7/25/2014

c.1920 Kumalae Koa Soprano Uke




This cute little peanut-shaped koa soprano is a Hawaiian-made Kumalae probably from the late teens or early 20s. It's a fun little thing with not a large voice but a pleasant, sweet sound that reminds me a lot of my own very beat-up 20s Oscar Schmidt uke. There's something about the underdogs, isn't there? ...and the Hawaiian-style neck has that very vintage, old-timey feel.

It's had some old crack repairs (and cleating) done to the top in the past and the top was apparently lightly sanded and top-coated in the past as well. I've in turn polished it a little and then top-coated it myself with a couple very thin layers of finish to get is a little bit more "glowy" under light. My other work included a fret level/dress and some fret reseating, bridge cut and new fret saddle (from my vintage frets stash), new bone nut, tuner ferrules, and setup. It plays well (hair over 1/16" at the 12th fret action) and is ready to go for the next 100 provided it's taken care of.


Update 8/7/14: Like all the other old Kumalaes I've worked on the soundhole and bridge are simply not "on centerline." The bridge is centered with the neck, however. There is also "overhang" of fretboard on either side of the outside strings near the neck joint. This is all typical stuff for teens-30s Hawaiian ukes which are simply folksy instruments: these weren't built in molds or with detailed plans or much foresight -- they were put together by hand and quickly and as a result most have no symmetry whatsoever.


The strings are Martin fluorocarbons... and don't you love the decal? Aside from the top, the finish is original everywhere else and nicely glossy. The tuners are period replacements (the originals were wood pegs) and I've added ferrules on the rear of the headstock to help them turn nicely.



Note the several repaired/cleated hairline cracks and someone's repaired "top soundhole" patch that was done quite well! Chipped-out soundhole areas are common on old ukes.


I had to cut the bridge so low that the ball-end loading area was insufficient to hold the string ends. So... I made tiny pinholes behind the slots that you pass the string through, pull out through the soundhole, tie a few knots in, and then pull back snug and then up to the tuner. Works great and actually takes direct stress off the bridge, too...



The back only has one tiny 3/4" hairline crack... and the sides have none.


The tuners have grained ivoroid buttons.






2 comments:

Dan said...

It just arrived today, thanks Jake!

It's a sweet little instrument and sounds great! Although it may take me a little while to adjust to how low the strings are with no fretboard. I never thought about the difference before.

Jake Wildwood said...

This is true! You lose 1/16" height at minimum and usually 1/8" in practice... and you've found the exact reason why boards became popular and pretty much standard as ukes evolved. Players at the time strummed and picked right around the 12th fret or over the neck.