4/08/2015

1930s/1960s/2015 Big-Rim Banjo Uke



So, what do you do with a spare old Harmony-made 30s PMICo soprano uke neck and 11" Kay banjo rim from the 60s? You make a super-banjo-uke, of course. This is cobbled together from all sorts of bits around the workshop but the only "new" hardware are the hooks/nuts and head.

While it looks like a weirdo 4-string banjo mandolin (the "official" banjolin or melody banjo), this nylon (well, fluorocarbon) beast is extremely loud, full, and banjo uke right to the end in tone. The immediate benefit of the bigger rim vs. your average banjo uke is a lot more volume, presence, and a much deeper low end. In fact... it makes it sound something closer to a nylon/gut-strung 5-string banjo in effect and it's a super sound for clawhammer use.



The new Remo-made "Elite" Renaissance-type head is a good-sounding thing to have.

This jo-uke has a 13" scale but only 11 frets, per the original neck's layout.


The poplar neck is straight and true and has a mild V shape on the back with a wider nut... sort of Hawaiian-y in flavor with the width. It means chord spacing is comfy for those with bigger fingers.



I bought a whole bunch of these (originally 5-string) maple bridges from eBay seller "bezdez." They're old German stock and are super. They appear to have been cut from violin bridge maple stock as the quality is right up there. And.. with the sort-of "minstrel" cut to them, they're perfect for boosting nylon/flouro/nylgut tone.


A piece of folded old cloth mutes the overtones from the tail side of the strings (and thus improves the "fundamental" sound of the instrument).

Did I mention I added a simple brass hoop tonering to this guy? Volume and sustain boost right there.


Yeah, I mean, it's not pretty but it'll sound good on record and plays just fine. For a little over an hour's work cobbling it together and setting it up, I'm quite happy.


The strings mount simply: tiny holes through the rim and "balled ends" on the inside, then looping over the tension hoop and to the bridge. While regular banjo tailpieces are perfectly useful... I think as few parts that move or rattle on a banjo as possible is the way to go.

The bigger extra holes in the rim are from the old 60s Kay neck-mounting hardware while the smaller extra holes are for shoes/hooks I've removed (don't need so many with a synthetic head and light string tension).


The neck is attached with two screws... sorta 1880s style. Because of the light tension on the rim this doesn't really need a dowel or coordinator rod assembly.

This is the weak point on the instrument, however, as a good drop on the neck will probably split the heel. Well... that'll happen on just about any banjo, though...! But still...


While this has all sorts of older parts, the overall effect is minstrel-y in looks, no?


The tension hoop is from an old 1920s banjo with a wrecked rim and has been in my parts stash for a long time.


Here you can see the simple stringing method.

I wanted to use nylgut strings at first... but the soprano set doesn't have quite enough length to get to the headstock. So... I used Martin fluorocarbons instead.

2 comments:

Captain Simian said...

So is this banjo uke for your personal use or will it be up for grabs?

Jake Wildwood said...

It's available: send me an email to-- jakewildwood@gmail.com

Thanks!