8/26/2016

1920s Epiphone Banjo Ukulele





New York-made Epiphone banjo ukes are not the most common sight. Heck -- any old prewar Epiphone banjo is something a bit hard to come by. This one, with its big 8 1/2" rim, one-piece flange, and heavy-duty tonering, appears to be targeted at a professional player. It's build is distinctly upscale despite its simple looks -- and that large rim and tonering also means that it dishes it out. This is a loud jo-uke that also has full-range, balanced tone. It's not at all shrill or overly-bright and lends itself to playing a variety of styles -- not just strummity-strum-strum-strummity vaudeville (though that sounds awesome, too).

This one came to me via trade and I was thrilled to receive it. I've never had the chance to work on an Epi banjo-uke and I always get excited when I see them pop up on eBay or the like (usually at hyper-inflated prices). This one needed a new head, a fret level/dress, new bridge, and a good setup -- but was otherwise in good shape. It's now playing spot-on with 1/16" action at the 12th fret and strung with D'Addario "Titanium" strings. I've been liking them on my own ukes, lately.


I re-skinned the rim with a cut-down skin from an old 20s 5-string banjo that'd torn at its edges. It's a good-quality one, and as a bonus, shows some playwear around the path of the strings.


I love the "paddle" headstock shape. The fretboard and heastock veneer look like stained maple to me, though the original nut is ebony.


The dots are tiny pearl ones. This has a nice, professional neck shape, too -- with a thin (front to back), soft, C shape that recalls high-grade wood-body ukes (read: Martin, Gibson) as opposed to the chunkier, mandolin-thickness necks one often finds on banjo ukes (my thinking: in an effort to make sure they'd stand up to steel strings).

This neck, while it's built sturdy, was clearly intended for use just as a ukulele -- with gut/nylon/fluoro strings.



The factory neck angle has survived and allows for a good, tall, 5/8" bridge. This, aside from the strings, is the only new part on the uke.


The rim is good, sturdy, multi-ply maple with nicer maple veneer on its outside edges and a good, maple, "rim cap" on the bottom.


Here you can see that big one-piece flange. This is a heavy banjo-uke -- at 4lb 13oz! -- but that's the sacrifice that's made when you want full power out of something like this!


The chipping-away decal label states "House of Stathopoulo - Epiphone." These tuners are those spring-loaded Waverly friction pegs and they work nicely.

You can see the two-piece maple construction of the neck in these photos.




The big, shiny, nickel-plated brass bit above the flange is all tonering -- in a tall, giant hoop about 3/32" thick.






The previous owner said that he'd replaced some hook/nuts but I think he may be thinking of a different instrument. These all appear to be original or at least period and of the right type. As you'd imagine, all the hardware is heavy-duty and in good order.


The neck attaches with one bolt and I've added a couple of extra washer-style hardware bits to fit it a little better than the single flat-washer this had before. I like this design (I'm big on coordinator rods and bolted necks for banjos) but I think it could be improved slightly with a tiny pin hidden between the heel and the rim to keep the neck from rotating if the bolt gets loose.

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