In this video, Russ Morin describes his ukuleles and lets us hear the difference between a regular and a resonator ukulele.
HOMETOWN: Born in Charleston; now lives in Greenville
CLAIM TO FAME: Morin is a self-taught luthier who specializes in making custom-made resonator ukuleles.
HOBBIES: Enjoys shopping for antique sewing machines with his wife and playing bass ukulele in a band called Blue Studio.
You will never meet anyone as excited about ukuleles as Russ Morin.
“I just love ’em,” he says.
The versatile instruments can be used to play anything from nursery rhymes to Bach, and most people can learn the basics in a weekend. It’s hard not to smile when strumming a ukulele, and Morin believes if more people played them, more people would be happy.
Ukuleles have certainly brought happiness into Morin’s own life. A former furniture maker and Montessori school teacher, he began to reexamine his priorities when his older brother passed away from cancer. Feeling permanently stressed out by his teaching job, Morin decided to see if he could make a living doing something he loved—making ukuleles.
Today, he specializes in built-to-order resonator ukuleles, which include a spun aluminum cone inside the body of the instrument. The cones work like a passive speaker, creating a much stronger sound, and they allow Morin to build his handcrafted instruments from a variety of woods, including poplar, walnut, black locust and mahogany, often scrounged from dumpsters, scrap piles and fallen trees he spots beside the road.
Morin sells his ukuleles online (russmorin.com) to buyers as distant as Australia, Germany and Africa. Prices start at $625 for a traditional ukulele or $950 for a resonator model, but each instrument is made entirely by hand, a process that takes approximately a month. While his ukulele business is not generating much income yet, it is gathering momentum and paying off in other ways.
“Guess who’s happy?” Morin says. “I’m excited these days.”