6/12/2013

c.1930 SS Stewart "Firestripe" Soprano Ukulele




So, who built this uke? Beats me but the SS Stewart distributor/retail label on the headstock offers no clues. Judging by the type and color of rosewood used on the fretboard, the lack of top bracing on the lower bout, and the heel shape and dowel joint, my guess would be Chicago maker Kay. It's very atypical, though, as I've never seen this shape before and it has an astonishingly thin body. 

Work included a bridge shave/modification, replacement (30s parts-bin) tuners, fret level/dress, cleaning, and setup. The uke already had a repaired hairline crack and seam on the back lower bout and an "out of box" lower bout back brace (which I opted not to reinstall -- it's just not necessary on this uke).

This is a very cool little soprano and has a normal 13" scale. The neck is thinner than usual, though, and the body depth of 1 5/8" makes it feel like those modern "travel" soprano ukes with the thinner bodies. It feels like it's not going to get all busted-up taking it out and about which is probably the main draw aside from the very cool styling and sweet tone.


The tortoise top and soundhole binding are cool enough on their own, but when you add the firestripe pickguard -- you've got 30s charm in spades.

Note the mismatched darker color on the rosewood nut and bridge tops -- that's because after the work on them I polished them up and they got darker than the (original) finished sections of the same piece. When I shaved the bridge and modified its shape I also used a "modern" string mounting style of drilled holes that go right through to the inside. The idea is you stick the string through it, pull it out the soundhole, then knot it so the knot is then pulling up from underneath the bridge. This gives a clean look, good back-pressure, and means you won't have worn-out slots that chip out and then become useless.


 Simple headstock with the SS Stewart decal starting to get lost.


The original brass frets dressed up nicely and the action is low, fast, and easy.


Note the break in the thin part of the pickguard: that's my fault! I tempted fate by unscrewing the pickguard and as I pulled it off it flexed slightly and cracked. Celluloid gets brittle and that happens from time to time. I used some pickguard film (a very thin double-sided adhesive tape) to keep the pickguard in the right position on the top.


The whole uke is made from natural-finished solid birch.





The bakelite-buttoned tuners have extra washers and turn smoothly.




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