6/04/2016

1920s Gretsch-made 8" Banjo Ukulele





Old openback banjo ukes with 8" rims are a lot rarer than the more-usual 7" varieties, and -- unsurprisingly -- they sound fuller, in general, too. This Gretsch-made jo-uke is actually a lot more like their standard banjo line rather than their smaller "Clarophone" jo-ukes that I'm more familiar with and often have holes cut in the rim as "soundports." This is a good, simple, solidly-built instrument and has a nice "all maple" look to it. It's also entirely original save the replacement bridge and strings, too.

Alarmingly, this customer's instrument quite literally "fell through the cracks" in my repair schedule -- I was cleaning all of my racks of instruments the other day to organize everything by date-arrived and found this tucked behind two 5-string banjos. Alas, craziness ensues when there are simply too many instruments about!


Work included a light fret level/dress, sprucing-up of a cracked and falling-off section of the "rim cap" on the rear, cleaning, a new all-maple bridge, and general setup. It plays great with 1/16" action at the 12th fret and has a strong, mellow, woody tone.


Gretsch used a lot of maple at this time -- including the stained-maple (or fruitwood of some sort?) on the fretboard and headstock veneer.


Pearl dots are in the board and the neck has a nice, slightly-wider string spacing more akin to an average uke than, say, a mandolin (like some jo-ukes have).


The foam near the tailpiece just cuts down on overtones.




The little dip or "volute" at the back of the headstock is indicative of many Gretsch banjo and uke instruments from the time, but not necessarily an identifier.

Note how a two-piece maple neck is used for strength and stability.



The neck brace on a lot of old Gretsch banjo instruments is very smart -- one big bolt holds the neck to the rim nice and tight and the two below it hold the bracket to the rim.




I like this tailpiece design as well -- it can accept loop or ball-end strings and would work for 5-string banjo as well, albeit with only loop-end strings used.

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