4/26/2015

1930s Maxitone/U-King Style Banjo Ukulele




This type of banjo uke isn't pegged down to a certain manufacturer as far as I know, but many of them bear a "Maxitone" (Bruno) brand and all have the cool "U-King" tailpiece. They're all spec'd out with a steel rim (either copper-plated or nickel-plated), narrow and thin neck, and about a 50/50 divide between classic 13" soprano scale and a longer (but more brittle-sounding) 14" scale. This uke is all original except for strings and bridge and it has the more pleasant-sounding 13" scale length.

I think these sound awful before they're worked on as they tend to need a decent amount of damping and a good setup to sound anything unlike a bunch of rocks bouncing in a tin can. After that, though? They're loud, sort of tubby-sounding, fun openbacks. They're also sturdy as heck.


This is a customer's instrument and when this sort of project comes in with a customer who doesn't play (currently), I always sigh a bit because I know they suspect cash-cropping on just about anything you tell them about their instrument. The owner of this banjo uke wanted to grab the "missing parts" -- strings and a bridge -- and try to make it put out some music. I suggested -- well, that's not the only bit -- your frets are probably not level (almost any old instrument needs at least minor fret work), the bridge will need to be fit, and it'll need a decent setup and going-through to have it sound/feel musical. Blah blah blah, right?

So, I tell him I'll do it cheap-ish and just set it up with a new bridge and make it play as best as it can. Of course, when trying to deal with the (somewhat loose) fretwork after putting it back together, I said the heck with it and took it apart again and did the fret level/dress job on the house (to do right by the instrument) because I can't stand to have an instrument have buzzy notes here and there. Sure enough, half the frets were out of sync with the other half and that level was the only way to get this playing. I should've followed my #1 rule -- never do any work unless all the work needed gets addressed. Oh well, at least the uke is happy, now!



Another "feature" of these ukes is painted necks with silver-paint dot markers.


I used one of my nice old-stock minstrel-style all-maple bridges.





Here you can see the addition of a screw into the heel. These "shipped" from the factory without any sort of neck brace or support at the heel and that means that it can be sort-of easy to twist the neck when handling the uke. This, of course, puts it out of tune and messes with the setup. My quick fix for this uke type is to add a screw just like this and it works flawlessly.

The blue stuff is foam to cut down on overtone ring in the head.




Note the muting foam under the tailpiece, too. Overtones are your enemy with banjo-ukes!


The strings are Martin fluorocarbons and they have just the right amount of mellow to counteract the bright/snappy rim sound.

1 comment:

Susan Orgish said...

Friend has one in much better condition with all metal back. Does this instrument have antique/collector value?