View Full Version : I saw a cool Banjo Uke in an antique store

Chris Tarman
08-17-2010, 06:10 AM
I was in Denver yesterday and saw a Gibson UB1 in an antique store. It was in fairly good condition, I think... I don't know much about such things. The skin head had a little split, and was sort of caved-in. Consequently, I couldn't get the bridge to stand up straight so I could only get it SORT of in tune. It was also missing a couple of the metal hook thingies, but still had the nuts (or whatever you'd call them) on the body where the hooks would attach. I was surprised at how QUIET it was. I had assumed banjo ukes were loud, but this one was very very quiet. I don't know if that's because of the head being split, or not tensioned correctly, or what. Maybe it's just because of the closed back.
I don't know ANYTHING about banjo ukes, so I have no idea what would be involved in repairing the head, or if the 2 or 3 missing hook things are an issue (or can be replaced). And, unfortunately, the store seemed to know that a banjo uke that says "The Gibson" on the headstock is fairly desireable, because they had it priced at $495. That seems like a fair price, but more than I can spend right now on an instrument that may or may not be easily fixed! It was cool to see one though. I've only seen photos of them. It was very well-made (as you'd expect a Gibson to be), and REALLY SMALL! It was WAY smaller than I had imagined them to be.

08-17-2010, 06:51 AM

Repairing the head of a banjo uke is actually easy to do. Here's a step-by-step article on Uke World's excellent retail site: http://www.ukuleleworld.com/pages.php?pageid=237 They also sell goatskin heads and brackets there. If you haven't done it before, you may want to pick up a spare head.

I've done it three times, and if I can do it, ANYONE can. :)

As for the Gibson, they value on eBay auctions between $320 at the low end to about $500 at the high end, but remember, that's for auction. Retail is typcially higher for everything, Banjo ukes no exception.

UB-1s are GREAT little instruments. Even though the "Baby" Gibson is the cheapest and smallest one they made, it has a wonderful bright tone when set-up properly. If it has the bridge or strings already fine, but the right kind is essential: the uke should have nylon uke or banjo uke strings (steel-wound nylon third string) - get rid of any steel strings it might have on it. The bridge should be a four-string banjo bridge - available for about 5 bucks online or in music stores. Bridge should be set at the same distance from the 12th fret as the nut - you should get a nice harmonic there when set. Also, the tighter the head, the crisper and louder the sound. Often this is neglected by new players and they get a muddy, low volume sound. Don't tighten too much - its unlikely the head will rip, but the fact is, you can get too loud and harsh and lose friends and loved ones that way.

The reason yours is quiet is because the head is ripped: you won't get the sound or an idea of the sound without the head mounted and the uke properly set up. If the Gibson's wood and finish are in good shape, if the neck is straight and the fingerboard appears to be in playable shape, and all the parts are there, its easily worth $495. Here's a checklist of what a UB-1 should have:

Tone ring - a hollow ring that the head is stretched over - which may not be visible, but should be felt
Bezel ring - the chrome ring that holds the head down, and to which the brackets hook - yours has this
Head Wire - which should appear like a small roll of skin under the bezel
The brackets - these are standardized and missing ones can be replaced for a few bucks with vintage ones via a music store that specializes in banjos. you can also get new from Uke World or similar sites, but then you have the cosmetic problem of new alongside old.
Tuners - sounds like these are all there and they hold well enough.
Resonator back - this should be on the back of the uke. They were standard on UB-1s. If not there - you will have a hard time replacing it. A REALLY hard time.

If you want to post a picture, I can give an idea of condition - It sounds like a good opportunity if the important things are there.

08-17-2010, 06:56 AM
Ahh - sorry - i didn't see your comment about the closed back - that means that the resonator is there, so even better. The resonator actually increases the volume and quality of the sound.

BTW, total cost of head replacement if you do it yourself is about 12-15 bucks for the head. You can't properly tension without all the brackets, so you'll need those, too. $8 or so for four hooks and nuts - http://www.ukuleleworld.com/banjo-parts/ Its a small investment once you have the uke.

Chris Tarman
08-17-2010, 01:13 PM
Thanks for the info. That seems like a pretty easy fix. I only get over to Denver a few times a year (I live on the other side of the state across the mountains), and although I can't afford this thing now, I might look to see if it's still there the next time I come over. I had suspected that it was quiet because of either the rip or improper tension on the head, or both. Hopefully it will still be there next time, and I'll have some available spending money then. Or, I might swing by on Thursday on my way home and see what they'd be willing to take for it. You just never know.