5/13/2013

c.1920 Stella Banjo Ukulele




Sheesh, I've worked on a lot of this same basic Oscar Schmidt-made design, and they all have a nice, warm, sweet tonality. A bandmate of mine picked one up in trade from me a couple years ago and it's been her go-to stringed instrument ever since. They have that sound!

This one is in well-worn condition, though it plays great after work, which included: fret level/dress, new nut, replacement head (I used a vintage skin from my parts bin to keep it looking old), new bridge, and parts-bin replacement tailpiece. I also added 3 new (30s) hooks/nuts as well, to replace missing ones.


The finish and stain on this is a medium red-brown. Check out the "Stella" embossed logo at the headstock.


Brass frets. The boards on these old OS uke instruments tend to favor a Hawaiian-style width (wider) but with a more Chicago depth. This makes them incredibly strong but very playable and I'd imagine if one wanted to string this with light steel there shouldn't be a problem.

The scale length is 13 1/4" which is common to most OS ukes I've worked on but not many other brands.


This is a 7 1/8" diameter rim -- pretty typical of openback banjo ukes from the time.



Many OS banjo rims tend to have these steel bands that go around the rim's bottom edge. I'm guessing that it's sort of indented to help keep the rim from warping over time as many OS rims were one-ply birch or maple and thin. This gives them that sweet, woody, old-timey warm tone with good volume, but also makes them less stable compared to big, heavy, multi-ply maple rims when the tension on the head is cranked down hard.


The original pegs were missing on this uke so I used a set of Champion pegs instead. Most old OS banjo ukes (and ukes in general) seem to have been equipped with them.




The neck brace on the inside is great -- whack it with a hammer until it tightens the neck to the pot, then tighten up the set screw to keep it firm. Easy as pie and no shims to deal with!



The inexpensive, 60s-vintage tailpiece is a little cheesy but works just fine.

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