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, August 17, 2011

Open Backs Galore

When I think of August, I think of visiting the seaside or taking a vacation, and that inspired me to put together a post on the instrument that was probably intended to go on the road with you, the little open back uke.

I've dubbed these Stromberg Voisinet ukes as Style O, which I reckon makes some sense, since they ARE open. There seem to be three basic models:

1. This is the simple, open back 8” maple model with flame maple neck. Uniquely for S-V ukes, the headstock MOP inlay is a slotted circle in this model only. The above example, with the painted vellum, and the below example, were both Ebay finds; the Uke above moved in July for $114.50 and the below example, in similar condition, moved in November of 2010 for $91.99.

If you click on the group of photos here, you can get a better look at that slotted circle inlay unique to this model.

2. This brown-finished 8” uke (below) was bought for $60 by Pukulele Pete from Ukulele Underground at a flea market in Maine; why can't I ever find these flea markets? The original vellum was labeled “USS Case”, a destroyer that was present at Pearl Harbor; Pete believes that the ukulele may have been on board during the attack. Unlike the blond ukes above, this model has a more typical diamond headstock inlay.

The darker finish looks very nice - I'm a fan of stained finishes on banjo ukes.

Stromberg Voisinet made ukuleles and other instruments for various companies. I'm not fully clear on who offered the "Wizard" line of instruments, but Chicago-based department store Montgomery Ward is often identified as the seller. Either way, some "Wizards' are clearly William Lange products, and others are clearly Stromberg Voisinet.

A good example of Stromberg Voisinet-made "Wizard", is visible in this video on You Tube I'm including it because of its very close similarity to the above blond maple ukes. This instrument was owned by banjo uke seller, restorer and unmatched expert John T at John T's Banjo Ukes

As you can see in the video, it’s very similar to #1 above, with a maple pot and neck sporting signature S-V purfling around the pot. Also typical S-V headstock with black veneer facing and S-V slotted diamond inlay. Note that although this is an 8” pot, it only has 12 tension hooks instead of the 16 displayed on the examples above.

3. Finally, we come to the Style O Junior model - which as you might expect is a 7" pot model with 12 tension hooks.

This first example features a plain maple neck and pot, which - though not visible - has purfling, an ebony peghead face, and flame maple pot cap on back. This example sold on eBay for $104.00 in August of 2010. The example immediately below has been restored and altered, but its similar to 7” model at top. Flame maple neck and headstock are unique differences. The headstock design, which looks like a sticker, is actually an elaborate MOP inlay added by a luthier. Though that addition looks GHASTLY to me, my taste is clearly off since this uke moved for $245 on Ebay in October of 2010.

I wish these open back instruments were a bit more common as it would be good to get a sense of what was offered. Pukulele Pete's brown-finished open back only emerged last week, the first I've seen of that particular model. I'm watching what else emerges, but for now, there seem to be three basic styles, blond maple, brown-stained maple, and the junior 7" model. Plus that Wizard.

OK, enough time on the web for you. Next time - I'll delve into the Wizards and other jobbers, and until then, grab your open back uke and head to the beach already!

Friday, August 5, 2011

"The Rose"

An instrument that everyone who owns has dubbed "The Rose" this uke sits at the top of the line of Stromberg Voisinet banjo ukuleles. Before I get into this model, just note: I've added some photos of some of Slingerland's rarer models, the Maybell 023 and the 028, to an earlier post on some of these instruments.

Onto the Rose. That's probably not its real model name, but what else do you call something that looks like this? Still somewhat modest aside of that rose decal, The Rose is the most richly decorated S-V model, and has the most extensive resonator. Appears to be mahogany, neck is five-piece and white celluloid binding is present on resonator back edge. I'm always on the lookout for this particular model: it sounds great and looks great.

Here's a classic example of "The Rose", played by my friend, the VERY talented musician, performance artist and playwright Meghan McGeary. She says that it’s from 1930 and it was purchased from Misurgia in Brooklyn, NY. As in other examples, there’s no diamond headstock inlay.

And here's another shot, of that great decal.

Another “Rose” is in the collection of English banjo-uke wiz and great all-around musician Matthew J. Richards, who is a member of the George Formby Society and I believe keyboardist/musical director for the Society's Blackpool conventions. His is slightly different from the above example. It has the rose decal, the five-piece neck and the white binding on the resonator back edge, but also has pearloid (mother-of-toilet-seat) fretboard and peghead laminate, as well as white binding along the fretboard and neck. A lovely instrument, great sounding; see him playing the “Rose” on his You Tube channel

Here's some of the variation I keep prattling on about in Stromberg Voisinets. Same mahogany top-line model as above, but with pearloid fingerboard and head, white binding, rose! A birdseye maple inlay is here instead, a similar back decoration as you've seen previously on Style One models.

Finally, you will note that there's no "Stromberg Voisinet" logo or maker's mark anywhere on any of these ukes. Truly, I'd never seen one before this "Rose" hit Ebay last month, selling in the UK for the relatively modest equivalent of $260.00. As you can see - Tada! - a logo. This is the only SV logo I've seen of the 50 or so examples I've cataloged. I hope that another emerges. And as you can also see, there's a cat with some taste.

Next time, I hope to post some video. But until then, have a good weekend and keep strummin'

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

More Slingerland Banjo Ukes

After about a week in Los Angeles, where I got to meet one of my idols, the incredibly talented and equally generous Tony Trischka, I've decided I may have to attempt the five string and take a rest from my four-stringiness. Hey, Tony said, "You can do it - it's easy to learn." He's the kind of guy that you completely believe, so now you know who to blame when I start posting links to me flailing while frailing and blathering on about the unmatched sonic beauty of pre-war Gibson Flathead Mastertones.

Here is Tony playing a piece I enjoyed singing along with this weekend, his "Shameless Pandering Medley"

OK, so let's talk ukes, pronounced by me as "yuke," by the way, not "ooke"; my orientation is more vaudeville than the islands.

We were looking at Slingerland Maybells, and I have a few more to show you.

Here's the Outfit #30.

You'll notice that, despite the fancy mop inlay, it has a kind of standard Slingerland headstock that matches the ones seen on all models 024, 025, O28 and the resonator-backed 023. This isn't always true with the Outfit #30, which - as you can see in the catalog in my last post, has a very banjo-like headstock shape. The reason, I believe, is that some of these Outfit #30s were actually built for Slingerland by Liberty once Slingerland acquired the company. Here's a look at a Maybell built by Liberty: this page is from Dave Schenkman's incredibly helpful and definitive site, which you should check out if you haven't already. Also, please note the decal on the back of the resonator, which has been present on all the Outfit #30's I've seen, in addition to all the Maybell 023s I've seen.

Here's a Maybell model 20 from the early 30s identifiable by the script decal and metal dowel hardware, instead of the usual embossed or branded logo and biscuit shim on the dowel, which you see in models built in the 20s. This one, which I refurbished more than a year ago, is now in the hands of Dave, the Cloverdale Kid, Laurice. Hello, Dave. :)

Next time, I'll have something on the Stromberg Voisinet "Rose" model, one of which just moved on eBay in the UK. Until then, consider five strings...