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.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

New York's William Lange and Co.

Big three-day Labor Day weekend here allows me a little time to report on William Lange and Co. banjo ukuleles. This company, which was located in Manhattan in a few locations (it outgrew it's home several times) started life as Rettburg and Lange and by 1897, they purchased the Buckbee Banjo Company and specialized in banjos. By 1920, they had become William Lange & Co. and had moved to a factory located at 225 East 24th Street here in New York City.

Lange was justly famous for creating the Orpheum and Paramount lines of banjos and other top-quality instruments. I was lucky enough to get to play two Paramount Style L resonator-backed guitars in the early 1980's at Eric Schoenberg's great shop in Cambridge - the Music Emporium. These were built for Paramount by Martin as flat-topped guitars with a large, wood-flanged and grommeted resonator back. They were crisp sounding, loud and clean, a real treat to play.

I believe that Paramount did not make many five-string banjos, and the fact that there are a more than a few conversions floating around shows how highly valued they are for their workmanship and ornament. As a dedicated four-string player, I can't say I'm in any way enthusiastic about five-string conversions.

So - onto Lange's banjo ukuleles. Unlike most manufacturers which specialized in one or two market segments, Lange offered everything from budget instruments to the very highest quality ukes. Like many other manufacturers, they created their own lines of instruments and also built for other brands. Let's start with their own model lines: Lange, Langstile, Banner Blue, White Swan and Paramount.

Lange banjo ukes have some variation, but the basic model is pictured here. Stained walnut with an open, non-flanged, ivroid-bound resonator, featuring a back with painted rings. The pot has a chrome ring brace around the middle, and the 16 hexagonical shoes and tension hooks are fixed through this brace.

Small, brass, heart inlays dot the fretboard. The Lange uke headstock looks very much like their banjo headstocks. They're well-built, sturdy, slightly heavy instruments, very solidly made.

A variation on the basic Lange is the Lange Solo.

The distinctive difference in the Lange Solo is a large, flanged version of the regular lange resonator, with a ring purfling that runs along the outer circumference of the resonator body.

The ukulele features 14 tension hooks, two less than the Lange model.
The resonator flange - with large, double-x-shaped cutouts - is also unique among Langes.

The uke's headstock follows the basic Lange pattern, but the MOP inlay with the extensive fleur de lys and the Solo badge, in addition to the varaition on the fretboard inlays - they're MOP dots, makes the instrument distinct from a basic Lange. By appearance, the solo looks to be a cut above that instrument.

The Langstile seems to have been conceived as a cut above these two Langes and it is a very different design. The non-flanged resonator fits snugly - and the back-edge is bound in metal, uniquely among banjo ukes. Another model Langstile has a completely chromed resonator. Instead of 16 tension hooks, the Langstile features 24, and sports really elegant MOP fretboard and headstock inlay. The scale length is also nearly two inches longer than those on basic Langes and the Lange Solo, making Langstiles true 'longscale' ukes. Now, players are fond of calling these longscale ukes 'tenor' ukuleles, but they were never called that at the time and their tone is not very different from a plain old soprano ukulele. They are simply longer-scale instruments with potentially greater range, depending on the number of frets. And, the headstock is completely different from the Langes above, and the Banner Blue below, but it matches the White Swan uke, also seen below.

Paramount banjo ukes range from this basic model, which looks very much like a Lange with slightly more ornamentation, to a more ornate version.
This ukulele is different from other Langes in it's woodwork. Sandwiched heel, two triple pinstripes around the pot, a five-piece neck - all made out of contrasting woods which look like walnut, ebony and holly (or ivroid - its hard to say) and ivroid double-binding on the fretboard edges, this Paramount is definitely more ornate than the usual Lange.

But, with only 12 tension hooks and shoes (the lowest number offered on Lange products), and the basic, flush-backed resonator, this uke strikes me as disappointingly modest to be branded "Paramount". However, the more ornate version of Paramount banjo uke that I've seen makes up for this impression by featuring a large resonator and pearloid headstock. If only I had a photo to share with you.

Here's a White Swan headstock shot from Jake at the Wildwood Flower's great website. Also, a good group of photos of the White Swan from our friend David's great website, "The Banjo Ukulele Haven" White Swan As you can see, the White Swan follows the basic Lange/Paramount ukulele pattern of a pot with a chrome band that serves as the anchor point for the shoe and tension hook assembly. You can also see the typical open, non-flanged resonator common to several other Lange instruments. The difference is that the White Swan is overall painted white and it has intricate, twinned-swan mop inlays up and down the fretboard. Truly unique and distinctive looking, but I've never seen one in person.

Finally, here's an add for the Banner Blue. These come up for sale with some frequency, and, over time, the design changed drastically. It's Lange's most schizophrenic model.

Here's a Banner Blue from the "Banjo Ukulele Haven" site that looks just like a plain old Lange: clear finish, similar headstock, heart-shaped brass fretboard markers, 16 hooks and shoes, and a non-flanged overlapping resonator, with the typical Lange ring design on the back. Banner Blue is on the headstock in blue script - the only thing blue about it.

Here's one that's frequently seen - the 16-tension-hooked pot is chromed metal, with cutouts, in addition to a flush wood resonator back with the typical Lange rings.
Despite the headstock and ornamentation features it shares with other Langes, this is essentially a totally different instrument from the previous model. Which came first? It's hard to say. Period ads can help explain it, but so far, I haven't found anything that sheds light on this question.

Here's another - very different - Banner Blue. This one has with a pot without the chrome ring brace - and the flanged resonator has unique star-shaped cutouts.

The overall painting scheme described for the White Swan is evident here as well - only this time, it's black or dark blue, depending on the example you see. When in the order of design did this model fall? I have no idea. With only 12 tension hooks, is it possible this is a junior model in the Banner Blue line, or just a variation in the model offering?

Finally, here's a Banner Blue with a chrome flanged resonator with circular cut-outs, 16 tension hooks AND a pearloid fretboard and headstock. I've seen multiple examples of all of the above models, but only one of this single, pearloid-decked model.

That's it for now. We'll revisit Lange next time and run through those instruments made for other companies, such as Stadlmeier, Bruno, and others.

Until then, have a great Labor Day and keep on strummin'.


  1. Great writeup, John.

    They look like great ukes, but I find those headstocks a little over-ornate!



  2. Hi John. The various models of Banner Blue banjo uke were available for sale at the same time. Banner Blue was almost like its own brand. There was a range of them. That is why you see everything from pro models to cheap beginner models. The cheaper ones had a simple stenciled on logo and fancy ones had inlaid pearl logo.

    Best, Dan 'soybean' Sawyer

  3. Dan,

    That makes perfect sense and answers lots of questions! Based on that ad and the evidence in front of me, i should have reached that conclusion. Interestingly, the White Swan is the only name in the Stable that doesnt appear to be a full line. Have you ever seen more than the one model?

    1. John, I don't think I've ever seen more than one model. Amendt's White Swan was slightly different. It had a white front and resonator, but the back of the neck was a dark stain; same color as Langstile neck (not white).


    2. Interesting! Thank you, Soybean!

  4. John

    Thanks for this info. I've just discovered that my cherished uke is also a Lange, almost identical to this one.

    This seems to be a completely different Lange range, different tension ring, headstock, resonator, you know anything about these..?

    Great site !

  5. Hey, I missed the URL!. I meant this one

  6. Simon -

    Thanks a lot!

    I could definitely be wrong, but I don't think this uke is a Lange. For one thing, the hardware and design elements are completely different from all the Lange ukes, which share headstocks, inlays and other features in common. Secondly, that nameplate doesn't seem to have Lange's level of quality and consistency in terms of the lettering.

    My gut is that this is a British-made uke and the one in the link's photos is actually one that's got a customized nameplate, maybe even done by a luthier after sale. Does your's have a similar nameplate without a name? or no nameplate?

    Very curious!

  7. John

    Mine has just two differences to the one pictured, firstly, the main peghead decal is different.

    Instead of the vase of flowers, mine has the same eight pointed star as located on the third fret repeated in the middle of the peghead plus a small two leaved five petalled flower between the C and E pegs. This flower is in about the same location as the Wm Lange in the photo.

    I must admit, the logic you've outlined has gone through my head also..

    From a location perspective, I'm in the UK..I bought it from a guy in Scotland, so the British-made is possible - but which manufacturer? I've seen nothing like it..indeed such a large amount of MOP on a British banjo uke seems a rarity.

    I thought initially it was a Slingerland, but I haven't found anything there either..the guy at Banjoworld says he sold it to Japan 15 years ago, so no trace there..

    Why do you think British, so you have a maker in mind..? The original owner indicated it was boughtin 1937. if that helps..



  8. Simon - sorry for the delay here.

    I have seen this level of MOTS on a couple of British makes in particular - Rose-Morris and another that I forget right now. RM & Co. had several models offered fully clad in MOTS, and not always white - I've seen grey and rose colored MOTS treatments. This isn't a Rose-Morris model, though. Totally different design.

    The other model I've seen fully covered was a Dallas made in the US by Kay, but sold in the UK with the Dallas imprint and headstock. Turns out I just picked one up on eBay this week, though this model is only MOTS on fretboard and headstock. This certainly isn't one of those.

    The headstock is one I've never seen on a US-made uke. Also, the method of bezel ring attachment is totally new to me, and not one that Lange offered. What a mystery that is. I confess, looking that over, the hooks and shoes look American made, but in the 30's, UK manufacturers bought US parts and event pots, etc, to meet demand. I've seen a couple of Slingerland-made ukes sold over UK brands, which I'm sure you've also seen.

    All that seems to suggest this is part of a made-to-order US shipment to UK sale, or a very little known US manufacturer. Either way, it's nothing I've seen before except on that German banjo page you provided the link for. Amazing thing.

    I'll post photos of my Kay made for Dallas shortly. It's a busted up little number, but I think I can get it operational. And for $80, a decent cheap price to pay even if it ends up being a wall hanger.

  9. Hey there...sounds like you've been up against it..

    I thought you might be interested in this (allegedly - but badly photographed) Lange uke which popped up on Ebay yesterday with similar headstock and bezel ring to mine.

    I've no idea why the vendor thinks this is identifying marks are photographed, but the fact he/she does suggest there must be a rationale...and the similarity is striking albeit it does seem an inferior model with just 8 hooks..

    I'd be interested in your thoughts...perhaps they've simply seen the same photograph on the German website which I saw....!

    I'm getting into (pseudo?) Lange..I might bid looks interesting..

  10. Curiouser and curiouser - The similarity in fretboard inlays is pretty clear, so is the bezel ring with the channel for the hooks. Similar shoes with the squared off corners. Different headstocks, which is strange. In fact, neither of those headstocks are headstocks Wm. Lange used. So, I agree with you that it looks as though the seller found the German site and concluded, because of the similarities, these must be related ukuleles. Based on the fretboard inlay and bezel ring, They must be the same manufacturer.

    No matter what their thinking is, I think it's clear this isn't a Wm. Lange. Still, could be a nice player.

  11. Hi John, Simon again

    Messages the seller, who has also since posted more photos...but no clear headstock shots.

    She advises that her father has researched on line and concluded it to be a Lange...

    I'm no more convinced than you...the inlays aren't comparable with mine, the headstock seems different, the number of hooks...also the aluminium patterned pot cover seems unlike your banner blue shots.

    Even the slot in the tension ring is wider than mine...on mine the hook fits the slot...this slot is much wider.....

    Indeed it may be the light, but all the metalwork seems much less nickel coloured than mine - more aluminium...on the one hand I want to buy it to check it out, but I think it's probably a dead-end....and there's a Dallas mandolin I've got my eye on...!

    Which still leaves my uke unidentified....unless the German site was right and we're dealing with a line of Langes which hadn't previously been catalogued...

    I was thinking of mailing Alan Harris for his view...

  12. There's a Paramount Tenor banjo for sale on ebay right now.

  13. Hello John,
    I just came across your blog post here. Regarding the banjo uke that is shown in the three photos just above the photo of the White Swan head stock photo, I believe you're mistaken in attributing it to Wm. Lange. That banjo uke was manufactured by Oscar Schmidt (OS)! I would bet a weeks salary on it.
    I'll try and keep this short, but I might not be able to!
    I've seen a few discussions here on this web sight regarding identifying different banjo ukes and, from what I've seen, I think that most folks who jump into the fray are not approaching the ID process correctly and rely too much on instinct and not enough on facts and reasoning.
    I've seen thousands of early 20th century banjo ukes and have developed a skill in identifying these instruments. A few can be identified definitively and probably most of them with a reasonable degree of accuracy but I also know that some cannot be identified with any degree of certainty and a few cannot be identified at all.
    In general, and this is an over simplification, you need to go with the preponderance of the evidence using demonstrable characteristics like specific hardware used, head stock shapes, unique inlays & marquetry, woodworking characteristics and general lines of the instrument... among others.
    When considering all this information you also need an understanding of, and agreement in, the terminology used in the process and in communicating all this to others. For example, a "line" of instruments is NOT the same as a "brand" which is not the same as a model! Also, a brand is not the same as a manufacturer, although it can be, and a manufacturers name, which wasn't previously a brand, can become a brand which then has no connection with that same manufacturer. Sometimes confusing but I mention all this because I often see these terms used incorrectly which only serves to make the information one seeks to convey even less definitive.
    You need to be aware that most of the hardware AND most of the inlays and even some of the marquetry you see on most of these instruments was NOT made by the manufacturer of the instruments themselves. Much of the inlay and some of the marquetry is actually generic in the sense that identical inlay items were produced by more than one outside manufacturer.
    You need to make reasonable assumptions regarding why some hardware is seen used by specific manufacturers and not others and you need to be aware that these instruments, like most complex mass produced consumer goods manufactured in the last 150 years or so in a capitalistic system, are manufactured using components manufactured by other than the manufacturer of final product itself.
    In general, for the overwhelming majority of models we see, the the only parts of the instrument that were actually produced by the manufacturer of the instrument are those parts made of wood like the pot, the neck and the resonator.
    Sorting all this out is not easy as it requires exposure to a great number of instruments and either an almost faultless memory, which no one I have ever met, including myself, has, or some way to compare all these examples side by side.
    Over the years I happen to have amassed a data bank of thousands of banjo uke photos that I use as a reference when needed but I've also developed a skill in identification which comes from seeing all these countless instruments and also a certain compulsive element in my personality. It also requires inductive and deductive reasoning skills and a general knowledge of how business works which helps in making certain reasonable assumptions used in the final ID process.

    For most people who aren't interested in these instruments and even for many who are, discussing the many reasons for a specific ID is a good cure for insomnia and is boring as hell.
    I apologize but, when discussing this stuff, I can rarely keep it short. I did warn you but I hope that my discussion interested at least some of you who use this sight!
    At any rate, I'm more than reasonably sure that the banjo uke I brought to your attention above was actually manufactured by OS and if you remove the resonator I predict that you'll discover that the cast neck tightening bracket (Is that what they're called? I've never discovered if there is a specific name for that part! Can someone let me know?) is the unique screwed on, angular type that is found exclusively on OS banjos and banjo ukes manufactured by the original OS company of Jersey City, NJ.
    There are additional attributes that add to this OS ID if you'd like to know but I have to end this diatribe sometime and right now is as good a time as any.
    If anyone has any questions, just ask. These instruments are my compulsion and as you've seen, I love a good discussion or argument... as the case may be.