10/03/2014

c.1925 Oscar Schmidt-made Stella Banjo Ukulele




I've worked on a ton of these old OS banjo ukes (soprano scale) and they're all funky but a lot of fun and their uke-like (rather than mandolin-like on many jo-ukes) necks feel nice to fingerpick, strum... or whatever. This one needed a new head, nut, fret level/dress, cleaning, bridge, and setup... but I also installed a tonering (more on that below) to make it an openback "archtop" banjo uke. How about that? I wanted to have a little fun, you see.


Embossed Stella mark... new bone nut.


The brass frets just needed a light level and dress.


The new skin head is a thicker one I had around and it shows some of the neat veiny creases and light rippling skin can have (like what you'd see on a folk drum). 


This is actually a nicer tailpiece than usual and I had it in my parts bin. Most of the rim hardware (barring my tonering mod) is original to the instrument but the tailpiece, bridge, one hook/nut set, and some of the mounting screws for the shoes are replacements from my bin.



The set of tuners was mostly complete but I added extra washers for smoother turning and mixed and matched parts from my bin (I have lots of these old bakelite tuners around) to make a better overall set.


Note the tiny bit of foam stuffed under the dowel to mute overtone ring. Not necessary -- this is a player's preference sort of thing but I find that nice to have on hand for recording purposes.


The "tonering" is actually a tension hoop from a long-gone California style banjo uke. I thought it made a neat repurposing. I bent some simple mending plates to serve as attachments to hold it up in the rim. I saw this method employed on a British banjo from the 30s and thought: man, that'd be fun to do some day! So now I've done it.

Compared to the normal (very mellow, almost uke-quiet) sound I normally associate with OS jo-ukes like this Stella the tone is brighter, more cheery, more focused, and louder.


The thin metal bands are, I'm assuming, meant to reinforce the thin (birch) rim. Whether they do or not is up to debate... but I can assure you they're annoying to try to keep in place while tightening everything up.


The head is on slightly crooked towards the heel but sometimes that happens with skin: it needs extra tension here or there after it dries up and changes. You can also see how the head goes "up" towards the center: that's the tonering pushing it up to make an "archtop" banjo design.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is one cool instrument! I can't stop playing it.

-Shane