4/24/2015

1930s Harmony Johnny Marvin "Tenor" Concert Uke




Harmony Johnny Marvin ukes aren't too rare, but the earlier ones with the "Lindbergh" airplane bridge and flamed mahogany bodies are a bit rarer. They're also so stylish! While these are labeled as "tenor" instruments on the headstock, their scale length and size is distinctly on the smaller end of concert uke sizing. They have a thinner (front to back) but wider (nut width) neck, too, which means that they feel altogether different from most modern ukes. They're more "Hawaiian" in feel but "mainland" in tonal character. Compared to your average Harmony uke, though, these are a lot "airier" with more depth and a mellow brightness.

My work included a neck reset, bridge reglue, fret level/dress, crack cleating/repair, and setup. The owner likes a low G on this uke and that's what it's got -- in Aquila reds.


I love how "lived-in" this example is. Note the finish discoloration all over the upper bout. Wanna know what that's from? Hand sweat interaction with nitro finish. What's it tell me, even without touching the uke? That it'll sound great. More play, more tone. Easy as that.


The uke is all original, too. I love the celluloid headstock veneer.


Rosewood board with pearl dots. The neck had a light bit of warp which was leveled out in the fret work.



The maple/bone airplane bridge is too cool. The pins are replacement plastic ones.


Check out the flamed mahogany -- nice stuff.




The longer hairline cracks on the back were filled a while back but not cleated at all. I added a bunch of cleats to keep it sturdy.


These are those old spring-loaded tuners that tune a bit more smoothly than your average uke friction peg from the time.


Note the pearl dot at the heel: this conceals an internal screw I added to supplement the dowel-joined neck. A creeping neck joint (and in this case, added-to with some cracks in the side at the neck block) is typical on old Harmony ukes. This shored up that weak point in the design.



See the discolored patch on the side upper bout? Someone did a crazy, but effective, old repair job there. It looks hilarious on the inside -- but works!



I guess I'm showing my stripes a bit, huh? These are great ukes and I'm slightly jealous of the owner.

4 comments:

Craig said...

I have one of these, Jake. Do you know that Johnny Marvin tuned his down a full step to Bb? Harmony had a wonderful batch of mahogany with these.

Craig

Jake Wildwood said...

I didn't know he went down to Bb... but I DO know that uke players back in the day went all over the place with their tunings up and down. Wendell Hall songbooks are CRAZY with alternate tunings.

karl said...

I've read or heard that the aeroplane - besides being an aesthetical thing - also counteracts any bellying. Could you check if such a 'bridge plate on the top side' eliminates the need for large one on the inside?

Jake Wildwood said...

Yup, having a bridge like that does counteract top bellying, for sure. The problem is that Harmony also made the majority of them (for guitars and tenor guitars) out of dyed maple which tends to crumble/get fragile as it ages, thus nullifying the benefit. Because this one was just finished natural over maple it's still nice and stiff and let them really thin the top vs. later ones.