9/24/2013

c.1925 Oscar Schmidt-made Unmarked Baritone Uke/Tenor Banjo



This instrument came my way 2nd or 3rd hand since it came from Mr. Aaron Keim's hands. The last two owners used it as a baritone banjo ukulele... fair enough... and I was all set to set it back up as a regular tenor banjo (steel strings, CGDA) when I started measuring scale length and handled the lightweight build. It turns out it has a fairly short (20 1/8") scale and has a slightly smaller-than-usual (10 3/4" vs. 11") rim. So... it's actually an ideal convert to a "baritone banjo ukulele" -- so I did the necessary work and set it up (yet again) as just that.

Work included a fret level/dress which also alleviated a smallish relief to the neck, a new Remo synthetic head, a new set of good-quality uke pegs, and a new bridge. To install the new head properly I had to slightly recut the "cut out" at the heel that allows the neck to ride over the "flesh hoop" of the head. It plays well (1/16" at the 12th fret) and sounds nice, too.


Cute headstock with inliad star... the nut is a standard 1 1/8" width which one finds on many tenors. I've strung it up with a set of regular Martin fluorocarbon bari uke strings.


The neck and pot appear to be plain-Jane maple and the fretboard and headstock veneer are some sort of dyed hardwood.

While this is unbranded, the unusually short scale (20 1/8" vs. more usual 21") was the first hint that this might be an Oscar Schmidt instrument. The other hints are the heel shape and finally two suspect pinholes in the face of the fretboard (one near the heel and one near the 2nd fret) which I find on almost all 1900-1930s Oscar Schmidt instruments that have a fretboard (from low to high end models). I haven't seen this on other makes and I'm assuming these pinholes were used for tack nails that held the board in place while it glued up initially.

I do that when I replace fretboards but I hide my holes under pearl dots...!


Without a tonering and with very basic hardware, this would make a fairly plain-Jane, simple-sounding tenor banjo, but as a baritone banjo ukulele this is actually ideal... the lightweight build feels and sounds right with the gut/nylon/fluoro strings one will use on this instrument and the original brass frets should also hold up much better with non-steel string use.

Tone-wise, this guy sounds vaguely like a baritone uke, vaguely like a late-1800s gut-strung 5-string banjo. It's mellow and warm but with nice crisp volume. I like it best as a fingerpicker but it sounds nice strummed, too.

As a benefit... you can capo this at the 5th fret and you gain a "low G" regular uke tuning and still have 12 frets left to play on... as if it were a soprano banjo uke.




The dowel was loose when this came in. I reset (reglued) it to the proper angle.



This came with some decent 1920s/30s Grover 4:1 geared tuners but a few of them were a bit worn (I will be partsing them together with another set to make a nice set of them) and the install was not original to the banjo (this would have had friction pegs). So... I popped on a fresh set of new, good-quality uke pegs. These feel more correct for a bari uke feel, anyhow.



The "screw style" attachment for the neck appears to actually be original. I'm not so sure if the screw itself is but there's zero evidence of this having had any other neck brace or hardware installed. It works quite well and I've used this same type of attachment when repairing curmudgeony low-end tenors that had next-to-useless neck braces installed. 


The original tailpiece works just fine. I've knotted the strings and passed them into the "forks" to hold them steady. This set of Martin fluorocarbon bari strings only just fit this instrument: I had to tie my knots right at the end of the strings to use as much length as I could.

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