boat paddle ukuleles

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Interview:  Aaron Keim  Beansprout Banjo Ukuleles
  This is the first in a series of short interviews with current banjo ukulele Luthiers.  I first noticed Aaron's fine instruments on You Tube when I was searching for a tutorial on the clawhammer or Frailing technique.

Below is one of his videos on the clawhammer style.  This technique works very well on the banjo uke as well as the ukulele.

I noticed Aaron's banjo ukes have a robust, clear tone and became interested in them.  Here is a link to his website.  also, here is his Two Chord Songbook:

The photo gallery has pictures of his entire banjo uke line.
Here is the interview:

1.  Did you start right out on the Banjo Ukulele or was there a period of design and experimentation? 
I made two prototypes that had laminated cherry rims and mahogany necks.  then i made two more with the maple block rims and maple necks.  after that I got started with a batch of 10, just how I wanted them.
2.  Did you make other instruments before the banjo uke , and if so in any numbers?
I have made one mandolin, two guitars, 5 five string banjos, 90 banjo ukes and 75 or so regular ukes.
3.  What convinced you that you could produce a superior banjo ukulele?
well, even the good vintage ones were missing the mark on major modern design issues such as geared tuners, comfortable sized necks, good setups, correct intonation, careful fretwork, etc...all I did was bring the banjo uke up to proper luthiery standards!  there were a couple of other luthiers doing the same thing around the same time as me, but I seemed to beat them to the punch as far as marketing and sales go.

4.  How long have you been using reclaimed wood and is it more stable than kiln dried stock?  Does Myrtle provide a unique sound quality? 
-I have been using reclaimed wood for about 3 years.  almost all of it is so old that is has dried out long ago!  I think myrtle is halfway between koa and mahogany and I really like how it sounds.
          6.  Are any new models in the works?
-I am working on a new five string banjo and focusing on my collaboration with Gordon and Char of Mya-Moe  I would like to get a soprano banjo uke with a 7 inch pot going, but I haven't found the time yet!
7.  Do you make custom or special order instruments?
Not really.  I am willing to alter some basic things about my designs, but I am not a true custom builder like Mike DaSilva.  I am a simple luthier and I stick to what I am good at.
8.  Can you tell me a little about the Renaissance heads that you include with your instruments?
They sound like skin heads but are louder, warmer and more consistent.  Also, they are not affected by climate changes.
           9.  I understand that your method of frailing (drop thumb) has reached a lot of players in the EU.  Are you excited to have been so influential abroad?
Yeah, that is pretty cool!  I wish I could tour over there, I haven't had the chance yet!  (except for a festival in Italy)
         10.  Are you still active with your music ensemble and do you tour?
Yes, I play about 100 shows a year with Boulder Acoustic Society and about 30 under my own name (The Quiet American) 
11.  Have you considered making a piccolo banjo?

I have made a couple of banjo ukes with 5 strings tuned cgceg.  I guess that counts as a piccolo banjo!

                              Thanks Aaron!  I am looking forward to that 7" rim.  

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The readers are sending me catalog pages and here is a brochure listing the basic Gibson models.  There is no date on the brochure but it must be a later publication since it lists the UB-5 and UB-4 separately. Click to enlarge.
I would guess that it must have been published after the 1934 catalog which describes the UB-4 as having Gold plated hardware.  This image can be seen on this website:

Monday, March 21, 2011

The seller of the Gibson UB-5 was kind enough to send me the catalog page on the UB-4 that mentions the UB-5 in the text.   I hope this helps with the designation issue that seems like it might outlast the actual instruments at this point.  Gibson states it pretty clearly in the text beneath the pictures.
                                 If you click on the picture it will expand and be readable.  
Gibson Flat Resonator assembly

A friend and reader, Clive Stanton,  had a brilliant suggestion for keeping the spacers in place when you put the flat resonator back on the Gibson ub1 , ub2 and ub3 models.  First put a toothpick in the four holes, then put the spacer over the toothpick.  Fit the resonator over the toothpicks and remove each one before putting the screw back in place.  Works like a charm!  Thanks Clive!
British Flat sided Cases
A reader asked this:  "Did american makers supply their banjo ukuleles with flat sided cases like the majority of British made cases?"
Answer:    To be honest I have never seen this type of case included with ukes made in the U.S. unless they were for sale in the U.K..   I can't say for sure but to my knowledge the flat sided cases were not sold here. Also, I have seen Gibson's sold in the U.K. as having the "original" case that are the flat sided style you find there.  It's possible that Gibson might have outfitted the export ukes with those cases, or had the distributors include them.  I really have no idea.  This is a difficult question to answer and perhaps the elders in the GFS might shed some light on it.
P.S.  I've always wondered why they put the flat side upward?  Seems like it would sit more firmly flat on the ground.
Catalog PDF request:

I would like to upload any pages from catalogs that the readers would like to send to my email address.  I can make pdf files of them and upload them so that we can all enjoy them at no cost.  This would probably not affect resale of the original catalogs since there would be no way to duplicate the old paper and aging of the originals.  I think any serious catalog collectors will bid on originals for their value as collectibles.   I've seen this in the used camera market.  Many sites have manuals for download on vintage cameras and the "real" manuals continue to sell for market prices despite the accessibility through downloads.
   I would like to include all of the makers as well as accessory companies like Grover and Elton.
These would be public domain by now since that is a 62 year limit.

 The Gibson UB-2,3,4,5?   What is it?
  This is a response to several emails with questions about Gibson terminology.
Thanks to a few catalogs and possibly a few typos, we are left with a mountain of confusion about the Gibson line of banjo ukes.  I've written more on this in my post about the various Gibsons but after seeing a few auctions recently I think it might help to propose something to the various sites and collectors out there.
We won't ever get any help from Gibson because they moved from Kalamazoo long ago and anyone working there that might help with this topic is probably long since retired.  Also, they had a serious basement flood at their current factory and my guess is that any records on this topic might have been ruined .
  First of all what I see is what might be a typo in the catalog that clearly lists the fancier inlay model (the one we all call the Ub-3) as a UB-2.   Now, to my knowledge this was a bit of back labeling since the UB-2 and UB-3 had already been listed in their catalogs and were very established high production models.  Also on that same page the catalog pictures a "UB-3" that looks to me like a UB-2 with an added diamond flanged resonator.  This same page lists the UB-4 as gold plated !  That is three big changes in the terminology in one catalog.  This must have been confusing to even the merchants and distributors at this point.  For instance, you go to order a UB-3 and the resonator model shows up at your store? A nickel UB-4 shows up in gold?  A UB-2 has fancy inlays and a sunburst finish?
  I've tried to put myself in the shoes of the Gibson folks  and have a theory about this catalog.  By this point they had the UB-4, and of course, the ub-1,ub-2 and ub-3 as well.  Now, we have this resonator that we want to include on the less ornate UB-2,  and put a maple version of it on there and leave the fingerboard pear wood and leave the mother of pearl dots......oh, and leave out the tone ring that the UB-4/5 has.   What are we going to call it?  For some reason, calling it the UB-2 deluxe or something like that was not their choice and they chose to call it the UB-3.  I also think they might have dropped the original ub-2 at that point.  Also, I have to wonder, what would they have called the UB-3 with an added diamond resonator?   I think it is obvious that they were boxed in by the UB designation that had a basic model at one end, and a fancy model at the other, leaving them three already used numbers to restructure the whole labeling process.
   Since we have no serial numbers on most of the Gibson models, the best we can do is go by the fret boards.  To me they hold the key to the terminology.  Also, if we use the "Deluxe" term it vastly helps with this topic.   Since catalogs contradict each other and there is no way to trace what the factory was actually producing in a given year with serial numbers or factory records.
  I would like to propose that we name them all according to the fret boards, and use the deluxe as a further indicator when there is a diamond flanged resonator.  This might help to end what I am going to call "Gibson Catalog Wars"

so here is my proposition that is based on current usage:

UB-1               6" head, flat resonator, dot markers
UB-2              dot markers, 8 inch head, flat resonator
Ub-2 Deluxe   dots, 8" head, diamond flanged  resonator
UB-3              Fancy diamond fret markers with rosettes, with or without sunburst ,8" head, flat resonator
UB-3 Deluxe   Same as UB-3 above with diamond flanged resonator (walnut back, tone ring?)                
UB-4              8" head, Diamond resonator, nickel plated hardware, Walnut burl back, rosewood fret
                      board, mother of pearl inlay "The Gibson" and fancy inlays.
UB-5               Same as above but with gold hardware

Also, for any custom models it would help if we called them nearest to what they might have been as listed above.  ie. custom Ub-3 etc.

I know this is contrary to some of the catalogs, but it seems like what many banjo uke players are already calling these models anyhow.
I don't have every model in my collection, and would love it if anybody with the deluxe models would write me about the tone ring, number of frets, type of wood on the backs etc. to share with my readers.   Pictures would be greatly appreciated too!