11/11/2013

c.1920 Richter-made "Lyra" Walnut Soprano Ukulele



This is a nice little uke that I'm pretty sure was made by (or has ties to) the Richter Manufacturing Company which turned out this uke and probably this uke, too. My guess on this is based on the fact that I've worked on 4 or 5 of these ukes made by this semi-unknown factory and there are certain "family features" including a paper-weight build, curiously peanut shape and thin depth, oddly-stout (for the thin build) bracing, and tenon (sort-of dovetail-looking) neck joints rather than dowel-style like Regal or Harmony products. This has the usual Bruno "Lyra" branding in the soundhole that I tend to associate with these ukes.

They're sort of similar in proportions to late-teens Oscar Schmidt products but OS builds with fretboards tend to have "locating" pinholes near the neck joint and 1-3 frets and usually the OS builds are much sturdier overall and a lot heavier.

The coolest feature of this uke is its solid walnut build! This is pretty unusual for the time but much more common today. The board is rosewood and so is the new bridge. It's also got some nice understated but sort of fancy purfling and wood binding.




This poor fella got damaged in shipping to me and the neck and 2nd-hand bridge both popped off with the double whammy of the neck block getting cracked! It also came to me with some sort of sloppy seam repairs around the top edges and an open hairline crack on the upper bout.

I set about to repairing this uke and this is what happened: neck block reglued, open seams reglued, hairline crack cleated and filled, new rosewood bridge with (vintage) celluloid saddle and "through top" stringing, fret level/dress, neck reset (glued) and also an additional neck-bolt installed through the block and into the heel for much better support than just the (sloppy, mucked-up-by-bad-repairs) tenon joint. You can see a pic of the Gibson-style threaded-screw (like on their banjos for use with coordinator rods) installation in later pics.

It's come out of repair with a simple, sweet, and mellow tone. Because of the light build these ukes are often a bit louder than contemporaries of similar size (and air box size) but don't have the same sort of bell-like overtones and ring of a Martin or similar. These are unassuming, practical instruments and on this particular instrument the neck is (thankfully) wider like a Martin or Gibson side to side with a mellow C shape to the rear of the neck.


The off-kilter "lyre" headstock shape is kinda cute. The pegs on this are old banjo pegs from my parts bin. New bone nut.


The scale on this uke is an interesting 13 3/4" which is unusually long for most soprano ukes when this was built (most ran 13" to 13 1/4").


Fun rosette!


The bridge area was really mucked-up after what appears to be a few reglue attempts and then an installation of a non-original bridge. I replaced that stuff with something that fit to the original bridge position and size but also put the saddle in the right spot for good intonation -- look how far back it is!

I managed to keep it this way by drilling holes at a 45 degree angle into the rear of the bridge and then into the inside of the uke. This makes it function more like a guitar's "pin bridge" and reduces wear/side pull on the bridge (and its glued foot) itself and also lets me get away with such an unusual saddle location.

Note the scratched-in "ADF#B" note on tuning -- sigh.


Except for the one fixed hairline crack on the upper bout top, there are no further cracks in the walnut.






I like that the neck is walnut, too, rather than the poplar that I see on the less-fancy iterations of these ukes.



Cute endstrip and also note the hole left by what I assume to be a banjo-uke style tailpiece that was on this at one point.



A big old washer and longish (connector-style) nut keep the neck firm to the body. This is easily tightened up with a socket wrench if need be, but to be honest it's a bit of overkill as I also glued the joint when setting the neck, too.