11/01/2012

c.1920 Harmony-made Mahogany Soprano Ukulele




This little peanut-shaped soprano ukulele was made around 1915-1920 by Harmony in Chicago and more than likely sold through the Sears catalog around the same time. I think of these ukes (if they're fixed up) as fantastic value because they tend to be quite loud and punchy for their size, yet still mellow and sweet. This was very close to the plainest model that one sees in all-mahogany ukes sold through the Sears catalog (often under their house-brand "Supertone" name) but it's still pretty attractive.


This has a solid mahogany body. My work on this included a neck reset, bridge reglue, new bridge saddle, fret level/dress, cleaning, and setup. I also cleated and glued up a hairline crack to the treble side of the bridge. It's all stable now and plays with low, quick action and good intonation. Due to the frets-in-neck-face build, the 12th fret is slightly lower than the rest of the frets, but still easy to fret.


This was the neck joint before repair. The original mounting dowel was damaged. When this happens, rather than replacing the original dowel, I drill two sets of holes and mount a dowel above the original and then one below the original. This is a better and more-lasting neck joint design so in this case I consider the modification an upgrade!


I love the Hawaiian-influenced rope-inlay rosette. Folksy but elegant.


Headstock showing original tuners and wooden (rosewood) nut.


Original nickel-silver frets are all dressed and leveled. The neck profile is comfy with a shallow v-shape.


The new (taller) saddle is plastic but sounds just fine. I tend to favor wood and denser plastics over bone on most uke saddles since they contribute to a mellower tone.










I've worked on a lot of this model uke and its family of models and I can say they've all been nice instruments. Shortly after this range of instruments Harmony came out with their more-familiar late-20s and into-1930s instruments like this, this, and this. They're similar and in some ways more refined (especially the nicer models, which can really give Martins a run for their money) but are much more "mainland" in tonality compared to these early mahogany ones which sound a lot more "Hawaiian" in tone.


Back is in great shape!


Original bakelite-buttoned pegs work just fine.


Neck joint is nice and sturdy, now. The discoloration at the join was there before I got my hands on it and is likely due to spread from the original glue material.


A nice little uke!

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