8/31/2012

c.1935 Kay-made PMICo 0-17T-Clone Tenor Guitar


This is a very odd tenor guitar and the only one I've seen like it. It's obviously Chicago-made, bears the PMICo ("Progressive Musical Instrument Company") decal at the headstock, and is essentially a ladder-braced, featherweight version of a Martin 0-17T from around the same time this was built (probably c.1935-40).

I'm pretty sure this was made by Kay for PMICo, just like this little soprano uke, for a number of reasons: the pickguard, scale length (a long 23 1/4" -- Kay favored scales longer than anyone else was using), the exact binding type and shape as used on most other 30s Kay-made guitars, and the very "Kay" end-pin type, which one can see on tons of the old Kay-made Hawaiian-themed guitars, but really not any other Chicago types from a similar time. The mahogany is also extremely similar to the general, plain-Jane stuff Kay was using on their own-brand builds at the same time and the finish is that dull, satin-y stuff (minus grain filler) they were using as well.

At any rate, my work included a bridge shave/new fret saddle, fret level/dress, new geared tuners, lots of cleaning (this had spray-paint white dots here and there and everywhere that needed scrubbing-off), and setup.


This guitar's build is incredibly light. I think this would actually make an incredible "long scale" baritone ukulele, strung with nylon/nylgut, since the top is so thin you can push it in and flex it wherever you want with a push of the finger. Amazingly, there are zero cracks!

That said, I have it strung with very light gauges for typical "Chicago" DGBE tuning -- 30w, 22w, 14, 10 -- and I wouldn't go any heavier. This is featherweight and feather-braced.

The bonus, though? The sound is huge, lush, warm, sweet, and very big. It sounds like a million bucks!


"Nobility" PMICo label. Check out the fun "shield" headstock. Original ebony nut. I've replaced the (previous) friction tuners with Kluson repro tuners. Originally, however, this had geared banjo pegs (Planetary pegs) like on higher-end banjos and Martin tenor guitars from the same time.


Dyed rosewood fretboard. Dots are celluloid. Frets are in good shape with plenty of height after dressing.


Bound top and soundhole. The pickguard is a cool, celluloid-tortoise, Martin-shaped type.


Pearl dots in original pins. New fret saddle. The original bone saddle didn't survive removal since it was glued in and fragile to begin with.

The action is 3/32" at the 12th bass & treble, which isn't 100% perfect (I like to get 1/16" on tenor guitars), but is still totally quick and fast, especially since it has extra-light strings "stock." There's a tiny, tiny bit of relief in the neck (about 1/64"), which is why it's not 1/16" on the dot on the treble.


The lower bout is 13 3/4" wide, making this guitar a little bigger than a Martin 0-17T or similar.


Nice mahogany back with thin center-strip of dyed-black wood.







New repro Kluson tuners making tuning a breeze.


Heel is good and sturdy.







Pearl-dot endpin, too.

c.1930 Kay-made Serenader 5-String Banjo


Update 2013: This banjo has come back for resale since the owner has been swapping instruments around. I just gave it a fresh setup and it's playing beautifully with 1/16" action at the 12th fret and a sweet, warm, old-time tone.

While not marked aside from the "Serenader" headstock emblem, this is a Kay (Stromberg Voisinet until 1930) build, from around 1930-1935. It's got a long 27 3/4" scale length, quick and fast neck, and a simple, but good looks. My work included a fret level/dress, some good cleaning, a new bone nut, and setup. Aside from the nut, it's otherwise entirely original.


Original skin head. This banjo has tons and tons of hooks to keep good, even tension even when half the hooks are too loose. This is, in a way, a throwback to late-1800s banjos which tended to be heavy on the hooks.

The rim is multi-ply maple with a mahogany veneer and it has a "rolled" steel tonering on the top edge for better projection and more ring. The tone is for sure, sweet and old-timey, but has a good warm punch as well, with good sustain thanks to the long scale. It plays darn easily, too, and is a good choice for a rugged take-anywhere instrument, since the build is simple but sturdy.


Fun, typically-Kay, headstock shape. The headstock veneer appears to be rosewood, but may not be.


 The "Serenader" line was a B&J sales name.


The all-metal friction pegs all match, as well, which is kinda nice. A simple screw is used as a 5th-string "pip" behind the 5th fret. Pearl dots in the board -- and the board is, I think, some sort of dyed hardwood.


Originally this rim had a pinstriping decal that went all the way around the middle of the rim, but it was deteriorated and coming up, so I tediously removed its remains and cleaned it up. Looks good, now!






Headstock rear. The neck is hard maple and has a darkened finish to mix in with the rim's mahogany exterior. It shows wear on the "playing" side of the neck, though... which adds nice patina.


Here you can see the Kay-patent "adjustable neck heel" mechanism. It makes setup a breeze, but I always caution players to install a typical "heel shim" above the brace on the fretboard side anyway, since sometimes these come loose after a year's worth of play rattling the bolt and the shim will keep it nice and rock-steady instead.



All the hardware is tarnished here and there, but the tailpiece shows most of it.

8/30/2012

c.1925 Lyon & Healy "Camp Uke" Ukulele (#2)




Update 2014: This uke has come back in trade/resale and I just did a little more work on it including a bolted modification for the neck joint (one screw like normal in the top side and a hanger bolt -- Gibson banjo style -- in the bottom) to make it more snug and a hairline crack reglue on the back. Pictures have been updated. Now back to the original post...

This is Camp Uke #2, sister to this one (click here) and identical save for minor details: this one has one or two fewer tiny hairline cracks on the top, I removed the leading edge "bridge saddle" when I set this one up, and there's a chip out of the bridge for the C string slot. Its back was also entirely reglued, too.

Tone-wise, this one is slightly mellower and sweeter but with a touch less volume than the other Camp Uke. It's still made entirely from the same monkeypod wood, but you know how "the same but different" identical-model instruments can be!



The tuners on this one are L&H patent, brass-shafted pegs as well.


This uke had roughly the same work done to it, too: fret level/dress, bridge recutting for better action, crack repairs to the top (some cleats), and back-seam regluing.


Mahogany bridge.




These CUkes are so nicely understated.




The monkeypod grain on the neck of this one is pretty!

The L&H patent pegs are among my favorite old-style friction peg designs as far as the stuff that typically came on period ukes are concerned... they're simple and durable and fit snugly, so that even if you lose an adjustment screw it's likely that the peg would still function.


Here's a pic of the overkill adjustable bolt on the inside that I added. This snugs that neck up securely and shouldn't need adjustment for a long, long, long time. The problem with many Camp Ukes is that the necks are attached with one screw in the top part of the heel that inevitably loosens up and causes action to get higher over time. This nips that in the bud.


Black celluloid binding, too, on that top edge.

c.1925 Lyon & Healy "Camp Uke" Ukulele (#1)


Mr. Snider over in Maine traded me a couple of these Lyon & Healy "Camp Ukes" a few weeks ago and now they're ready for prime-time. This is the first and while the tone on each is very similar, this one is a little louder and brighter, which would make it a great "in session" instrument.

The instrument is entirely made from monkeypod wood, which L&H really liked to use in their mid-grade and better instruments at the time. The binding on the top edge is black celluloid, as are the dots in the fretboard.


These have such a cute, almost innocent look to them, especially with the "cyclops" oval soundhole and "smile" bridge. Which reminds me... the bridge on these are both made from mahogany.

This one has a few hairline cracks on the top, some cleated, some not needing to be cleated and all glued up.


Ebony nut, nice "Camp Uke" pressed-in script.


The brass frets are all leveled and dressed.

As for other work: some seam regluing was done to the back/side join and the saddle area was also modified for better action.



These are attractive little critters because they sound just as nice and loud as a typical "guitar shaped" soprano uke, but have fret access like a banjo uke, so you can play all over the place.



This Camp Uke has more generic, period bakelite tuners, rather than the L&H patent tuners that most of these have.



The monkeypod back on this uke isn't a turned, solid-slab "resonator" style back as seen on some slightly earlier Camp Ukes, but rather is mated flush to the back and has bracing to keep it stable.





All-in-all, a great, somewhat rare uke with easy playability (slightly under 3/32" at the 12th) and nice tone and volume!