Holiday Update

Hello everyone! I'd just like to mention that for folks watching this blog, that I will again update in the New Year with plenty of new and old projects that I am (and have) worked on. I have some very exciting projects forthcoming that will have proper before and afters.

Thanks again for reading and I hope you've all had as good a holiday time as I've had! Both Bonnie and I got to see a good number of old friends we haven't seen in a while... very busy!


c.1920 Vega Fancy Bowlback Mandolin

Sunday special, two posts this evening! We're snowed in to an insane depth here in the wonderful Green (white? snowy?) Mountains and it keeps coming down... it's been three days at it and I fear it will continue until nightfall tomorrow. Anyhow! You're in luck, because I can't go and stargaze tonight!

I just finished this excellent Vega bowlback for a local customer. She was going to have me fix it up to sell so she could put the money into a different instrument (or food, considering this economy!) but after I cleaned it up and set it up proper, I think she may hold on to it, which is what my voice would say: "You're not gonna get the value back that it has as a player, if you sell it for some greenbacks!" Action's nicely below 1/8" at the 12th with no buzzing and it has a cozy u-shape neck for fast fingers. The only issue with this mandolin is that some tomfool used a really gross brownish some-sort-of-glue to "repair" binding/top separation on the left side of the top in the above photo. This hurts value, but from a couple feet one doesn't notice it.

Ivoroid tuner buttons in recessed tuner housing, bone nut, ebony fretboard, rosewood peghead overlay. Style, sophistication!

Abalone green and pearl galore! Gorgeous, tasteful inlay on this one. It's not too gaudy like upper-end Lyon & Healys from the same time... just the right amount of spit and polish! Those strings are phosphor bronze, gauged 024-008... she likes a light touch, and even with my lowering the action to buttery goodness (as good as it gets) the tension of something heavier might not be her thing. They're also closer to period gauges, which were lighter than our usual flatback mandolin lights now.

Nice stamped tailpiece and binding.

Glory behold the rosewood back!

...which is in pristine shape.

Tuner backplate with nice engraving/stamping.

Bottom's up!

Label. Oh, zithers, huh? And bandurrias? I'd like a few more of those!

Gleaming now! What a tarnished and yucky old mess this mandolin was before a thorough cleaning and de-gunking.

And a nice profile, too! And there you go, a little gem of a mandolin! Very springy tone, full of sustain, brilliant with rich lows and sparkly highs. Just what you'd expect of a Vega.

c.1930 Regal Parlor Guitar - Part 1

Here's what will be a very becoming guitar when it's all done-up and fixed. I figured I'd show you a glimpse of the "usual work" that goes into fixing up a typical old parlor. This is a Regal-built floral stencil in "concert" size for the time, which was probably about c.1930 or so, with really fun multicolored inlay and nice contrastingly-white binding. The top is spruce, (and very thankfully, crack-free) the back, sides, and neck are all birch. It's ladder-braced in a | / O | pattern (thick bridge plate, transverse, soundhole, upper bout brace), but has had some rough times. It has the evidence (typical) of being stored at tension in probably a damp area, as the top has sunk a little and the bridge has actually warped forwards (most likely due to the fact that it's made of dyed birch rather than ebony or rosewood).

I start by removing the bridge, which came very easily as the little glue that was left was weakened. The top has sunk a little under the soundhole, and though it will spring back a little bit after a few days of rest, it will likely remain sunken just a hair. I will be installing a couple of very lightweight balsa braces between the transverse and the thick bridge plate/brace to help counter this from happening in the future.

Here are a few nasty back-cracks that will be filled and more or less colored-in to match.

And here's a usual open seam. Now, these things alone aren't so big a deal, but they underly the problems inside: almost every brace is loose and all will need regluing.

Here's the dried-out and unhappy fretboard. These frets will be polished up, I will restore some color to the fingerboard, and then I'll oil it.

This looks like blasphemy, but each of those pieces of wood have padding under them so as not to mar the finish. Most of the weight is resting on the work-table -- not on the guitar.

Fortunately for me, the neck is straight with a tight neck-joint, but due to other "settling in" on the guitar, the bridge as it was, warped and all, would have had too high a saddle position anyhow. Here I'm in the middle of sanding it down flat and thinner for its re-glue later. The action in the end will be pretty close to factory-stock (a little under 1/8" at the 12th) and I'll get to save the original bridge in the process. I'll install a new fret-saddle as per the original configuration.

And here's some middle-of-the-road sanding on the top. In a few days, I'll probably have this guitar pretty much ready to go and most definitely a zillion-times purtier. A lot of the scuffs will be removed, scratches minimized, and after a thorough cleaning the finish should shine a lot more, too. Till then!


c.1920 Winner Banjo Ukulele

Update 2015: This type of banjo uke was made by Oscar Schmidt in New Jersey and is very similar to their later Stella-branded jo-ukes.

To continue on in the banjo theme... here's a very nice Winner banjo uke from c.1920 that I had the luck to sell to the heads of the Vermont Ukulele Society... and they luckily got the prize of the rack (at that moment in time)! This uke not only sounded great, polished up great, and had all of its original fittings (even the head tuning key!) save strings and bridge, but it also had interesting construction.

Lovely headstock with fun decal. This is a mahogany neck, methinks, with an ebony nut and original tuner pegs.

Plenty of frets to roam around on!

Original skin head, which is a Jos. B. Rogers type (infamous in old-time cults). The pot and rim are a fairly standard banjo-uke style of the time, but it's nicely spunover with a raised wooden section to act as a tonering and all the tarnish came off of the pot and parts leaving a gleaming, sleek (and looking-new) uke!

Very elegant original rosewood pegs with a nicely carved headstock. I love it when the three crests of the headstock are all at the same level.

And here's the great part that's interesting about this uke: its neck is profiled like a regular Hawaiian-style uke, thin and super-comfortable and fast-action. This is in stark contrast to typical banjo-ukes which have a thicker and heavier banjo-mandolin, thin-nut feel to them (specifically to counter the metal strings many banjo ukes used in the age). This one, however, was built specifically to use gut strings, and feels great! It's nice to have the banjo form of the uke measure up to the wooden form.

Finish is in beautiful condition, and as you can see, just glows with grain.

Perty, purty, peeeerty. Original no-knot style 5-string tailpiece, too!


Looks like maple in the pot and dowel but I wouldn't swear to it. Makes a lovely contrast with the golden ginger-ale neck.


c.1915 Supertone 5-String Banjo

Ah, spring! Remember those days? This was an instrument I worked on a long time back and enjoyed myself very much while it remained on the shop rack. It's an all-original, save bridge, tailpiece, and replacement tuner-buttons, Sears-catalog "Supertone" banjo, most likely made by Lange in the old Buckbee factory.

It has a cherry neck, cherry spunover rim, and all the simple features of a good, old-fashioned openback. The original skin head sits right on the wood above the spunover part of the pot (as opposed to my favorite spunover design, which is spun on both sides with the head resting on an 'integral' tonering) which gives this banjo a mild, mellow, but warm and still plenty-loud tone. Sounds great fingerstyle or clawed.

My repair and resto involved mostly cleaning, fret dressing, polishing of all the parts, replacement of missing parts (I managed to find a period no-knot style tailpiece to replace an ugly 1970s one that came with it, yahoo!) and general setup. I really, really like the way this banjo played... has a very nice 'bounce' to the tone, is fairly light in weight, and has the full 26" scale. Fortunately I've found myself a somewhat-earlier 'jo of similar design (and my favorite cherry! neck) to keep my lust satisfied.

Now that I look at it... I remember these tuners were probably 60s replacements. Those bushings are definitely of that vintage. The originals were more than likely the standard old Champion brands of the day. Ebony nut, dyed-pearwood veneer, and dyed-pearwood fretboard.

This one has a graceful u-shaped neck which is plenty comfy.

Pot shined up nicely, but the effects of some rust and tarnish can still be seen on some of the parts.

Headstock rear.

At the 5th... finish is still in great shape.


Pot detail -- very elegant and simple.

A banjo on a fine warm, green day!

There's the label. This would've probably been called "The Student" model, as it's No. 406.

Headstock again.

Glory shot.

Again, elegantly made.

And there's that lovely vintage no-knotesque tailpiece that fits right in. Also, the original head has yellowed a bit with age for nice patina.


Baritone Uke String Note

Well, here's a quick note: I was changing strings (the final step of resto!) on a c.1950s Lyra baritone uke today and guess what? The brand new Aquila low D string went BOOM! Lovely, a wasted set...

At any rate, I had an Aquila concert uke set (luckily) that has slightly heavier gauges than a regular uke set (I believe) and longer string length. I strung up the baritone with these, tuned it up to baritone standard (dGBE) and voila -- an all-nylgut, non-wound, re-entrant baritone uke, tuned in standard baritone uke format. It sounds great, and the string tension is just about perfect.

I like this setup better than a normal baritone at any rate, as the tone is more balanced and fingerpicking sounds lovely due to the re-entrant stringing (it sounds more "uke"-like but warm, full, and lower-register). Perhaps I will record a video of a new song I've written, so everyone can hear what I mean!

So that's my quick note for you today: when in trouble, never fear!


c.1925 Regal Koa Soprano Ukulele

Update 2012: This is made from flamed Cuban mahogany, not koa.

Here's a little compare and contrast with the Regal uke I posted a few posts down. This is my own dear little soprano uke, probably made a little earlier than the one below, as its features are folksier, less rounded, and the neck is made in the Hawaiian fashion: frets right into it, as opposed to being on a fretboard.

It's a fantastic little uke, super loud, with a warm, mellow tone that is excellent for fingerpicking (which is how I play uke for the most part). The body and neck are both made of koa, I believe, as the tone has slightly more snap than mahogany and it, well... looks like koa! I've done a number of repairs: two top cracks, reglue of the neck and all the braces, and general cleaning and setup. It was missing the 12th fret, also, which is pretty regular on non-fingerboard ukes.

The finish is original, and while a little checked and showing some crackle, it's thin and gleams very nicely. It's bound on top and soundhole with black somethingorother (celluloid) and has wonderful multicolored purfling all around the top and soundhole, as well. The soundboard has some curl in it, too!

Also, that lovely arched back has a good deal of curl.

Simple, agreeable headstock, with bakelite tuners.


Soundhole detail. Pretty cute, huh? I had regular Martins on at the time, just to hear it, but now it has some brown Worths and they've really opened up the tone quite a bit more.

Check out that flame! The colors in the photos are pretty true, too... very red/orangey little devil.