2/05/2017

1950s Unmarked Soprano Ukulele





This no-frills, ply-mahogany-bodied ukulele sure is a brain teaser. I would expect an instrument like this to have been made later -- say in the 60s or 70s -- except that its original US-made bakelite tuner pegs, case, and the remains of an instruction sheet are clearly carry-overs from the late 40s or early 50s. Because it has some similarities to later United (out of New Jersey) baritone ukes in the construction, I have this feeling that it may have been made by that firm.

Whatever its origins, it's actually quite a great-sounding little box with a vaguely-Hawaiian tone (think Kamaka-ish) which is, I think, due mostly to its extra-lightweight build and bracing. Because the body is ply-mahogany instead of solid, the maker kept the thickness very thin and so the soundboard engages efficiently. The neck is also wider side-to-side and has a super-thin flattened D-shape front-to-back -- both elements that recall 1930s Hawaiian-style ukes more than mainland fare.

My work on it included a neck reset, fret level/dress, replacement fret saddle (relocated to a correct location), and general setup. It plays on-the-dot with 1/16" action at the 12th fret and is strung with a set of Martin fluorocarbon strings.



The neck is solid mahogany and I had to finagle the area at the nut and headstock to get the nut adjusted correctly. The maker left a flat space behind the nut which threw-off back-tension on the nut from the tuners. You can't see them, but I actually dug little grooves behind the nut in the exact path of the strings from the tuners. This lets them get a little cleaner back-angle on the nut and cleans-up the tone.


You also can't see them, here, but I did add three side dots at 3, 5, and 7.



The original saddle was 1/16" off the mark so I cut a new slot and put in a fret saddle where it should be.





The neck on this used a doweled joint and so, when I reset the neck, I also countersunk a screw into the heel to grab the neck block. Dowels always fail at the bottom of the heel and this makes it ship-shape for the rest of its life.






The canvas case dates it somewhere from the late 40s into the mid 50s.

1 comment:

Motorbuffalo said...

I had a near-identical uke for a while marked "Regan" (not Regal) at the headstock. It had a mahogany ply body with the same squarish heel cut and no bracing at all(!) on the top or back. I had to add a couple braces below the soundhole because it bulged so alarmingly the first time I put on strings and tried to tune.
Thanks as always for such cool photos and commentary, Jake!