Portland-based luthier Mark Roberts, who builds custom ukuleles recognized for their tone and signature side sound ports, got quite a surprise in March when he received a message through his website regarding a new commission.
It was from Coca-Cola’s advertising agency, Wieden+Kennedy, asking Roberts to create a ukulele to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the iconic Coca-Cola bottle.
But that wasn’t the most surprising bit, Roberts writes via email. Next they told him “the instrument is going to Warren Buffett . . . and we need it in 28 days.” The 84-year-old Buffett, who has been playing ukulele since college, is Coca-Cola’s largest shareowner, holding $16 billion in stock. Watch Buffett play his new uke in the video below.
Roberts went straight to work, sourcing Carpathian spruce from Romania, old-growth Indian rosewood, reclaimed Honduran mahogany, African blackwood, and Malagasy ebony to build the tenor ukulele in about five weeks. The headstock features an American holly inlay of the Coca-Cola logo, the soundhole is shaped like a Coca-Cola bottle, and the top is coated in a “Coke red,” high-gloss lacquer finish. A red fiberglass case was custom-made to match and is inscribed with the note: “From one icon to another.”
Buffett played the ukulele at Coca-Cola’s annual shareholders meeting in April, performing the company’s classic 1971 jingle, “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke.” (Weeks later, the Mad Men finale paid tribute to the landmark TV commercial featuring that song.) A representative from Wieden+Kennedy, who surprised Buffett with the ukulele at his Berkshire Hathaway office in Omaha, Nebraska, says the billionaire was “so excited” to receive it. Roberts adds, “Weiden+Kennedy recognized that I don’t build your grandfathers’ ukuleles, and it was a good fit.”
In addition to the Coca-Cola uke, Roberts was recently commissioned by Burton Snowboards to replicate a Martin D-45 guitar neck at three-and-a-half times scale to celebrate a new Burton-Martin collaboration snowboard.
The giant guitar neck was exhibited at the SnowSports Industries America trade show, and is now on display at the Martin Guitar Museum in Nazareth, Pennsylvania.