View Full Version : Vintage Kumalae, Tuners and set-up advice needed

08-25-2012, 10:39 AM
Greetings All,

I've got an old Kumalae ukulele that I am looking to bring into playing condition and I've got a few questions for the forum. This Kumalae is one of the Sherman, Clay and Co. model 23 (I believe this was also Kumalae's model c). It's a gorgeous little instrument with some serious koa on the top - really a looker! Anyway, it is also not without its flaws. It's got a tight hairline crack to the treble side of the bridge that is a pretty straightforward hide glue repair. Other than that, there are a few high spots on the frets, a couple minor dings, and the head stock label is somewhat damaged. All pretty minor for a ~85 year old uke. The real problem I would like to address is the tuners. They look to be some older barrel style friction tuners (really, they look just like aged Grover Sta-Tites), but they are not original. The peg head holes look to have been widened at some point (I'm guessing to accommodate the friction tuners). The holes measure exactly 8.5mm by my caliper.

So, my main question is, "what tuners should I install?" I am not so concerned about restoring the uke to its original vintage state as I am about making it more playable. I had originally intended to go with Pegheds. Apparently (from their website), the new 8543A tuners have an 8.5mm installation diameter, so I was hoping I could do this without getting into plugging and re-drilling. I know they require a taper, though, and did not know if the 8.5mm dimension was the narrow or wide point of the taper. A second option would be to find some old wooden pegs, and a third would be to just stick with the friction tuners that came with it. Any opinions or advice would be most welcome.

Other questions I would like to answer include:

1. What are the best strings for vintage ukes like this? I had intended on Worth BM soprano strings, but would love to hear opinions.

2. Does anyone know of a decent fitting case for small vintage ukes?

This is my first venture into the vintage uke world, so I am not too familiar with what people consider to be appropriate with restoration work. If I am way off base here, please do let me know. I appreciate any help - thanks in advance!


08-25-2012, 11:44 AM
Wooden pegs need a tapered hole, and the reamer to cut the taper is quite expensive. However, any violin repairer should be able to cut a taper and fit pegs for you. I like properly fitted wooden pegs, which work very nicely (and I must sort out the pegs on my own Kumalae style A).

The easy answer is to fit new friction tuners which are designed for an 8.5mm hole, and keep the old ones for if you want to sell. Or even improve the ones you have - maybe a leather washer would be enough to make them work well.

Originally it would have had gut strings, so Aquila Nylguts are the closest unless you want to use real gut (a nice, fuzzy sound, but temperamental). My own Kumalae likes Aquilas, but I tend to play 20s/30s stuff which they suit. Fluorocarbons will give you good sustain, but definitely not a 20s sound, so it depends on how "authentic" you want this to sound - in which case, real gut, obviously.

Very nice looking uke - have fun playing it!

mm stan
08-25-2012, 12:18 PM
Looks Like a deluxe early model...with the frets on the neck...no fretboard?? very nice, only just the neck is not for me...yeah I'd go with new style friction tuners...
Good luck and keep us updated on how it comes out...love the crazy wood man though

08-25-2012, 12:25 PM
Thanks for the reply, ProfChris. I've already got the reamer, so no big deal there. Some good ideas, though. I like the idea of some leather washers and just keeping the tuners I have. However, I'm still interested in hearing if anyone has ever fit Pegheds on something like this.

As far as the gut strings go... I would like to preserve the 20's sound. That's part of the charm of this ukulele for sure. I actually tried Aquila's natural gut strings several years ago (on a uke I no longer own) and thought they were quite nice. I immediately started searching to buy those again when I got this uke, but to my dismay... well, I'm sure you know that they suspended production of their natural gut strings. Anyone know of other gut strings currently on the market?

08-25-2012, 12:32 PM
Looks Like a deluxe early model...with the frets on the neck...no fretboard?? very nice, only just the neck is not for me...yeah I'd go with new style friction tuners...
Good luck and keep us updated on how it comes out...love the crazy wood man though

Yeah, the frets in the neck is weird indeed. I'm definitely from the new school, so it's a change for me, but this is more of a fun project and not so much part of a search for the ultimate uke. That ended when I acquired the MB.

As far as the model goes, I am taking my information from this site:


I think mine fits this description well. By the way, with inflation, that $14.60 would come in just under $200 today. Interesting that the ukulele commanded prices like that back in the 1920's.

08-25-2012, 12:44 PM
What a great Kumalae!

What was the problem with the tuners? Did they not work? Those are good quality vintage tuners. If you don't want them, I would take them in a second for a vintage uke. My perspective, as a guy with a bunch of vintage ukuleles is to preserve a vintage ukulele as much as possible. It would be great to have wood pegs, they are my favorites, but since it was already drilled out to fit those vintage tuners, why not continue to use them. It is likely an addition that took place a long time ago. I see it as part of the history of that instrument.

I would prefer wood pegs as they weigh almost nothing, but those pegs should work as nicely as anything new you could buy. I don't see a need for a leather washer, just put them in and adjust them properly.