On a side street in the Old Town section of Lansing, Michigan stands an old red brick building, with I.O.O.F. picked out in white bricks over the entrance. Next to it is a large cinderblock building with a huge colorful mural depicting musicians and instruments. This collection of buildings houses Elderly Instruments, their home since 1984.
Founded in 1972 by Stan Werbin and his then-partner, Sharon McInturff, their goal was to cater to the stringed instrument player, with a special focus on making the high-quality pre-WWII instruments available. While the showrooms are full of hundreds of stringed instruments of every type and style, Stan has a special place in his heart for the ukulele.
Walk into Elderly, check in with the front clerk and declare and log in any instruments you are carrying with you, and then head in, taking a left at the door and walking into the front room. To your right will be an entire wall of ukuleles. From floor to ceiling, there are dozens of brands represented in every style and shape and color you can imagine. And if you walk around the corner, you’ll see that the back of that wall is covered with still more ukuleles, many of these are vintage and ‘elderly’ instruments.
From the $40 Watermans to the $4,000 vintage Martins, there are over 300 ukuleles to select from the Elderly inventory. You can try them hands-on and consult with the many friendly musicians that work to find your next ukulele! There are over 90 different sets of strings to choose from when trying to get the perfect sound from your instrument. Cases, straps, humidifiers and pretty much any accessory you can think of is available. There is also a wide selection of books, CDs, and DVDs to choose from.
Elderly has become the central point for The Great Uke State of Michigan. They are a key sponsor of Mighty Uke Day, an annual gathering in May featuring some of the top ukulele players in the world with three days of events including concerts, open mics, workshops and vendors. Elderly hosts some of the workshops in their classroom and runs specials on ukuleles and accessories. Past guests have included James Hill, Kalei Gamiao, Victoria Vox, Victor & Penny, Stuart Fuchs, Gerald Ross, Sarah Maisel and Craig Chee. Many of the events are free to the public, while some workshops and the concerts have a fee.
But the gem of Mighty Uke Day is the display of classic and vintage instruments in the entrance hallway, many from Stan’s personal collection. Varying each year, you will see novelty instruments of all styles, shapes and designs. Some even belonged to famous ukulele players of the past.
Elderly also sponsors the Midwest Ukulele and Harmonica Camp in May of each year. Held on the campus of Olivet College, it is a beautiful venue with the opportunity to learn from the best! In addition to eight workshops and two concerts, you have the chance to mingle with fellow ukulele players from all over the country. Instructors have included Jim Beloff, Paul Hemmings, Li’l Rev, Cathy Fink, Marcy Marxer, Kimo Hussey, Stuart Fuchs, Craig Chee, Sarah Maisel, Gerald Ross and Stephen Espaniola.
If you are traveling through the Midwest, you owe it to yourself to visit Elderly Instruments!
The Ukulele Dude, Mark Swarthout, plays and teaches ukulele in the Detroit Metropolitan area, just a short drive from Elderly. He is the author of “Unlock Your Ukulele” and has regular reviews and blogs at TheUkuleleDude.com.