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Aug 12, 2020 - 10:27:35 AM
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346 posts since 8/1/2008

Hey everyone,
This was given to me by my mother-in-law, it belonged to my late father-in-law. At first, I thought it was a toy or novelty. But, it's actually well made and I'm pretty sure it is a uke. Needs a new head, 7", calfskin I assume is the way to go. It has steel strings now, would nylgut work better? Need a bridge, two foot maybe? What scale, soprano? Frets have been leveled quite a bit, may attempt a re-fret, I have the material. Edges of the fretboard are pretty rough, so they could use some attention. On the hardware, any suggestions, replace the parts that are available, clean it up best as possible, or just leave it as is? No info accept the sticker on back of the neck - STANDARD APPROVED? My main goal is to get it in playable condition, it's actually pretty well made. I've seen several similar on the net, any info or suggestions will be greatly appreciated. Thanks








 

Aug 12, 2020 - 11:26:03 AM
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ekvin

USA

71 posts since 3/22/2017

It's a nice banjo uke. I can't see any problems with the head, but you can stretch a new calf or goatskin easily.

Tuning is gCEA, and Aquila Nylgut does a fine job. I'd get rid of the steel strings. If you want to go with the low G, you can use a guitar Concert D string (Silver wound over silk).

I'd say to make it playable and not worry about collectors value. You might want to replace the tuning pegs if they don't hold.

Aug 12, 2020 - 11:26:25 AM
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2438 posts since 3/30/2008
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A good combination for a banjo uke is a skin head & nylon strings, ( there are many choices, brands & materials. Steel strings have worn down the frets). Original parts should be cleaned as well as possible, even if they retain an old look. Perhaps a levelling & crowning could improve the frets rather than replacement. Many of these inexpensive instruments had fretboards that can easily crack, splinter & crumble during repair work.

This instrument was probably distributed by Tonk Bros, but they subcontracted w/ many different makers.  I thought it was reminiscent of a Harmony built product.

Edited by - tdennis on 08/12/2020 11:33:13

Aug 12, 2020 - 11:40:21 AM
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3270 posts since 5/29/2011

Grover still makes a two footed tenor banjo bridge which would work fine on this. Open up the string slots with a three cornered file or a torch tip cleaner for nylon strings.
As for the scale, measure from the nut to the twelfth fret and double it. If the measurement is close to 13 inches then it is a soprano, 15 inches is a concert, and 17 inches is a tenor. Yours looks to be either a soprano or concert. Soprano ukes were more popular when this was built. For some reason concert models seem more popular now.

Aug 12, 2020 - 11:49:36 AM

346 posts since 8/1/2008

Thanks for all the info. The head does have a couple of small rips. I've seen skin heads come in different thicknesses, would you go thick or thin on this? The fret job would probably be a little much. And cleaning the hardware was the way I was leaning. Thanks again

Aug 12, 2020 - 1:56 PM
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7581 posts since 8/28/2013

I would guess that the rough fretboard edges are due to the neck/fretboard wood shrinking slightly over the years, so the fret ends protrude. Those ends can be carefully filed down, which should smooth things out.

I agree with tdennis about avoiding an entire re-fret, due to the reason he cites. These generally have thin and weak boards made from dyed woods, and the dye, being acidic, makes them very unstable over the years. Fret work on something like this should be limited to leveling and crowning, or if absolutely needed, should be handled by someone with lots of experience and the abilty to repace the entire fingerboard should fragile wood prove to be too much of a problem.

Aug 12, 2020 - 2:15:11 PM

271 posts since 4/11/2019

I have always used medium. Maybe with a little tea to get the white color toned down a bit.

Aug 12, 2020 - 2:16:18 PM

271 posts since 4/11/2019

The next one I do I want to find a hide that still has the hair on it, just for novelty's sake.

Aug 12, 2020 - 2:40:23 PM

kww

USA

310 posts since 6/21/2008

quote:
Originally posted by KYSLOWFINGERS

Thanks for all the info. The head does have a couple of small rips. I've seen skin heads come in different thicknesses, would you go thick or thin on this? The fret job would probably be a little much. And cleaning the hardware was the way I was leaning. Thanks again


I use a medium goatskin (none of those fancy Jamaican handselected things, just the standard from Elderly) and I'm happy with it on similarly constructed Concertone.

Aug 12, 2020 - 2:48:12 PM
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189 posts since 4/17/2015

Banjo Ukuleles vary quite a bit, but most vintage ones seem to be in the soprano (uke) range.

Gibson UB-1, is on the small side, with a 6" head and around 12 1/2" scale, but 14" scales are common as well (Gibson, Bacon, Slingerland etc). I have a Gretsch with 13 1/4" scale. Both seven and eight inch heads are common on "better" ones. but there was quite a range, with some smaller and some larger!

Some instruments did actually come with wire strings originally (such as Gibson and Ludwig apparently) but it is generally regarded as a good idea to use nylon or other synthetic strings, which can give a great tone.

There are strings which are marketed as "banjo ukulele" strings, but I don't know what the difference between them and regular uke stings- they do need to be a little longer.

I personally prefer bridges without a cap- plain maple with two feet.
I have gotten the ones I use from Clifford Essex, in Great Britain, where banjo ukes have been quite popular
cliffordessex.net/index.php?_a...uctId=979
cliffordessex.net/index.php?_a...uctId=272
(with the second bridge I have sometimes cut off the ends to lighten it up even further, and to make it resemble the early Grover bridges from the twenties, or used them out of the box as well.)
These are all very nice bridges.

1/2 and 5/8 inch bridges, as on other banjos, are standard sizes- the height you will require will depend on your instrument, its neck angle, and so on.

If you use one of the Grover tenor banjo bridges, as suggested and as many do, you may wish to take down the meat of the bridge by sanding it down on the side to lighten it up a bit.

And as mentioned above by "Culloden",the torch tip cleaners work well for the bridge and nut slots, even if you have specialty "luthiers' files, and especially if you don't! They are cheap- I bought my set on eBay. I don't remember what they are actually intended for (welding gear I guess), but they are a good tool to have for this task! They are cheap- one up now at $1.88, or best offer, w free shipping (most more expensive though) Probably a Harbor Freight thing as well.

A tip on mounting skin heads, from John Croft, author of "All About the Banjo Ukulele"- wrap the rim with cling wrap/saran wrap or such to prevent staining of the new hide. and the remove it afterwards (even cut it away underneath to get equal drying.) I have mounted many heads over the years and never had this problem, and with the next I one did the head was ruined. I guess if there is a metal surface not much of an issue, but with that one it was a big problem. Many banjo ukes have the skin in direct contact with the wooden rim, and on this one I got a nasty looking reddish brown bleed about an inch out. Mr. Croft illustrated his like you would put the wrap on a bowl of leftovers, over the top, but I suppose you could simply wrap around the rim.

I probably would prefer a "medium" thickness head, or thinner, if you have the choice, and not a heavy one. A thin one might be easier to mount, because of clearances.
Other than that, just like mounting any skin head, but lots smaller, and perhaps a bit easier.

Best wishes with your new instrument!

Aug 12, 2020 - 3:06:23 PM

189 posts since 4/17/2015

Here are a couple of other sources for calfskin banjo heads, which might be of interest:

Intermountain Guitar and Banjo, in Salt Lake City, Utah. $20 each, or six for $100
guitarandbanjo.com/inventory/S...2C%20Misc. I bought some of these last year, and they are pretty nice!

Another source is Bob Smakula in WV. He has one of the largest selections of synthetic heads, but also has skin heads.. His economy heads are well priced, under $20, and he has stocked "premium" (expensive) heads as well.
smakula.com/BanjoHeads.html

Certain either of these would please as well!

Aug 12, 2020 - 3:59:28 PM

kww

USA

310 posts since 6/21/2008

Looking at the pictures, which are unfortunately a tad fuzzy, this doesn't look like it's set up for gCEA tuning. Do the strings uniformly get lighter as you go from the uppermost string to the lowermost? Or are the lightest strings on the outside, with the two center ones heavier?

Aug 13, 2020 - 4:18:34 AM

346 posts since 8/1/2008

Thanks again everyone for all the great info. Looks like 6-1/2" to the twelfth fret, so must be a soprano. Kevin, the 4th string is the largest, they descend from that. I'll set it up in standard uke tuning. Not in a hurry, may be in the fall before it's complete. I want to clean and put on a new head prior to measuring for the bridge. I will definitely post after pictures. Thanks again for all the help!!!




Aug 13, 2020 - 6:07:04 AM

kww

USA

310 posts since 6/21/2008

quote:
Originally posted by KYSLOWFINGERS

Looks like 6-1/2" to the twelfth fret, so must be a soprano. Kevin, the 4th string is the largest, they descend from that. I'll set it up in standard uke tuning.


If it's set up for GDAE tuning (like a mandolin), which it looks like from the string weights, it would be a tango banjo. Shame to turn one into an ordinary uke, but it all depends on what tunings you can play.

Aug 13, 2020 - 7:54:54 AM

7581 posts since 8/28/2013

quote:
Originally posted by kww
quote:
Originally posted by KYSLOWFINGERS

Looks like 6-1/2" to the twelfth fret, so must be a soprano. Kevin, the 4th string is the largest, they descend from that. I'll set it up in standard uke tuning.


If it's set up for GDAE tuning (like a mandolin), which it looks like from the string weights, it would be a tango banjo. Shame to turn one into an ordinary uke, but it all depends on what tunings you can play.


I think it's a banjo uke that someone in the past mistakenly set up as a quasi-tango.

Aug 13, 2020 - 8:06:16 AM

271 posts since 4/11/2019

I agree with the "mistakenly" part.

I did it once to a similar Gretsch soprano. Like this one, it was built like a tank and had no problem holding the tension. But that thing was a SCREAMER.

Aug 13, 2020 - 10:12:42 AM

kww

USA

310 posts since 6/21/2008

quote:
Originally posted by G Edward Porgie
quote:
Originally posted by kww
quote:
Originally posted by KYSLOWFINGERS

Looks like 6-1/2" to the twelfth fret, so must be a soprano. Kevin, the 4th string is the largest, they descend from that. I'll set it up in standard uke tuning.


If it's set up for GDAE tuning (like a mandolin), which it looks like from the string weights, it would be a tango banjo. Shame to turn one into an ordinary uke, but it all depends on what tunings you can play.


I think it's a banjo uke that someone in the past mistakenly set up as a quasi-tango.


Why "mistakenly"? While rare, tango banjos of this scale and appearance were very real things, and anyone that made them would make an exact equivalent uke banjo. Only way I know to tell would be a very careful examination of the nut and bridge and try to decide whether they were original or modified ... no easy trick, that. Of course, if the instrument is just buzzing away with mandolin strings on a uke nut, that would be a good sign that it was done "mistakenly".

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