2/14/2017

1920s Harmony-made 8" Rim Banjo Ukulele





This openback banjo uke is a little nicer-trimmed than average, has a longer 13 7/8" soprano scale, and a larger 8" rim. Combine that with the thinner nut width (1 1/4") and slim, C-shaped neck, and you can be playing sliding jazz (or Formby!) chords up and down the neck all night long. I'm pretty sure this was made by Harmony in the early to mid 1920s, though it's mostly a guess due to the convergence of heel shape, binding style, fretboard style, and hardware. The headstock shape is quite un-Harmony, however, and there's a chance this was made by Kay (Stromberg-Voisinet) instead.

It's a spicy-sounding banjo-uke with a loud, forward, and cutting tone. It's not harsh or ugly tone-wise but has a drive more akin to a tenor banjo than the usual 7" banjo uke which means -- yes! -- it's perfect for band or session use as you'll be heard and heard nicely.


The uke is also all-original save a replacement (older) bridge and the new strings. My work on it included a fret level/dress, various adjustments, a mod to the neck attachment area, and a good setup. It plays on-the-dot with 1/16" action at the 12th fret and is strung with Martin fluorocarbon strings.


The headstock looks a bit like "SS Stewart" banjos of the late 1800s.

The neck wood and the veneer on the rim is mahogany, by the way. I'm not sure what the interior ply of the rim is, but it's likely maple or poplar.


The bound fretboard is stained maple and has pearl dot markers. I added the side dots while working on it. This is a nice, quick neck.


This has a pretty typical tailpiece for the time and, as usual, I've stuffed a little foam under it's cover to mute the extra string length. Note the pencil marks around the bridge -- I always do this so the player can re-align it easily.



The rim's bottom is bound in celluloid as well. The rim has no tonering but, to me, that's often a plus on banjo ukes as the vast majority of tonerings need a bunch of dampening to kill unwanted overtones. Note the bit of foam stuffed behind the dowel to do just that.


The original bakelite friction pegs work just fine.



While the neck brace works just fine with its knock-in shims, I've doubled-up on stability by also installing a vintage screw into the heel -- through the rim -- to give extra support. The knock-in shims often loosen-up which causes action to drift if the player moves around a lot with instruments using this style of brace -- hence my extra screw.


Some of the mahogany veneer on the inside and outside of the rim has begun to delaminate in tiny sections. It's nothing to worry about -- purely cosmetic.




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