1/09/2016

1930s Harmony "Nobility" Mahogany Tiple




Old tiples generally have the reputation for being hard to play, hard to keep in tune, and terrible with intonation up the neck. It's true -- as stock instruments, that's what they're like. It takes a little bit of modification and proper setup to get them to shine -- but once they do they're a bit like "pocket 12 string guitars" and are a very versatile instrument for recording purposes.

This Harmony-made tiple dates from the 30s and bears the "Nobility" branding. It's a customer's instrument and has been waiting, waiting, waiting for repair. I finally got around to the last of it and the whole job included a neck reset, fret level/dress, bridge alteration, new compensated bone saddle and string retainer bar, and a new bone nut. It now plays in tune up the neck and has spot-on easy 1/16" action height at the 12th fret.

I string these with my own "custom" set of gauges for GCEA tuning: 11/20w G, 16/36w/16 C, 14/30w/14 E, and 10/10 A.


For those not in the know, US-made tiples are ukulele-family instruments and are the size of tenor ukes (17" scale length on this one) but have 10 steel strings in a 2-3-3-2 pattern and are strung, traditionally, in octaves on the first 3 courses. There are South American tiples of various sorts that are similar, too, though they tend to be larger and have lower tunings.

The body and neck of this instrument are both all solid mahogany.


The original nuts that come on these Harmony tiples were made of celluloid and tend to break down or wear out a bit too quickly -- hence the replacement with bone.


The fretboard on this one is rosewood and the neck is a comfortable and rather quick C shape on the rear. In comparison, Regal ukes from the same time had pretty monstrous v-shaped necks.



Two things are different from original on this instrument's bridge. First off, there's a big, wide saddle that has compensation for each individual string. Second, I've added a string-retainer bar behind the original classical-style "tie block" because the block wasn't thick enough to keep the wrappings on the strings from riding over the saddle. New strings tend to have longer twist-wraps than period ones, so that's why this was necessary. Strings will buzz or intonate poorly with the wrappings riding over the break of the saddle.


Two little ebony shims between the retainer bar and the "tie block" help distribute the tension load off of just the retainer bar.








 The original tuners are still going strong, though they certainly needed a bit of a lube.

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