2/04/2015

1920s Oscar Schmidt Banjo Ukulele




I've been trying to post this uke for a week, now! I'm pretty behind on getting all the pics and posts up. Oh, time!

It's a 1920s Oscar Schmidt-made banjo uke and these are most often seen with "Stella" imprinted at the headstock. These are generally good-sounding instruments but they're not particularly super-loud. Like a good resonator guitar, the real advantage of an instrument like this is the addition of "cut" to your sound so you stand out in a band's mix. Also... that openback, thin-wood-rim tone is something to savor. It's very "old timey."


My work on this uke included adding a new bridge (vintage 60s maple type), 3 new hook/nuts and a "shoe" (vintage 20s), a fret level/dress, new friction pegs, and setup.

The skin is old but not original to this uke. After spending a long time trying to get two slightly-too-thick modern skins installed I actually found exactly the size needed in my "old heads bin" from instruments I've taken old skin heads off of in favor of synthetic or new ones. This one is in perfect shape so -- fair enough!


These almost-new Grover friction pegs were surplus from a tenor banjo that got 4:1 geared units. They're good quality and similar to what might've been on this uke in the first place (OS often used mini-Champion pegs on their ukes if they didn't use wooden ones).


The neck shape is a medium C and not the thinner (front to back) and wider profile of slightly earlier OS banjo ukes. I'm assuming this is a change to accommodate steel strings if desired. The nut width is still wider and more "Hawaiian" in spacing than most contemporary banjo ukes, though.

It's got a 13 1/4" scale.




I think the rim is stained-birch (one ply) construction while the neck is poplar (as is the dowel).



The neck brace slides into place and tensions up with a few hammer-whacks. It's then "set" with a screw to keep it stable.


OS banjo ukes tend to have these metal bands that are, I'd imagine, an attempt to keep the rim from going out of round. I haven't yet found one that's perfectly round and, personally, don't sweat it. The uke functions well after roughly 100 years and minor work so I think the build is perfectly adequate.


The tail has to set at an angle which is pretty typical for less-expensive banjo instruments from the time. They simply change shape and settle over time and stuff like this is to adjust for that.

This uke plays perfectly with 1/16" action at the 12th fret.

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