1920s British-made Windsor Whirle Banjo Ukulele

This Windsor Whirle ("Whirlie") is a great-looking uke and would've probably been fairly up the food-chain when it was made. Testament to this are the soft, integral arm rest, gold-plated hardware, and nice fittings. It's an 8" rim which puts it solidly in the realm of "professional size" jo-ukes, though the scale is standard 13" soprano which lets it tune from standard GCEA up to ADF#B without trouble. The neck is very slender and fast (like a modern uke) which lets all those closed-position sliding chords "get done" nice and easy.

Work included a refret, cleaning, new bridge, new nut, and general setup with Martin fluoro strings. It plays spot-on and is in good health. I also modified the neck-to-pot join method which added better rigidity and stability there.

All the hardware is original save the new frets, bridge, and nut. The skin head is holding-up well and has a good sound. This is a loud and proud uke and sounds best (to my ears) when played at "stage" or "group" volume -- not worrying about not trying to make noise on it.

Isn't the Whirle plate nice?

I refretted with modern medium/narrow stock which gives this a deluxe sort of feel. The neck's fretboard had been sanded-down incorrectly at the factory which added some backbow at the 1-5 fret positions. I dialed this mostly out and then seated the frets to remove any other deviation. Therefore, the uke plays with a "nice straight neck." It's a fast one, too, with the slender maple neck under that (ebony?) board.

Pearl dots are inlaid.

I used a nice 3-foot all-maple bridge.

The rim and resonator are veneer with fancy birdseye/figured maple and finished in a "golden natural" tint.

Pretty nice, huh?

The original friction tuners are still doing their job. They were gold-plated, too, but the plating has obviously worn off the buttons. An interesting note on this tuner design, though, is that they adjust with little hex-shaped nuts rather than set-screws. Waaaaay less prone to stripping-out...

The nice rounded-off heel reminds me of Buckbee banjos and some Langes from the teens.

The routed-out soundports are classy-as-heck!

I stuffed a tiny bit of muting material under the armrest to dampen overtones on the head just slightly. It helps when one plays all-out.

The strings are mounted straight through the tension hoop -- a design I like as it means tailpiece rattle is never an issue -- leaving a clean look.

I normally am not into gold hardware, but I really can't complain at all about the aged look this hardware has taken on. It's classy instead of bling.

Before mating up the neck back with the rim, I converted the lower of its two mounting screws into a hanger-bolt/big hex-nut setup. Add a big washer and -- hey presto -- neck stability is increased a thousand-fold.

There's no "tonering" on this jo-uke, but the top edge of the rim is rounded-over a bit. Note that, like many British banjos, there's no "dowel stick" reinforcement through the rim. The integral resonator on the back adds that stiffness instead.


Nick R said...

Back in the 19th century Arthur Windsor was a keen banjo player-his nickname at school was "castle" so he used the image of Windsor Castle-the royal residence on his badge when he began manufacturing instruments. Prior to making banjos his company made coffin furniture- Birmingham was the centre of much metal machining- not least guns- Birmingham Small Arms- BSA better known later for motor cycles and even cars- the prestigious British Daimler- car to the Royal Family was owned by BSA. Anyway, Windsor became Britain's biggest stringed instrument maker- and also sold guitars- they were bought in. I have seen a tenor guitar by Windsor that was probably made by Ermelinda Silvestri in Sicily while my Windsor tenor guitar was made in Czechoslovakia. Windor stopped instrument making for WW2 and production of items for the war effort began but in 1940 banjo hating Germans aviators bombed the factory- that was the end of Windsor and the Whirle instruments.

Jake Wildwood said...

Nick, you're the man. Thank you for posting this!

Tony Wilson said...

My earlier post didn't make it past Google authentication… but I am the fortunate person who purchased the Windsor Whirle banjo-uke this morning. As Nick said above, the Windsor Whirle company had an interesting history making stringed instruments. I'm looking forward to playing this banjo-uke. Thanks.

Tony Wilson said...


iggy said...

I have one of these but it's untouched and in its original case I have been trying to find out as much info as possible which has been an ordeal on its own I have pictures up on my twitter account @marleybob01 any help/info appreciated