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.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Stromberg-Voisinet Aero Uke and Rose Banjo Uke, and Harmony Roy Smeck Vita-Uke

It's my birthday Monday. 50; one of the big birthdays, the kind you get a good present for instead of socks and a book. My family gave me a 1924 Gibson L-Junior guitar. A great gift, but to make room for it, I'm going to have to sell a couple of ukuleles. I just sold this extraordinarily nice Harmony Roy Smeck "Vita-Uke".

The uke had one minor problem - a dent in the back - plus a replacement bridge, but the tone was excellent and it reminded me of a Martin uke.

From the triple black, white and tortoiseshell top binding to the trained-sealion soundholes, Harmony really did a wonderful job back in the 20s and 30s.

The other uke I'm selling to make room for the guitar is a Stromberg-Voisinet Rose. I've never posted pictures of it here, but I've taken a few so that you can see the top of the line S-V ukulele before it sells on eBay.

Note the pearloid (or mother-of-toilet-seat) facing on the headstock and fretboard, which contrasts interestingly with the mother-of-pearl position markers, making them look silver in comparison to the milky color of the fretboard.

Also note the rose decal and other typical Stromberg-Voisinet design features, including the purfling on the pot and the five-piece neck and the three-pointed, scrolled headstock always found on S-V ukuleles.

That headstock comes into play in identifying the next uke...

Finally, here is one I never owned, but it bears mentioning that it is an AMAZING design and this is in fact a Stromberg-Voisinet ukulele.

The "Aero-uke" as its known is constantly mis-identified as a Harmony product.

If you follow this blog at all and have seen the dozens of examples of S-V ukes with this exact headstock and neck, then you recognize the instrument's origins and know that this is a Stromberg-Voisinet product.

Of course, that said, you've never seen any other ukulele like this one, and those "jet-engine" soundholes sure are unique.

Of course, this is the only S-V instrument I can think of that actually has a rudder attached to the headstock!

Several of you have pointed the "family resemblance" of the Aero-uke to me over the last few months, and I'm glad to be able to put this one in the right family.
Here's a shot from of the carved tailpiece and, well, propeller, I guess!

And - after I wrote this draft, look what I found online. Proof positive that this is a Stromberg Voisinet. Thanks to folks who saved these old ads!

Anyway, that's all for now. Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 21, 2013

"So Long Oolong How Long You Gonna Be Gone?"

Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby wrote dozens of satirical or downright silly songs during the golden era of Tin-Pan Alley's heyday.  I do several of their tunes, including "Father's Day" a song they wrote for Groucho Marx (they wrote several for him, including "Lydia the Tattooed Lady") and "The Sheik of Avenue B", a parody of "The Sheik of Araby" that they wrote for Fanny Brice.

This tune is clearly a mild parody of Madame Butterfly, but it's a thin little piece of fluff that doesn't need to be analyzed, just played.

A quick thought on the subject and it's treatment, though.  It has a mildly racist approach, but that's typical of what was a far more unapologetically racist time, the 1920's.  And when you come down to it, this tune isn't even remotely malicious, so I wanted to do it.  However, I don't know that I'd feel comfortable playing "Ma is Playing Mah-Jong".

Monday, October 14, 2013

Your First Ukulele

If you play ukulele (and I'm assuming if you're reading this, you do), you had a first instrument. Maybe it was a good ukulele, more likely it wasn't. Perhaps you sold it off, or maybe you still enjoy playing it.

Here's the latest installment of our round-robin blog project; this time, we're focused on our first ukuleles, what kind they were, and what we've learned and how we might approach the uke differently since we first started playing.

And while we're on the subject, here's a photo of what my first ukulele looked like, a K. Yasuma ukulele from Japan. It was a great sounding instrument, and I've read in a few places that Yasuma was sued by Martin for copying their designs and brand pretty much exactly. I don't know if this is true or not, but I'd also read that Yasuma lost the suit and was ordered to stop making and selling these instruments (guitars and tiples as well as ukes), and that many of the instruments were destroyed. Either way, you can't find Yasumas nowadays, which is too bad. It was a great ukulele~!