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, March 21, 2012

Buster Brown & Tige

Our friend David Shenkman - who put together the GREAT Banjo Ukulele Haven page - has found the only photos I've seen of this uke with the Buster Brown shoes logo on the vellum. It's a great find, and everyone I know who finds this type - even without the logo on the vellum - refers to it as "the Buster Brown" due to this association. As David points out, this was a promotional version of the model, created to help sell Buster Brown shoes.

It's a truly handsome ukulele, and though not as heavily decorated at the Rose, I think it's the most attractive that Stromberg-Voisinet produced. So what makes the Buster Brown unique?

Well, its not the pot, five-piece neck and fretboard, which are actually identical to the Rose's - and as you'll see, they were made with a plain fretboard and headstock with no logo - or made with the signature S-V Pearloid treatment and white celluloid fretboard binding.

So - it has to be that resonator and that chrome flange with portholes that's special. And notice how the pot of the uke actually sits directly against the flange - that's not only unique among S-V ukes, but also very rare amongst all kinds of banjos.

You'll also notice from this shot how much larger this resonator is than on any other model of S-V banjo uke. It's a good three inches larger in diameter. Also - note that it was made with a purfling ring on the back and also in a three-piece style enclosing inlay as seen in the topmost of these two examples of the instrument.

Just recently, a Buster Brown (sans logo) came up on eBay that showed just how the resonator attaches - note the block that serves as the spacer.

Also note that the brand name 'Elton' is stamped into the flange in the place that would normally be placed under the heel. We've got to thank the seller for not attaching the resonator right to show us that detail.

Elton is the Chicago-based company that made capos for ukuleles, banjos and guitars in the twenties and thirties, but here, their logo on the flange seems to indicate that that Elton manufactured the flange for Stromberg-Voisinet.  

There's also a version of the flange made for the "Buster Brown" that has a raised 'grommet' around each resonator hole; whether that version was manufactured by Elton, I can't say yet.

We have a few more styles of S-V uke to cover here, but next time - onto something a little different. Until then - keep on strumming.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

John T: Banjo Ukulele Hero

I wanted to take a minute to note the passing of John Thompson - John T to his customers and friends - to stroke.
John was from the UK. Here he is on a trip to the New York Ukulele Festival; while here in NYC, he bought a vintage Gibson ukulele at Mandolin Brothers on Staaten Island.

There are not that many people who are truly schooled in banjo ukuleles, but John T was one of the most knowledgeable out there. More importantly, he shared his knowledge, freely and happily, with those of us who were trying to learn more or trying to figure out how to set up to produce a great sound or the right action.

John's son James broke the news to his friends and acquaintances on Ukulele Cosmos this week.

When I was researching Stromberg-Voisinet ukes some years ago, I found John playing his S-V-made Wizard uke on You Tube. He answered my request for info right away and gave more than I asked for. Everyone on the Cosmos tells a similar story.

John's Ukulele Shop has been a great resource for new players, and you can find it in my links section at the bottom of each page of this blog.

Those who were lucky enough to spend time with him talk about his generosity of time and spirit, but they also talk about how much fun he was to be around.

He was 52. Take a moment to lift a glass.