SHEFFIELD, MASSACHUSETTS – You could be forgiven for finding something magical about the Magic Fluke Company – or for not finding it at all. The mom-and-pop business, founded and run by Phyllis, 52, and Dale Webb, 55, is tucked away off a quiet road in the snowy Berkshire Mountains. In a small, solar-powered workshop, the Webbs, along with their sons Sam,13, Ben, 16, and Josh, 18, and a group of craftsmen (as well as two dogs) toil away, constructing ukuleles, violins, and other stringed amusements. A troupe of Santa’s elves would not look out place there.
Though it’s been in business for almost 15 years, Magic Fluke is part of a new breed of small American manufacturers. The Webbs take pride as makers of high-end products, whose employees, processes, and materials come from within a stone’s throw. The Webbs have followed the “locally sourced” edict for years, relying almost solely on components from Massachusetts and nearby Connecticut.
“The passion is to keep it local, to make something here that’s quality,” Phyllis says. “We’re also sensitive to not using woods that may be endangered. We try to source woods that are local and sustainable.” This includes black walnut from their own farm.
The Webbs were part of the early wave of the ukulele renaissance. Phyllis’ brother, a professional musician named Jim Beloff, found a ukulele at a flea market, and fell in love with the instrument’s portability and sound. He began publishing ukulele songbooks, and approached his brother-in-law, Dale, with an idea. As Phyllis recalls, “Jim said, ‘Come on, you’re an engineer. Why don’t you design a whole new ukulele?’” Dale took him at his word, and used his engineering expertise to create a new kind of ukulele — as Phyllis puts it, “A fabulous instrument that could be made here, in the USA.”
That was in 1998, and the Webbs have been making ukes ever since.
Phyllis is quick to point out, however, that “starting your own business, and entrepreneurship, it’s not easy. And making something in the USA is not easy. It’s very, very difficult. It’s very costly.”
But she also sees hope in the marketplace, as consumers come to value American-made products. “Stores are coming to us and realizing that it’s important that their shelves have something that’s made in the USA,” she says. “People are asking for that. So that’s very exciting.” Despite competition from large-scale manufacturers in Asia, Magic Fluke also does a healthy trade in shipping its instruments around the world
Magic Fluke’s business even gets a boost from its celebrity fans: singers Bette Midler and Jack Johnson, world music ensemble Beirut, and actors William H. Macy and Tony Danza have all been known to perform using the Webbs’ instruments.
Phyllis knows that the ukulele has a kind of power far beyond its humble size and sound. “You can’t play or hold a ukulele without really smiling and feeling good,” she says. “So we think we’re spreading happiness worldwide.”
For more information on the Magic Fluke Company, or to order an instrument, please visit: http://www.magicfluke.com.
Music performed by Mike Doerr, Sam Webb, and Ben Webb.