Saturday, August 8, 2020

Mr. Rees' Ukulele

 Last night there was a story on the local news about Harold Rees, a luthier (maker of stringed instruments) who was still at it at the age of 100.  For years, concert violinists have purchased his work, or entrusted him to repair and restore their precious instruments.  It was a really wonderful story made more wonderful by the fact that I know this man. 

Harold Rees is the father of my longtime friend and animation colleague Jerry Rees.  Over the past 35 years, I have seen Mr. Rees at Jerry's house on many occasions.  I've also seen many of his handmade instruments - violins, violas, banjos, and ukuleles.   After one such visit to Jerry's with my wife Donna,  she commented on the incredible craftsmanship in Mr Rees' work.  I confessed to her that I had always wanted to buy one of his ukuleles but was afraid to ask.

So guess what I got the following Christmas, 2013?  Donna had discreetly contacted Jerry's wife Rebecca and some kind of deal was made.  I was completely floored, and proudly displayed the ukulele in our living room, sharing the story with anyone who would comment on it - and they would.  

Cut to fall of 2016.  Donna had passed away two years prior and I was about to relocate from New Jersey back to California.  I shed more than half of my possessions - including the animation desk I had owned for 33 years - to fit into a 27 foot long U-Haul.    Once unloaded in California, it took months to unpack everything.   As the number of boxes dwindled, I realized that my Rees ukulele was missing (insert anxiety spike here). 

My mind raced with possible scenarios.  Did I leave it in a motel?  Did I mistakenly put it in a Goodwill box?  Or did I - GASP - mistakenly put it in a box to throw away?  At moving time, boxes were flying out of the house in all directions.  

I looked through the remaining packed boxes.  No ukulele.  I looked again and again.  No ukulele.  It made me nauseous to think I had managed to lose this special handmade gift from my late wife on our last Christmas together.  I confessed to Jerry and Rebecca.  They did not tell Mr Rees about it.  

For 2 1/2 years I carried guilt over the loss of that special uke.   Then on March 4, 2019,  I was retrieving something in what was the last unpacked box from the move.  To get to the thing I was looking for I had to remove a massive wad of bubble wrap packed with it for protection.  Don't you know, this massive wad of bubble wrap had a most welcome surprise inside.  

A wave of emotion hit me.  My knees buckled.  I laughed that crazy laugh like when you've had a near death experience.  Close to tears, I took the above picture and texted Jerry and Rebecca.  What a freaking relief!

The Rees ukulele is now on display on a wall of art in my living room.  I play it with an extra level of appreciation.   The story having a happy ending, Jerry finally shared it with Mr Rees, who had a laugh about it.  Whew!

Moral of this story - keep your friends close and your ukuleles closer!




  1. I saw ABC’s feature of Mr. Rees, Steve. A great man! Where can I buy his ukulele or violin (for my kids)?

    1. Mr Rees' instruments are made on commission for professionals. Sorry, but they are not toys.

  2. Hi Steve, I'm a filmmaker and I'm interested in creating a documentary about Mr. Rees and his craftsmanship. Do you know any way to contact him or his family? Thank you so much!

  3. Hi, recently I received a ukulele that at one time belonged to my grandmother. When I opened the case, I found a card belonging to Mr. Rees inside. The ukulele has been in the case for some time and is not strung. I was wondering about having it looked at and possibly repaired?

  4. Hi Dyer M,
    If it's just a matter of having it strung, any music shop will do that for you. If it is broken, I can ask Mr Rees' family about it, but understand he is almost 101 years old. I don't know if he would be up for it.