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.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Who plays banjo ukulele?

And now that I have your attention.... Yes, it's a naughty photo, perhaps not appropriate, but funny when you consider someone thought the humble banjo uke was a nice artistic touch that covered this woman's...modesty.

Also - If you're like me, and I'm sorry if you are, you noticed that this is in fact a Slingerland MayBell Model #20. And that brings us to the reason for the post. Dave, the Cloverdale Kid, has asked for a post about Slingerland Ukes, so here we go.

Here are two pages from an early 30's Catalog, with several different models. Other models, from the 20's, were discontinued by the 30s; more on those below.

Here, on the first page, we've got the 7" MayBells, the model 20, with an open back and 12 tension hooks; the model 65, with 12 tension hooks and an overlapping, open-front resonator; and the model 18, with a flat resonator back and 16 tension hooks.

Here's the next page of the catalog, with the two 8" BU models Slingerland offered; the model 24, which had 16 tension hooks and came in an open back or arch backed flush resonator style; and the outfit 30, which you can see is a fully flanged resonator uke, very handsome.

I've had the good fortune to see and play all of these models in person, and own the model 24 and model 20 for a few years.

Missing from this catalog are a number of variant models that appear to have been discontinued prior to the early 30’s. They are:

Model 28: This 7” pot model has sixteen head tension hooks and the neck and headstock associated with the 8” Model 24. The examples of this uke that I've seen are open-backed, but not definitively sure this didn’t also come in a flush resonator version, knowing Slingerland's penchant for offering both versions. Also, at one point, a twelve tension hook version was made of the model 28, also with a three piece neck and pinstriped heel cap, as seen in these photos.

Model 23 or “02 3” (Slingerland often put an "0" in front of their models designations, such as the "065," sometimes seen on the dowel of model 65s): a rare instrument, this 8” pot-model has an overlapping non-flanged resonator, which attaches via a single central screw in metal dowel attachment as in the model 65 pictured above. Otherwise, it looks exactly like a Model 24, but with an MOP star in headstock. And, as you'll see in the next post, the resonator looks very much like that of the Outfit #30, though without the flange or - in this case - the green purfling around the resonator's outer rim. I've never played this model or seen it in person, but it does look pretty good with that nice Slingerland decal on the back.

Model 25: I have no photos of this open back 8” pot model. With sixteen tension hooks, walnut three-piece neck and pot veneer, ebony fretboard, heel cap and peghead face, as well as an ebony pinstripe around the pot bottom and the heel, its a very handsome instrument. It has an MOP star and the typical style 24 fretboard markers, and looks like an upgrade of the standard model 24.

Unknown Model: 1930’s model with headstock decal script. Mahogany neck and pot, and walnut extended resonator with gold perloid resonator rim. 7” pot with mop head inlay, ebony head and fretboard. Looks like the MayBell model 65, except that there are sixteen tension hooks instead of the normal 12 and the addition of the wire armrest. Could be a factory model, a custom job, or a home made hybrid of the model 18 and the 65.

Finally, a couple of notes about the Outfit 30. I've seen several different versions of Slingerland's big resonator model uke and despite the fact that it fits a basic profile, there seems to be some variation in the instrument. I'll post the pictures I have of the 30 later, and hopefully by then, I'll have more shots of some instruments with variations to share with you.

Until then, happy strumming.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Style 1...continued

I promised, in my last post, to show more of the Style 1. I'm going to start off with a sequence that shows the restoration of a Style 1, which gives you a great sense of what to expect if and when you're cleaning your uke, changing the vellum, or making other adjustments.

Here's the sequence, showing the uke in its worn condition, with finish heavily checked, and the process of cleaning, polishing and staining the wood of the uke with a new, ebonized finish. Note a unique feature of this particular style 1: there is purfling not only on the pot and on the back of the resonator, but also around the rim of the resonator, which I've only seen in this particular individual uke, though again, it's clearly a factory option.

It's interesting to note that this Style 1 has a small tone ring, set directly into the outer top rim of the pot. This isn't a standard feature, as the three style ones I've been able to work on do not have them, so it may have been an option available through retail order. Here's the finished uke, once more, next to a birdseye maple Slingerland MayBell model 20 in mint condition.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Stromberg Voisinet Style 1

Where to start? Number 1 seems like a good place. I've dubbed this type of Stromberg Voisinet the Style 1.

It appears to be the most commonly made, certainly the most commonly surviving, of the SV banjo ukes. I've logged more then 10 of these over the last year and more, and the features are as follows:

Wood is maple stained black (ebonized)
Type 1 purfled resonator.
8” purfled pot.
Four MOP fretboard markers
Slotted diamond MOP headstock marker

The particular example pictured above is mine, which I purchased from Elderly Instruments, 9/12/10. It has no tone ring, though some Style 1s DO have them. I've modified the dowel and pot so that the neck could be lowered to allow Formby-style playing.

Here is another Style 1, similar to mine; the only difference is the yellow birdseye maple inlaid circle on the inside of the purfling ring on resonator back.

Clearly, the birdseye maple back was a popular option, as I've cataloged several examples that have the feature:

Here's one with the original canvas case -

Another, though the picture of the back would not reproduce -

Finally - here's an odd one - This Stromberg Voisinet was up for sale on eBay 12/19/10. Badly discolored, it is notable in that it is only one of two Stromberg Voisinet ukes I've seen out of 40 or so that has six MOP fretboard inlays instead of the usual four:

As you can see, the back of the resonator has no birdseye maple inlay.

Next time - I'll have several more Style 1 ukes to share with you, as well as a photo sequence of a restoration in progress.

See you next week.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

OK - so I said now and again I'd post some performance videos, and here we go.

Makalina arranged yet another great meet up at the Uke Hut here in New York City, in the shadow of the Empire State Building. Not only does she put together a great line up, she's kind enough to let me get up there with my old, old music, and even older jokes. Here's me singing a Fanny Brice parody, "The Sheik of Avenue B"

Makalina, Tom Gambino, Adrienne Pattino, my new friend Lauren LaRouge (all the way from Sydney, Australia!) and Khabu all performed. It was a real treat to get to hear these excellent players, let alone get up there myself.