4/18/2012

c.1915/2012 Rolando Banjo/Resonator Ukulele





Usually I'm pretty hesitant to overly modify an instrument, but a faulty (read: poor) design for a head-tensioning system in this banjo uke plus missing frets meant that I decided to convert it to an entirely different use as a resonator ukulele.

Originally these Rolandos were sold by the Southern California Music Company out of Los Angeles. I'm pretty sure they were also made in California as well.

This meant installing a new rosewood fretboard with a slightly shorter scale (12 1/2" vs. 13"), new tuners, new bone nut, and some slight rim modifications -- though I was able to re-use some of the original head tensioning components to serve as a "tonering" that fits under the resonator to hold it propped up in the rim.


From the outset I wanted this to work for nylon or steel strings. I've strung it up for the moment with Aquila Nylgut which gives a snappy, dry sort of tone but I know from experience that these cones also sound wonderful and fiery with steel strings and the neck is certainly sturdy enough for a set of them.

This design with the resonator in a thicker but smaller banjo rim means that the volume isn't as great as a typical resonator uke with a larger steel or brass body and concert scale but it's definitely just as loud as this instrument would have been in banjo mode to begin with and has a more sustained, uke-y sound to boot.


I installed better friction pegs than the originals. New bone nut.


Rosewood board. Note the backfilled fret slots under it from the original frets.



It's got a pretty slick look.



The banjo resonator (the backplate on the instrument) is removed from the rim slightly by some ferrules. This lets the instrument pop sound out of the front as well as the back.



Versus a regular steel or brass bodied instrument, the tone is a little warmer and sweeter.



The backplate has a hairline crack that's been reglued and cleated.


Did I mention the period strap? These came with the instrument and were mounted by two holes -- one drilled in the headstock and one near the "tailpiece" area. One can adjust the length at the headstock.


I had to sand the back of the neck to get it to look right but it also meant that I could get it to be a "speed neck" with just one coat of very lightly rubbed-in gel varnish.

This uke has fret access all the way up to the 20th fret.


See the construction of the rim? Sort of a cool forked-together block style.

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