd Polar Expeditions by Larry Bartram with Dick Boak. The story is both interesting and entertaining, as is the story of the story – how the authors met, found mutual interest in seeing this through, and calling in favors to analyze the instrument with every possible modern technique. I still can’t imagine trying to decipher all those impossible signatures!
I already knew “the ending” – that Konter’s Martin uke went to the North Pole with Byrd, hidden under the pilot’s seat. No wonder everyone wanted to sign it! What I didn’t know was that Konter’s next uke – a Favilla – went to the South Pole – also hidden under another pilot friend’s seat! Fortunately, Konter had somehow secretly arranged things in advance, as he was suddenly sent back once their ship hit Antarctica, and wasn’t part of this expedition team as he was for the North Pole.
Pretty cool, right? Sure, but I was stunned to learn that on that same ship to Antarctica, Konter also had a harp guitar with him! This was also a Favilla, a rarity, indeed. Konter had become a staunch Favilla supporter, having abandoned Martin (he was missed that they wouldn’t give him a uke dealership based solely on his reputation…as one was required to have an actual brick and mortar business first). The Favilla harp guitar was fairly new at the time of Konter’s 1928 Antarctica voyage – one has to wonder about finish cold-checking!
A photo of Konter with it was fortuitously taken during the trip, so we know that it indeed almost made it to the South Pole (or close enough)! A second photo in the Konter book shows him on another ship in 1920 with a Gibson harp guitar. Which begs the question of just what kind of a player he may have been. While he was a minor celebrity as a ukulele player on radio and in print for his many sheet music ukulele arrangements, no mention of harp guitar-specific talents or activities has been found.
The wonderful photo below (courtesy of Dick Boak, from the Martin Archives) shows Konter with the Favilla on the same ship (City of New York), either during or prior to the expedition with it (note the Clark Irish Harp on the right). It is only the second Favilla HG known, with 6 strings on the neck and 6 sub-basses.
As readers may remember, the other (surviving) Favilla has 12 strings on the neck and 9 subs. It was restored for the owner by Kerry Char, and eventually wound up with my Bohmann-obsessed friend, Bruce Hammond.
So, Konter’s harp guitar unfortunately didn’t quite make it to the bottom of the globe. Anyone else game?