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View Full Version : Vintage Uke ID help needed!!



RyanMFT
09-08-2010, 07:36 PM
Hey All,
I am pretty excited!! Just happened upon this vintage uke and it has no label inside and no marks on the headstock.....nothing. Thought I would ask for help from all of you. Here is what I can tell you. The sides and back appear to me to be Koa, and the heel cap is part of the back in the Hawaiian tradition. The darker wood on the fretboard is very thin. The action is very low but the former owner said it was adjusted at the guitar shop where they put on the tuners. The inlay is very fine work and the back has a slight bow to it.

The tuners were just put on prior to my getting it and I suspect it had wood peg tuners originally. The former owner said it had none when she got it. It came with a case that must be from the 20's. Any thoughts on age/maker or anything else would be great! Thanks UU family!

http://i827.photobucket.com/albums/zz199/RyanMFT_photos/b4d239fd.jpg
http://i827.photobucket.com/albums/zz199/RyanMFT_photos/5854e994.jpg
http://i827.photobucket.com/albums/zz199/RyanMFT_photos/8a06878f.jpg

Pippin
09-08-2010, 08:23 PM
There were two very popular makers that were known for that style body... Santos and Dias. Either one, in as good a shape as this sample, is worth a bundle when fully original. Even though your ukulele has new tuners, to have a player in that sort of shape could probably fetch a lot of money if you ever went to sell it, but I wouldn't. That uke would have a place of honor in my collection.

mm stan
09-08-2010, 11:32 PM
Do you think it could be a late 40's early 50's reproduction???

RyanMFT
09-09-2010, 06:20 AM
I don't think it is a reproduction, the case I have is easily from the 20's.

Pippin, do you think it could be a Santo or Diaz? Maybe Nunes?

Any other thoughts out there about age/maker?

ukeeku
09-09-2010, 06:38 AM
have you looked at the neck block? many makers put their stamp there. Just an idea. Nice Uke either way

RyanMFT
09-09-2010, 08:18 AM
have you looked at the neck block? many makers put their stamp there. Just an idea. Nice Uke either way

Took it out in good light and looked inside and there is nothing on the neck block :(

As I look inside, it looks very well constructed.....I'm dying to know what this little guy is. Here are the measurements if it helps;

Total length: 20"
Lower bout: 5 13/16"
Upper bout: 4 3/4"
Waist: 3 1/2"
Depth: 2 1/4" at the tail block
1 3/4" where the neck joins the body
Fretboard/Neck: 1 1/2" at the nut
2" at the 12th fret

Pippin
09-09-2010, 09:00 AM
I don't think it is a reproduction, the case I have is easily from the 20's.

Pippin, do you think it could be a Santo or Diaz? Maybe Nunes?

Any other thoughts out there about age/maker?

It looks better than Nunes, actually. I'd check inside carefully and see if there is a branded name of some kind. Santos was known for that inlay binding. If you have a small mirror, like a dental mirror, there might be a name branded on one of the spars.

Chris Tarman
09-09-2010, 12:04 PM
I haven't seen a LOT of really early ukes, but to me, that has the look of '20s AT THE LATEST. It just has that patina and "aura" to it. It sure looks like a well-built thing. Nice score!

RyanMFT
09-09-2010, 12:14 PM
Pippin - thanks for your thoughts. The inlay work is very sweet. I am out of town on vacation right now but will be home tomorrow and I will try to get inside and have a look with a mirror. If I found a name in there I would be over the moon! Not that I would want to sell it or anything......just to know who's hands may have created it would be very meaningful to me.

Chris - Thanks for your thoughts, it does appear pretty early to me. I wouldn't be surprised if as I continue to search that this uke is even earlier than the 20's, but who knows right now.

Any suggestions as to who might be able to tell me more? I could take it to Gryphon in Palo Alto, CA and have them take a look. They have the guy who appraised the uke on Antiques Roadshow. Anyone else???

Thanks for any other thoughts anyone has.....!!

kenikas
09-10-2010, 07:44 AM
Try sending the pictures to Chuck Fayne at Uke Yak on fleamarketmusic.com and also check the vintage section of the Ukulele Hall of Fame at ukulele.org

Teek
09-13-2010, 09:43 PM
I will go out on a limb and say the very svelte body, spruce top, very fine thin silver bar frets, accentuated points in the peg head top and that it undoubtedly had pegs for tuners, plus the arched Hawaiian style one piece back, and the rope binding with three circles around the soundhole make it look like it is is circa the Pan-Pacific Expo and likely Hawaiian made around 1915-1920. The Pan-Pac made the uke the next big thing in the late teens and 20s. No signature would be common. Are you sure there is a fingerboard and that the wood is not stained? Early Hawaiian made had the frets set directly in the neck. My two oldest ukes, circa 1918 and 1930 both have arched backs, and so does my Gaspar which is maybe 1940. All have the frets set directly as well.

Congratulations! That's a keeper for sure! Can we get a sound file?? :)

Hippie Dribble
09-13-2010, 11:11 PM
Try sending the pictures to Chuck Fayne at Uke Yak on fleamarketmusic.com and also check the vintage section of the Ukulele Hall of Fame at ukulele.org

2 great suggestions from kenikas. If anyone can label it for you it'd be Ol' "frets" fayne.

RyanMFT
09-14-2010, 01:02 PM
Thanks so much for your responses!

Here is an update.....I wrote to Chuck Fayne and got this response;

"Ryan...Its not a Dias (wrong headstock) and not Nunes...Too narrow and the spruce top is also not common for Nunes...It is however, a wonderful example of a very early Ukulele. I would guess it is a Maderian builder building in Hawaii 1900. I don't think anyone will ever know who made it unless they have one exactly the same with a label. Nice score...chuck"

As I look on the web I find some Nunes ukes that look exactly the same but do not have a spruce soundboard. I was not aware there were other builders around 1900 in Hawaii.....as Chuck suggests, so I am at a loss right now. I cleaned the uke and I am stunned by the results. I thought the fretboard was ebony but it cleaned so well that a beautiful grain came out....so now I think it may indeed be stained as Teek asks. Anyone....Bueller.....Anyone? Here's a pic of the cleaned uke. This is simply cleaning it with a soft damp (water) cloth. Any other thougths about this uke?

http://i827.photobucket.com/albums/zz199/RyanMFT_photos/NewImage.jpg

Jim T.
09-14-2010, 08:09 PM
Ryan:

There were three known 'ukulele makers in Honolulu in 1900: Manuel Nunes, Jose do Espirito Santo, and Augusto Dias, my great-great grandfather. (The first native Hawaiian maker, Naapohou, appeared only once in the Honolulu city directory, in 1898-99). Your find combines characteristics of the earliest 'ukulele from the 1880s (spruce or pine soundboard, what appears to be a painted cloud at the bottom of the lower bout, narrow waist and general shape of a Madeiran machete) with features that begin to show up a little later (12-fret fingerboard, slotted bridge rather than button, and crown peghead). The tuners were probably added later to replace the original wooden ones. It's kind of puzzling, actually, particularly the peghead. The challenge is that there aren't that many early 'ukulele around, so it's difficult to know what's typical. My guess, for what it's worth, is that it dates from somewhere between c. 1887 and c. 1900, and that Chuck is right, that it's likely to be the product of a Madeiran maker. Without a label it's not really possible to identify a specific maker with any confidence.

RyanMFT
09-16-2010, 01:56 PM
Jim....Thank You! Very, Very Helpful!

We have Augusto Dias's great great grandson on the Underground.....that is amazing! WELCOME!! I only hope that Dias, Santo, and Nunes would be pleased that people the world over are so passionate about what they created.

Thanks for your thoughts, they fit well with couple more things I found out about my uke today. I took it to an amazing luthier/repair/restoration guy who was jazzed about it. He said the "cloud" inlay at the base is not paint, but actually real tortise shell, and he spent the better part of an hour looking at the instrument. He said the construction is excellent and clearly the work of an experienced builder. He confirmed the soundboard is spruce and said that it is constructed more like a guitar/rajao/machete which also fits with this being relatively early.

I am having the holes in the headstock plugged, then redrilled and tapered to install rosewood pegs. He wants to use rosewood as opossed to ebony because the fretboard and bridge are rosewood and feels it is likely to have been that way originally.

Jim T.
09-17-2010, 09:53 AM
Ryan, thanks for the warm welcome.
I'm curious: is the tortise shell overlaid on top of the soundboard? And did the luthier give you any idea of what wood the peghead is made of? Did he have any opinion as to whether the peghead (apart from the tuners) is original? Please forgive all the questions -- early examples like this don't crop up very often (there are only a dozen Dias 'ukulele of which I am aware).

RyanMFT
09-17-2010, 10:29 AM
Jim, it's great to have you here! I am delighted that you are looking at this with me! Keep the questions coming!

I asked him about the neck and peghead and he said it wasn't a wood he recognized right away (he is very experienced). I asked if he felt the neck had ever been replaced and he felt the neck and peghead are original to the instrument. He saw no evidence of the neck being off this uke and said that the uke was very interesting because there were at least a couple non-native Hawaiian woods used such as the Brazilian Rosewood fretboard and bridge, the spruce, and the ebony saddle.

He said he couldn't tell if the sides and back were Mahogany or Koa and that the only way to really tell is to sand and smell the dust....we had a good laugh contemplating doing that! He told me a bunch about the construction and bracing, and was jazzed about how much effort went into this uke. He commented that the Kerfed lining is "reverse" kerfing which he showed me and explained that as being the slots in the lining face the sides as opposed to the slots facing away from the sides.

The tortise shell is overlaid on the soundboard. Did Dias do that? Do you know of any Dias ukulele with this headstock? Do you think this may have been made by your great, great, grandfather? I don't quite understand if perhaps this may have been made by someone other than one of the three early makers?

Any other thoughts you have would be great, I am having a blast finding out about this little uke!

Jim T.
09-17-2010, 03:13 PM
One of the reasons I'm going on about the peghead is that I've not seen a so-called crown peghead on an instrument that appears to be so early. Dias, Nunes and Santo experimented with a variety of peghead styles, although the figure-eight or "oito" is the most common. The earliest example I'd seen so far of a crown peghead is ca. 1898. A spruce soundboard is generally the sign of an instrument made earlier, in the 1880s, before the three began to make primarily all-koa instruments. A crown peghead and a spruce soundboard is an unusual combination.

It's not surprising to find rosewood, ebony or other imported woods on Hawaiian-made 'ukuleles. The spruce for the soundboard also would have been imported. Honolulu was built with lumber shipped in from the Pacific Northwest and northern California, and imported lumber was often less expensive than koa, kou and other indigenous Hawaiian woods.

I have not seen a cloud in tortiseshell -- inlaid wood seems to have been more common. The "cloud" is more of a Nunes signature, but Dias also featured a kind of geometic floral design on the bottom of the bout of some of his early instruments. Decoration on the bottom of the lower bout is a common feature on 19th century Madeiran machetes. Again I want to caution that because there aren't very many early examples from before 1900, it's difficult to make any kind of meaningful generalizations. There just isn't much to generalize from, and it's clear from the examples that remain that Dias, Nunes, and Santo did alot of experimenting during their first years in Hawai'i.

If this is a pre-1900 instrument, then chances are it was made either by Nunes, Santo or Dias. The research the late John King and I have done hasn't found any evidence of any real competition until after the turn of the century. That doesn't mean there wasn't any -- we just haven't found it.

Chris Tarman
09-17-2010, 03:47 PM
I just want to say that this is one of the COOLEST threads I have seen. Very exciting and interesting!

RyanMFT
09-17-2010, 06:42 PM
Thanks Chris.....I am having the best time just trying to straighten this mystery out! I feel VERY lucky to be part of the life of this instrument and it will outlast me and hopefully pass along to another generation! In my heart I want to believe it was made by one of the first three, but whatever it is, I am over the moon to have it!

Jim, your thoughts on this are super helpful! I was just saying to my wife the other night that I wish John King were around to put this uke in his hands and have him make it sing as only he could have......and to ask for his thoughts about it. Sounds like YOU are the guy to talk to Jim....if you are ever in the SF Bay Area and want to check it out in person, it would be an honor and a pleasure for me to put it in your hands! Any other thoughts you have are most welcome!

I sent pictures to Mike DaSilva today and told him what I know. He was jazzed and asked if I could bring it by for a much closer look. He seems to lean toward Santo as the builder, but that is only from two pictures so it is not fair to ask him to guess without a closer look. He said we can lay it side by side with some other early ones he has and do some measurements, look at the construction, and that might help to pin it down a bit more. Like you said Jim, it may be impossible to ever know for sure but it is great fun to work on it!

It has only been with the luthier one day and already I can't wait to get it back! I will continue to follow up every lead I can!

Pippin
09-17-2010, 09:04 PM
I am leaning toward Santo, too, especially from the cleaned image. The one thing about the headstock is that the "crown" is a Martin thing and that dates this headstock as a Martin concept copied... The other three had more peanut-shaped headstocks with this body-style in every example I have seen. The "Crown" might have been a customization, but, the body is not Martin, to be sure.

Jim T.
09-18-2010, 02:18 PM
Thanks for the invite, Ryan. I'd love to take you up on it some day. Taking the 'ukulele to Mike DaSilva is a good idea. He has handled a number of early instruments, and his replicas are wonderful -- he made my Dias soprano, and it's a wonderful player. I'll be interested to hear what he says.

RyanMFT
12-12-2010, 07:51 PM
Update...in case anyone is curious.....

Well, it has been a great adventure so far learning what I can about this uke. Experts from all over the word have offered to help, and what I have learned about this uke is that it is very curious indeed. Vintage uke experts from Hawaii, Los Angeles, New Jersey, London, and Australia have all gotten involved out of the goodness of their hearts.....everyone has been great. What an adventure.

Today I took my little uke to Gryphon Strings in Palo Alto, CA. They are in the SF Bay Area, an incredible music store. They were interested in photographing my uke for their online archives.

No name has come up as the obvious builder of this uke, and upon inspection in the soundhole with a UV light, there is no evidence that there was ever a label. This uke has elements of both Santo and Nunes, however, it seems like a rather unique feature is that it does not have a stacked heel, meaning the neck and heel are carved out of one piece of wood. I have been told this was not how Nunes made his uke's. Another unique feature is the reverse kerfed lining. Several experts have told me that they are not aware of an early builder who used this type of lining as it is time consuming to make and take more skill in general. Also, the Brazilian rosewood fretboard and bridge are uncommon on such an early uke, and the combo of that with the spruce top make it even more uncommon. Also, the "cloud" inlay on the lower bout is tortoise shell when it seems all others are a light color wood.

With a few hours of proper cleaning, the grime of many years has melted away. The only change I have made to the uke is that I had the mechanical friction tuners replaced with beautiful rosewood peg tuners. My luthier filled the reamed out holes with boxwood, re-drilled and tapered the new holes to fit rosewood pegs. He did an incredible job. This uke is a pleasure to play, and intonation is perfect.

So, I ask the members of UU for any other thoughts or guidance you may have in identifying the builder of this uke. The general consensus is that this uke is from about 1900, possibly a bit earlier. Any other way you might suggest I go about identifying the builder? Any other thoughts because I am running out of ideas! Thanks everyone! Here's a couple of pictures from today....
http://i827.photobucket.com/albums/zz199/RyanMFT_photos/IMG_7269-1.jpg
http://i827.photobucket.com/albums/zz199/RyanMFT_photos/IMG_7257.jpg
http://i827.photobucket.com/albums/zz199/RyanMFT_photos/IMG_7251.jpg
http://i827.photobucket.com/albums/zz199/RyanMFT_photos/IMG_7261.jpg

Chris Tarman
12-12-2010, 07:56 PM
Ryan,
No ideas about who made it, but it sure looks a LOT better now than when you first posted it! It's a gorgeous little jewel! Enjoy it and play it like it was meant to be played. I'm glad you're giving it a loving new home! :)

mm stan
12-12-2010, 07:58 PM
Aloha Ryan,
I still say this ukulele was built in the 40's and 50's...due to the craftsmanship......MM Stan...

RyanMFT
12-12-2010, 08:09 PM
Thanks Chris....cleaned up nicely didn't it! I love it!

Stan, I have kept your thought in mind and have mentioned it when I have taken it places with me, but everyone who has held it seems to agree that it is pretty old.....including Mike DaSilva and the experts at Gryphon. Chuck Fayne thinks it is 1900 as well as Tom Walsh at the Ukulele Hall of Fame Museum....the overall feel, look, and measurements seem correct for an early uke. What makes you think it is a 40's or 50's copy of an early uke Stan? If you were right, who might have been building like this at that time? I appreciate your thoughts!

RyanMFT
12-13-2010, 04:59 AM
Excellent questions Bill, thanks!

It is clear from John King's research that there were at least a couple other Maderian ukulele builders in Hawaii at the turn of the century. However, it is not known if any of their instruments have survived. As Chuck Fayne said, it seems to him that this uke came from one of them. I guess I have to accept that I may never know but I am still trying. Chuck also says that there was only labels on these ukes that were inside the body, never on the headstock when they are this old.

Given that the measurements were pretty close to those on a Nunes at Mike DaSilva's shop, I think it is likley that this uke may have come from him as something that he or his shop made for themselves or custom for someone. However, there are elements that don't quite seem to fit for him.....so I guess I am going around in circles.....

Lexxy
12-13-2010, 05:15 AM
No idea if anyone's mention this yet, but have you considered it to be a..Kumalae?

RyanMFT
12-13-2010, 06:30 AM
Hey Lexxy, thanks for the thought. It has been suggested that is was built by Kumalae but as far as I know Kumalae only built with Koa. Also, I have a Royal Hawaiian which may have been made by Kumalae and I have held and played a bunch of Kumalae uke's and the size and feel of this uke is significantly different. Kumalae built very thin and light, and this uke feels much more substantial. Also, the bracing and lining inside are very different.

I think Kumalae has been ruled out, but I appreciate the suggestion!

mm stan
12-13-2010, 09:29 PM
Thanks Chris....cleaned up nicely didn't it! I love it!

Stan, I have kept your thought in mind and have mentioned it when I have taken it places with me, but everyone who has held it seems to agree that it is pretty old.....including Mike DaSilva and the experts at Gryphon. Chuck Fayne thinks it is 1900 as well as Tom Walsh at the Ukulele Hall of Fame Museum....the overall feel, look, and measurements seem correct for an early uke. What makes you think it is a 40's or 50's copy of an early uke Stan? If you were right, who might have been building like this at that time? I appreciate your thoughts!
Aloha Ryan,
One give away was the craftsmanship and the combination of designs..and the back style where the sound board extends to the bottom of the heel...i've seen that only on Kamaka mid 50's....nowhere else...MM Stan...

Pippin
12-14-2010, 12:25 AM
Aloha Ryan,
One give away was the craftsmanship and the combination of designs..and the back style where the sound board extends to the bottom of the heel...i've seen that only on Kamaka mid 50's....nowhere else...MM Stan...

Dave Gjessing (Waverly Street) builds that way. I have seen a few other examples, but not large production houses.

mm stan
12-14-2010, 10:11 AM
Dave Gjessing (Waverly Street) builds that way. I have seen a few other examples, but not large production houses.
Aloha Pippin,
I hope you're doing better, and was worried for you....Take Care....what I meant with that statement with kamaka and the back soundboard extends to the bottom of the heel, was it
was the first time I had seen that design and not earlier...than the mid fifties...Happy Holidays,,,,MM Stan....

RyanMFT
12-14-2010, 11:47 AM
Thanks Stan....here's a thought. Mike DaSilva suggested that given the wear on the body and the excellent condition of the rosewood fretboard that perhaps the fretboard was installed as a very high quality repair to cover a worn fretboard. He said that if that is the case, the work was done a long time ago by someone with experience installing bar frets.

As I look at John King's book it is clear that there were at least two known Maderian uke builders (besides Nunes, Santo, and Dias) at the turn of the century and one native Hawaiian builder. I don't know of any of their ukes that are known to exist but my knowledge is very limited.

The luthier who worked on it for me (a very experienced guy) said that it is clear to him that it was made by an experienced guitar builder who didn't quite build it like a uke but rather like a small guitar. Given the inlay and the materials I wonder if it was made as either a special build by Nunes, or by one of the other early Maderian builders. Seeming likely that I will never know.

mm stan
12-14-2010, 03:19 PM
Thanks Stan....here's a thought. Mike DaSilva suggested that given the wear on the body and the excellent condition of the rosewood fretboard that perhaps the fretboard was installed as a very high quality repair to cover a worn fretboard. He said that if that is the case, the work was done a long time ago by someone with experience installing bar frets.

As I look at John King's book it is clear that there were at least two known Maderian uke builders (besides Nunes, Santo, and Dias) at the turn of the century and one native Hawaiian builder. I don't know of any of their ukes that are known to exist but my knowledge is very limited.

The luthier who worked on it for me (a very experienced guy) said that it is clear to him that it was made by an experienced guitar builder who didn't quite build it like a uke but rather like a small guitar. Given the inlay and the materials I wonder if it was made as either a special build by Nunes, or by one of the other early Maderian builders. Seeming likely that I will never know.

Aloha Ryan
It's defenitely a early peanut design, there's a ukulele player whom used to hang out with all these well known builders of that time....he 102 years old now.....and I'm sure
he'd know...he's been playing since he was a kid....check out his website, Bill Tapia....
I looked at the headstock, the thinness, crown and shape, the fretboard is flush with
the body...I see elements of 30's styling of several ukes...also the materials used..
they were many unknown Hawaiian builders of that time...Good Luck MM Stan
Check this our...http://www.nalu-music.com/nalu/sample.pdf

Chris Tarman
12-14-2010, 05:51 PM
Aloha Ryan,
One give away was the craftsmanship and the combination of designs..and the back style where the sound board extends to the bottom of the heel...i've seen that only on Kamaka mid 50's....nowhere else...MM Stan...

I have a '20s (I believe) Mouna Loa with a heel like that.184981849918500

KamakOzzie
12-14-2010, 07:34 PM
I have a '20s (I believe) Mouna Loa with a heel like that.184981849918500

Chris, that's a beauty! How about a video to see if it sounds as good as it looks.
Bill