9/05/2014

c.1920 Harmony Taro-Convert Koa Concert Uke




This instrument began life as a Harmony-made 8-string taropatch ukulele (concert-sized uke instrument with doubled strings) and I bought it under the assumption I could fix it up as one a long time ago. When it came to me in the mail I found a neck that had been curiously repaired, a broken neck block and neck-area sides with apparently several botched neck set attempts, many open seams, bridge needing a reglue, a couple top cracks unfixed, braces loose... everything wrong. I let it languish as I was so depressed by all that and finally last week I hauled it out of storage along with so many other of my recent for-sale repairworks to begin fixing it to do something rather than nothing.

The result is a 4-string koa-bodied concert ukulele with huge, loud, bright and chimey sound. I'm floored by how well it turned out and after closing today I brought this along on a family outing to the woods to singsong with it. Fun!

This has a 1 7/16" nut and a 14 3/4" scale.


Work on the body included regluing the bridge, gluing up some open seams, filling and cleating a couple top hairline cracks, and gluing up a broken neck block and neck-area sides.


The headstock was originally cut for 8 tuners but I cut it down for these 4 and gave it the "v" shape that I associate with a few funny Hawaiian makers from the same period.

Due to the nature of the previous neck repairs (see later in the post) I had to level the neck and refret it so I installed a "zero fret" for the nut at the same time. I'd seen a modern builder use small screws to hold the strings in place over a zero fret and I thought that was nifty so I did it here, too. It works like a charm!


While the body is a nice orangey koa the neck is a hunk of chocolate-colored mahogany. It's harder to see in in the pics but the neck is actually a bit darker than the body. Those are pearl dots, by the way.

Some of the frets aren't aligned perfectly -- on par for Chicago-made ukes of the day -- but the intonation is surprisingly good despite that. I used the original fret slots when refretting, mind you.


I love the rope binding and detailing throughout...


The koa bridge has a bone saddle insert.


It's hard to see but the back has a little bit of flame. I got some pics of it later on that you can see down low in this post.


As stated the body is all solid koa.


Here you can see some of those old neck repairs! It looks like it must've been stepped on as a big section was spliced in at some point with new mahogany and parts of the neck were doweled back together for strength. My "hand stress test" confirmed what I thought when I first bought it: this repaired neck would certainly not stand for 8 strings! After leveling the board, dressing it, and refretting it, however -- it handles 4 at this concert scale just fine with no relief and quick action (currently set to fingerpicking-friendly 3/32" but would easily go down to strum-friendly 1/16" quickly).


Like other fancy Harmony models of this time the neck had a tenon joint that was just not the right idea to build with. I re-used this joint when I reglued but I also installed a Gibson banjo-style hanger bolt in the neck with adjustment at the neck block interior. This gave a much surer fit and the glued and bolted construction should hold this old neck joint together quite well for the remainder of its years.




There's plenty of usewear but it sure does look good. I love the color of the koa.






Here you can see some of that flamey figure on the back.


...and here you can see the grafted-in neck repair with a few doweled supports added. This is a very vintage repair and I wouldn't be surprised if it was from around when this was made. It's not badly-done but I wouldn't trust the neck to remain straight with more than 4 strings at pitch. Thankfully the bracing inside is ridiculously lightweight (as is the instrument, too) so those 4 strings really give this a lot of punch and volume.


 ...and here's the concert uke with the soprano from the last post.

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