5/08/2016

1920s Harmony-made "California Style" Banjo Ukulele




I'll admit it -- I've been "gathering-in" the ukes again for resale. I can't help it -- I love these things. I bought this one upon seeing what good shape it was in and gave it the fret level/dress, new bridge, new tuners, setup and extra neck-bolt install that it needed in the closing hour of today's work.

This banjo-uke was certainly made by Harmony in the mid-late 20s and is an example of the "California style" rim design which has a simple top-tension hoop that uses screws to add tension on the head. These Harmony-made ukes are generally a step or two above the cheaper variations of this jo-uke style made by Globe and have a better build quality overall. This one has a poplar rim with mahogany veneer and "pinstriped" wooden inlay. The neck is also mahogany and has an inlaid stripe down the fretboard and headstock.


The skin head appears to be original and is in good shape. The maple bridge is from my parts-bin and cut to fit.

Aside from looking cute and having a clean look, the design of this style of banjo uke also means that it's lightweight like a "regular" uke and doesn't have any hooks to dig into your arms or belly. The lighter weight versus a more typical banjo-style design means it handles in-the-arms like a regular uke, too, so there's no need for a strap unless you prefer that feel.


This uke came with down-on-their luck Bakelite-buttoned original pegs, but they were shot so I installed these newer-style friction pegs from my parts-bin and they do the job quite well. The hole at the top of the headstock is actually "factory-installed." It would've had a contrasting-pattern curtain-pull cord strap that ran from there to below the tailpiece when new.

The strings are fluorocarbon and this uke has a, for the time, standard 13" scale length. The neck profile is a medium C shape and the board is flat.


Having an inlaid maple/rosewood/maple stripe down the neck is easy on the eyes. The frets are original and while they've been leveled and dressed, they're still that old vintage stock that someone with a heavy-handed left-hand approach won't enjoy too much (they feel "sticky" if you're a neck-choker).


The bridge is a new, hard maple one, and it's in the style of something that would've been on this from the factory. The bit of foam near the tailpiece is simply for muting overtones from the string afterlength behind the bridge. It's optional but I think it's nice to clear-up the tone.



The back has a solid mahogany, press-arched, "resonator' closed-back design. The F-holes are the only way for sound to bleed-out from behind the banjo and as a result the instrument has a mellower vibe while still having a good amount of volume.



These necks are attached with one big bolt/screw from the factory. You have to remove the head to access it. I add a second one below that (at the bottom of the heel) when I do these over so that they remain far stable and the possibility of the neck twisting "out-of-plane" is removed.

I did, also, add a tiny shim at the top of the heel to jack the neck angle back ever-so-slightly to get a hair-taller bridge on it -- a classic "banjo trick."




There's a hairline crack (filled) on the mahogany veneer on this side of the rim. It's not through the rim -- just in the veneer. This is pretty typical for these guys and often these come in with many such veneer hairline cracks all-over.



The little hole below the tailpiece is where a factory strap-cord would've been mounted when new.

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