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, September 7, 2011

Wizard, Clarion, Concertone and other odd ducks...

I hope that you had a great Labor Day if you're here in the states, and a great late summer weekend if you're not. I just got back from two weeks vacation, got an offer for a new job (which I was VERY happy to accept), and got home to find that you can survive a couple of weeks of not playing, but only just...

As promised, I'm taking a look at some of the instruments contract built by Stromberg Voisinet for various jobbers, department stores and other music companies. You see SV banjo ukes routinely come up under the following names: Wizard, Concertone (a Montgomery-Ward offering), Clarion, and Mayflower. There are occasionally others that are clearly SV-made ukes, but which have different company names on them; most recently, two SV resonator backed ukes have come up with a "Wilson Brothers Mfg." sticker affixed inside of the resonator and another couple I've seen have "Humphrey" in jagged black script on the pearloid headstock. Often, you will see Concertones and others that have *not* been built by Stromberg Voisinet, with William Lange, Slingerland and Lyon & Healy products figuring. Jobbers frequently placed orders with different companies to meet their demand.

The Concertones that I've seen tend to be simple, maple models, often openbacks. They're pretty plain looking, and occasionally, there's no ebony fingerboard, which is a feature I've also noticed on Slingerland-made Concertones.

Wizards tend to be as elaborate as Concertones tend to be austere. Take a look at this 7" pot model above. Now the plate is lost, but it clearly says "Wizard" in the oval ghost imprint of the metal nameplate. Walnut, headstock inlay is S-V, but, oddly, the head has no central lobe. Pot and turned, flanged resonator are unique to this 12-tensioner model, but the inlays, scalloped open flange, neck, heel, and resonator attachment are typical S-V. This example sold on eBay for $178.50 in September of ‘10.

As you can see in this particular example - which is in much rougher condition - the nameplate is missing, but the details are identical to the above model. However, we get some nice shots here of the interior and some repair work - just click on any photo to make it bigger.

And finally, here's a link to another 7” pot, scallop-flanged resonator model, this one on You Tube

After contacting the owner, I found that the instrument never had a "Wizard" nameplate on the headstock, perhaps indicating that this particular example was indeed sold by Stromberg Voisinet as one of their own instruments. Hopefully, you don't mind hearing "Hey There, Delilah".

Several 8" pot models made by Stromberg Voisinet were also offered as "Wizards", and these are unique in a couple of ways. This “Wizard” to the left is clearly an S-V-made model. The pot only has 12 tensioners, and also has typical SV purfling, though the resonator does not. Resonator is Type 5 – no decoration, in birdseye maple, rest of the instrument looks like maple.

A second model Wizard, identical to the above, but with the important difference that the resonator is three-piece and is not attached using the standard S-V method of a screw in a recessed chrome inset. The resonator is a two-piece back and note the lack of raised, ‘grommets’ around the resonator holes. Otherwise, it’s the identical instrument.

Here's another "Wizard" uke (although, looking closely at the photos, it might be the very same uke as the above being re-sold as so often happens on Ebay) which shares the different method of resonator attachment as the above example. With the three-piece resonator off, you can see the bolted-on threading for the screw. The seller took no photos of the pot or neck from the side, so we can’t see if there’s any purfling as in the above models. Sold for $125 on eBay, March 20th, 2011.

I've only seen two Clarions, and this example has a different logo from the other I've seen, which I don't have a photograph of. Sadly - this is a much altered instrument. The scraped and torn “Clarion” headstock decal partially covers the S-V slotted diamond inlay. The flat-backed resonator is homemade out of pressboard, attached with screws and tubes sunk into the pot cap. Tuning machines have large sink washers as spacers. The most notable detail is the 5 mop fretboard marker pattern, which I've never seen in any other SV uke. This was probably originally a resonator model: it moved on Ebay, 12/17/10, sold in the UK for 79 quid, if memory serves.

Let these last photos serve as a potent warning to those of you selling anything on Ebay; neutral background tones, please - and if these photos were posted by the knowledgable and very nice Alan 'Uke' Harris, my apologies to him for being a littttle cheeky, here. ;) I'm going to go flush my corneas of all that blueness, and in the meantime, I'll assemble some crocodile skin for you...

...until then...strumming.


  1. Great article John, once again. Of course, I am going to hang on one little comment and see if I can go further with the information.
    I found what I am sure was a May-Bell (I know, one track mind) a few weeks ago with one very odd difference, no fingerboard. Frets were set directly into the neck. I passed on it at a great price for a resonator because of that, but it seems it may have just been one that had been sourced out? The Vespa All-State of Banjo Ukes?
    I any event, Melissa was/is convinced that one only needs so many so it went elsewhere. Congrats on the new job and thanks for another great read

  2. Thank you, Dave. I'm going to be a good deal busier, but that's good. :)

    Right! No fingerboard. Slingerland-made Concertones frequently lack a fingerboard and have the frets set into the neck, as you describe. They also produced these for other companies offering budget level models. I've seen many of them, but none have ever had the Slingerland name or May Bell logo on them.

  3. Dave -

    Just to prove me wrong, this shows up on Ebay today:

    Early 20s May Bell model 20, no fretboard. So they did offer it, though whether it was a little less than the model with fretboard is anyone guess.