In December, I bid on a small banjo ukulele on eBay with a resonator back and perloid lamination on the fretboard and headstock. No vellum, bridge or strings, and - alas - no name.
So, what IS this ukulele? Well, there are a couple of clues. First, there's that headstock...
Dallas & Sons?
I think it DOES look like John E. Dallas & Sons. There's really no other company headstock that looks exactly like this. The most similar - Gibson - is not proportioned quite like this. And yet, nothing else on this ukulele looks like a Dallas...
...for example, there's the pot and resonator, which are both encircled in purfling. IT looks like an American-made ukulele.
And then there's the resonator, which is attached in a manner that's typical of several American brands, most notably Slingerland, Lyon & Healy, and J.R. Stewart. But, this instrument really doesn't look like any of those, and as you can see here, it doesn't look like a Stromberg-Voisinet, which typically uses a chromed recessed cup for the attachment screw.
Then again, the purfling, the screw attachment, the pearloid laminate and even the painted faux ebony binding look a lot like what Stromberg Voisinet became in 1931 - Kay. You may remember that Kay used identical binding on their early banjos and we saw an identical resonator attachment screw on the back of a Kay- or Stromberg-Voisinet-built Wizard in an entry I posted more than a year ago on Wizard Ukuleles.
Then, there's this: to keep up with customer demand, John E. Dallas & Sons imported more than 3,000 Kay-built instruments in 1930s; most of those instruments were guitars, but other instruments were included in the shipment, though they're not named in the source material I've found.
And, this passage comes from the Jedson Guitar website
"Dallas imported musical instruments from Germany, Italy, Czechoslovakia, and the USA (including Kay, Harmony, and Vega.) The Radiotone branded guitars appear to have been made in Czechoslovakia, although at least one model branded Radiotone was made by Kay in the USA..."
In recent years, we've seen Slingerland-built instruments coming up for sale on eBay with with UK seller's marks on them. Perhaps - and it's just a theory as I've never seen more than one of this particular ukulele - perhaps Kay built instruments to meet Dallas's specifications, which included recreating the Dallas headstock to keep some brand integrity?
This is just a guess as to who made and sold this particular ukulele, and it seems to match the facts, but only just. You might have noticed that the resonator is split and it turned out that the resonator back came off in shipping, and the neck turned out to be completely warped and unplayable. And so, back to the seller it went, sadly.
If anyone reading this has more definite information, or a plausible explanation as to who built this ukulele, please let us know. Until then, keep on strummin'.
5-17-13: An UPDATE!
Well - happy to say I think the mystery is solved.
I always assumed that the above ukulele was intact. It isn't.
I've found a photo of the same uke, but this one has the flange that was missing from the above example.
And that flange tells us this was a Harmony. And that makes sense, as we know that Harmony was one of a handful of firms that supplied Dallas with instruments.
So, I'm glad to be wrong, and also, I'm *very* glad that I sent back the uke to the seller.
OK, next up a post on a Stromberg Voisinet rarity and some sheet music and other cool stuff to follow that.
See you later!
Monday, December 17, 2012
Just getting ready for two holiday performances this week; tonight (Monday) I'm playing uke and singing with Margaret Gianquinto for her "Old Fashioned Christmas" evening at ZirZamin, and on Friday, I'm playing with Patsy Monteleone at the Ukulele Cabaret at Jimmy's 43. There are a lot of Christmas tunes involved... as 'tis the season.
So, as much for me as anyone else, I need to cleanse my palate and talk about something that isn't Christmas related for a few minutes. Warning - this post is 'geekier' than normal...
Back in September, I wrote about the different lines offered by the New York City-based William Lange and Co.; Lange, Lange Solo, Banner Blue, White Swan, and Langstile. All of these lines, with the possible exception of the White Swan (which seems to have been limited to one or two models), seems to be complete lines of ukes, with modest flush-backed resonator models, open resonator and flanged resonator models topping the ranges.
But, Lange also made instruments for other manufacturers, notably Bruno NY and Vernon for Bruno, Henry Stadlmair's Avalon, Montgomery-Ward's Concertone, Wizard, Sears's Supertone, Blue Boy, El Beco, Tourraine, and others. Looking at a few, you'll see some definite Lange signature marks.
Some of these were made by Slingerland and perhaps others, but the vast majority of those you'll see with this imprint are Lange-made instruments.
Basic, open-backed models, they do appear in some nice finishes for an inexpensive instrument, with green and aquamarine two-tone finishes often appearing, besides the more common blond and black. They follow a very basic Lange design seen used by other retailers and brands.
Bruno NY - Bruno, based at 351 4th Avenue in New York City, probably never made any banjo ukuleles; every time I've seen one with the Bruno stamp on it, it's clearly one that's been made by another manufacturer. Their Maxitone line are fun to play, and with their metal pots, they're pretty punchy.
Many of these seem to have been made by Chicago-based Richter and Co., though its possible that some which show headstock and pot variations come from other manufacturers. However, these photos of "Vernon", "Bruno", "Avalon" and "P'mico" headstocks side by side show the clear lineage of these brands as Lange-made.
Also, note the identical neck and pot construction between the models, very similar to other ukes Lange built for other manufacturers, as you can see in the Avalons and Brunos above. You'll also notice that all of the ukes on this page, from Avalon above to Wizard below all have identical hardware in the pot, as well as shoes and hooks. All have 16 tension hooks.
There's good reason to to think that it is a Lange. The Wizard model depicted above has no sound holes and an open back. But, the model in the multiple photo clearly has soundholes and it resembles the design of the P'mico above with side grommeted soundholes and a closed back. While the headstock isn't seen on other Langes the way the Avalon/Bruno NY headstock is, my vote is still for these being Langes. The only fly in the ointment is the slotted diamond frequently seen on Stromberg-Voisinet headstocks, but then again, you also see that diamond in the more ornate Lange-made fretboards, so it doesn't bother me that much. I agree that these ukes are Langes.
And here's a uke that Simon Worthy put forward in our last entry, identified by the eBay seller as a Lange..
I didn't believe this was a Lange, with that slotted bezel ring and odd headstock. Were there designs put forward by Lange that have no relation to any other models or lines of Lange-made ukuleles?
Also - the resonator being attached by a button in the center back just doesn't seem to match what we see on every other Lange. The fretboard looks a bit like a White Swan's, but I felt pretty good that this wasn't a Lange.
Then Simon showed me this one. ID'd by the website as a Lange, I felt was VERY unlike any Lange I'd seen. Look at all that Pearloid and the shape of the resonator.
Odd. But it is similar in the bezel ring to the one above, as you can see clearly here...
And then, there is the clincher - the name "Lange" inlaid in the headstock - crudely, but distinctly. But what's with THIS headstock. Different from the one above and all others...
This uke has the same strange, externally slotted bezel ring, which I'd never seen before, but which is present on both of the above examples. Also, the headstock is more like that we've seen on other Langes, but still not a standard Lange form.
The inlaid Wm. Lange in the headstock certainly seems to lay this one to rest.
And finally, a few more Lange-made ukes:
Blue Boy - Actually not an instrument manufactured on contract, but made by Lange as a Paramount sub-brand. Blue Boys have some variation in models, and can be resonator backed or open-backed, as in these photos.
The uke in this YouTube video is missing its resonator, but you can see the attachment points.
And here's three shots of a "Super Paramount"...An AMAZING presentation model, which you can see on the headstock was a gift to the "King of Jazz" Paul Whiteman. That's his logo on the headstock; he was one of the few bandleaders to have a logo those days... And what do we find on the bezel - the clincher - the externally slotted bezel ring seen in the above one-off Lange models. OK, I'm happy to admit being wrong when the weight of evidence is so overwhelming. :)
In conclusion: Langes are mostly readily identifiable, fitting into several standard headstock shapes and pot designs, until they don't. The Orpheums, Paramounts, and the occasional odd Langes display an amazing variety and artistic flair, all with a high-level of craftsmanship. If you can find one in good condition - which isn't so often, sadly as they mostly offered low-to-mid-range, reasonably priced instruments, you may want to grab it. If you find one of their higher end ukes and you can afford what the seller is asking, pounce.
I want to thank both the Banjo Ukulele Haven and the comprehensive German site Banjoworld for many of the photos I used in this post. They are great sites that provide a wealth of information and you should go visit them.
That's all for now. If you got this far, you deserve a holiday gift. As I find additional examples of Lange-made ukes, I'll post them.
Until then, keep on strummin'...
Thursday, December 6, 2012
Since I last posted, I've had two freelance contracts to finish up, a hurricane that did this to my next-door neighbor's house (another neighbor's house should be on the right, but it's now sadly in the Atlantic Ocean), a week-long blackout, a nor'easter, Halloween cancelled, Thanksgiving, a new cabaret premiere, and several job interviews. For someone without an official job, I'm a busy guy...
Because of that, I've been quiet here since September. I have a second post on William Lange & Co. ukuleles yet to finish, but until then, here's three recordings
The first is an impromptu duet of a favorite song of mine. This was played by my buddy Ben Mealer and me back in October: "If I Had You"
The second and third were made two weeks ago by Daro Behroozi, with Daro on clarinet, Brad Lail on washboard and me on uke and vocal. As a trio, we don't have a name, but we recorded seven tunes on one afternoon, and it was a great deal of fun to play with these great musicians. I hope that you enjoy it: "I'm Confessin' That I Love You" and also I Can't Give You Anything But Love.
Until next time...
Saturday, September 1, 2012
Big three-day Labor Day weekend here allows me a little time to report on William Lange and Co. banjo ukuleles. This company, which was located in Manhattan in a few locations (it outgrew it's home several times) started life as Rettburg and Lange and by 1897, they purchased the Buckbee Banjo Company and specialized in banjos. By 1920, they had become William Lange & Co. and had moved to a factory located at 225 East 24th Street here in New York City.
Lange was justly famous for creating the Orpheum and Paramount lines of banjos and other top-quality instruments. I was lucky enough to get to play two Paramount Style L resonator-backed guitars in the early 1980's at Eric Schoenberg's great shop in Cambridge - the Music Emporium. These were built for Paramount by Martin as flat-topped guitars with a large, wood-flanged and grommeted resonator back. They were crisp sounding, loud and clean, a real treat to play.
So - onto Lange's banjo ukuleles. Unlike most manufacturers which specialized in one or two market segments, Lange offered everything from budget instruments to the very highest quality ukes. Like many other manufacturers, they created their own lines of instruments and also built for other brands. Let's start with their own model lines: Lange, Langstile, Banner Blue, White Swan and Paramount.
Lange banjo ukes have some variation, but the basic model is pictured here. Stained walnut with an open, non-flanged, ivroid-bound resonator, featuring a back with painted rings. The pot has a chrome ring brace around the middle, and the 16 hexagonical shoes and tension hooks are fixed through this brace.
Small, brass, heart inlays dot the fretboard. The Lange uke headstock looks very much like their banjo headstocks. They're well-built, sturdy, slightly heavy instruments, very solidly made.
A variation on the basic Lange is the Lange Solo.
The distinctive difference in the Lange Solo is a large, flanged version of the regular lange resonator, with a ring purfling that runs along the outer circumference of the resonator body.
The ukulele features 14 tension hooks, two less than the Lange model.
The uke's headstock follows the basic Lange pattern, but the MOP inlay with the extensive fleur de lys and the Solo badge, in addition to the varaition on the fretboard inlays - they're MOP dots, makes the instrument distinct from a basic Lange. By appearance, the solo looks to be a cut above that instrument.
The Langstile seems to have been conceived as a cut above these two Langes and it is a very different design. The non-flanged resonator fits snugly - and the back-edge is bound in metal, uniquely among banjo ukes. Another model Langstile has a completely chromed resonator. Instead of 16 tension hooks, the Langstile features 24, and sports really elegant MOP fretboard and headstock inlay. The scale length is also nearly two inches longer than those on basic Langes and the Lange Solo, making Langstiles true 'longscale' ukes. Now, players are fond of calling these longscale ukes 'tenor' ukuleles, but they were never called that at the time and their tone is not very different from a plain old soprano ukulele. They are simply longer-scale instruments with potentially greater range, depending on the number of frets. And, the headstock is completely different from the Langes above, and the Banner Blue below, but it matches the White Swan uke, also seen below.
Paramount banjo ukes range from this basic model, which looks very much like a Lange with slightly more ornamentation, to a more ornate version.
Here's a White Swan headstock shot from Jake at the Wildwood Flower's great website. Also, a good group of photos of the White Swan from our friend David's great website, "The Banjo Ukulele Haven" White Swan As you can see, the White Swan follows the basic Lange/Paramount ukulele pattern of a pot with a chrome band that serves as the anchor point for the shoe and tension hook assembly. You can also see the typical open, non-flanged resonator common to several other Lange instruments. The difference is that the White Swan is overall painted white and it has intricate, twinned-swan mop inlays up and down the fretboard. Truly unique and distinctive looking, but I've never seen one in person.
Finally, here's an add for the Banner Blue. These come up for sale with some frequency, and, over time, the design changed drastically. It's Lange's most schizophrenic model.
Here's a Banner Blue from the "Banjo Ukulele Haven" site that looks just like a plain old Lange: clear finish, similar headstock, heart-shaped brass fretboard markers, 16 hooks and shoes, and a non-flanged overlapping resonator, with the typical Lange ring design on the back. Banner Blue is on the headstock in blue script - the only thing blue about it.
Here's one that's frequently seen - the 16-tension-hooked pot is chromed metal, with cutouts, in addition to a flush wood resonator back with the typical Lange rings.
Here's another - very different - Banner Blue. This one has with a pot without the chrome ring brace - and the flanged resonator has unique star-shaped cutouts.
The overall painting scheme described for the White Swan is evident here as well - only this time, it's black or dark blue, depending on the example you see. When in the order of design did this model fall? I have no idea. With only 12 tension hooks, is it possible this is a junior model in the Banner Blue line, or just a variation in the model offering?
Finally, here's a Banner Blue with a chrome flanged resonator with circular cut-outs, 16 tension hooks AND a pearloid fretboard and headstock. I've seen multiple examples of all of the above models, but only one of this single, pearloid-decked model.
That's it for now. We'll revisit Lange next time and run through those instruments made for other companies, such as Stadlmeier, Bruno, and others.
Until then, have a great Labor Day and keep on strummin'.