1920s Oscar Schmidt Taropatch Ukulele

Taropatch ukes are concert-sized oddities from the "uke boom" era that have 8 strings in paired courses and tuned in unison. They have a sweet, watery, rich sound that gives a seasoned uke player a full voice for strumming with. Modern 8-string tenor/baritone ukes and 6-string concert/tenor ukes are variations on the idea, though most of those have octaved courses (like on a 12 string guitar) which gives an entirely different, jangly sound. True "taropatch" ukes have more of a "shimmery" voice instead.

This is a customer's instrument and came in for work. When I first saw pictures of it in email I figured it was one of the several 20s Harmony-made taropatch models I was familiar with from past work, but when it came in the Oscar Schmidt design elements were very clear -- square kerfing, neck shape, wide nut, fret type, binding and rosette details, neck joint -- the whole nine yards. It even has the very last leavings of the usual "big square" OS label inside.

This taropatch had some work done on it before me -- a neck reset, bridge glue, and some crack repairs. There was also a half-hearted attempt to repair a headstock crack. My work on it included regluing both main braces at the soundhole, adding a bridge plate, a very light fret level/dress, re-repair of the headstock crack, bridge shave, and install of 8 new Gotoh "UPT" 4:1 geared uke pegs.

It's come out playing perfectly which is just what you want out of a taropatch -- otherwise the doubled strings start feeling like a liability rather than an enhancement.

Aside from the new tuners, everything is original -- including the bone nut. This has a 14 3/4" scale length which puts it in the "concert size" zone, even though the body is slightly smaller than your average modern concert uke.

The original bridge used a curious "through hole" string-mount method a little like a classical guitar tie-block. I've worked on one other OS taropatch and I'm guessing this was to counter the fact that most uke bridges chip-out and get broken slots if you put two of the "usual" string-mount slots next to one another.

At any rate, I had to shave the bridge down and so I also added a different string-mount choice by drilling tiny holes through the top in the middle of these slots. I then passed the string into the inside through the hole, pulled it up out of the soundhole and knotted it... then pulled it back up to the headstock. This makes a "pinless pin bridge" mounting -- and while it's slightly more time consuming at first -- is much more stable and adds less wear-and-tear to the bridge and top of the instrument.

I also don't know about you, but unless I hate the tone of the strings, I leave my uke strings on until they start wearing out too much from the bottom of the frets -- which can be a process that takes 2-5 years for me.

The uke is all solid mahogany throughout.

Aren't those UPTs snazzy? They're made from aluminum and have "off white" buttons which are a "more or less" good match for the cream buttons on the original Champion uke pegs. Speaking of those Champions... these tuners are actually about 2/3 the weight of the originals even though they're geared, planetary pegs. I think the owner will be exceedingly happy about upgrading to these. I have them on all of my ukes because they're simply so nice to use.

The headstock had a repaired crack along the line of the tuners, but when I took off the old tuners I noticed that it was actually flexing and more-or-less wide open. So -- I glued it up again and reinforced it with tiny 1/16" dowels. Fortunately these are on the treble side of the headstock so the player won't notice them.

Let's admit it: we all like endstrips.


charlie said...

Nice instrument Jake. I haven't done a lot of headstock repair but I have used 1/8" bamboo 'kabab' sticks instead of dowel, super strong. Admittedly it was an old guitar and the repair only added to the many other repairs it already had. Love your work!

Jake Wildwood said...

Hi Charlie,

Yep, the kabab sticks should work wonders. :)

When I do big dowels I use maple ones as they're a bit tougher than your average warped birch or poplar ones. The ones in this headstock are 1/16" to keep them tiny. Just for a little extra support...

Paulette Elie said...

Hi Jake
I picked up a 1920 Oscar Schmidt 8 sting Taropatch last April at Carters Vintage Guitars in Tennessee. While it has the original wood tuning pegs, I am having it restored because some varnished it...badly and made a bridge that is far too high. The wood peg no longer allow it to hold a tune. I would like to replace them with the Gotoh "UPT" 4:1 geared uke pegs that you used. Where can I get them? Also, what strings and tuning do you recommend? My email is pjemaddog@gmail.com. Thank you and look forward to hearing from you. Paulette Elie.

Jake Wildwood said...

I buy the UPTs from "The Ukulele Site" in Hawaii. For strings I just doubled-up Martin fluorocarbons (M600). You can go "octaves" as well, but I like the languid sound of simple doubled strings myself.