6/05/2015

1920s Oscar Schmidt "Stella" Banjo Uke




Don't you love old Stella banjo ukes? A lot of my customers have been really into theirs and I know why: good feel, good tone! This one has pretty typical specs for a mid-20s Stella jo-uke: 13 1/4" scale, 1 1/4" nut width, and a 7 3/8" rim. It's a little nicer than usual, though, as it does have its own fretboard (most had the frets directly in the neck), and a thicker multi-ply maple rim. It also has a No-Knot style tailpiece rather than the usual cheaper variety.

This is another consignor's instrument and didn't need too much to get it going: new (parts-bin) tuners, a new bridge, cleaning, one extra nut (for the tailpiece hanger), some dressing of the frets, strings, and a setup. It's come out playing perfectly at 1/16" at the 12th fret.



Everything is original save the tuners, bridge, and one nut (of the hook/nut sets). The original skin head is doing just fine but has one little nick to the bass side of the tailpiece. I'm 100% not worried about it.


I fit these old 20s Champion friction pegs to the uke. They're banjo-size pegs so I had to do some modding, but a lot of old Stellas like this came with the uke version of these pegs so they do look "right" and aren't an obvious substitution. Someone had fiddle-style (later) wood pegs installed that just did not work correctly.


Amazingly, the frets were all level... so my only work on them was to dress the overhanging edges and fill one spot in the board where it'd chipped out. Pearl dots... and the neck profile is a rounded C that's comfy. The neck itself looks like maple to me.





Oops! Outta focus... but this is a good neck brace. One knocks it down into place with a hammer and then tightens it up with the screw so it stays put. I never really have much trouble with this style of brace.




What's going on here?!

Those little "dots" in the side of the headstock are where someone inserted hex-adjustable screw-ends (like on electric guitar saddles for height adjustment) so they could "lock" the old (non-original) violin friction pegs in place. Guh. It wrecked the pegs, but there's no reason to take them out. I suppose they could be useful to "lock" these posts as well... but the Champions are generally nice and tight so I doubt they'll ever be of use. More weird history for the uke!



The replacement "nut" is on the tailpiece hanger.

Now, normally with a No-Knot tailpiece, one either ties the string-ends around the posts or makes a ball and puts them through the slots in the posts. I don't like either of those methods very much... so I simply knotted the strings into ball-ends and slipped them between the posts. There's less of a chance of barbs on the posts cutting the strings, this way.


My replacement bridge is a fiddle-bridge-stock maple type and suits the instrument well (tonally). I'm also including the original Grover 20s bridge with this, cut a little higher for "summer height." This is because I tend to need 2 bridges when I have skin banjos to counteract high humidity... and so might the next owner of this uke!

2 comments:

TimeMachine said...

Hello! I just acquired a banjo uke that looks almost identical to this one (my grandmother purchased it new when she was ~14, in the '20s). The only difference is it has a back plate over the round body part, and no embossed logo anywhere. I was trying to figure out what kind it was. Have you ever heard of a Stella that was not embossed with the logo? Or do you know if it was common to find non-branded ones that copied popular styles? I would guess the latter is what this must be. It's totally cool at any rate--fun to play, cute; also, it's signed by all the people she used to play with back in the day!

Jake Wildwood said...

It's very, very, very common for these to not have any branding at all -- or very different branding (for catalog sellers).