6/12/2013

c.1920 Harmony/Oscar Schmidt Frankenstein Banjo Ukulele




Here's something you're not liable to see every day: a banjo uke with an 11" rim! That's because this is made from a 1920s nice-quality Harmony-made soprano uke neck mated to a nice-quality Oscar Schmidt banjo-mandolin rim (it's got an archtop tonering design). The uke had a destroyed body while the banjo-mandolin had a destroyed neck. After some modification to the neck to fit it to the rim, both are very happy together: this is the biggest-sounding, most lush banjo uke I've worked on yet! It's also darn loud -- it gets volume out there like a tenor banjo.


The Remo Fiberskyn head was in my parts bin. I would've opted for a Renaissance style head but I had no idea how this would turn out so I went for this spare from the bin. It's actually probably one of the best uses for the head since by its own nature it mutes and mellows out the tone which is a good thing on a banjo uke like this!


The mahogany soprano neck had an "extended scale" fretboard, nice zipper inlay down the center, and the cute dual column of pearl dots that you sometimes find on nicer-grade Harmony-made soprano necks from the late-teens and early 20s. I gave the neck a fret level and dressing before putting the thing together and also did a bunch of cleaning and whatnot on both "parts" of this instrument, too.

Note the Aquila "Red series" low-G strings: these give the uke an authoritative palette and a nice low end for tenor banjo-style chop chords. This thing sounds excellent alternating between those choppy, muted chordal strums and fingerpicked passages.


New ebony nut, new-ish fancy Grover Champion pegs.


I re-used a very lightweight 20s banjo uke bridge from the parts bin but had to widen the string spacing (hence the extra strings slots) for the nice wide neck this guy has.


The nice marquetry-style inlay on the neck is echoed in this very cool inlay on the rim's lower edge. I'm almost certain this is an Oscar Schmidt rim and probably would've belonged to their Sovereign-branded line at the time.


Good, heavy-duty hardware.






Here you can see the bolted-through mounting of the neck to the pot. I added a rosewood spacer between the bottom of the heel and the pot to give it enough clearance to sit correctly against the tension hoop at the top of the rim. The strap button is resting on an inset sleeve to keep the bolt's head from splitting the heel or crushing the wood if too much tension is applied to the bolt.


The rim is multi-ply maple but the multi-layer rim "foot" is very cute. Here you can also see the inside "archtop" tonering that sits on the inner part of the rim. The outer side of the rim has a simple sleeve, though, as well.


A new No-Knot tailpiece makes stringing this easy. Note the "window" that was originally for the "neck-side" of the original neck's dowel. I switched the rim around to provide a nice stable bolting surface for the new neck and, since someone had put a hole below this "window" on this side, anyway, it made a good place to pop a tailpiece hanger shoe as well.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great to see my old banjo mandolin rise again - sweet work Jake - but I'll resist the urge to buy it back.
Just wondering if the uke neck is from Ambrose's uke?

Antebellum Instruments said...

It certainly is! :D

Antebellum Instruments said...

As in: two birds with one stone!