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, November 23, 2011

Deluxe is always better than regular...

When you go into a diner in NYC, you have a choice on the burger. You can get it plain, or deluxe, which means it comes with fries, a tiny eye-cup-full of coleslaw, a pickle, and lettuce, tomato and onion. Despite there not being enough coleslaw, ALWAYS get the deluxe.

In the case of Stromberg Voisinets, the same may be true. If you have a chance at picking up a regular Style One "Black Beauty" or one of these Style One "Deluxe" models, you may want to get the Deluxe. They go for upwards of a $100 more than a regular Style One these days, but you get a lot for that.

Features are fairly consistent on Style One Deluxe models. Instead of just stained maple, they appear to be made of maple, mahogany and walnut in various combinations, with each instrument slightly different. When they were made 1920-1930 or so, it's not clear if the choice of wood was the craftsman's or the buyer's.

The fretboard has ivroid binding, the headstock has a slightly more elaborate MOP inlay instead of the S-V diamond logo, and the wood is not stained, but rather clear lacquered so the natural grain and color comes through.

The pot and resonator are purfled as on the regular Style One, but the center of the resonator is always inlaid with a contrasting wood, usually birds-eye maple. On this particular example, you see a mahogany neck and pot, walnut resonator, and maple inlay. It's a great-looking variant of the usual "Black Beauty".

Here's a great example of a Style One Deluxe, which sold on eBay in January 2011 for an amazing $514.00. You can see the five-piece laminated neck that's also common to all in this model line.

This uke, posted by Rhinooooo – one of this blog’s readers, really caught my attention. It’s basically a Fancy Style 1 like above, but there are interesting variations. It's all walnut, and which also has a completely atypical purfling design on the pot and resonator back.

Also note that instead of the usual S-V diamond inlay logo, or even the deluxe version, this uke has an MOP star inlaid, and only has three MOP fretboard markers. So far, it's one-of-a-kind.

Here's another, darker variation, which appears to be mahogany, with a mahogany-stained maple resonator. This particular example went for $100 on Ukulele Underground in April of 2011.

Finally, here's a light maple Style One Deluxe, with a dark-stained resonator. This shows the fretboard binding and MOP markers as they appear typically. You'll notice that the fretboard in the top photo of this blog appears to show elaborate MOP markers - nope, it's those pernicious stickers again. Those should be outlawed. Play with your eyes shut if you really want to learn the neck. :)

That's all for now - I've got dozens of photos of these Deluxe Style Ones, but you get the idea. Nicer, better decorated, mostly well-taken care of by their original owners, they represent an upgraded version of the basic Style One.

Next time, I'll show you the Style Two, which is fairly different from what you've seen so far. In some ways, it may be the budget model S-V, but then, who can say? If you've seen anything on my little OCD blog, its that nothing's definite. :) Until then, if you get the burger deluxe, ask for extra coleslaw. And Happy Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Crocodile Skin Ukes...

One of the strangest ukuleles produced by Stromberg Voisinet has to be the Style 1 variant covered with "faux crocodile skin".

The substance, referred to in a couple of places as faux crocodile (which it doesn't look like) and "Duralene" seems to be some sort of epoxy paste, applied to the resonator back, part of the pot and also, a large diamond on the back of the headstock - echoing the Stromberg Voisinet diamond logo. This was sculpted into a pattern of swirls and then painted a grey green and lacquered over with a sort of pearlescent finish that gives the instrument an organic, art nouveau look, like one of those Tiffany dragonflies. I've only seen two of these, one I owned and another offered by Elderly instruments over a year ago.

Other than this bold decorative adornment, the ukulele is a regular Style 1, but instead of sporting an ebonized finish, this version has a dark, russet-brown stain, nicely complimentary to the greenish crocodile skin.

Elderly's offering, seen here and above, had that mahogany-stained neck and pot. With broken neck dowel, it sold for $100.00.

Here, you can follow yet another restoration series, this one done by my friend Tim Caneulle (Two Trax on Banjo Hangout). The difference between Tim's restoration project and the Elderly instrument is that the Duralene comes more than half-way up the pot side instead of just being confined to the cap and this instrument has that uncommon six-mop fretboard inlay pattern.

I bought this from Tim in January 2011 along with that neat little no-name uke next to it in the final photo. I really enjoyed playing it, but it's now owned by my extremely talented buddy Ben Mealer, who really does it justice!

See Ben here: on his YouTube channel

Those are the only two examples I've seen of the Crocodile Skin Style 1. I expect Stromberg Voisinet didn't make a lot of these - and indeed, they're probably not for everyone. I think its one of the most interesting and unique instruments made during the banjo uke golden age of the 20s and 30s.

That's it for now. I've been busy with a new job for the last 2 months, but in the time, I've lined up several interesting ukes to show you. I'll share them soon, and in the meantime, keep strumming'.