Clippings: 1927 Octave Plectrum Banjo

Click the pic to see this full size. This is an article about yet another giant banjo of yesteryear... this time rather than a bass banjo it's tuned like a plectrum banjo but an octave lower. To me this seems rather pointless since you can tune a plectrum banjo an octave lower ON a plectrum banjo and retain good string response and balance.

But, then again, if you have an 8 foot tall fella in the band, this might be the ticket.


Inventory / Sound Clips

I just added sound clips to most of the inventory listings, as well as a new listing for the recently posted bari uke.

c.1940 Gibson-made Francis Day & Hunter Archtop Guitar

Update 2013: I've updated the photos and fleshed-out my description of this guitar. Note also that this has a modern hard case to go with it.

This is a fantastic, Gibson-made carved-top guitar made probably around 1939-1941. It was made for export as noted by the (very hard to photograph) label inside the bass f-hole that reads "Made in USA by Gibson Inc Kalamazoo, Mich." The batch number on the back of the headstock is stamped 117 which suggests a 1940 manufacturing date.

So, what is it? Per the lovely Gibson off-brands page, this can be identified as a Gibson "Francis, Day & Hunter" model made for British export. It was built specifically for that company's distribution catalog and called "style FDH." Unusually for off-brand Gibsons, it was prominently displayed that it was a Gibson product so unlike a Kalamazoo, Cromwell, Kel Kroydon, or similar it was more like a "custom shop" model for a Gibson distributor rather than a budget brand instrument.

And, that said, there's nothing budget about it! It's closest in form and styling to the high-end Recording King M-5 model (also made by Gibson) from around the same time with a carved (rather than pressed) top, tonebar bracing, a deep body (4" sides vs. the usual 3"), full 16" lower bout, a truss-rodded fast and thinner v-shaped neck, and tone that includes a very full bass, sculpted highs, and a heck of a lot of volume and punch. Clearly this was targeted towards a big-band player.

Everything on the guitar is original except for the tailpiece which is a late-40s, early-50s Selmer-sold Compensator type and also perhaps the finish. Catalog descriptions show these to be typically finished in sunburst but knowing the strangeness of Gibson products at the time, it doesn't surprise me that one of these might have been shipped with a blonde finish.

Blonde archtops were sort of all the rage right before WWII so it may have been ordered in this color to begin with. The finish looks like it could be original due to its age and slight "milking" around the top edges, but you can never be sure!

Deluxe appointments abound on the guitar: deco pearl inlays adorn the neck and headstock, the headstock, fretboard, body, and pickguard are all bound, and there's checker purfling on the top edge.

This has a lovely fast neck on it, comparable to high-end Gibsons at the time. I have a '41 Gibson ES-150 that has almost the exact same feel except that it's a rounder shape on the rear.

Original rosewood bridge.

The late-40s Straten Compensator tailpiece is major-cool though it does add a lot more random harmonics into the guitar's tone compared to more typical archtop tailpieces. Its big advantage is the adjusted after-bridge string length which sculpts bass strings to the "bassy" side and treble strings to the "punchy" side of tonality.

The back and sides are flamed maple laminate (I believe) and are buttery-gorgeous.

Nice original Grovers.

The neck joint is spot on.

Tailpiece endpin area.

1920s Stromberg-Voisinet Tenor Guitar

Update 2015: While I worked on this years ago, this tenor was recently purchased by from its former owner (my customer) and sent to me for work before going on. I've therefore updated the whole post's information. The recent work included a neck reset, refret, new bone saddle (had to cut a new slot, too), new bone nut, some seam and crack repair/cleating (some was old work), and of course a good setup. It also got a new set of geared vintage (period) banjo-style pegs which replaced some morose friction units. 

This instrument has a strange "Musketeers - for the professional" branding in the soundhole but it was clearly made by Kay/Stromberg-Voisinet in the late 20s or early 30s and in Chicago. It's got a long 23" scale but a smaller "size 5" body that's in the Kay Kraft/2 point styling familiar to the Kay brand of the 30s. Like other Kay/SV products of the time, the build is sturdy, a little stiff, and practical. It's also a little curious and that accounts for the cool factor.

The new owner of this instrument wanted to use it in octave mandolin tuning and so that's how it's setup -- however, with an unwound A string as I believe the heavier-duty octave mandolin gauges many people prefer (with wound A) are just brutal on an old tenor like this. They just weren't designed for the tension. She plays (now) spot-on and has a good, mandolin-y sort of tone. It's not big and bloomy like you'd expect from an 0-size or larger x-braced tenor (read: 0-18T) but more focused and clean with a lot of sustain.

c.1960 Harmony Baritone Ukulele

Here's yet another Harmony baritone uke to add to the Antebellum archives. I work on these quite a bit and mostly hunt for 1950s ones, but this (early) 1960s model is nice as well. As typical, the body and neck are all solid mahogany with a Brazilian rosewood fretboard and bridge.

My work included crack repair to the top and the back, a fret level/dress, and bridge modification as well as cleaning and a setup. It's a nice warm, mellow and sweet thing now, and plays great.

The plastic nut and the (originally) plastic saddle identify this as a 1960s model baritone made by Harmony. The 1950s ones used bone.

Brass frets are in great shape -- also, faux MOP dots.

Usually these ukes have a classical-style bridge that uses "tied" mountings for the strings. I've recut this bridge lower, removed the tie-block rear, and installed a fret saddle to replace the now-removed plastic saddle. Usually I can just recut the saddle lower to improve action on these old baris, but unfortunately the mounting holes for the tie block were drilled too high to get proper downpressure from the strings on the modified saddle area.

So, this modification works nicely. Instead of installing bridge pins I simply drilled tiny holes and use a "pop through, pull out the soundhole, knot, and pull back up" string attachment. This is very secure, puts very little sideways pressure on the bridge, and looks nice and clean.

Good looking 'hog on this one. In person it's almost a chocolate-y brown color with of course the usual years and years of use-wear. There is one maybe 6" long glued-up hairline crack on the front to the bass side of the bridge.

Note the repaired hairline cracks on the upper bout. All stable.

Simple friction tuners work fine.

Tortoise binding.


Inventory Updated!

Finally, the inventory is updated! I get the feeling like I missed a few instruments, though, even so... so I'll check on that in the morning. Enjoy!

c.1925 Washburn 5315 Mahogany Soprano Ukulele

This poor old Washburn uke from the mid-20s sure has suffered quite a bit in its life! When I got it, the neck had been "reset" with what seems to have been some sort of awful white glue, there were numerous hairline cracks needing to be repaired, seams needing reglues, there was (and still is) wood missing around the soundhole, and the bridge had been "recut" in a freakshop sort of way -- with the action "lowered" via cutting long grooves from the string mounts. The tuners were also all mismatched replacements.

So... I fixed all that, recut the bridge to a modern "string through the top and knot" style, with a fret saddle, reset the neck properly, leveled and dressed the frets, cleaned it all up, and voila -- a super-nice playing, super-nice sounding little all mahogany uke -- just what I'd expect from a higher-end Lyon & Healy uke product (my own favorite uke is a L&H tenor from around the same time).

Even bruised-up, this is a winner of a uke and sounds just a nice as any old Martin -- with more of a focused, cutting tone.

These are replacement Grover tuners and they work just fine and fit in just right.

The fretboard is rosewood with nickel-silver frets and with an ebony nut. The rest of the uke is all solid mahogany.

The dots appear to be celluloid.

Here's my recut bridge -- note that there are the remains of one of the "grooves" cut by a previous owner near the A string hole.

It's like it's missing a tooth!

Stamp in the soundhole.

All of the Washburn-branded ukes I've had the pleasure to work on and play have been solidly-built, excellent-playing workhorses after the fixing was done.

Good quality mahogany.

Note that near the heel there's some discoloration and finish muck-up caused by the removal of the nightmare glue-job that had been done on it before its current neck set.

A good'n!