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.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Stromberg-Voisinet's Budget Uke?

Hello and Happy New Year.

I hope that everyone who reads this had a great holiday and got what they wanted from Santa in the uke department. And I hope that wherever you are, the weather isn't AWFULLY COLD, like it is here.

Back in my last post, I promised an entry on a Stromberg-Voisinet model that I'm calling the Style 2. So far, we've covered the Style 1 "Black Beauty" and its variants, the Style 1 "Crocodile Skin" and the various versions of the Style 1 "Deluxe"; as well as the "Rose". Since then, there have been several Roses up for sale, and an update on those may well be in order. I've also got a LOT of Stroberg-Voisinet tenor banjos to share with you, as well as a fantastic little Martin 2 I bought, which I'll post on next week.

But, in the meantime - here's a look at the Style 2. As you can see in the above photo of George Formby Society member James Bassett (age 7 at time of the photo) - who can really play, and these below photos here, this is a unique model for Stromberg-Voisinet. It appears to have only been offered in one color and wood option, and it's hardware is more basic than that offered on every other style of S-V uke. Key features are: deep-lipped non-flanged resonator with black binding on both resonator edges, blond maple pot, neck and resonator, ebony fretboard and headstock facing, and hex-shaped tension hook shoes. As for adornment, only the four MOP fret markers – no headstock diamond - and in this example only, a double pinstripe around the bottom of the pot.

As this model sadly illustrates, these instruments are seldom in good shape, which also contributes to my thinking that they may have been the cheapest models offered, as less expensive things tend not to be taken care of.

This particular example has been nicely customized on the resonator back by a previous owner with the name “Max Boyd”. Who was the artiste Max Boyd? Well, clearly *not* the smooth jazz practitioner who leads the Max Boyd Group, but someone who made their living in vaudeville.

All features of the Style 2 are here, pointing to one of the most design-consistent SV offerings. Offered on EBay, this did not sell, unsurprisingly – as it had a $59US starting bid and not a few issues…

Another Style 2 with somewhat creepy player art of a flapper on the vellum. As noted, identical in all aspects to the dozen or so I've seen. This one, missing some hardware, moved on Ebay in August of 2011, moving for $82.

And finally, a few shots of a Style 2 that moved for about $100. Pricing seems fairly consistently low for this uke, with others I've noted going for $110 and $89 for two examples in good condition. As you can see in the very bottom photo - this example shows the only other variation I've seen on a Style 2: a birdseye maple resonator back. This makes the uke look less bargain basement.

There's not a lot to add, except that - based on surviving examples - this model appears to have been very common, though not quite as common as the black Style 1. It's come up for sale as a wall hanger several times, often missing all hardware. A shame, but that was and is the story with most of the low end vintage ukes out there. If you do find one that's playable or in restorable shape - or better yet, in good nick - then jump. It may not be worth a lot, but it's a great piece of history.

Next time, I'll tell you all about Prince Wong's uke.

Until then, keep strumming, and keep warm, for goodness sake.


  1. Great blog, John!

    My Rose is getting a lot of playing at the moment, (I love it!) and oh, it is a beautifully sunny day in sky, fluffy white clouds.. :-)



  2. Thank you, pal.

    Nice - good day here, too, but only about 44F. Not QUITE the same!!

    Glad you're enjoying that Rose. Someday, someday, I will have one, too.


  3. Well, you chose the Wong one instead!