1/27/2017

1920s "Oscar-Voisinet" Frankenstein Resonator Banjo Ukulele





Update: I decided to go a few steps more on this instrument and added a resonator, guitar-style tuners, and changed the way the strings loaded, so I've replaced all the pictures and updated the description where necessary.

It's a partser! I had a neck and resonator off of a broken-rimmed 1920s "block rim" Oscar Schmidt banjo uke and the 7 7/8" rim from a 1920s Stromberg-Voisinet (Kay) banjo uke -- and this is the result of the marriage. It's turned-out well and has a big, direct, extra-loud, choppy voice. Due to the larger head diameter than usual, it's got a ton of presence and projection and the resonator keeps the voice tight, chipper, and fundamental.

The rim was missing its hardware when I got it and so I modified a larger tension hoop and flesh hoop to fit the rim and then found a large-enough matching set of same-period hooks and nuts to get it going. The head is a new skin one I put on today (though it has one tiny pinhole on it that is no concern, but there). The neck just needed a fret level/dress, replacement tuners, a new (ebony) nut, and a bit of recutting to fit the tension hoop into its heel.

This has a 13 1/4" soprano scale length and a medium-sized, rounded neck shape. Action is spot-on at 1/16" at the 12th fret and it's strung with Martin fluorocarbon strings.


I was out of vintage heads of a good enough size to re-purpose for this uke, so it has a new, thin, goatskin head on it.


You can see the two-piece, mahogany-center-strip neck design right on the face of the instrument. The frets are original, very low, brass frets. They allow slides up and down the neck like crazy.


I also added side dots, though you can't see them in the picture.


The bridge is one-piece maple in a "minstrel" style.



The nice, turned maple resonator was stock with the Oscar Schmidt-made neck. It works beautifully.


The resonator is secured by four shoes that the four bolts in its rear thread into. I've mounted them so as to keep the resonator off of the rim about 1/16" or so, just like the old "pie plate" resonators.



I've done-away with a tailpiece and the strings mount with balled-up ends directly through the rim from the inside.


The foam stuffed inside just mutes overtones a bit. Note the over/under screw attachment of the neck to the rim -- standard-issue for modern banjos but a definite mod in this one!


The tuners are new Kluson-style units that I've altered with new, black buttons and cut-down shafts to fit the headstock's thinner depth.






I used every other hole to mount shoes for the hook/nut sets. The remaining holes I blocked-in with some threaded brass caps I've had left-over from a piano disassembly last year. I've never had a use for them, but they tidy-up the outside look after being hammered and tack-glued in place.

While the mahogany veneer of the rim doesn't match the maple of the neck, at least the contrast is plausible.


Here's how the strings exit from the inside of the rim and then up and over the tension hoop. I used to have a tailpiece on here but decided I wanted balanced tension around the rim and added the hook in the center instead.

My cut-down tension hoop that I modified for use on this instrument is held together with some wrapped and knotted wire right next to this central hook.

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