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View Full Version : ID this no-name vintage mahogany soprano



theabsurdman
11-22-2014, 04:07 AM
I've been hooked on the look and sound of old lightly-built mahogany ukes since strumming a friend's vintage Martin last year but didn't fancy the inflated prices and so have been casting around for affordable alternatives.

In the summer I grabbed an original Favilla Marca Aquila which has been fantastic (after a bit of initial patching-up) but which didn't entirely cure my UAS.

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Having been outbid on a Ken Timms model last month I took a gamble on a plausible-looking soprano from the USA which according to the seller is 50+ years old (wall-hanger for the last 15) and which arrived yesterday:

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As you can see it's very well-made in beautiful honey-coloured mahogany with a pronounced arch to the back; no cracks or damage, except a bit if rub wear to the fretboard edges. The fretboard is also a very light honey colour (too light for rosewood?) and the friction tuners have white (plastic?) handles. It's also relatively light in weight: 343g, compared to 254.6g for my Favilla (which saves weight by lacking a raised fretboard).

Sounds very nice to my ear in play, considering the clear strings on it are at least 15 years old; not quite as loud or as much sustain as the Favilla but great tone, note-separation and intonation. I'm planning to put Martin 600 clears on it next and see what difference that makes. Comparing it to the nice modern Mainland and Hamano mahogany ukuleles I own, it's in another league.

In summary, I think to my untrained ear it's right up there in quality with Martin etc. and is such a nice instrument that it's hard to believe that it wouldn't have a maker's mark on it somewhere, but it doesn't!
There's a faint rectangle mark behind the headstock where a label might have sat but that's all.
I was thinking possible Regal or Harmony? or maybe it's just a luthier one-off?

Ring bells for anybody?

river_driver
11-22-2014, 09:44 AM
I'd be inclined to think Harmony, but it can be damn hard to tell. Can you post close ups of the front and back of the headstock?

My gut tells me it's a 1930's Harmony, but that could just be indigestion.

theabsurdman
11-22-2014, 01:37 PM
I'd be inclined to think Harmony, but it can be damn hard to tell. Can you post close ups of the front and back of the headstock?

My gut tells me it's a 1930's Harmony, but that could just be indigestion.

Thanks. See further images below. On your suggestion, I've now had a look around for all-mahogany Harmonys, pre- the plastic fretboard, and have found a few reasonable matches, eg.

http://antebelluminstruments.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/c1935-harmony-made-mahogany-soprano.html

http://forum.ukuleleunderground.com/showthread.php?78281-New-uke-day-Vintage-Harmony

so I think you are probably correct, in which case I'm not sure if the white tuners on mine are original as I would have expected black ones pre-1960.

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chefuke
11-22-2014, 02:09 PM
Hi there,

Would it be possible to get high resolution images of the bridge and the back of the neck?
My first wild guess is that it was made by brueko germany re badged by hilo in hawaii 1950's.
But the bridge close up would help to be more certain.
Greetings
Mark

river_driver
11-22-2014, 02:20 PM
Hmmm...now I'm not so sure. The headstock proportions don't look quite right for a Harmony, and on second look, neither does the bridge. Chefuke might be on to something.

Regardless, it sure is pretty despite its simplicity. I love the sound of well-aged mahogany.

chefuke
11-22-2014, 02:41 PM
Or it could be Japanese made - I love simplicity in design and amongst my favourites are the old bruekos in that regard.

Holy crap....pushed that image load button like a lunatic...

731677316773167examplnunes[ATTACH=CONFIG]73167[/73167loe

UkerDanno
11-22-2014, 02:48 PM
whatever it is, it's a beaut'! I'll give you $100.00!

theabsurdman
11-22-2014, 02:49 PM
Hi there,

Would it be possible to get high resolution images of the bridge and the back of the neck?
My first wild guess is that it was made by brueko germany re badged by hilo in hawaii 1950's.
But the bridge close up would help to be more certain.
Greetings
Mark

Thanks. More images below, as requested:

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theabsurdman
11-22-2014, 03:02 PM
Extreme close-up of the bridge:

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chefuke
11-22-2014, 04:08 PM
The bridge looks like the ones they used on the duke kahanamoku tourist ukes - judging by the quality of the mahogany its one of the earlier, better quality japanese made ones. But thats just my best guess.

I would not sell it if it sounds that good in comparison to your collection.

Captain Simian
11-22-2014, 05:50 PM
The wide waist and screwed down bridge make me think it may be Japanese too. My no name Japanese soprano also has a wide waist but a glued on bridge. As far as I've seen it seems like Japan mainly built ukes like that, US and other countries seem to have narrower waists.

Mr. Jake Wildwood
11-22-2014, 06:04 PM
I concur: it's totally Japanese, 60s era.

aquadan
11-22-2014, 06:31 PM
I concur: it's totally Japanese, 60s era.

Threadjack...
Nice to see you around here Jake, I'm loving the 2 ukes I've bought from you, and have kicked myself for letting so many others slip past. I'm jonesing for that Martin you have up now, but it's out of my price range.

theabsurdman
11-22-2014, 10:30 PM
The wide waist and screwed down bridge make me think it may be Japanese too. My no name Japanese soprano also has a wide waist but a glued on bridge. As far as I've seen it seems like Japan mainly built ukes like that, US and other countries seem to have narrower waists.

Interesting. I think you might be on to something there. The wide waist is indeed distinctive.

Update: From various google researches, I'm pretty sure now it is of Japanese manufacture, probably 1960s -- unbranded Kiwaya maybe?

Mr. Jake Wildwood
11-23-2014, 11:42 AM
Threadjack...
Nice to see you around here Jake, I'm loving the 2 ukes I've bought from you, and have kicked myself for letting so many others slip past. I'm jonesing for that Martin you have up now, but it's out of my price range.

Danke! I used to post more but lost my user ID due to losing old email addy. Didn't want to fuss... finally got around to making a new user.

The Martin's owned by a friend but it is drooled-upon pretty frequently... :)