6/08/2014

c.1920 Harmony-made Olympian "California Style" Banjo Ukulele




You gotta love these simple little things... they're so lightweight, sturdy, and easy to travel with it's ridiculous. They also have that classic warm/sweet banjo uke tone which really hits the spot for old-timey and folkie music.

This one was made by Harmony and has a 13" soprano scale and "inline" head. The wood is all solid mahogany save for those inlaid decorative stripes of... who knows what? Work included a total refret, neck adjustments (including a second anchor screw to make sure the neck stays stable), cleaning, replacement bridge, replacement tuners (from my parts bin of 20s uke pegs), and setup.



It has that charming mellow tone and plays well, though the board "drops off" lightly towards the rim after the 5th fret or so which means that it you get slightly higher string action than "perfect" around the 12th fret.

I think this was actually something that happened when it was made as I see it a lot on these guys... someone must've not been sanding the board carefully! In short: it plays from frets 0-7 like a uke setup for 1/16" action at the 12th (spot-on and very fast) to a uke setup for 3/32" action at the 12th past the 7th fret (actual string height = 3/32" at the 12th). At any rate that makes this ideal for a strummer or clawhammer player who's gonna get their fingers above the board anyhow and I doubt most folks would notice this sort of thing but I'm sort of super detail-oriented so I figured I'd mention it.


I replaced a damaged set of tinier friction pegs with this decent set of old Grover "mini Champions" from the same era. A nice little upgrade...



The back has a press-domed resonator that's tacked on with a bunch of brads. I love the cute little f-hole treatment these get. The sound isn't dramatically changed from a regular "openback" version of this same uke design but it is a bit more focused.


The neck profile is a mild C shape with a banjo-uke style narrower width which is nice for closed-position chords up and down the neck.


Usually these necks are held on by one big screw but I add a 2nd for directional stability as well (as in: it won't twist from side to side if the big screw gets slightly loose).


I like the inlaid stripe contrasting with the side mahogany as well...




The strings simply knot through tiny holes in the rim... easy peasy.

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