4/16/2012

c.1925 Lange-made White Swan Banjo Ukulele




Update: I've posted current (August 2012) photos and a new write-up.

This banjo uke is one of those coveted, lovely Lange-made creations of the mid-1920s. Lange is the famous maker of the "Paramount" and "Orpheum" brands and this instrument has all that same quality as well. These "White Swans" are very rare and often come up in sad states of disrepair. Despite the usual white-paint flecking and some extra holes in the headstock (this came with 6 tuners, 2 of them suspicious but more or less matching), this one is quite clean and looks hot to trot.

My work on it included re-converting it to a 4-string by filling the extra tuner holes in the headstock with some pearl dots, a fret level/dress, general cleaning, new (now compensated for steel OR nylon/Nylgut strings) Grover bridge, and full setup. This has an 8" head and a scale between a concert uke and a full-on tenor uke so it's superb as a professional axe since there's so much volume, tuning stability, and response going on. The tone is nice and full as well!


Everything is original save for the new Grover bridge and Nylgut strings. The skin head is in fantastic shape.


Really pretty headstock. Note that the original bone nut has extra slotting for the earlier extra tuners. The spacing is just fine as-is, though, so I didn't replace it.


This has a dyed-pearwood? headstock veneer. Check out that lovely inlay, engraved an all!



This is a dyed-pearwood fretboard as well. See how the fret-ends end before the edge of the board? You guessed it -- it's bound with wood binding for a slick feel! Fancy stuff... and those swan inlays, engraved as well, are just so, so, so cool.


Neck is straight and frets are in good order.


I set this up so that it could also use steel strings if desired, with the bridge saddle lightly compensated to help intonation on the steel sets. I had steel on it for a while and liked it, but went back to Nylgut because the warm tone gives it a different flair from a typical mid-1920s tenor banjo tone.

The action is quick and fast, 1/16" at the 12th fret.







The resonator pops on and off with two thumbscrews, which makes adjusting tension on the head really easy and also gives the player easy flexibility in turning this into an openback on the fly (without a screwdriver, that is).



The finish is flaking off of the bound edges of the fretboard. My guess is that it's because the binding is ebony and the paint doesn't like sticking to the oils in it. Then again, it's also around 90 years old and has seen a ton of play, too!


The Lange-style bracket band and heavy-duty hardware means this is a sturdy, excellently-performing and reliable machine.



You can see the extra holes on the back of the headstock. The number 5 & 6 tuners will come with this instrument in case they're ever needed again. I've filled these holes about half-way so they can be re-drilled out if desired. The three small holes blow my mind -- what were they for?


Cool rounded heel shape. Check out the crackle in the finish over the paint -- looks really cool!





The whole instrument appears to be made from maple. There's a massive hoop-style tonering on the top edge of the rim, as well. Also check out the nice, Lange rounded-bottom nuts for the hooks.


This uses ebony shims to brace the neck against this friction neck-brace.




Good "Bell Brand" tailpiece.


Here's the inside of the resonator.


Even harder to find are original hard cases for these guys... and in good, take-anywhere shape, too!


1 comment:

John B said...

Wonderful find, Jake. White Swan is a beautiful model. Lange really made some cool banjo ukes, but I've never seen anything like this customization before. Great one of a kind!! If you put it up, you'd have no end of buyers, I think. :)