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View Full Version : Unknown banjo uke - ever seen one like this?



ksiegel
12-12-2010, 01:50 PM
I have a banjo uke I picked up in a pawn shop in Auburn, NY around 1978-79. it was long in the tooth then. One of the prior owners card the name "Stella" in the headstock , similar to the script the old harmony guitars used.

This impresses me as a home-made instrument, but I could easily be wrong.

Have any of you ever seen one built in this style? Thanks in advance!

For whatever reason, I can't upload the other 4 shots I've taken.. I'll try in a different message.

ksiegel
12-12-2010, 01:54 PM
The other four shots I wanted to upload...


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OldePhart
12-12-2010, 02:09 PM
Stella was a brand name for musical instruments back in the day. From the MOMI website:


Established in the late 1880s, the Oscar Schmidt company began producing guitars prior to WWI under the trade names of Stella and Sovereign. Stella is best known for their big-bodied 12-string guitars built between 1918 and 1938. The Stella 12-string was a moderately priced, well-made guitar favored by blues legends such as Blind Blake and Lead Belly.

I don't know if this is the same Oscar Schmidt company that is now based out of Canada but it probably is. I have an Oscar Schmidt classical guitar that is quite well made in spite of not being particularly expensive.

John

Dane
12-12-2010, 02:37 PM
Looks like a "Stella" to me haha.

And yeah from how many banjo-ukes I've seen, I've seen that style of build quite a bit.

dave alexander
12-12-2010, 03:05 PM
I have a Stella soprano from the 40's I think. I found this description/pictures of another Stella banjolele:

http://antebelluminstruments.blogspot.com/2009/08/c1925-oscar-schmidt-stella-banjo.html

Notice that theirs does NOT have Stella on headstock. They agree with the Oscar Schmidt connection.

mm stan
12-12-2010, 03:18 PM
Aloha Ksigel,
Here's another one... http://www.gryphonstrings.com/instpix/34122/34122.php it's a 1927 8 inch pot...$350.00

Pippin
12-12-2010, 04:26 PM
Oscar Schmidt is based out of Chicago, actually, but they have made folk music instruments for 150 years. This is not a "Stella" banjo uke, it is a throw-together from a bunch of spare parts. You are right about a previous owner carving the name in it. For many blues artists, the "Stella" was the poor man's Gibson. Many of those blues artists played the Stella because they were a nice instrument that was inexpensive.

Today, Oscar Schmidt has ukuleles, for example, that run from $60 (OU2) to $899.90 (OU280SWK). I do like their professional series instruments and have two of them in my personal collection. I don't have a Stella.

KamakOzzie
12-12-2010, 06:27 PM
This is not a "Stella" banjo uke, it is a throw-together from a bunch of spare parts. You are right about a previous owner carving the name in it.

Pippin, congratulations on your successful surgery. Could you elaborate on which parts were thrown together?

I was recently given a Stella banjo uke that looks very similar to this one. Mine is blond (maple ?) with brass frets set directly into the neck, no separate fingerboard. It has the same hardware with the two metal bands around the 7" pot assembly. The neck tensioner on mine is marked (PTD) I can't comment about the tuners or tailpiece, as mine had none on it when I got it. The tuners and tailpiece in the OP look like the ones on the ukes in the referred links.

Bill


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http://www.ukuleleunderground.com/forum/images/misc/pencil.png

Pippin
12-13-2010, 02:25 AM
The tail-piece is shaped differently, it is not a Stella tail-piece at all. The "drum" itself is similar. The hardware on the bottom cross-member is a different piece of metal, too. the logo is above the tuners on the top example and in the middle of the headstock on the lower example-- like all the Stella banjo-ukes I have ever seen. The tuners are also different.

At a glance, they might look the same, but examine the pieces closely and you will see that there are hardware differences. My guess is that this guy always wanted a Stella and carved the name into it... or someone is trying to pawn it off as a Stella when it is not.

Tudorp
12-13-2010, 02:27 AM
Yep, I have seen those with the extra metal bands on the bucket like that.

Dane
12-13-2010, 06:10 AM
The tail-piece is shaped differently, it is not a Stella tail-piece at all. The "drum" itself is similar. The hardware on the bottom cross-member is a different piece of metal, too. the logo is above the tuners on the top example and in the middle of the headstock on the lower example-- like all the Stella banjo-ukes I have ever seen. The tuners are also different.

At a glance, they might look the same, but examine the pieces closely and you will see that there are hardware differences. My guess is that this guy always wanted a Stella and carved the name into it... or someone is trying to pawn it off as a Stella when it is not.

So possibly a knock-off?

Jnobianchi
12-13-2010, 07:18 AM
No - This is a standard Stella Banjo uke design. I've seen several score exactly like it over the last few years. Oscar Schmidt made literally thousands of these in the 20's and into the early 30's as Stellas and as unmarked Schmidts before discontinuing production in the mid 30's when they went bankrupt. They sold their model names - La Scala, Sovereign and Stella - to Harmony in 1939. The company making instruments under the name Oscar Schmidt now is actually not connected to the old Jersey City firm. The name was picked up by The U.S. Musical Instrument Company, which is the parent company of Washburn, in the 90's.

There'd be no reason to knock off this Schmidt as this was their cheapie ($4-6 over time) and even today, they only fetch about $50-$150. It may look homemade, but it isn't. This was a very cheap design to produce. Schmidt made other banjo ukes - including a better made open back, the Stella Emerald City (http://antebelluminstruments.blogspot.com/2009/05/c1925-stella-emerald-city-banjo-ukulele.html) , and Sovereign (http://www.banjoukes.com/Manufacturers/OscarSchmidt/OscarSchmidt.html) that had a nice, thick pots and decent quality designs, but this was their budget model. The pot only has a few layers of laminate and the rings, which may look decorative, are actually there to brace the pot so that the head can be tightened to the correct tension without cracking the pot. As you'll see in these below examples and your own, even with these important braces, the pot definitely begins to bend out of circular.

Cherry dyed maple
http://www.musurgia.com/products.asp?ProductID=2184&CartID=50646312132010

plain maple
http://www.elderly.com/vintage/items/180U-557.htm

Another cherry dyed
http://www.ukuleleunderground.com/forum/showthread.php?35685-Banjo-Ukulele-Oscar-Schmidt-Stell

Black crackle - based on the large number that survive, crackle finish was a Schmidt specialty
http://www.gryphonstrings.com/instpix/34122/34122.php

And another several from ebay:
http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&rt=nc&nma=true&item=190466634887&si=ecHZc3RKH0p9Kzi47XaXOjS6BUc%253D&viewitem=&sspagename=STRK%3AMEWAX%3AIT
http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&rt=nc&nma=true&item=180585804296&si=ecHZc3RKH0p9Kzi47XaXOjS6BUc%253D&viewitem=&sspagename=STRK%3AMEWAX%3AIT
http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&rt=nc&nma=true&item=120649668877&si=ecHZc3RKH0p9Kzi47XaXOjS6BUc%253D&viewitem=&sspagename=STRK%3AMEWAX%3AIT

Also - since very few banjo makers machined their own parts, you will see variations on tailpieces and tension nuts. Banjo uke players also routinely traded out parts to suit their tastes. I've got two Slingerlands, one has a Grover tailpiece, the other has a no-name. My two Stromberg Voisinets have different tension nuts. Even Gibson used different hardware at different times; Ludwig was the only company that made all it's own hardware. Stella/Schmidt were made in the 20's with violin tuners, and in the 30's they began to use a standard friction tuner. However, owners of the early ukes frequently upgraded to Grovers and other tuners once they became available, so you frequently see different makers' tuners on banjo ukes from the 20s.

OK, more information than anyone EVER wanted, I'm sure, but I have it, so why not share it? :)

Duh! Just realized you guys already posted to two of these links - sorry for re-hashing!

Pippin
12-13-2010, 08:14 AM
Thanks Jnobianchi. I was still suspicious due to the "carved headstock", but, maybe someone took the uke and tried to show people what it was even when it was the unmarked variety.

Learn something new every day.

Jnobianchi
12-13-2010, 08:20 AM
Sure thing -

As you can see in some of those links, the factory embossed the name into the headstock and then painted over it, and often, it was badly done. Check how some owners repainted the name, and others actually seem to have dug the name out. I'm always amazed by how people end up 'improving' or personalizing. I found a Bacon model one once that someone - it's tempting to think it was a five-year-old - had actually painted over the decal in bright green! yikes. :)

ksiegel
12-13-2010, 11:09 AM
Thank you all very much - and especially John in NYC. After looking at many of the linked photos, I can see that a) the Stella in the headstock is NOT quite so amateurish - it is identical to most of the others, including one on the bar in the ring; b) the instrument, even with the patina of rust and chips in the wood, is in pretty decent shape compared to several of the others; and c) with a little bit of effort and repositioning the tailpiece and bridge (and probably replacing the strings - they're the same ones that were on it when I bought it in 1978-79), I have a playable instrument. If I get a luthier to replace the broken nut and tweak the tuners, I probably have a very playable instrument.

Thanks again!