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lambchop
01-19-2013, 06:58 PM
This is a long one, but please, if you know about vintage ukes or just wood and nuts in general, please read as I can really use your help!

I've been fixing my friend's Harmony Baritone and I like it so much that after I strung it Hi-D I asked if she wanted to sell it. I can use it any time I want, she says, but it is not for sale. Good enough.

So I saw a very similar used one at the local GC, as luck would have it, and bought it. Strung it with Hi-D as well, with Pro-Arte all nylon strings (used one high e for the D and the high e from another set for the actual high e on the uke). Anyway, strings on both are the exact same but both ukes sound a little different.

My friend's is a bit older, based on the label, probably from the 50s, with bone nut and saddle, while mine is newer, from the mid-60s based on label and the fact that it has a plastic nut.

I like them both, and mine actually looks much cleaner and less scratchy (which is not a big deal to me) and my tuning pegs are much nicer, however hers has a deeper projection and sound than mine. Mine sounds nice, just not as throaty, not as resonant. I might even say hers has a bit more boom, more sound from the hole than mine if that makes sense -- it seems to move more air.

Now, also note exact same dimensions in terms of body - I mean virtually the same. Oh, and mine seems to have a sloppier glue job inside - globs of brown glue or whatever seeping from the joints on inside where back and sides are joined - hers has a little of that, but mine has significantly more.


So, at long last, here is my question - will replacing the nut with bone give me that throatier sound or do I need to do something like have some of the finish taken down (my finish seems a bit thicker - albeit nicer - than on my friends) or have someone clean up the inside glue globs, or a combination of all three? Or, did Harmony move from solid top in 50s to laminate top in 60s, which would really account for the difference. Gosh, I hop e that's not the answer because it will never sound as good as my friend's if that is the case. Nice, but never as punchy! I'm not sure if the older one is solid or laminate, and I'm not sure if mine is solid or laminate, but if anyone knows that would be helpful as well.

Note: According to this site, which is showing one that is EXACTLY like mine, it probably is solid Mahogany still with the plastic stuff. Hard to tell looking at the rim o the sound hole, but it also seems solid - don't overtly seem the plys when I look at it, but I'm not too good at that stuff. http://antebelluminstruments.blogspot.com/2012/08/c1955-harmony-baritone-uke.html

Thanks in advance for your help.

Mike

Patrick Madsen
01-19-2013, 08:26 PM
I always replace any plastic nut or saddle with bone. I've been told Buffalo bone is the densest bone out there. I'm no expert but feel it does give it a much better sound with greater sustain. Strings also make a big,big difference. Are you using linear or rentrant tuning? The setup for intonation and level frets makes a difference on how it plays also.

lambchop
01-19-2013, 08:50 PM
I always replace any plastic nut or saddle with bone. I've been told Buffalo bone is the densest bone out there. I'm no expert but feel it does give it a much better sound with greater sustain. Strings also make a big,big difference. Are you using linear or rentrant tuning? The setup for intonation and level frets makes a difference on how it plays also.

Re-entrant but string set up is same so that won't account for difference here. Saddle could be big part of it.

Patrick Madsen
01-19-2013, 09:59 PM
I tend to agree about the saddle upgrade. It's a cheap fix with great results.

ichadwick
01-20-2013, 02:39 AM
No. Changing the saddle can have a big difference, but the nut has a minimal effect on the tone. Think about playing a chord - any string where your finger is chokes the string at that fret, so the string between your finger and the nut won't be vibrating. It only makes a small difference on open strings. Very small.

However, the saddle is ALWAYS working, so changing it can significantly change the sound. But you have to consider what material you use. Some bone is great, other can make it sound worse. Depends on the density. Bone can have weak spots or pockets, too. You want bone taken from the outside, not the inside.

Sometimes a high-density plastic is even better than bone. Sometimes ebony works well. Ivory is great, but it's illegal - so look for mammoth ivory (expensive but legal) or get the tops off old piano keys and laminate them together to make your own. Watch out - not all old pianos used ivory; many used bone. Look for keys from grand and baby grand pianos.

lambchop
01-20-2013, 04:45 AM
You know, both saddles look to be the same material as they have discolored in the same way. Only difference is mine, the less lively one, seems to be a little wider on the surface that the strings go across - not much, maybe just a sixteenth wider, but that is a difference. So outside of size I'm pretty sure both saddles are equal. The nuts and how they are mounted are different for sure. Different wear discoloration, mine is plastic for sure and the other seems to be bone. I am really thinking it may be a matter of a thicker finish of the top that makes the top less lively.

OldePhart
01-20-2013, 09:26 AM
If from different eras you may be looking at significant differences in construction. Is the older one solid wood and yours laminate? Does yours have a thicker top than the other one? Even if no differences in those things the harmony ukes were basically the "cheap instruments" of their day...kind of equivalent to many of the Chinese brands today...so quality could vary greatly even among ukes made the same year. One might sound great and another fairly lifeless. They are popular today because many of the ones that survive have done so because they were good enough to be cared for by their owners and most of the poorer samples are in landfills.

Then, of course, there are fifty or so years of difference in the way the ukes have been handled, played, stored, and so on. You can certainly try changing the saddle, but I would not expect a bone saddle to make the tone deeper, if anything, I would expect the tone to become a bit more trebley with a bone saddle (though sustain should increase some).

John

Pondoro
01-20-2013, 09:53 AM
I bought a Kent baritone from the 60's or 70's. The nut home made from a piece of synthetic marble, probably a scrap from an old counter top. I replaced it with ebony and it made a big difference in the sound. So replacing a plastic nut might have an effect.

lambchop
01-21-2013, 03:53 AM
If from different eras you may be looking at significant differences in construction. Is the older one solid wood and yours laminate? Does yours have a thicker top than the other one? Even if no differences in those things the harmony ukes were basically the "cheap instruments" of their day...kind of equivalent to many of the Chinese brands today...so quality could vary greatly even among ukes made the same year. One might sound great and another fairly lifeless. They are popular today because many of the ones that survive have done so because they were good enough to be cared for by their owners and most of the poorer samples are in landfills.

Then, of course, there are fifty or so years of difference in the way the ukes have been handled, played, stored, and so on. You can certainly try changing the saddle, but I would not expect a bone saddle to make the tone deeper, if anything, I would expect the tone to become a bit more trebley with a bone saddle (though sustain should increase some).

John
I have a feeling your assessment is most accurate. Guess I just have to be happy that my friends baritone is available to me when I need it. Odd thing is the other one, which sounds better each time I play it, is in much better conditioning terms of looks and tuning pegs and such. Mike

lambchop
01-21-2013, 10:11 AM
Ok, took it back to GC with no problem. Now I'm still in the market for a 40s-50s era harmony baritone. Anyone got one pm me.