6/26/2011

c.1920 Pair of Columbia Koa Ukuleles


I've worked on a number of these Columbia koa ukes -- mostly purchased from California sellers online -- and every one has had similar features: 3-piece neck with maple center strip, and all-solid Hawaiian koa wood construction. Some have ridiculous amounts of figure/flame/curl to the wood while others are low-key. All have one-piece sides (as in, all bent from one piece of wood) and all are very sturdily built. This doesn't mean they're tonally dead or quiet -- often they sound really great, which has always surprised me!


At any rate, this first uke is an orangey-red flamed koa example, with a thinner (front to back) neck. It's in good shape minus a long crack on the back which has been glued at some point in the past rather effectively.

The bridge, on the other hand, was somewhat crumbling towards the string holding slots, so I recut it and drilled some tiny holes in the fashion of some modern ukes, where you pop the string into the top, pull it out the soundhole, knot it, and then pull it back up to the peg and tune up. I find this spares the bridge from excess direct tension, improves tone, and looks darn cool, too -- but I prefer to leave bridges original if possible. The reason I recut the front part of the bridge is that the saddle location was off, so this improved intonation as well.


Headstock top has a repaired crack as well, also sturdy. I didn't have to dress the frets on this fella but I did have to deepen the slots at the nut during setup (as usual).


Cool, folky clay dots. Note the 3-piece neck lamination. Usually the third piece is maple but this looks perhaps like mahogany?


Here's my recut of the bridge. I of course added finish to it when finished so it'd match the rest of the instrument.



Really pretty flame! The top on this is extremely thin but instead of braces, there are two large thinnish "bridge plate" sort of things installed to reinforce the top. The Columbia ukes seem to have been all built sort of as "one offs" in that they're all quite similar but the details change considerably internally.



Again, beautiful koa here.


Fun old Grover Champion pegs (same era) from my parts bin.





This one has a "Chicago" style, doweled neck join.



A looker!



This next Columbia uke is also all-solid koa in nature, but has that velvety deep chocolate brown colored koa that you see from time to time.


...and no, it's not mahogany.

This uke's bridge had to be shaved quite a lot as I couldn't reset the neck angle since it has a Spanish heel (ie, neck and heel block are the same piece of wood). This is okay as far as playing it goes, but like the uke above, I had to cut off the string-holding end of the bridge to lower it enough, and drilled holes in the same fashion for string mounting. In addition, on this one I installed a bone saddle.


Nice looking tuners!

This neck has a koa/maple/koa 3-piece build and somewhat thicker (front to back) profile, though of similar width (side to side) as the uke above.


Again, clay dots. I did a fret dress on this uke.

Unfortunately, it seems that the scale wasn't measure perfect, as the intonation is good from frets 1-7 but somewhat off here and there after that, even with the saddle moved to the correct position.


Unlike the other uke, this one has hairline cracks with the grain on the top near the bridge, which I've glued.

Also, unlike the other uke, this one has typical bracing and a thicker top plate. I thought this one would be quiet with a forced voice because of that, but it's actually pretty loud with a very warm, smooth tone. I like!


I think that bone saddle helps give this some good clarity.



I love chocolate koa ukes. I have a couple myself!



Nice Spanish heel for strength!



Back is crack free.


These are rare uke-size Champion pegs and they work great.




There's a filled "end pin" strap-mounting hole on the butt.

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