9/15/2009

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.


Detail.


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.


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.

9/14/2009

"Babagazoo" Video

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

c.1920? John Bencic Macedonian Tambura


Update: Thanks to Mr. Craig and also Ms. Liesbeth for informing me of the proper name of this instrument: this is a Macedonian tambura which uses the "old Farkaš system" of tuning -- with uneven fret spacing and different tuning (and spacing, for that matter) of the strings. In this way it is quite dissimilar to more modern instruments of the same family.

This was a strange catch for me but I've been keeping my eye on old Eastern European instruments for a while now... and this lovely little gem was made by John Bencic (a famed tamburitza maker) out of Cleveland, Ohio... somewhere in the early 20th century.

This one struck the right "chord" and I went ahead and picked it up. Outwardly, it appears to be like many of the old tamburitza family instruments favored by Hungarian, Bulgarian, Croatian, etc. bands. On closer inspection it's more like a Turkish saz with irregular fretting (like a mountain dulcimer). It has four strings in two pairs, hence a two-course instrument. I've strung it with a pair of 014s and a pair of 010s and tuned it to G and D an octave and a note below a mandolin's A and E courses.

I am utterly at a loss as to what to call this instrument. Bonnie's suggested calling it a "babagazoo" and that works for me for the moment. Following up on the web for a couple hours yielded many similar instruments (there are lots and lots of lute-shaped long-necked instruments like this throughout Europe and the Mid East) in construction but none near so nice in build quality and style... and refinement, for that matter.


This has obviously been played! The fretboard shows wear all over the top course's strings, hence the obvious use of the other pair as drones (typical for this type of instrument). That said, the bizarre fretting gives a dulcimer quality to the melody string and many interesting chords and sounds available if you use fretting on the drone string. It's quite easy to pull off Planxty-style licks (Smenco Horo anyone?) once you get used to the fretboard and the feel of the instrument.

In short? I love the sound of this thing. I could instantly play about half my melodic banjo -ey songs on it (albeit stripped down) in short order.


This is a beautifully inlaid ebony pickguard... and all that trim is pearl with (celluloid? bone? ivory?) stems.


The soundhole rosette is formed from several layers of very pretty purfling material and the bridge is a nicely cut piece of bone.


More inlay at the tailpiece (the tailpiece is not original as different screw holes were found under it). It covers up the decorative flourish at the end, too, which is unfortunate... but it does keep me from snagging my hand on the wound ends!


Nicely engraved German-silver tuner plates with bone buttons and decorative tuner shafts. These are similar to the tuners used on old German zithers. Bone nut, too, and ebony board.


Back... neck is one long piece joined skillfully to the back, which is carved from one piece of (birch?) wood.


Tuner detail... so Staufferish. The strap hooks were there already, if you wondered... :)


Neck join.

9/10/2009

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.


Detail.


Original cream tuners.


Back.


Detail.


Tuners again.


Good neck join.


Side.


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


End join.


And the original case!

9/06/2009

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.


Detail.


Headstock.


Back... lovely wood!



Really glowing wood on the back/sides/neck.


Again...


Side.


Side detail.


Side detail...


And brass tailpiece.