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.

Monday, December 17, 2012

William Lange & Co., Part II

Just getting ready for two holiday performances this week; tonight (Monday) I'm playing uke and singing with Margaret Gianquinto for her "Old Fashioned Christmas" evening at ZirZamin, and on Friday, I'm playing with Patsy Monteleone at the Ukulele Cabaret at Jimmy's 43. There are a lot of Christmas tunes involved... as 'tis the season.

So, as much for me as anyone else, I need to cleanse my palate and talk about something that isn't Christmas related for a few minutes. Warning - this post is 'geekier' than normal...

Back in September, I wrote about the different lines offered by the New York City-based William Lange and Co.; Lange, Lange Solo, Banner Blue, White Swan, and Langstile. All of these lines, with the possible exception of the White Swan (which seems to have been limited to one or two models), seems to be complete lines of ukes, with modest flush-backed resonator models, open resonator and flanged resonator models topping the ranges.

But, Lange also made instruments for other manufacturers, notably Bruno NY and Vernon for Bruno, Henry Stadlmair's Avalon, Montgomery-Ward's Concertone, Wizard, Sears's Supertone, Blue Boy, El Beco, Tourraine, and others. Looking at a few, you'll see some definite Lange signature marks.

Avalon - Henry Stadlmair & Co. at 117-117 East 23rd Street was founded as an importer of foreign-made instruments and a retailer of domestic-made instruments. They specialized in guitars, Weissenborn Hawaiian guitars and other stringed instruments, and eventually, when the uke craze hit, they started selling ukes and banjo ukuleles under the name "Avalon" - one of which is at the top of this entry.

Some of these were made by Slingerland and perhaps others, but the vast majority of those you'll see with this imprint are Lange-made instruments.

Basic, open-backed models, they do appear in some nice finishes for an inexpensive instrument, with green and aquamarine two-tone finishes often appearing, besides the more common blond and black. They follow a very basic Lange design seen used by other retailers and brands.

P'MICO - the "Progressive Musical Instrument Company of NY" P'MICO didn't make their own instruments. Lange made this one for the company, which was their May Singhi Breen signature model. Note it's nearly identical to the Avalon above and the Bruno below; the difference is that it has a closed back with grommeted "Portholes" on the sides of the pot...

Bruno NY - Bruno, based at 351 4th Avenue in New York City, probably never made any banjo ukuleles; every time I've seen one with the Bruno stamp on it, it's clearly one that's been made by another manufacturer. Their Maxitone line are fun to play, and with their metal pots, they're pretty punchy.

Many of these seem to have been made by Chicago-based Richter and Co., though its possible that some which show headstock and pot variations come from other manufacturers. However, these photos of "Vernon", "Bruno", "Avalon" and "P'mico" headstocks side by side show the clear lineage of these brands as Lange-made.

Also, note the identical neck and pot construction between the models, very similar to other ukes Lange built for other manufacturers, as you can see in the Avalons and Brunos above. You'll also notice that all of the ukes on this page, from Avalon above to Wizard below all have identical hardware in the pot, as well as shoes and hooks. All have 16 tension hooks.

Vernon - a line offered by Bruno NY, the Vernon is a virtually identical instrument to the Bruno, but it's more of a budget model, with no inlays and the nameplate actually tacked onto the headstock.

Wizard - Some bloggers and collectors believe this is a Lange-made design. There are a good number of these out there. While I'm not 100% sure these photos actually show a Lange-made instrument, I believe they do.

There's good reason to to think that it is a Lange. The Wizard model depicted above has no sound holes and an open back. But, the model in the multiple photo clearly has soundholes and it resembles the design of the P'mico above with side grommeted soundholes and a closed back. While the headstock isn't seen on other Langes the way the Avalon/Bruno NY headstock is, my vote is still for these being Langes. The only fly in the ointment is the slotted diamond frequently seen on Stromberg-Voisinet headstocks, but then again, you also see that diamond in the more ornate Lange-made fretboards, so it doesn't bother me that much. I agree that these ukes are Langes.

And here's a uke that Simon Worthy put forward in our last entry, identified by the eBay seller as a Lange..

I didn't believe this was a Lange, with that slotted bezel ring and odd headstock. Were there designs put forward by Lange that have no relation to any other models or lines of Lange-made ukuleles?

Also - the resonator being attached by a button in the center back just doesn't seem to match what we see on every other Lange. The fretboard looks a bit like a White Swan's, but I felt pretty good that this wasn't a Lange.

Then Simon showed me this one. ID'd by the website as a Lange, I felt was VERY unlike any Lange I'd seen. Look at all that Pearloid and the shape of the resonator.

Odd. But it is similar in the bezel ring to the one above, as you can see clearly here...

And then, there is the clincher - the name "Lange" inlaid in the headstock - crudely, but distinctly. But what's with THIS headstock. Different from the one above and all others...

The whole thing was a puzzle and Simon and I have been going back and forth on this. Until now, I've remained unconvinced that this ukulele is a Lange. And then I found this one yesterday...

This uke has the same strange, externally slotted bezel ring, which I'd never seen before, but which is present on both of the above examples. Also, the headstock is more like that we've seen on other Langes, but still not a standard Lange form.

But, this last uke - with a very similar slotted bezel ring and pot, seems to lend weight to the idea that Lange made some very different, one-off or limited run instruments.

The inlaid Wm. Lange in the headstock certainly seems to lay this one to rest.

And finally, a few more Lange-made ukes:

Blue Boy - Actually not an instrument manufactured on contract, but made by Lange as a Paramount sub-brand. Blue Boys have some variation in models, and can be resonator backed or open-backed, as in these photos.

The uke in this YouTube video is missing its resonator, but you can see the attachment points.

Here's an Orpheum deluxe model...

And here's three shots of a "Super Paramount"...An AMAZING presentation model, which you can see on the headstock was a gift to the "King of Jazz" Paul Whiteman. That's his logo on the headstock; he was one of the few bandleaders to have a logo those days... And what do we find on the bezel - the clincher - the externally slotted bezel ring seen in the above one-off Lange models. OK, I'm happy to admit being wrong when the weight of evidence is so overwhelming. :)

In conclusion: Langes are mostly readily identifiable, fitting into several standard headstock shapes and pot designs, until they don't. The Orpheums, Paramounts, and the occasional odd Langes display an amazing variety and artistic flair, all with a high-level of craftsmanship. If you can find one in good condition - which isn't so often, sadly as they mostly offered low-to-mid-range, reasonably priced instruments, you may want to grab it. If you find one of their higher end ukes and you can afford what the seller is asking, pounce.

I want to thank both the Banjo Ukulele Haven and the comprehensive German site Banjoworld for many of the photos I used in this post. They are great sites that provide a wealth of information and you should go visit them.

That's all for now. If you got this far, you deserve a holiday gift. As I find additional examples of Lange-made ukes, I'll post them.

Until then, keep on strummin'...

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Weathering The Last Two Months...

Since I last posted, I've had two freelance contracts to finish up, a hurricane that did this to my next-door neighbor's house (another neighbor's house should be on the right, but it's now sadly in the Atlantic Ocean), a week-long blackout, a nor'easter, Halloween cancelled, Thanksgiving, a new cabaret premiere, and several job interviews. For someone without an official job, I'm a busy guy...

Because of that, I've been quiet here since September. I have a second post on William Lange & Co. ukuleles yet to finish, but until then, here's three recordings

The first is an impromptu duet of a favorite song of mine. This was played by my buddy Ben Mealer and me back in October: "If I Had You"

The second and third were made two weeks ago by Daro Behroozi, with Daro on clarinet, Brad Lail on washboard and me on uke and vocal. As a trio, we don't have a name, but we recorded seven tunes on one afternoon, and it was a great deal of fun to play with these great musicians. I hope that you enjoy it: "I'm Confessin' That I Love You" and also I Can't Give You Anything But Love.

Until next time...