View Full Version : NUD: Gibson sundurst tenor, circa 1927

08-22-2018, 03:01 AM
When I first got interested in ukes I lusted after modern classics - Moore Bettah was on the top of the list. I do own a lovely Ko’olau, but my attention went more and more to vintage instrumemts.
On one of my occasional (read daily) “I’ll just see what’s out there – even though I have lots of ukes” trips to the usual internet uke sale places, I opened the For Sale page at Flea Market and scrolled down. With an audible gasp I stopped at the listing for a uke that had become my Grail- a sunburst Gibson tenor, and it was right there in front of me, available!! But at the worst time. My employment had been patchy for a while (long story).
I kept returning to drool, but noticed it slipping down the page towards oblivion. I decided to send the seller an email expressing my interest anyway, and flagging myself as a potential buyer should I win the lottery.
He proved to be a wonderful guy who was very open and understanding. He ended up setting a very generous price for me. A little while later I sold a uke in another fortuitous exchange and was in a position to buy the Gibby.
I’ve had it for a few weeks now. All untried uke purchases by mail could disappoint, but a 90 year old first attempt by a guitar and mandolin maker that was a bit ee-haaa and jazzy??? Could be a rough unplayable dog with a thumpy sound…
Well no! This thing is amazing.
When I first picked it up I was very pleased that it was such a light build – it looked heavier in the photos (ha!). And with that thin spruce top the first strum and pluck was light and harp-like. Sure the neck profile took a little getting used to – perfectly pleasant thinness, but a little pointy where it meets the fret-board; but that sound! My, I couldn’t get over it. It’s a mix of percussive earthiness with angelic overtones. It kind of…. sings.
I sat on a bench in a park overlooking a river and plucked instrumental versions of old songs till the sun went down. Then grabbed it again first thing the next morning when I woke.
I tried a few different string sets on it, but ended up back at Living Waters – they have a delicacy that suits this instrument; it doesn’t need to be driven hard to make a beautiful sound. It has great volume too.
And did I mention the looks. It’s like a Leon Redbone signature uke.
I plan to PLAY this uke; it’s not a museum piece. I work with older people and believe that authenticity is important – hence the vintage vibe.
I also plan to gig with it and will be using an Irig pick-up; I couldn’t bear to drill a big hole in the end.
Many, many thanks to Chris who sold – nay, bequeathed the Gibby to me. You are a true gentleman.
I’ll try to get up a video, but in the mean-time I’m a very happy strummer who doesn’t look at ukes for sale with the same hunger anymore.
Enough typing, I’m off to play a bit before bed.


p.s. "sunburst" of course

08-22-2018, 03:23 AM
This is a great story. The generosity of the seller, and your connection between the vintage instrument and the people you work with, is gratifying. And the uke looks beautiful. (I wouldn't mind hearing a sample of it, if you're so inclined. If not, you can tell me the name of the park and river where you play, and I'll save up for a trip to Australia.)

08-22-2018, 04:11 AM
Congrats. A few years ago I played a Gibson Tenor at a fest and it was lovely. Certainly one of the better instruments out there!

08-22-2018, 04:44 AM
Congratulations Strumdaddy on a gorgeous Gibson Tenor. :drool:

08-22-2018, 05:05 AM
Congratulations, it is beautiful!


08-22-2018, 05:15 AM
That's a beauty, especially for a 1927.

Maiden Uke
08-22-2018, 05:26 AM
Looks like it is in well loved and cared for condition. A precious treasure entrusted you! Happy strumming!

08-22-2018, 05:32 AM
Wow! That thing is beautiful.....and I loved your tale of how it came into your life.

Pete F
08-22-2018, 06:32 AM
I had no idea they made them with spruce tops. Let's hear it then.......

08-22-2018, 08:35 AM
Great story and congratulations on a great acquisition. There’s something magical about a headstock that says “The Gibson”.

08-22-2018, 12:18 PM
That is really cool, congrats on your find. It looks to be in amazing condition. I wonder if Gibson could still build a uke that good, that people could afford to buy?

08-22-2018, 01:44 PM
"I had no idea they made them with spruce tops. Let's hear it then....... "
This was Gibsons first run of ukes. I guess they made them with a guitar mindset, but I'm very glad. It's very thin spruce, and so responsive. I'll get a vid happening soon.

"There’s something magical about a headstock that says “The Gibson”."
Yes, the dream uke image I had always said "The Gibson" on the headstock. It has a certain cache

"you can tell me the name of the park and river where you play, and I'll save up for a trip to Australia"
Brunswick River - Brunswick Heads, New South Wales, near the pirate ship opposite the pub, third picnic table on right (look it up on Google Earth - you'll probably see me). Welcome any time

"Wow! That thing is beautiful.....and I loved your tale of how it came into your life"
Yes, I feel very privileged. And the story of how it came to me will always be told.

I forgot to mention that the original case is totally functional. It's very sturdy and can be trusted to keep protecting it's cargo for many more years.
I have a gig in a pub next week supporting a 70's cover band. So I'll be attaching the Irig and giving this beauty a chance to show off.
I get a real kick out of playing an instrument that was probably playing the "old songs" when they were new. It really lifts my playing.
Thanks for the kind words.

08-22-2018, 09:17 PM
Gibson tenors are nec plus ultra. Congratulations!

But do keep an eye on those bridge pins, I lost one of mine right after changing the strings and tuning up, when it went flying through the room to unknown destinations...

Pete F
08-22-2018, 10:25 PM
Looking forward to hearing it. Great wood combo: I've got the modern equivalent I s'pose; Collings spruce and 'hog tenor!

08-22-2018, 10:59 PM
I was really impressed with the bridge pins - they are hand carved from bone. Very tiny, irregular little things. I put the pin between my lips when changing strings so as not the lose it.

08-22-2018, 11:17 PM
Wow. That's a thing of beauty.

I'm glad that the funds from the Pono PKT-2E might helped in the purchase. I still super happy with it and it might have turned me into a tenor player!!

That's the great thing about the uke community. The karma usually finds it way 'round.

08-23-2018, 01:31 AM
Great to hear Raff.
I have all sizes - and enjoy them all, but have settled on tenor as my main thing.
Yes - good karma all around here...

08-23-2018, 09:45 AM
My tenor came with an extra pin in the bridge.
Gibson dated it as a 1926, possibly a prototype. Sunburst spruce top as well.

08-23-2018, 01:23 PM
Yes. Mine has the 5th hole - but not the pin.
And that over-sized bridge. Guess they didn't want to take any chances with the potentially "huge" tension of the "enormous" tenor uke. I have noticed the same bridge on later steel string tenors with factory pickup. That makes sense.

08-23-2018, 01:32 PM
That is a fabulous instrument on so many fronts. It is a tenor, has a spruce top, got a great sunburst finish and its a Gibson with the awesome headstock shape. Congratulations

08-23-2018, 09:37 PM
The tenors actually were produced before the sopranos at Gibson. Nobody really knows what the idea behind the initial fifth pin was, it's a bit like showing off your spare wheel on oldtimer cars. Where Martin used their taropatch template to make a tenor, Gibson designed a bigger, rounder shape with a big bridge especially for the tenor ukulele. And Gibson used a lot of variations on the tenors: sunbursts, dark ones, light ones, spruce or hardwood tops, ladder and X-bracing... If you look inside at the heel block, there might be a Factory Order Number visible (stamped or pencilled) which could help to date yours. FONs are not serial numbers, because they are not unique and not sequential, but there is a certain logic to their assignment. Not all sopranos have them, but most tenors do. Oh, and there's a reason why Lyle Ritz and Chuck Fayne preferred this model: sound!

08-24-2018, 01:28 AM
Funny thing is, the 5th pin was even smaller than the others; kind of like a "space-saver" spare tyre for a car.
No FON on this one. Two fan braces.
Apparently - according to a previous owner, and supported by an email, this one used to be owned by Chuck Fayne. He did move to Australia in the early 90's. Seems that the uke went back to the States and then back here to me in Australia again. He is a big fan of Gibson tenors, and he's seen and owned a lot of vintage ukes.
And the sound! It's hypnotic - very compelling. I swear that each note creates life on some world in another dimension, each chord raises continents...

08-24-2018, 02:17 AM
Great to hear Raff.
I have all sizes - and enjoy them all, but have settled on tenor as my main thing.
Yes - good karma all around here...

Cheers mate