Oliver Ditson built a successful retail empire publishing sheet music and later selling instruments in Boston. Expansion followed and he set up his sons with branch stores in other large cities, including the Chas. H. Ditson store in New York City. 1915 brought the Hawaiian music boom and massive ukulele sales. To satisfy demand, Ditson stocked ukuleles from several makers, including a range specially made for them by C.F. Martin & Co., and stamped with the Ditson brand.
Harry L. Hunt, manager of the New York branch, recognized the growing ukulele trend in his travels and buying trips. His keen interest helped push Martin into full-scale ukulele production in 1915, with Ditson their first and largest customer. Hunt corresponded frequently with Martin to develop and refine the product range. He specified the wide-waisted dreadnought shape for instruments made for his Chas. Ditson store, and supplied a Nunes taropatch to Martin for reference in creating their line of 8 string taropatch models. Ditson received the first taropatches made by Martin, and the very first Style 5K ukulele.
The Boston branch waited until 1918 to start ordering ukuleles from Martin, and chose the standard Martin shape stamped with the Ditson brand. Oliver Ditson bought far fewer Martin-made ukuleles than Chas. Ditson and by 1927, orders from both stores had tapered off, with the company closing its doors soon after in 1931.
What Makes a Ditson Ukulele Special?
The slightly larger air chamber and dreadnought body shape of the “Ditson Model” ukuleles produce an unusually fine tone. Projection and volume are exceptional. Although a century has passed, professional musicians and hobbyist players still seek out Ditson ukuleles for their unique sound and feel. The longevity of these instruments is testament to the quality and crafstmanship of Frank Henry Martin’s factory.
Many details, aside from the body shape, distinguish Ditsons from regular Martin ukuleles. Ditson often fit their own tuners, usually Champion friction pegs, in place of the standard Martin wood pegs. For this, Hunt specified a slightly thicker headstock. Fingerboard differences include adding side position markers, some orders with inlay at the 3rd fret, and moving the 9th fret marker to the 10th. Ditson focused almost exclusively on mahogany ukuleles and ordered some with a specially polished “antique” finish which was fashionable at the time. The striking appearance, excellent sound, and heritage of Martin’s golden era of ukulele building make each Ditson ukulele a special and historic item.