c.1920s Unmarked Srpuce & Koa Tiple

This tiple just sold last evening, to a lucky buyer. This is quite a nice one. It was made c.1920s (or early 1930s?) by probably Regal or Lyon & Healy. It features koa back, sides, and neck, with nice figuring throughout. The top is spruce and I've refinished the fretboard and top, (and dyed and distressed the top to look like a vintage blacktop instrument) as they were covered in a glazy overspray of newer finish... not to mention someone had "installed" a bridge in the completely wrong location (see photos lower down for 'before' pics).

This thing looks the business, definitely. Almost jazz-age cool. I've cut a new bridge from bone and installed a mandolin-style tailpiece from the same vintage. This setup gives the instrument terrific sustain and oomph with a nice clarity that is sometimes lacking in the pin/pull style bridges usual (and since removed) from this instrument.


Nice slotted headstock with ebony nut, original tuners, and ivoroid buttons.

MOP dots. This fretboard was a mess beforehand with a glazed ugly finish on it. I've stripped it, recolored it, and conditioned it... with the result being a nice, original-feeling, cozy fretboard.

Note the tortoise binding all over with multi-ply purfling to boot.

Sides. Check out how that tortoise catches the light. Very nice.


Back detail.

Figure in the koa.

Headstock back w/ivoroid buttons.

Other side.

Detail of the wonderful figure in the side koa.

Tailpiece and ivoroid end pin.

As-found condition in this photo... note the improper bridge position and overspray all over the top and fretboard. The bridge was both glued AND bolted in the wrong place...!

...with this result.

And in case anyone needs clarification: a North American tiple (tee-play) is a 10-metal strung instrument of roughly tenor uke size and tuning (gCEA or aDF#B) with strings arranged in octaves in a 2-3-3-2 pattern. There are also South American (specifically Colombian) tiples that are bigger and tuned lower to DGBE with 10 or 12 strings.


"Babagazoo" Video

Here's a video of the instrument from the last post:

c.1920s John Bencic Macedonian Tambura

Update 2016: I've owned this instrument since 2009 and over the last couple years I've ironed-out various issues with it and made it into a "real player." I was schooled when I originally posted about it as far as "what it is" and here's a primer on them. I've updated the post, photos, and description -- and will try to record a soundclip in the soon-time.

This instrument was made by John Bencic in Cleveland, Ohio and it probably dates to around 1920-1930. Since originally posting, I've worked on a number of Bencic builds and other tamburitza-family instruments, and have become much more familiar with the playing-style (very similar to Turkish saz and Greek 3-course bouzouki) and tunings.

This one originally had the uneven fret spacing (like a mountain dulcimer) that was the hallmark of the older, "Farkas" system of playing tamburitza-family instruments. I'd pulled the frets and refretted it a while back to "normal" spacing, but recently I planed the fretboard to remove warp and refretted it again to get it "perfect." I then cut a new nut, fit a parts-bin bridge, and strung it up in a traditional GG-DD tuning (the other main tuning being AA-DD) at the same pitch as a mandolin's lower two courses.

With all of the work done, this instrument gives a nice, sustained, jangly tone that sits well in a mix. When played higher-up the neck it gets a distinctly bowlback mandolin sound, too. The traditional style of playing is what suits it best -- droning and zipping around in the background of a tune and supporting both the backing-chords and the melody. Think of the rhythm bouzouki work on old Planxty albums and you'll get the idea.

The top is solid spruce and it's "domed" over the bracing (which I reglued at one point). The back is one piece and cut from some sort of hardwood. It's hard to tell with the dark finish.

Engraved, recessed tuners are par for the course with these instruments. This particular instrument happens to be quite high-grade in terms of appointments, so the tuner plate is fancy as well.

Note how I've slotted the nut for both 2x2 and 1x4. I've had this strung both ways but always return to the traditional 2x2 in the end.
I added side-dots as well. The board is ebony and the new frets are medium stock. This has a 24" scale and the strings are gauged 18/18 and 11/11 for GG-DD tuning.

Yes, the pearl inlay is intense and gorgeous!

Even now the colors are eye-catching, but when this was made all the trim must have been a bright, popping, feast for the eyes with highly-saturated greens, yellows, and oranges.

I removed a mandolin-style tailpiece some time ago and restring it with simple through-holes. This let the decorative touches bee seen and also simplified the whole mounting.

Nice, huh? The flattened back allows it to sit in the lap a little more comfortably than your average round-back Greek bouzouki or similar.

The neck is maple with a deep U-shape. This is necessary as the thin nut width would otherwise cramp my fingers like mad if the neck were super thin, too.


c.1960 Harmony Baritone Ukulele

Here's the bari enjoying a nap in our yard with its friends the "wee li'l purple flowers."

But seriously, this is a lightly played c.1960s Harmony baritone uke, all-solid mahogany, rosewood fretboard and bridge, and perfect playability. I've polished up the frets, cleaned up the dried out fretboard, and set it up along with some Aquila nylguts. The sound? Sustained, sweet, mellow, but good volume. The ideal old Chicago baritone uke. I like it.

The satin finish is in really good shape -- a few nicks and scuffs on the neck and some pick/strum surface wear, but otherwise very clean.

Rosewood fretboard w/brass frets (polished) and faux MOP dots.

Soundhole with simple rosette. Action is perfect.

Rosewood bridge, all good.

Headstock with 1960s-style Harmony logo.

Note the nice color and grain to the mahogany.


Original cream tuners.



Tuners again.

Good neck join.


Note the cool tortoise binding. Always loved that feature on these guys.

End join.

And the original case!


c.1965 Unmarked Portuguese Guitar

This is an absolutely gorgeous (in sound and looks and construction) Portuguese guitar that I recently restored (fret work and setup and some new improvised hangers for the tuners) and am now delightfully strumming each time I pass by the store's instrument rack. I've strung it slightly heavier than normal for a lower tuning than the usual DABEAB. I've tuned it ADGCEA (a fourth above guitar) for more intuitive playing on this side of the ocean. It would sound great in traditional tuning, too. This thing has such a rich palette and would be totally suitable to any kind of tuning you could dream up with 12 strings and 6 courses.

It came with a faux-leather tennis-gear style case, too, which is always a stroke of luck because these guys are hard to find cases for. The woods are all-solid, the construction is very nice, and after setup it plays deliciously -- under 1/8" at the 12th fret. It's silky and has that very radiused "modern" feel typical of Portuguese guitars.

Original brass watch-key tuners. Bone nut & nicely carved bone bridge. (Rosewood?) fretboard.

If you look closely you can see two brass hinges I've modified to hang the tuners from. The usual friction-held tongue clasp was slipping off and this feels much, much safer to me.

Nickel-silver frets in great shape.

Soundhole with nice "rope" binding. Check out that bone bridge.

Overview. Large, wide body is typical... and gives this a resounding, super-sustained, super-big tone.



Back... lovely wood!

Really glowing wood on the back/sides/neck.



Side detail.

Side detail...

And brass tailpiece.