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, February 16, 2013

What Is This Uke?

In December, I bid on a small banjo ukulele on eBay with a resonator back and perloid lamination on the fretboard and headstock. No vellum, bridge or strings, and - alas - no name.

So, what IS this ukulele? Well, there are a couple of clues. First, there's that headstock...

Dallas & Sons?

I think it DOES look like John E. Dallas & Sons. There's really no other company headstock that looks exactly like this. The most similar - Gibson - is not proportioned quite like this. And yet, nothing else on this ukulele looks like a Dallas...

...for example, there's the pot and resonator, which are both encircled in purfling. IT looks like an American-made ukulele.

And then there's the resonator, which is attached in a manner that's typical of several American brands, most notably Slingerland, Lyon & Healy, and J.R. Stewart. But, this instrument really doesn't look like any of those, and as you can see here, it doesn't look like a Stromberg-Voisinet, which typically uses a chromed recessed cup for the attachment screw.

Then again, the purfling, the screw attachment, the pearloid laminate and even the painted faux ebony binding look a lot like what Stromberg Voisinet became in 1931 - Kay. You may remember that Kay used identical binding on their early banjos and we saw an identical resonator attachment screw on the back of a Kay- or Stromberg-Voisinet-built Wizard in an entry I posted more than a year ago on Wizard Ukuleles.

Then, there's this: to keep up with customer demand, John E. Dallas & Sons imported more than 3,000 Kay-built instruments in 1930s; most of those instruments were guitars, but other instruments were included in the shipment, though they're not named in the source material I've found.

And, this passage comes from the Jedson Guitar website

"Dallas imported musical instruments from Germany, Italy, Czechoslovakia, and the USA (including Kay, Harmony, and Vega.) The Radiotone branded guitars appear to have been made in Czechoslovakia, although at least one model branded Radiotone was made by Kay in the USA..."

In recent years, we've seen Slingerland-built instruments coming up for sale on eBay with with UK seller's marks on them. Perhaps - and it's just a theory as I've never seen more than one of this particular ukulele - perhaps Kay built instruments to meet Dallas's specifications, which included recreating the Dallas headstock to keep some brand integrity?

This is just a guess as to who made and sold this particular ukulele, and it seems to match the facts, but only just. You might have noticed that the resonator is split and it turned out that the resonator back came off in shipping, and the neck turned out to be completely warped and unplayable. And so, back to the seller it went, sadly.

If anyone reading this has more definite information, or a plausible explanation as to who built this ukulele, please let us know. Until then, keep on strummin'.

5-17-13: An UPDATE!

Well - happy to say I think the mystery is solved.

I always assumed that the above ukulele was intact. It isn't.

I've found a photo of the same uke, but this one has the flange that was missing from the above example.

And that flange tells us this was a Harmony. And that makes sense, as we know that Harmony was one of a handful of firms that supplied Dallas with instruments.

So, I'm glad to be wrong, and also, I'm *very* glad that I sent back the uke to the seller.

OK, next up a post on a Stromberg Voisinet rarity and some sheet music and other cool stuff to follow that.

See you later!