1/29/2010

c.1925 Stromberg-Voisinet Hawaiian "Parlor" Guitar


Heck yeah! What a cool guitar! You can find these fellows off and on in online auctions, but they're usually totaled or full of basket-case issues. This one's in quite fine condition and plays nice and easy, with the only apparent damage being a 1 1/2" long hairline that I've repaired on the back. In addition, I've reglued (and recut) the bridge and installed a new saddle, as well as the usual cleaning, setup, yack, yack.

These were made by Stromberg-Voisinet (later Kay) in the 1920s (and I think 1930s, to some extent, too?) and featurea all-solid mahogany body. The neck looks like some indeterminate hardwood. The sound is open, bluesy, and balanced, but lacks the big warmth of a spruce top instrument. It's a sound that suits fingerpickers and fingerstyle players quite well, as muddy notes on a typical spruce top become clear and ringing on one of these guys.


Headstock is very cool, with a slotted-style for the tuners, but with the slots only going halfway through the headstock. This certainly adds strength and an upscale look. Headstock is bound in celluloid.


Fretboard is covered in white pearloid with black pearloid or black MOP dots (not sure which). It's bound with white celluloid and sports some original, a bit worn, but in good shape nickel-silver frets.


The pickguard is celluloid and is actually inlaid into the wood like old mandolins! But, of course, time has raised it just a hair on the soundhole side where you can feel it raised a bit.


This bridge is actually rosewood, and I've reglued it. For whatever reason, makers would often stain or paint their rosewood bridges to look like ebony... which is what has happened here. I've re-profiled the top of it to be lower and installed a new fret-saddle at a compensated angle which has helped intonation. I've re-stained the part that I modified so as to appear as original as possible. The bridge pins are all original except for one, which I pulled from my parts bin and trimmed to fit.


Of course, the coolest part about this guitar is that super-awesome decal they splattered all over the front, of the perfect vacation... I mean... tropical beach... far from this frigid Vermont winter... so far away... so warm...

But I digress... it also has inlaid marquetry around the edge of the body and around the soundhole, too, which is typical for this brand, but looks quite the ticket.


Top down.


Back.


Headstock rear. Nice original tuners.


Comfortable v-neck with heel cap. While there appears to be paper-thin separation for the last 1/4" at the heel, it's an illusion, as the dovetailed neck slots for these only went about 2/3 of the way down from the top, with the remaining bit unglued.


Back is one piece of mahogany, just like the top, and has some purty grain here and there.


Side.


Detail.


Other side.


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Here you can see the neat looks of the bound headstock.

c.1925 Regal Tenor Guitar

This is a nice and healthy Regal tenor guitar that happened to only need a fresh nut, bridge, and some back cracks repaired. It plays nice, sounds fantastic, and feels great in the paws. Good character about this fellow. Spruce top, birch back, sides, and neck, with some sort of dyed hardwood fretboard -- pearwood or some other fruitwood?



New tuners, too. Forgot to mention that. The headstock logo is actually inlaid, but has started to crackle a bit. Still nice and legible, though!


Fretboard with original nickel-silver frets in great shape.


As the sort-of originators of the tenor guitar, Regal pioneered the floating-bridge-and-tailpiece style, with a 12th-fret join like typical period "parlor" guitars. Combined with an elongated "terz" size body (roughly 3/4 size for the time) it gives these guitars a unique, very different look, compared to a modern tenor guitar. Many folks make the mistake that these are baritone ukes, but they most definitely are not. The baritone still had about 20-25 years to go before it was "invented."


This tenor has the very nice typically-Regal inlaid rosette of multicolored "herringbone" marquetry. Back and top are both bound in black celluloid, which looks nice and sharp. While testing it out, I've had it tuned to gCEA like a ukulele, with string gauges of: 23w, 32w, 14, 10. This gives it sort of a "half a tiple" sound, giving it more bottom end than a uke and the sparkly high end of a regular C-tuned tenor guitar. It also sounds absolutely beautiful fingerpicked or flatpicked, both, and you can use all those fancy uke chords you uke players have gotten used to.


Bridge is a new rosewood mandolin bridge, recut to fit. The original was cracked.


Nice honey-colored finish, which is unusual for these guys: typically with birch back and sides on Regals you'll have them stained a red color.


Back.


New Grover pegs work just fine.


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Yes, it was a pretty big dryness separation, for sure!


Tailpiece. I like that both ball-end and loop strings can be put through these. Makes finding different string types much easier. I personally like D'Addario "flat top" phosphor bronzes, for my steel-string instruments, as string noise pretty much disappears while you still have a sweet, sparkling tone, though they're simply not offered in loop ends.


Side.


Other side!

1/27/2010

c.1925 American Conservatory & c.1925 Slingerland Banjo Ukuleles


A two-for-one today! On the left is the Lyon & Healy-built American Conservatory banjo uke, with its 8" pot and concert (15") scale length, and on the right is a soprano scale length Slingerland-built (but unmarked) banjo uke. They share similar construction, but are built by entirely different firms, and when it comes down to playability, feel, and tone, they're miles apart, but both great players with great sound.


From the back.


Ah, yes, the elusive 1920s "concert scale" banjo uke: sought after because of its larger head, roomier fretboard, and more "strident" sound -- due to the fact that because of thicker strings and a longer scale, it puts more tension on the head, giving it a very active, smooth, and responsive tone. It's essentially like playing your concert uke, but banjo-ized.


Headstock. This is the typical Lyon & Healy "shield" headstock shape, and it can be seen on a lot of period Washburn ukes, too.


MOP dots.

I used to own a much fancier version, also American Conservatory brand, of this model banjo uke. My old one was made of walnut all over with marquetry inlay in the rim, super-clean hardware, a small metal resonator backplate, an ebony fretboard, and in general a "cut above" look. This one is like the "player's" version, stripped down and simple but with all the excellent qualities of tone, feel, and playability that the other had. The bottom line? Love it.


..and it's got a way-cool head, too, signed by the owner's compatriots.


...and not only on the top, on the back, too!


The longer scale and bigger pot give this banjo uke an elegant look with a bit more "balance" in terms of weight than you'd expect with most thicker-rimmed banjo ukes. At the same time, L&H managed to make it weigh slightly less than the Slingerland you'll see below in this post.


Original bakelite-buttoned L&H tuners.


Rim back.


...more signatures.


Simple tailpiece.


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And now for the Slingerland uke...


This is a very friendly-looking and feeling banjo uke, with a poppy, direct tone, that feels great for clawhammer and old-time tunes.


Fretboard and headstock veneer are some sort of... mahogany? Perhaps? Not really sure.


MOP dots, lightly used frets.


Brand new thick head gives the uke an overall warmer tone than if it had a thin, excessively-responsive one.


New Grover bridge which I've recut.


Back.


Rimback.


Another simple, practical tailpiece.


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