1920s Gibson UB-3 Banjo Ukulele

A good customer/acquaintance of mine sent this cute little thing in for consignment. It's a 20s UB-3 which puts it right up the food chain of Gibson banjo ukes. In this case that specs-out to an 8" rim, full 13 7/8" scale length, and flatback resonator. Most of the hardware is original, though the tailpiece and two hooks/nuts are unoriginal.

I did a light setup on it which included making a new (more attractive) nut, reseating a couple of frets just slightly, adjusting the bridge, head, and coordinator rod, and cleaning it up. It plays spot-on with a new set of Martin fluorocarbon strings and sounds... vaudeville! It's got a big, projecting sound that's awesome for those closed-position 20s/30s chord changes. I can imagine doing triplets all night long and fading into slack-jawed joy.


1940s Strad-O-Lin A-style Archtop Mandolin

When it rains, it pours, huh? I worked on a 1941 Strad-O-Lin Jr. for myself a couple weeks ago and then today in walks this pretty little thing out of the blue: the next step up! Compared to the Jr. model (which is from around the same time... though this one has no date-stamp), this one has a slightly wider, less-deep body and a solid spruce top rather than laminate maple all around. It also gets a few more frets, though the scale length (13 3/4") and overall feel is very similar.

My only work on this one included gluing-up a tiny hairline crack above the treble f-hole, gluing a tiny side-seam separation, a light fret level/dress, and general setup and cleaning. I also made a replacement pickguard from a broken 40s archtop guitar pickguard (it looks the part). This thing sounds the business. Both the Jr. and this guy sound excellent but this has a bit more oomph for band work and a bit more crisp zing on the top end.

Workshop: Archtop/Fretless Bass Conversion

While resetting the neck on this archtop, I decided to do a wild project and convert it into a fretless acoustic bass guitar. After hodge-podging some stuff around the workshop to test out ideas, I felt it was time to "do it right" and make a gigging-useful instrument to replace my "double bass" needs. This is it... and it exceeded my expectations. It can record acoustically (and practice acoustically) but it sounds sweet plugged-in.

My mods: new fretless rosewood board, new nut, headstock alterations for 4 tuners, mandolin-style tailpiece, modified cello bridge to replace an archtop-style bridge, and some new LaBella "Hofner bass" flatwound strings. These have smaller wrappings at the headstock end so guitar-style tuners suffice. They also sound a lot like spongy steel double bass strings: very fundamental. The recording above is "straight in" and the K&K pickup sound has not been altered. Once you put it through a good bass amp you can sculpt it even more.


1972 Martin D-28 Dreadnought Guitar

This is a customer's sturdy old workhorse that's been in a few times for adjustments and whatnot and came back this time for light setup, bridge pin-hole work, and a new K&K pickup install. It's already had recent work done by another shop which included a pretty steep neck reset, refret, and new bridge and saddle. This had the action decent but it still needed some going-through when I first saw this guitar (a few months ago).

Since it was "staying over" for the last few days, this is the first time I got to snag some photos. It's a nice instrument and despite being 70s (and thus built a bit more "stoutly"), it has plenty of that old Martin charm: it's a rosewood D. It's a definite sound... and any old 40s/50s "country chorder" would be proud of the way this one handles and sounds.

Workshop: Fixing Worn Bridge Pin Holes & Worn Bridge Plate

So, this is a 70s Martin D-28 that's been having tuning stability issues related to worn bridge pin holes and a somewhat worn bridge plate. Basically, the ball-ends are slipping all over the place. Normally the "solution" is to install a new bridge plate. Well... this one has its original plate intact and a rosewood "plate cap" added already. Neither of those are helping to solve the problem of worn pin holes that have also been mucked-about by a half-round file at some point in their life as well.

Want a quick way to fix this that'll last for a long, long time? First tape the underside of the bridge plate with some blue painter's tape (see how it's blocking the holes above)...

Review: Dunlop Prime Tone Picks

I'm a huge fan of Blue Chip picks, but I've found that I have a tendency to lose them in pockets (or worse) for a while at shows and jam sessions and get frustrated when I can't find them for recording time. So -- rather than potentially lose $35+ picks from distraction, I stashed them in my drawer for "home and recording use only."

Since then, I've been looking around to find something that can come close enough to the CT-55s (big, heavy, triangular style) I've been using most of the time these days. I'll tell you what -- the above Dunlop "Prime Tone" picks come really close. They're a tiny tad brighter but have much of the same thick, rich, powerful response one gets with Blue Chips. It's not surprising, though, since they're made out of my #2 favorite pick material: Dunlop's "Ultex" stuff... which I use in various gauges for everything aside from guitar and mandolin.

The caveat is that these Prime Tones come in 2 flavors: "low profile" and semi-transparent and a smoother, brown, opaque format. The "low profile" format is not inspiring. Skip it! Bright, icy, thin. I use it only to liven up a really dull mandolin from time to time... but even that is questionable as you lose bottom-end response. The "standard" or opaque, Blue Chip-looking-pick, is excellent. At $2 a pop it's a lot easier on the wallet, too, if it goes missing. I can tell right away these will be my standard "gig" pick because of that.


Phone Back

Well, it looks like the "rainy season" and "sun season" finally bleached our old lines enough to crackle them all up! Swapped a new line in and, hey presto, faster internet and working phones.

You can now call me "ringing off the hook" once again... though I've gotta say, a two-day vacation from ring-ring-ring was somewhat nice!

In other news, our older desktop computer (nice old iMac) is finally starting to bite the dust hardware-wise. Look forward (soon) to some inventory gushing out from my reserves to make up for that loss!


Phone Out

For some reason, our phone is out but our DSL line is still working so I'm receiving emails just fine. I'll let you know when the phone is back in service, but in the meantime I'll be watching my inbox like a hawk.


1981 Daion Mugen Mark I Dreadnought Guitar

I worked on a 1980 Mugen back in 2011 and later traded-on that one to a friend of mine who's a Daion fiend. He's been using that guitar a lot ever since and found the Mugen in this post shortly after getting that one from me. This second Mugen has been kicking around his collection and finally made its way over here for a K&K pickup install and a good setup.

It's a good guitar! Of course, I expected as much, but couldn't quite tell when it had a leaned-over saddle, spotty setup, and dead strings. Daions were made in Japan (via Yamaki) and after they've been setup decently, I've liked every one I've handled. They're simply well-made, practical guitars, and tend to not have wear-and-tear issues. They're stable. The Mugen Mark Is were sort-of their entry dreadnought acoustic but are quite above-average for an entry guitar. They're every bit as good as entry-level American makes from the time, or better.

Vermont Life Note #3

Well! This has been a little bit of a crazy week. It's already Saturday and this is my first real "work day" of the week. We have our off-days on Monday and Tuesday and because of wild weather (rain for the last several weeks on Mon & Tues) I took Wednesday "off" this week to build a swingset for the girls as it was a gorgeous, sunny day. Seems like something that'd go quick... but then you have to cut the trees, fit them all together, and cement it all in placey. Sheesh! The "pyramids" on the sides turn into tipis with some fabric covering, in case you're wondering.

Thursday then got eaten up, then, by a newspaper interview (a good type of eaten) and then in-shop customers and band practice (it's now midsummer: time for shows all over the place). Friday... I woke up with a stomach bug and proceeded to live the rest of the day in a half-sleep blackout. Today... good again, so back to work. I'm sorry to anyone who's been trying to get in touch, but that's the way things work around these parts!


2014 Kiwaya KTS-95 Flamed Koa Soprano Uke

This pretty little Japanese-made uke was shipped to me for a bit of setup work that included a new bone nut and saddle as well as some adjustment to the string ramps at the bridge. It's a beautiful instrument and, tonally, reminds me very much of a 40s or 50s Kamaka. It's a really pretty, shimmery sort of sound that evokes "island" way more than the Martinesque Kiwayas I've otherwise heard on the net. I half-wonder what it'd sound like with clear (rather than black) strings.

The model number "KTS-95" suggests the purpose of the build: this is Kiwaya's 95th anniversary uke. The Uke Site still has some info up (click here) on this model, though the listing for a 12-fret joint is incorrect: this has a 14-fret joint and I find that interesting in itself. The extra room is nice, though I find my hand playing over the end of the neck rather than over the upper bout because of that. The build quality is right up there with the nice Collings ukes that I've played.


1910s Gibson Army-Navy Pancake Mandolin

I've worked-on and sold a couple of Alrite mandolins but I've never done-over an Army-Navy. They're "almost" the same instrument save a much-downgraded trim option on the Army-Navy. This model is even more bare-bones than an A-Jr. I also say "almost" like an Alrite because the top bracing on this is simple ladder-style -- one right under the bridge and one under the fretboard extension. On the Alrites there was a curious Y/V tonebar bracing. I have to admit that this Army-Navy sounds a lot better, though I suppose the Alrites had more clarity/crispness to their sound. I'm not sure about dating but I'm almost certain this was made between 1918-1920.

This instrument came in via a customer for work and that work included: replacement back brace, board level and refret, fitting a new bridge, installation of a new headstock veneer, and then a few items the owner didn't know about. Those were: lube/clean the tuners, modify the supplied bridge, and reglue about 1/2 of the top/side and back/side seams. There was an especially poor repair to the endblock area that really, really needed to be addressed.