boat paddle ukuleles

Friday, March 16, 2012

B.U.A.S.  Banjo Ukulele Acquisition Syndrome:  A disorder,obsession, fanaticism involving the helpless
attempt to own only one banjo ukulele.  There is no known cure, and this syndrome has been known to break up perfect relationships, marriages, cause financial collapse, eviction from rental properties and create a general chaos in the lives of those who choose to play the banjo ukulele.There is also no known prevention of this disorder as it seems to strike individuals with no prior or similar obsessions and often becomes an affliction before the very first banjo ukulele has been purchased. 
                                          I wish you all the best of luck with this.  

Sunday, March 11, 2012

   Banjo Ukulele
(bnj)  (yk-llk-ll)  or:    (ban joe  (y)ewk uh lay lee)

noun/:  a small 4 stringed banjo tuned like a ukulele.  Also called: Banjolele, Banjo Uke, Uke banjo,  Ukulele Banjo and "What on earth is that?"

Most banjo ukuleles are under 24" long and have a diameter of 6,7 and 8".  There are
exceptions and they may be found with larger diameters (usually no more than 12").  Most often they are no more than 8" in diameter.  (because that's what sounds the best).
  They may be found with an "open back" or "closed back", with flat or flanged resonators that amplify and direct the sound outward or forward.  These resonators can also give the banjo ukulele a unique character , make them louder or simply look great and have no effect on the tone whatsoever.  They may also be found with "port hole" vents on the side of the body in the closed back style.
  The banjo ukulele is often used as a strumming instrument rather than melodic or "chord with melody" style of playing.  They were originally designed as an attempt to
produce a louder ukulele that could project over larger ensembles or in establishments where singers and performers were trying to be heard over the din of sober and drunken patrons.  (this need proceeded harsh sounding electronic public address systems) 
  Often viewed as a novelty instrument the banjo ukulele seemed to have been popular
among fraternities and sororities for "sitting around and singing"  between serious studies and the hazing.  Banjo ukes from these circumstances can often be found with a variety of signatures, dates, lists of girlfriends,bar names and a variety of other information that might or might not be interesting to the collector.
  The banjo ukulele was the instrument of choice for the British film star George Formby, who wrote and sang over 200 songs.  He developed a unique virtuosic style that included fancy strumming styles like: fan strokes, split strokes and "tapping".  His songs were often considered "racey" during his era and a few were banned from the BBC radio network for sexual innuendos.  (this writer is grateful for his bravery and freedom of expression).   He starred in over 20 films and can easily be considered the most popular performer in his era.  Almost every one his songs included a solo "break" that included flourishes, embellishments and impressive instrumental techniques that would show off his amazing skill as a banjo ukulele player.  These solo breaks were a precursor to the guitar solos in popular music from the 50s,60s and well........up to now. 
  Formby's style remains hugely popular in Great Britain and there is a George Formby Society with chapters in several towns across England.  There are regular meetings and membership in the society is at an all time high.  Each year the society meets in Blackpool and performers of all ages perform to enthusiastic audiences.  Members of the Formby Society are avid collectors of banjo ukuleles and often trade and sale them at these meetings, and participants can learn Formby's stylistic  techniques in class and private tutoring sessions.  Often, guest performers are invited to perform as well.
The atmosphere of the Society seems to be relaxed and any degree of skill as a player or singer is welcomed  enthusiastically by it's dedicated audiences.  
  There is a resurgence in popularity of the banjo ukulele and many companies are producing instruments to keep up with the demand.  This blog has focused mainly upon the vintage instruments and oddities but will also feature reviews of current manufactured and custom built banjo ukuleles.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

The tiny but excellent "Bell Brand" tailpiece. These  tailpieces were standard issue on several banjo ukes including:  Avalons, Gretsch, and others.  Grooved for 5 strings, but no worry, just use the outer four and you are in business.  Very easy to string because a single knot slips inside the grooved area and leaves them tidy and without any string ends to scratch your arms and snag your tuxedo.  These were 1 1/16" wide and sat on the  tension ring for a nice pressure angle downward from the bridge.  This gives good contact for the bridge to the skin and provides resonance.
Several readers requested pictures of these tailpieces.  I see them from time to time on ebay and have bought a few for restoration jobs.  Another extinct hardware design from the past.  I know nothing of the Bell company and assume it was not connected to the phone service.  Maybe it's another Edison invention!!  
Great News about the Grover People!!
They asked me to send a sample tuner of the wonderful spring loaded style tuning peg common to so many vintage Gibsons, Martins and other high end and mid range ukuleles and banjo ukuleles.  I'm hoping they reissue them and if so, to the exact specifications, colors and quality they had back in the day.  I am going to  furnish them with as much imagery, and actual tuners that I can spare to help them build a reissue.   Another Grover model, that was included on the Ludwig Wendell Halls, and some of the Stromberg Voisenet banjo ukes should also prove to be a viable reissue. (See below), larger style Grover for thicker pegheads.  These required larger holes and the barrel section had no spring.  There was a knurled "teeth" for the connection to the button that rotates the whole mechanism for tuning.  Another lovely Grover product!

  My agenda on this is not self serving, I'm hoping to help  all of the ukulele companies, custom makers, restorers and owners of these great instruments have access to the fine quality products Grover made in the 20s and 30s.  Keep your fingers crossed!!
  I want to ask those of you that have planet style tuners on your Ludwig models, can you send a picture of
a tuner?  I have had several readers inquire about these and I have no examples for discussion  in a blog post.  I'm wondering, are they smaller than a tenor banjo planet tuner?  Any information will be shared with the readers.  Thanks!

Sunday, March 04, 2012

By request the Grover "Ivoroid button":

A close up of the Ivoroid tuners used on the Gibson UB-4/5 models.  I've never seen these buttons that Grover supplied to Gibson on any other banjo ukulele.  They were  nitrocellulose "ivoroid" which was the synthetic ivory invented in the 20s to replace real ivory.  It is great looking material and I've seen it on many
guitars as binding and even on bassoons as the bell ring.

Please write me if you have seen these on any other models of ukulele or banjo ukulele.
A plea to Grover!!!
Letter # 2 to the folks at Grover. (feel free to write Grover if you want to support this plea)

Hi, This is my second letter to you about this topic.   I am the writer of the blog: The Banjo Ukulele Forum and I have about 14,000 readers worldwide at the moment.  

I am writing to urge you to reissue the best tuning peg ever produced for the Ukulele and Banjo Ukulele, the Grover Spring Loaded tuning pegs.  (please see attached photos on various Gibson model banjo ukuleles)

I'm not sure you are aware of the fact that the hottest selling instrument in the world right now is none other than the Ukulele.  The need for an excellent serious tuning peg is higher now than ever on this planet.  Your tuner was famous in it's day and I have paid over $100 for a set of them several times to replace lesser quality tuning pegs on my restoration jobs.

It would seem silly to me, and my readers that you might feel there is "too" small of market for these wonderful tuners as indicated by your last response to me.  The custom ukulele market, corporate ukulele market and vintage market (ie resales) and restoration market would insure you a windfall of sales of these classic tuners.

I would urge you again to think about this and if had the capital to invest for you I would do it myself.   I would hope that you could put them out with the exact dimensions and nitrocellulose buttons in the three colors you originally offered them.  (ivory white, black and ivoroid (for the high end Gibson UB-4/5 banjo ukulele).

Martin, Gibson, Gretsch are just of few of the high profile companies that supplied their instruments with your tuning pegs and there is nothing anywhere in the world currently made that can come close to the elegance and efficiency that your spring loaded tuners had.

I hope you take this letter seriously, not only for us, the players and you the producers because we will both profit from this reissue.

very sincerely,

Steve Roberts

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

New sales this week.  Also, over on ebay, a different UB-1, all original finish :  SOLD
Gibson UB-4 Sold
The Gibson Ub-4 which is the last design in the Gibson line of banjo ukueles.  This is the nickel plated version and several years after Gibson produced this model they began to refer to the gold plated version as the UB-5.  These are a bit longer scale than the ub-3 and were equipped with a Walnut burl diamond flanged resonator.  Other differences from the other Gibsons are the fancier fret marker inlays (mother of pearl), fret board side binding (white black white) and matching binding on the edge of the resonator.  Headstock has inlayed "The Gibson" and a floral inlay below it. (also mother of pearl).   Tuners are the Ivoroid version of the Grover Spring loaded style.  Original hardware throughout and includes the rare "Presto Ideal" that flips open for changing the strings.  The reso has the original chalk serial number which is also stamped into the rim  8818-2.
Finish is excellent inside and out, there are no splits or deep scratches.  Shows very very minor wear in terms of slightly dull finish here and there, and very minor surface scratches.

I am the second owner of this UB-4 and bought it from an elderly gentleman that said he recieved it as a gift in 1930.  He was 5! at the time.  His son told me that it was kept in a closet all these years in a very large house and when I purchased it the original gut strings were in place.  I replaced them with Aquila Gut strings and it sounds great.  Gut breaks on it's own and is more susceptible to fraying but it has a unique sound that is apparent in the strumming because the strings are nowhere nearly as smooth as nylon.  There are more pictures on this blog of this exact Gibson under:
  I have seen no more than 3 for sale in the U.S. and a few in the U.K. over a 3 year period. They are rare and excellent by any standard with a deep banjoey tone that works melodically or as a strummer. To give a comparison the F model Gibson mandolins which are for sale constantly on Ebay for $4000-12,000 were also made in Kalamazoo with the same woods, finish and care.
I'm not the least bit embarrassed to ask $5000 for this one.  It is completely original and has suffered no abuse by the original and current owner.  My conservative guess is that these will command as much as the Gibson mandolins within 5 years.

Please write me if you are interested in this one.  

Monday, February 20, 2012

Gibson UB-2 SOLD
This is the UB-2 that is featured in this blog on Jan 28th 2011.  It is an excellent banjo ukulele and has been my regular player for 2 years.  It has a lovely robust sound and excellent scale.  It has a curious finish, being a sort of two tone that is very deep walnut everywhere but the face of the peghead and resonator.  What really matters is that it sounds so good and is in excellent condition.  There is minor wear on the fret board on the first fret, but it has no buzzes all the way up the fret board.  Enough talk though, take a look at this!

I have both the Ub-3 and Ub-2 and there is no difference in tone or quality between the two.  The UB-3 is simply more ornate and often has a sunburst finish.  Both models are powerhouse banjo ukes with great projection and color.   It has the original Gibson skin, and all of the hardware is original except the hooks which were mismatched when I bought it.  I reglued the veneer on the inside of the rim 2 years ago and it is holding up perfectly.  The bridge is one of mine and designed just for this banjo uke.  It has a set of John Alvie  
Turner strings on it that are about a year old and I would leave them on because they sound rich and full to this day.  
I take PayPal as payment and ship anywhere that the USPS will deliver.  Tracking and insurance included.
Price:  $950 including padded nylon carrying bag.
Baby Gibson UB-1 for Sold.   Immaculate restoration in terms of finish, color and playability.  This, as you can see by the photos, is a gorgeous example of a fine banjo ukulele.  It has the sound that I mentioned on the very first UB-1 blog and this one is truly something to look at and hear.   I will put on a new set of Aquilla Nylgut strings before the instrument is shipped also.

This is probably a bit later in terms of production since it has the bone nut.  The dots are real mother of pearl and these happen to be very nicely colored.   I put a lower action bridge on this one and played it without changing anything else.  It could use some polishing on the hooks to brighten them up and that is just about it.  Shipping anywhere in the world but please realize that the import duty for many countries is as much as 20%.  Also please note that international shipping can take several weeks for delivery.  Instrument will be bubble wrapped and surrounded by styrofoam peanuts inside a sturdy box.  I insure to anywhere in the U.S. and to any foreign country that the u.s.p.s. offers.
Tracking number and delivery confirmation will be added on at no extra charge.
I take PayPal only and there is no charge for local pick up.

Price $645.00