5/13/2013

c.1924 Oscar Schmidt Block-rim Banjo Ukulele




Here's a really nicely-made "California style" banjo uke (no hooks/nuts on the rim and an inline head mounting system defines this type) that was probably made by Oscar Schmidt in Jersey City, NJ. I say this because the scale length (13 1/4"), nut and neck width and cut, headstock style, and fret types all match with many OS builds I've worked on. For example, see the similarities between the neck design on this banjo uke.

I know the date on this uke because below the bridge, lightly written on the top of the head is the date "December 22, 1924." There's also a "Pat. Apld. For" stamped into the rim's top just below where the neck joins the pot. I'm assuming not many of this (time-intensive-to-build) design were made as I've only seen two of this exact type before, though there are many block-rim style banjo ukes of other designs extant from the time.

Work included a fret level/dress, cleaning, new bridge, and setup. It's in fantastic condition and it has one of the most curious and cool head-tensioning/rim design systems ever. See the end of the post for an internal look at it while I was working on it.

The tone is projecting and bell-like with good cut and really suited to clawhammer/fingerpicking. If a mellower, old-timey tone is desired, one can mute the extra string length behind the bridge slightly and it cleans up any overtones that develop with pure chord-strumming.


This has a block-rim construction that's made from alternating sections of mahogany and maple. Note the one mismatched maple piece on the bass side of the rim -- curious! Maybe they intended to put that at the neck side of the rim originally? Kinda cute!

The inlaid purfling/line in the middle of the rim's face is actually inlaid for strength. It works like a strapping iron on a barrel and holds the block-rim construction together. This is a very clever way to insure that the rim stays put over time and I wish modern block-rim makers would do this! The maker also included another matching inlaid section on the bottom of the rim, thus locking all the block-pieces in place.


The neck is a two-piece maple job with a mahogany center-strip. Note the elegant shield headstock shape: this is identical in size and shape to a lot of Oscar Schmidt ukes and banjo ukes I've worked on (including two I own).


I love all the contrasting wood details on this guy.

Also, the rim is slightly larger in dimension than most "California style" banjo ukes, so it feels much more substantial in the lap. The neck is also built heavily enough to use steel strings, which sound great on the instrument, too. I know because it came to me with some crusty old 30s strings on it!


The original skin head is in great shape. That's a new Grover 2-foot bridge.



The four bolts on the rear of the rim both attach the resonator backplate to the main rim and also shove an internal 2nd rim up against the lip edge of the first rim, thus increasing tension on the head. This is an elegant and very carefully-made design that gives the uke a super clean look while also giving it really great tone.


Note the nice-quality friction pegs with spring-loaded shafts.





The mandolin-style tailpiece accepts loop, ball, or gut/nylon strings.


Here's the insides -- the resonator plate has a thin, raised rim glued to it, with the head on top of that.



Here you can see the two-screw neck attachment and also the square nuts that let the bolts tighten up into the rim.


...and here's the top of the rim with its "lip" that the edge of the head, forced against that internal 2nd rim, tightens up against.

5 comments:

Rolfyboy6 said...

Wow, Mom's banjo ukelele. She was the sweetheart of Hills, Minnesota in 1928 with that.

Antebellum Instruments said...

This exact uke or the same type?? Either way, very cool. :)

Rolfyboy6 said...

The same type. The blocks making up the rim weren't so pronounced in color on hers.

Gary Grossman said...

Is the asymmetry in the light and dark pieces of wood on the left side (facing the uke)intentional or was a dark piece replaced. This is a fantastic uke, first banjo uke I've been tempted to buy .

Antebellum Instruments said...

It was a mistake when they made it, definitely not replaced as that would really "show" considering the way this was built. I imagine it was intended to be at the fretboard end to match the maple neck. Either way, I like the dissonance of the look... :)