Ephemera: Amazing Filipino? Band (c.1930)

This amazing group has, frankly, an amazing assortment of instruments. Check out the 12-string guitar banjo! ...followed by a 12-string banjo-bandurria, two old-style steel-strung guitars, a regular pair of bandurrias, Filipino-style laud, a uke, musical saw, and... and... some crazy-as-heck bass guitar! I'm guessing it's related to the Mariachi-style basses considering the positioning and 6 strings (well, 5 strings on it, and 6 tuners).


Updated Look

I finally decided to break down and update the blog's look and template as well as get used to the new blogger interface. I've tried to streamline the site a little bit -- cut out redundant extra pages and whatnot -- and will continue to tailor it a bit over the next few days. I think it's pretty close, though.

As always, let me know what you think and also what might be good additions, clarifications, whatnot. I'm already thinking of making a linked archive of instruments organized by maker, type, and year. I think that could be mega-useful for folks simply wanting to browse old makes.

Video: Ken Lutton

Ken Lutton plays "Jake's Tune" at the shop. I do backup. *Edit: "Jake's Tune" is one of Ken's originals!

Ephemera: Self-Instructors (c.1920-1962)

I have a few of these old self-instructor booklets hanging around so I figured I'd share. The above uke one is from the 1920s. All of these booklets, of course, are published by William J. Smith, which was a huge music publishing as well as retail music house.

 This guitar instructor dates from 1937.

The pictured guitar is actually a fancy mid-30s Regal archtop patterned on the Martin-made roundhole archtops of the time.

This mandolin booklet has a 1959 date but the instructor itself probably dates to the early 1930s or so, considering the mandolins shown in it -- the cover has a Stradolin-made model from the 1930s and...

 ...the interior shows a nice early 1930s Martin.

This guitar booklet dates to 1962 but is obviously just a reissue of an earlier type, considering...

 ...these 1950s-looking guitars...

...and these 1930s/40s-looking graphics.


c.1900 Stewart-made Sears Acme Professional 5-String Banjo

Update: After much embarrassment on the Banjo Hangout forum, I've decided to agree with my critics that this certainly is an SS Stewart-made banjo. I had thought it was a Lange to begin with since there are close similarities to some distributor-rebranded Lange builds I was familiar with, but the devil's in the details, isn't it? Sorry for confusion!

It's got an 11" rim which made re-heading this easy since I carry 11" heads on hand all the time. The frets are in perfect shape because this doesn't look like it was ever played very much. The neck itself has a small backbow in the 1-5 fret area, which means that after the 10th-12th fret area the action starts feeling higher, though it's more or less "spot on" at around 1/16" to 3/32" at the 12th fret.

Since many old banjos from the time have this sort of backbow I'm starting to wonder if it was a bit intentional to keep action lower in the "general playing area" (1st through 10th frets) while giving good picking height farther up the neck (for stroke, clawhammer, and other heavy-handed styles) -- but I'm probably just thinking too much.

At any rate, the neck takes light steel just fine (just as I'd expect a turn of the century through 1930s Lange would) and sounds big, warm, and sweet.

So, my work on it included the new Remo Renaissance head, new 5/8" Grover bridge, new friction pegs with ivoroid buttons all around (this only had 3 old Champion pegs on it when I got it), and of course a full setup and whatnot.

The headstock is of course inspired by the same-period SS Stewart headstock shape. The pearl inlay is real nice on this one -- simple but classy. Both the headstock veneer and fretboard are ebony.

The 5th string "pip" is original though I did cut it to match the profile of the 5th fret. I also installed a "railroad spike" 5th string "capo" at the 7th fret to easily capo this into the key of A.

Cool star inlay, here.

The tailpiece is great! Note that I've added a leather bit woven through the strings to mute overtones at the tailpiece.

Only 3 of the hook/nuts are replacements and they're off of a 1920s parts banjo so they fit in more or less. The "German silver" rim outside is, of course, pretty and in this case in great condition. This banjo didn't need much cleaning overall. This is a 30-hook rim.

Here you can see the inner maple interior of the rim itself and also the Stewart-style neck-reinforcement brace with its adjustable tension. This is a "double spun" rim which means the metal cladding curls over at both the top and bottom edges and on the top this creates an integral tonering with a sound similar to the Vega Little Wonder type.

Note the typical "ebony shim" neck brace below and then the adjustable-tension steel bar brace which also helps hold the neck tight to the pot and stable.

The dowel says "The Acme Professional, Sears Roebuck & Co."

Here's the back of the headstock with its cool celluloid-inlaid disc. The neck material looks like cherry to me, which is not uncommon on older Langes which seem to waver between maple, cherry, and also poplar on lower-end models.

Nice 5th-string peg neck cut. The neck itself is a quick v-shape, similar to the type found on earlier Martin guitars. It's actually quite a bit different from slightly later (1905 and onward) Lange-made "catalog" banjos which tend to have a more D/U-shaped round-back neck.

Here you can see those nicer-quality new friction pegs a little better. With the ivoroid buttons these fit in nicely with the old hardware. The original tuners had ivoroid buttons as well.

Tailpiece area.

Overall? A winner! The long scale gives the even very light gauge strings nice tension and a slick feel with great volume and punch as well as nice sustain.

Early Summer Serenade

Well, sirs and madams, yes it's full on late Spring and feels more like summer with hot, humid, 80-90 degree crud hanging over our valley. Naturally, of course, the wildflowers are blooming like crazy so I've been able to pick some nice stuff for the store.

Oona's Grandmamamoogi was up this weekend and yesterday we spent the morning "on the beach" down at the river across the street from us. Note all the wreckage left over from "tropical storm" Irene down on the bank.

Yep, flowers sure do liven up a place. Those are long buttercups to the left and really full flox to the right.

So -- where are the instruments? Later today I'll have gorgeous pics of a gorgeous Lange-made (for Sears) 5-string banjo with nice "medium grade" pearl inlays and a good cherry neck. Then, as the work week progresses, I'll have various "parlor" guitars (for customers) and other miscellaneous instruments to show.


Ephemera: Not the Girl, the Guitar! (c.1920)

Oddly enough, swimming with a 1920s double-0 Martin doesn't seem to be high on my list of guitar-related priorities. 'twas on hers, though!


c.1925 Regal-made SS Stewart Mahogany Mandolin

This is a customer's flatback mandolin from the mid-1920s, probably made by Regal for the B&J "SS Stewart" brand (at that point in time, anyway). It is nearly identical in build and styling to Lyon & Healy's "Washburn" branded models of the time, which is no surprise since Regal built for the L&H Washburn line of mandolins during the mid-1920s.

The main difference, of course, from a similar Washburn-branded model of the same type is that the whole instrument is made from solid mahogany, even the top (which is more typically spruce). This gives the instrument a nice, balanced tone with a sweetened high end and tight bass -- and like other Regal-made nicer-quality mandolins from the time, it's quite loud and has great authority.

While it may not look like it now, this instrument was a little bit of a headache to fix. It needed a neck reset, fret level/dress, and setup right off the bat, but once I popped the neck off I realized other things had been done wrong. This included a botched old neck reset which had split part of the dovetail and a botched old fretboard-extension reglue that seems to have been done with superglue (a really bad idea if you value fretboard wood integrity!).

There were other various things, too -- the tuners had never been screwed down for stability so I had to drill through the plates and install some mounting screws for them, and here may have been a couple loose braces (I can't recall, really),

Suffice to say, I fixed everything up and now it's roaring once again. Unfortunately for the owner, at some point the mandolin had also been "oversrpayed" with a coat of top finish, so the original crackly old finish is underneath and I wonder how much of it really contributes to the sort of crimson red this mandolin is now.

Two-ply fretboard binding, pearl dots.

Typical B&J Stewart label. People are constantly calling me up about their old SS Stewart thissen or thatten instrument, asking me if it was built in Philadelphia or New York, and it's always hard to convince folks that labels really don't mean much of anything as far as most old instruments are concerned (or, heck, for new ones for that matter, too!).

Nice multi-ply edge binding on top and back. This mandolin is quite classy.

I like the engraved "SS Stewart" on the tuner coverplate.

The original tailpiece still has its nice cover!

c.1950 Emenee-made Flamingo Plastic Ukulele

This 1950s Flamingo plastic uke was kindly "donated" by good-fella Scott Sween and, when not in service living on our canoe or picnic blanket, will find its way to our (eventual) "Mini Vermont Uke Museum" that Bonnie and I plan to show off in the store at some point in the future.

This uke was made by Emenee and, of course, as many other sites will attest -- is the competitor to the Islander series of plastic ukes.

Both brands play and sound pretty darn good for plastic once they've been setup at the nut and saddle and of course hold up great in adverse conditions (water, weather). Plastic ukes tend to have a sort of airy, chord-friendly tone, which makes them great camping companions.

Cute headstock decoration.

I like the fret markers, too!

This one has that "bowling ball" look to it. It also has a thin, longish crack on the back that fortunately isn't too visible.

The tuners on this one are thankfully adjustable.