c.1920 Oscar Schmidt Koa Taropatch Ukulele Part One

Here's something you see once in a blue moon: an Oscar Schmidt 8-string taropatch ukulele from c.1920. These photos are in its unrestored condition: how it came to me. While it looks rough around the edges I think it'll shape up nicely. This uke (click here for link) came to me in much the same manner... paint specks, damage, and all.

If you don't know about taropatch ukes, they're basically a large concert-size (or rather, closer to a tenor size) body with a 15" or so scale length and 8 gut/nylon/fluorocarbon strings -- tuned in GCEA -- basically a doubled-up uke. Some folks have them octave stringed in the lower two courses, like a 12-string guitar, while others have them strung in unison, like a mandolin.

This uke is particularly awesome because taropatches from the period are rather rare as they weren't as popular as regular ukes. They do have a pretty big, lush sound, and if the big, lightly-built all-koa body of this one has anything to say, this one's going to have an incredible sound. You can see on the headstock here that the holes were probably drilled for wood pegs, and at some point someone may have had some modern-style friction tuners on it.

I'm not sure whether these are nickel-silver frets or brass, but I'll know when they're shined up.

And here's the worst part of this uke: a big old side crack. I already have it clamped and gluing as I write this, but due to weird settling in over time there may be just a touch of relief when it's all done on the lower bout.

Back view: with the gleam of the light you can really see some of the finish wear and tear this uke has gone through. The finish still has some shine but it's age-crackled all over. I may rub in a very light coat or two of some varnish to spruce it back up and seal some of the scratched areas.

Nice inlaid back strip, though!


c.1900 Wolverine Bowlback Mandolin

This is my current "daily player" mandolin. It's a "Wolverine" brand mandolin, sold by the Grinnell Brothers out of Michigan (piano makers). They probably bought this mandolin from a Chicago maker (most likely Lyon & Healy due to the maple-strip bowl construction as opposed to paper or canvas and glue) and then branded it and sold it out of their own shop or catalog. I'm dating this as c.1900 but it's likely late 1800s.

This mandolin was filthy when I got it... you cannot believe how much grime and much I had to remove from its top (and everywhere else). You can still see some of it worn into the grain of the nice spruce top itself! However, despite the grime, underneath was an all-original classic mando, so I couldn't argue too much with history's buildup!

Lovely colored wood inlay in the ebony pickguard and also quite nice multicolored purfling inlay and pretty ivoroid binding. The bridge is "new" -- and is made of bone. I had a rosewood bridge on it previously but after making this one and putting it on... wow... volume was increased doubly and the tone is wonders away from where it was.

Here's the headstock with the bakelite tuners... and a new holly nut I installed. Some day perhaps I'll go to bone, but this is pretty nice for now! Mahogany neck and ebony fretboard.

Here's the brand decal. Wolverine playing a cello around a campfire? Why not?

The bowl itself is made of dark-stained birdseye maple and quartersawn oak, which while not as defined as it would be with a lighter stain, gives an interesting look. The ribs also have no maple filler strips between them, giving an almost organic look, as opposed to the more contrasting look of most old bowls.

Oh, and here's a video of one of my songs played on it!


c.1920 Richter Soprano Ukulele

Today you get a glimpse at a typical ukulele restoration. This is a Richter Manufacturing Company-built uke, probably sold by Bruno (as their "Lyra" brand), but the label has been torn out from the soundhole. It's all-solid quality mahogany with rope binding, is missing its 12th fret, has its neck off, two dryness cracks right down the center of the top, and a bridge that'll need to be pulled and reglued.

Here's a detail of the bridge and the lower crack.

And here's the upper crack.


This uke is a sweetheart as far as ukes go. Very big sound for such a long, thin body, with a nice deep and "sweet" tone, though with decent volume and a "snap!" for chordal play.

Cracks are hard to see now, eh? Cleaned up nicely after finish resto: had to remove a bunch of scuffs and the typical random paint flecks here and there.

Headstock, with original nut.

The neck is very thin and the fretboard is way cozy. These are original nickel-silver frets and they seem to be in quite fine condition. I've trimmed and rounded their edges as they were sticking out the sides in the "saw-your-hands" position.

In thise closeup you can see the nice grain, the missing label, the beautiful rope binding, and the repaired cracks. The color in this closeup is closest to reality in this set.

Side view.


Back view.

Back detail.

And an elegant 3/4 shot!

And here's a clip of it being played!


c.1915 Stella Bowlback Mandolin

Here's a simple but grand-sounding Stella I sold over the holidays last year. It's got a spruce top, rosewood bowl, a fun flowery-decal pickguard, and ebony fretboard. Played nicely, too, with all-original hardware.

Deep aged-in cedary-colored top. As you can see from where the bridge used to be (in its improper resting place) the top has sun-soaked in over about 100 years.

Interesting, simple headstock. Bakelite knobs, brass tuner shafts and plates, ebony nut.

MOP dots on the board.

Celluloid pickguard is inlaid into the top with a flower decal. The construction on this mandolin, like most Oscar Schmidt-built instruments, is nice and reassuringly solid.

Simple half-oval tailpiece.

Captain! Rosewood sighted! Indeed.

Tuners -- with "riveted" style gears: no screws to go wacky on these. This also dates the mandolin as earlier rather than 1920s and up.

3/4 view. Bridge is rosewood and original.

Side view.

Here's the simply way-cool label inside.

No binding on this mando, but plenty of tone.



c.1925 Regal Flamed Soprano Ukulele w/Stripes!

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

If this looks familiar, then you'd be right! This uke is practically identical in terms of build, wood, and sound, to my own Regal uke that I posted about earlier -- except that this one has an additional inlaid "stripe" of multicolored herringbone right up the neck and headstock... which I think looks fabulous!

Figured flamed koa (or is it fancy mahogany?) abounds on this uke, with a perfectly rich reddish-orange color (the unfinished inside looks the same) and a wonderfully snappy, loud, and warm tone. Like my own uke, this one has very light construction. Unlike my own uke, this one had multiple dryness cracks on the top, back, and sides, all of which have been repaired and are rather difficult to see (especially in the photos).

Nice, not-very-worn headstock in the typical "dewdrop" Regal shape. I love the inlay. New tuners, but everything else is original.

Fretboard -- again, lovely inlay -- original nickel-silver frets, with replacement 12th fret.

Fancy rosette. Celluloid binding. Inlay is multicolored wood.

Bridge has repaired top cracks on either side, and a little bit of the edge missing on the "A" string slot, but the previous owner simply cut the slot a little deeper and the strings hold just fine.

Side view.

Back view.

New Grover tuners.

Back view... if you click to enlarge you can see some of the back cracks that have been repaired -- just barely. There are two two or three-inch long hairlines on the lower bout, and a couple on the upper bout. All are repaired and nicely stable.

And here's a change of light so you can see the lovely grain.

Side view.