Notes on playing the banjo uke (and the regular ukulele), as well as some of my favorite songs and videos, but mostly, you'll find information here on my particular obsession - the many models of banjo ukulele offered by Stromberg-Voisinet in the 1920's to 1931.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Collecting Information on Stromberg Voisinet Ukuleles

I’ve collected images of all the different types of Stromberg-Voisinet ukuleles that I’ve been able to find. Since there’s no S-V catalogue online anywhere, I’ll try to see if model types emerge from the various images I’m able to amass. I’m breaking the types down into smaller models with 7” pots and 12 head tension hooks, and the larger 8” models with 16 or 12 tension hooks.

The ukuleles are remarkably consistent in features, with the exception of obvious optional choices. Headstocks are all the same shape, and while inlays are not present in every case, most appear based on a slotted diamond. MOP fret markers usually run on frets 5,7,10 and 12. All pots have a laminated pot cap. Models were made of maple (often ebonized), flame maple, mahogany or walnut. Resonators are sometimes made with inlaid or multiple types of wood veneer. Walnut construction and birdseye maple inserts appear on the fancier resonators. All are attached with a single screw in a chromed central recess on the resonator back, except for some examples of the 12” Wizard, which lack the recess.

Resonators fall into six basic types:

1. non-flanged arch-back with a shallow lip;
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2. A non-flanged flat back with a deeper lip and binding;

3. A turned and beaded version of Style 1.;

4. A flanged version of style 1. with a deeper lip and a chrome flange with a scalloped, open edge;

5. A flatter, flanged resonator with circular holes, which was featured on the Buster Brown model;

6. And finally, a deeper, fully-flanged resonator with binding and ‘hard candy’ cutouts, and either a rose decal or multi-piece/inlaid back.

An inlaid checkerboard purfling is consistently used when there is pot decoration. Overall, S-V instruments are understated though handsome.

Please note that while I assign resonator type numbers from 0 (for open-backed model) to 6, these terms are my own to differentiate between the Stromberg Voisinet examples that exist. Because of the lack of catalogue or markings on the models, we don’t know what each model was called, so I'll be offering names that players and collectors may be using. My designations are there simply to keep track of the various models offered and should not be taken as official. At some point, perhaps a Kay historian or a relative of a Stromberg Voisinet craftsman may come forward to shed light on these wonderful instruments, but in the meantime, my imperfect system helps me and I hope that it helps you.

Model styles show small variation within type, but retain a set of distinct characteristics in common. Though there seems to be a plethora of models out there, within model style they are – again – remarkably consistent.

Right now, after more than a year of cataloging types, I find there are 12 distinct model styles. Ten models were built by Stromberg Voisinet for sale by themselves and occasionally by other companies (Montgomery Ward Concertone, Wizard and Clarion). Two models – the Wizard/Concertone 7” chrome resonator model and the Wizard 8” 12 tensioner Buster Brown variant – so far, appear to have been offered by other companies exclusively and not by Stromberg Voisinet, but will be included for completeness in future posts.


  1. Man am I learning a lot- someday I will need one of these, but this is so similar to my beloved early Reggae that I am totally sucked in- no catalogue numbers, no designations on which is what- brilliant for you to be sorting this all out for us.
    Really really want a 7" so I am paying close attention before I go hunting- keep up the great work
    Dave (TCK)

  2. Oh yeah- and the picture from your profile- it is from Black Narcissus, 1947. I totally cheated.

  3. :D - OK - now you have rent the movie. Thanks, Dave. I'll post the 7" models soon.


  4. Rent it?- I netflix'd it and will be watching it tonight before I go to bed :)
    Do they still have movie rental places in New York?

  5. :D Amazingly, they do. I have one just down the street from me. Never had to go to Netflix, and the way I watch movies (10 in one week for a month, then none for weeks) means its seldom a good deal for me. Let me know what you think.

  6. Here are some pics of what someone on the internet identified as a Kay/Stromberg-Voisinet from the Time period you mentioned.

    It was my Grandma's.

  7. Rhinooooo -

    Yes - you've got a Stromberg-Voisinet here. Headstock, heel and five piece neck are all typical. Resonator and it's method of attachment are also standard S-V. The pot and dowel hardware are what you'd expect to see.

    And yet, this is unique - first one I've seen with an MOP star in the headstock. First one I've seen with that kind of atypical purfling around the pot and resonator back. Also, its the first I've seen with only three MOP fretboard markers.

    Thanks for posting these here, as this constitutes an entirely new model. Those craftsmen sure were busy and creative at the Chicago factory!

  8. There's a Stromberg on eBay right now that looks an awful lot like your Type 1 however inside the resonator is a sticker with "Wilson Bros. Mfg. Co" (Chicago). Was Wilson Brothers also licensed to make these???


  9. Tonya -

    I've logged two Stromberg Voisinet ukes that have the Wilson Brothers sticker in the resonator - a Style 1 and the style 4 resonator model that's on eBay now. In fact, the resonator model on eBay is the exact same instrument as the one you see above in the blog passing being sold yet again. You start to recognize individual instruments as they move from seller to buyer. As for whether or not Wilson Brothers Mfg. built under license or sold Stromberg Voisinets and put their own label on them, I think we can conclude the latter; Wilson brothers doesn't show up anywhere that I've seen other than these two instruments. But, it's still a guess; there is no paperwork on the net at all.

  10. Ahh - turns out Wilson Brothers was a music retailer and manufacturer in Chicago, so that mystery seems solved.