Why 34: The story of the mysterious number on the headstock of my uke

I bought myself this ukulele on my 50th birthday, last February. I played it on every song on my album, wrote most of the songs on it, and have used it in every cover video that I’ve done since it was delivered in late March. It’s an upgraded, customized version of the same model that I bought in late 2018 and absolutely fell in love with, a Magic Fluke concert scale Flea. In addition to the upgrades (a pickup, side fret markers, and geared tuners), I had them include one small customization. Since I was buying it for a special occasion, I wanted to add something that would make it uniquely mine. I considered a couple of ideas for custom paint jobs, a coiled snake or a clock face around the sound hole, but both of those would have required commissioning an artist. I didn’t really know anyone who could do it and I’m way too shy to reach out to a stranger, so those ideas were nixed pretty quickly. Then, I decided to simply have them engrave the number 34 into the headstock.

It’s a reference to the 1977, Richard Pryor film, Greased Lightning. The film is loosely based on the life of Wendell Scott, the first black stock car driver. I first saw it back in the ’90s and as someone who had aspirations to go into a field where I didn’t see anyone who looked like me (I use a wheelchair and at the time, I wanted to be a rock star), I found the film very inspiring. 34 was the number on Scott’s car (in the film and irl) and it immediately became my ‘lucky’ number.

Over the past year or so, I’ve been getting a bit more serious about putting my music out there. I know that it’s very unlikely that music will ever become my job (especially at my age), but I’ve been rediscovering my passion for songwriting and since the technology exists to easily do so now, I want to make sure my songs are heard by as many people as possible. It wasn’t my intention when I ordered the uke, but it recently occurred to be that I know have the same number on the machine that I use to do what I do as did the man who inspired me so many years ago.

Incidentally, the paint job it has was a bit of a happy accident. I wanted to get a finish called Lava, which is sort of a reddish stain. But when I was ordering, I forgot to set that one dropdown menu. It was an alphabetical list, so it defaulted to Amethyst Purple. It was my second choice, but I was still pretty upset when I saw the invoice and realized what I had done, but then I remembered that Amethyst is February’s birthstone and it kind of made the instrument even more perfect for me.