5/03/2012

c.1930 Harmony "Roy Smeck" Vita Ukulele





This is one dandy of a little uke! With a body about as wide as a concert (but shorter) and a 14" scale this instrument fits somewhere between a concert uke and a soprano uke in specifications. These were first made by Harmony in 1927 and endorsed by Roy Smeck, Mr. uke wizard himself. The "Vita" part of the model came from the Vitaphone recording name.

Unlike more typical Harmony instruments this was on their high-end side and really is the equal of any Martin or Lyon & Healy product from the time. For a few short years in the late 1920s Harmony churned out some really fabulous (and rare!) instruments and the Vita line of ukes, guitars, and tenor guitars are definitely among them.


My work on this uke included cleaning, fret level/dress, hairline crack repair near the "seal" shaped soundholes (with cleats), and a new rosewood bridge with fret saddle. While this bridge shape isn't typical for this model of uke, it does fit nicely in with other Harmony bridge types like on this Harmony tenor I worked on previously (click here).

The top is thin, good quality spruce while the back and sides of this instrument are all highly flamed Cuban mahogany that can be found on other high-end Harmony products from the time and also many Regal products from the 1920s (both companies bought from the same stockpile it seems).


Cute logo, bone nut.

The neck and fretboard on this uke are wide (side to side) and thin (front to back) which is a cut similar to Martins. It's a very comfy uke to fingerpick chords on.


Cute seal soundholes, new Aquila strings.


Here's my new rosewood bridge. Note also the ebony bridge pins. I love me my ukes with bridge pins!


Nice back!

Unfortunately, though the finish is in relatively good shape, it has yellowed overall which keeps the back woods from really glowing like they would have to begin with.


Still, you can tell just how nice that wood is!


Good, ivoroid-buttoned tuners.


Unlike on cheaper ukes of the time, the neck has a full dovetail join.




Ah! See that one the side? Here's the real cool part!


The uke was signed by the South Sea Islanders (well, scratched into it) on the bass side. This is "Billy Joseph, Steel Guitarist, South Sea Islanders."


And here's Ed Shaw and Joseph Rogers. It's also signed by F. Antiseri and Will Jones.


End area with a good look at that 1/4" rosewood bridge.


And here's a pic I scrounged off the web of the South Sea Islanders themselves. Looks like a Washburn "Bell Guitar," a Regal tenor guitar, Martin uke and taropatch uke, and some form of Hawaiian guitar. Can't tell the brand from this angle.


Here's a 1940 ad for the Islanders, but it seems that they did most of their playing in the 1920s through 1930s. Note that "William Joseph" is still going strong, here.

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