View Full Version : Help Identifying a Vintage Uke

09-06-2015, 04:22 AM
Hi, I've been checking out your site and let start by saying that I'm very impressed and this is a great resource.

I recently picked up a B&J Mele Soprano Ukulele and I'd like to see if anybody can give me any more information on it. Let me start with what I think I already know, I'm aware the B&J were an instrument distributor and they handled instruments from several different manufacturers, Harmony and Regal appearing to be the most common. My best guess at the moment is that this uke was made by Harmony in the 20s or 30s, but it seems to be a bit fancier than what I've been able to find on the web. I'm also not sure what kind of wood it's made out of, but I'm leaning towards mahogany.

Also, I had the original brass frets professionally replaced and the wooden nut replaced with the one you see in the pictures (assuming they open). The original frets and nut were very low and made playing the instrument difficult, the new set-up has improved its play-ability dramatically and I thing the silver frets and bone nut improve its looks as well. Hopefully I haven't destroyed any collectors value it may have had...not that I'm inclined to get rid of it any time soon.

Also, out of curiosity, is $100 unreasonable for replacing the frets and nut? I know nothing about this sort of thing and I'm not sure if the guy is ridiculously expensive or I'm unreasonably cheap.

Any information you can give me on this amazing little uke would be greatly appreciated.


https://scontent-iad3-1.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-xaf1/v/t1.0-9/11986939_887420744686155_2650706733933316290_n.jpg ?oh=5e0481076ad91b8fff104902488d2c81&oe=567A14F3

https://scontent-iad3-1.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-xfp1/v/t1.0-9/11953217_887421334686096_6896942602086679681_n.jpg ?oh=9abc1e5137ff7b7f56f7db81a4998120&oe=566482B9

https://scontent-iad3-1.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-xfa1/v/t1.0-9/10407356_887419671352929_2614876739381306802_n.jpg ?oh=0ccb90e29cd0e5042d2b6c5a15d41222&oe=56691E46

https://scontent-iad3-1.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-xtp1/v/t1.0-9/11148697_887421031352793_1870875193734439915_n.jpg ?oh=fcf09ff8e5ef2e8a4eeb0635ef490914&oe=56A8E659

09-06-2015, 05:21 AM
The collector's value has probably been compromised, but I doubt it's high enough to worry about. $100 for the work would depend on how much you paid for the uke. If you love it, play it and enjoy it and ignore the "buyer's remorse" on the upgrades.

Hippie Dribble
09-06-2015, 05:47 AM
Pretty uke for sure. Looks like birch wood that's been stained. Body shape says Regal, but I'm no expert.

$100 for good repair work is nothing. Congrats on a nice pickup mate and welcome to the forum.

09-06-2015, 05:48 AM
Well I only paid 10 bucks for it originally so I'm not to the crying stage yet. Though I recently noticed one of the braces coming loose and I'm dreading what that's going to cost me to get re-glued. Probably less than getting a crack in the back repaired though. I fully admit I don't understand the vintage ukulele market other than basic supply and demand, but this thing sounds amazing.

09-06-2015, 09:27 AM
Might be a good time to learn how to re-glue braces.

09-07-2015, 08:21 AM
I've been playing with that idea actually. I spent a large portion of yesterday doing research on how to re-glue a brace and didn't find nearly as much information as I expected. Given the small size of the sound hole I'm definitely going to need to use some sort of spatula to get the glue under the brace, and I did learn that hot hide glue is probably the best choice for adhesive.

My biggest concern is not being able to clamp the brace in position while the glue dries and what happens if I push it out of position or worse yet, it comes completely loose while I'm trying to get the glue underneath it. I'm not opposed to working on this myself, but I really don't want to screw this thing up. I also hate the idea of sending it out for another week to get the work done. As I mentioned I have no background in instrument repair, what's a reasonable price for getting this done professionally?

09-07-2015, 08:31 AM
Pretty uke for sure. Looks like birch wood that's been stained. Body shape says Regal, but I'm no expert.

$100 for good repair work is nothing. Congrats on a nice pickup mate and welcome to the forum.

My gut said Regal on the body, but Harmony on the headstock. So I don't know, other than it's from Chicago. Definitely birch tho.

09-07-2015, 09:33 AM
That's one of the things that's been giving me problems, I can't find pictures of anything that's a 100% match. I haven't even been able to find anything that matches the tuners. Never would have considered birch, I didn't even know birch was an option. Is birch a good thing in a ukulele? and how can you tell it's birch vs mahogany? This thing is surprisingly light compared to the Kalas and Makalas at my local music store and the only thing in their store that sounds close is a Fender electric. This thing really does sound amazing.

09-07-2015, 09:53 AM
The Chicago builders (Harmony, Regal, Kay ... not so much Lyon & Healy) frequently used birch on low- to mid-grade instruments in the early to mid 20th century, though occasionally you see birch on a fancier one. Birch doesn't have the strong, straight grain of mahogany or koa (nor the curl) so it's not as desireable to most collectors, but it's a fine tonewood in its own right.

Tuners can be replaced - -the bakelite buttons get brittle and crack, and a new set gets installed. So if the tuners don't match, I wouldn't sweat it.

If you got this for only $10, you made a hell of a good deal.

Edit on re-reading original post: so you're in this for $10 plus $100 for the refret work. Still a fine deal for $110.

09-07-2015, 10:00 AM
Winner winner, chicken dinner:

Though I've got to say, the body shape and headstock are close on this Regal-made PMICO:

09-07-2015, 11:00 AM
Ok, you've come closer in 2 days than I have in 2 months...I find that rather annoying, but I'm stoked to see anything that close.

I agree that they both look very close, but the PMICO looks very, very close based mostly on the rings around the sound hole. The only thing missing is the binding on the back. Oddly enough one of the repairs I failed to mention was resetting the back of the neck which the luthier assured me was coming loose. What are the odds that harmony used the same ring pattern around their sound hole and why wouldn't either of these 2 have binding on the back while mine does and does that make it better or worse? I personally think it looks better, but I've already demonstrated a serious lack of knowledge about these things.

09-07-2015, 11:40 AM
Happy to help with what knowledge I have. Jake Wildwood's site (Antebellum Instruments) is such a treasure trove of information, though. It's so awesome of him to keep, and make available, such detailed descriptions of everything he works on.

Here's another Mele he worked on (you have to scroll down past the tiple). Does that soundhole label look like yours?

Differences in soundhole rosettes, presence or absence of bindings etc, are minor details. The big Chicago houses made so many instruments, for so many vendors, that there were often minor changes from one batch to the next. So in 1925 maybe, B&J orders a couple hundred Meles, and Harmony makes them without back bindings, in 1926 they place the same order but Harmony makes them with back bindings...etc. I don't think any of them kept precise records on specs.

I have a vague memory of a thread from a year or two ago, where we discussed whether or not Harmony and Regal may have shared parts. I'll have to see if I can find it.

09-07-2015, 12:55 PM
If I failed to mention it, thanks for the help so far. I'm now fairly convinced that it's birch that got hit with a walnut stain. Doesn't diminish it's beauty, but interesting to know.

The label on mine isn't in the best shape, with about the lower 1/3 being gone completely and the upper corner appears to be coming loose (worries for another day), but other than that it's practically identical with the 2 notable exceptions. The "Ukulele" is substantially smaller and it has "Hawaiian" above the Mele banner.

https://scontent-iad3-1.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-xtf1/v/t1.0-9/11896090_890027467758816_6765316398561304491_n.jpg ?oh=34c00d876f145062bf983059ee57188a&oe=56704C47

09-24-2015, 01:02 PM
Ok, still no luck getting a definitive answer on who made this uke, but new interesting and possibly useful information has come to my attention. This uke is a bit small for a Soprano. It only measures 20 1/4 inches long, 6 inches across at its widest point and 2 inches deep(?). I hadn't noticed it's diminutive size until I set it next to a cheap Leonani sea turtle uke that I picked up for the price of the gig bag it was in. Do the dimensions help at all or is it just the size they were making them back in the 20s and 30s?

09-25-2015, 03:05 AM
I'm thinking that a refret and neck set for $100 is a really good bargain, especially if the new frets have a good crown and polish on them. You'd have a hard time purchasing the tools and materials to refret it yourself for that

09-25-2015, 03:47 AM
The headstock does look Harmony, but the heel is different than mine. My 1950's comes to more of a point on a heel, and is not flush with the body. Interesting how all these Chicago made ones changed over the years. Once again, this forum is great, cause most would never pick up on these differences.

My smallest soprano is my birch Harmony -pictured here with my '40's mahogany Silvertone. The Harmony is slightly bigger than yours at just under 21", 6 1/2" and just under 2"

Any update on the repair status?

09-25-2015, 10:05 AM
Sorry, forgot to mention the brace repair seems to have gone well, and only set me back another 20 bucks, so now my $10 ukulele has cost me about $130 not counting the new strings. The wife is thrilled.

Oh, and the new frets were a game changer. The old brass frets were very low and I had to put much more pressure on them. I really don't regret that decision and I still think it looks and plays better with the new frets and nut. I was just worried that I'd overpaid, having no frame of reference to work from.

09-28-2015, 01:54 PM
So, a $130 ukulele -

and you learned about repairs,
got a bit of a history lesson,
it sounds good, and....
everybody is happy.

Sounds like a winner!

10-04-2015, 10:23 AM
Now if only I could play worth a damn. I'd still like to pin down the manufacturer though, I know it doesn't affect the uke at all, but it would just be nice to know.