7/30/2015

1940s Kay-made 8" Banjo Ukulele




This week has been pretty intense on the walk-ins front and I've only really managed to finish up odd jobs I was working on last week so far. This 8" rim banjo uke is one of them and it certainly is an odd duck as it's not your typical 20s/30s banjo uke design that's easily identified. I'm pretty sure it dates to the late 40s or early 50s and, judging by the construction and hardware choices, was probably made by Kay in Chicago.

After work it plays spot-on, has a good, rich, openback "old time banjo" sound, and has plenty of volume for group work. It's not as snappy as a resonator banjo uke but it sure fits in well with old-time and early country/hillbilly sounds or vaudeville jug-bandy stuff. The scale length is a straight 14" (also a Kay signature for many of their banjo ukes) and the neck is C/U-shaped and a little narrower than the earlier Hawaiian-flavored banjo ukes so closed position chords up and down the neck are quite fast and easy.


Work included installing this pretty new skin head, making a new rosewood bridge, a very light fret level/dress, neck attachment bolt mods, cleaning, and a good setup. Strings are new Martin fluoros.


Right! I also replaced the original "Keystone" friction pegs (which were falling apart and estimate late 40s/early 50s make) with some Kluson repro tuners. I can't complain: they work and hold pitch steady.

The original nut is bone.


The frets are mandolin-size brass types and the board is a plain-Jane rosewood (flat-profile) with plastic dots. I added side dots.


I ended up making a new rosewood bridge as I didn't have anything tall enough (over 5/8") on hand.





The neck originally attached with 2 screws to the rim. I've re-screwed the upper one like it was before but changed the lower one into a hanger-bolt setup (Gibson style) with a big hex nut which is much more secure.

The foam is there to mute overtone ring and clean up the sound when strumming full-out. I do it to most jo-ukes and it removes with... fingers.


All the rim hardware is original. The rim itself is multi-ply maple with a veneer of mahogany and a "rim cap" of rosewood. The head rests on a small "hoop style" tonering.



For a plain-Jane sort of uke, this is a really practical and nice one. The 8" head makes a world of difference vs. even a 7" head of the same general makeup.


The tailpiece is really simple but works just fine.

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