c.1925 Lyon & Healy American Conservatory Tenor Ukulele

Update 2012: I've added new photos and a revised writeup for this instrument.

With a 15 5/8" scale, this uke resides somewhere between a modern concert and modern tenor in size. However, when it was made, this was meant to be a true "tenor" instrument -- tuned a re-entrant dGBE below a uke's gCEA. The first time I strung it up I did it that way and it sounded lovely, almost jazzy, but because I've been using this a lot for recording and as my "stage uke" playing out, I've since restrung it for gCEA with Worth Browns and it sounds fabulous in the way newer $2000+ instruments sound.

So, without further ado, what is this? It's a late 1920s (c.1926-1929) Lyon & Healy-made "American Conservatory" tenor ukulele. These are rare as all heck and I've never seen another one quite like this. It's essentially the same as the first-rung Washburn tenor uke from the same time (Washburn was the L&H flagship brand slightly above their AmCon line) except... except! ...rather than all-mahogany throughout, this has a mahogany neck (quick, and v-shaped) with rosewood fretboard and the body of the instrument is really beautiful Hawaiian "monkeypod" wood -- which has a remarkable tendency to sound like koa, which it does in this case.

The tone is unbelievably nice!

So, my work on this instrument included: one crack reglue on the rear (a hairline, and the only one on the uke), a recut of the "smile" bridge (original) and installation of a fret saddle to lower action (it's between 1/16" and 3/32" at the 12th fret from fret top to string bottom), as well as general cleaning and setup.

At some point last year I also installed a K&K "Big Twin" pickup which sounds very, very natural for recording and gigging purposes. It's also very hot, so you don't need to run it through a preamp before it goes to an acoustic amp or to the mixer.

Lovely L&H "shield" shaped headstock. Rosewood nut. Tuners are Grover "Champions" from the same period.

 Celluloid dots in the rosewood board. Lovely little endpiece on the board, too!

When I recut the "smile" bridge a little lower I finished it in natural to show off the nice maple used for it.

Pretty, understated rosette. It really looks nice in contrast with the gorgeous grain of the monkeypod. The top is also bound in black celluloid.

Label and (below it) the L&H stamp.

Really pretty wood on the rear, too!

Sweet stuff! It's hard to see the repaired hairline crack, but it's in the "right lower corner" of this pic.

Champion pegs on the back of the headstock and Pat Apld For mark.

Celluloid heel cap. Note the one-piece mahogany neck. Classy! It has a v-shape to it, but it's smooth and quick.

As typical for true L&H products of this time, the sides are actually laminate while the rest is solid. They did this even on their fanciest instruments as it means the sides are quite durable and hold their shape very well vs. solids.

Closeup to show the repaired hairline crack -- it's very faint.

And here's the endpin jack for that K&K pickup.

Overall? A super-rare, very original, and great-sounding, looking, and playing concert/tenor uke for the professional musician or aspiring one -- or for someone who wants a rare bird for their uke collection but doesn't mind using it as well!

1 comment:

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