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View Full Version : Tonk American pair of ukes, photos, fun



coolkayaker1
06-07-2014, 10:01 AM
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coolkayaker1
06-07-2014, 10:02 AM
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coolkayaker1
06-07-2014, 10:11 AM
This one is for those on UU that love vintage ukes (you know who you are). I recently got not one but two Tonk American ukuleles, I think they are late-1920s-early 1930s (but I'm open to ideas). The cool thing about them is that they are so different. They clearly are from that transition period, that whole Lyon & Healy, Regal, JR Stewart, Tonk American 1920-something mish-mash that I can never keep straight.

One looks cedar-ish (browner topwood) and the other more spruce-ish, but I'm thinking both are spruce with birchwood back and sides. The differences I'll describe, referring to them as such.

Cedar-ish one: fancy fretboard end; black-white binding; smaller black Bakelite tuners; larger and higher saddle with a brass nut (?); 13 inch scale, yet slightly wider body; no butt strip.

Spruce-ish one: flat fretboard end; white binding; larger white Bakelite tuners; smaller and lower saddle with bone nut; 14 inch scale, yet slightly narrower body; with butt strip.

They clearly have difference bracing patterns inside, too!! Funny how the wide body has the shorter scale (they are both the same thickness). Neither has an inside label (fortunately, both have well-preserved head labels, which look pretty cool).

Here's a cool 1930 Pdf with many listings, including Lyon&Healy, which was owned by Tonk by then. (Tonk on page 12, many other classic ukes here):
http://www.acousticmusic.org/userfiles/file/pdfs/historical-data/Musical%20Distributors/Tonk%20Bros%201930%20Catalog%2047.pdf

Here's Lardy's Tonk: https://sites.google.com/site/ukulelecorner/home/in-the-corner/soprano-or-standard/tonk-american

Here's Lardy's Tonk Bros. listing with history: https://sites.google.com/site/ukulelemakers/uvw-xyz/tonk-bros

On mine, both have small cracks here and there, and both need to be cleaned up (I cleaned up the spruce-ish one, but not at all the cedar-ish one).

If anyone has some ideas about what company may have made each, please let me know. It would be of interest to me, and thanks in advance.

I wanted to post them here as it's not common to see two, side-by-side (as few are stupid enough to buy two...lol). Thanks for any ideas you have.

David Newton
06-07-2014, 10:36 AM
Great pair kayaker, thanks for offering them up here.
These come from a time, I think, when all the Chicago instrument companies traded out parts back and forth, depending on what they were making at the time. Sure you can figure out who was claiming to have built them, but how many other companies contributed parts & services to the production?
I wonder if one of the brands could have operated as an "assembler" only, buying parts made to spec, and assembling & gluing, finishing & shipping out completed orders.

pondweed
06-07-2014, 12:23 PM
Beautiful! Any obvious evidence on why it is marked factory second? Presumably lost in mists of time...

Eyeguy
06-07-2014, 04:41 PM
Very very cool! Here is some information you may enjoy looking through:

http://www.acousticmusic.org/userfiles/file/pdfs/historical-data/Musical%20Distributors/Tonk%20Bros%201930%20Catalog%2047.pdf

coolkayaker1
06-07-2014, 04:41 PM
Beautiful! Any obvious evidence on why it is marked factory second? Presumably lost in mists of time... Thanks, Pond. I have studied it, and see one thing that may or may not be the reason for the Factory Second label: if you look at the photo of the fretboard ends, the Fact Sec one (the one on the left in my photo, the one with the finished, scalloped end) has an extension that has been glued on! It's not all one fretboard,, but one piece was on the neck, and then an extension was added (plus it has a tiny crack from aging, which I can fix). Other than that, no major findings, and it plays well.


Great pair kayaker, thanks for offering them up here.
These come from a time, I think, when all the Chicago instrument companies traded out parts back and forth, depending on what they were making at the time. Sure you can figure out who was claiming to have built them, but how many other companies contributed parts & services to the production?
I wonder if one of the brands could have operated as an "assembler" only, buying parts made to spec, and assembling & gluing, finishing & shipping out completed orders.

Thanks for the input, David. I'll bet you are right-as-rain. I see your point about the Chicago "connection" (no relation to Al Capone) sharing parts and such. So, I have a couple of Frankensteins.

coolkayaker1
06-07-2014, 11:36 PM
Eyeguy, thanks for the link!

Pukulele Pete
06-08-2014, 01:37 AM
Did You have to remove a pick gaurd on your second one ? I was bidding on that one too. Nice buy.

coolkayaker1
06-08-2014, 04:10 AM
Did You have to remove a pick gaurd on your second one ? I was bidding on that one too. Nice buy.

Yes, I did! I was sweating it, but it came off without top wood damage. Oh, Pete. I wish I had known. If I knew it was you I'd have withdrawn my bids. Oh, man.

Where do you live? Are you in the USA?

hmgberg
06-08-2014, 04:53 AM
Nice ukes, Steve. How do they play and sound?

Pukulele Pete
06-08-2014, 05:12 AM
[QUOTE=coolkayaker1;1534810]Yes, I did! I was sweating it, but it came off without top wood damage. Oh, Pete. I wish I had known. If I knew it was you I'd have withdrawn my bids. Oh, man.

Where do you live? Are you in the USA?[/QUOTE

coolkayaker1
06-08-2014, 01:41 PM
No worries . I put in a low bid , I do that a lot. Yes , I'm in the USA , Massachusetts
but don't tell anyone. Seeing Your first Tonk got me interested. I don't know which one I like best , they are both beauts . Oh, okay, Pete. Hey, I'm from Mass., too. Born, raised, college, the works. Love Mass and New Hampshire. Heaven! The reason I asked: if you lived close to me, I'd get them both all cleaned up and you could come and play them with me and choose either you like and buy it for the exact eBay price I paid.


Nice ukes, Steve. How do they play and sound?

Great question, Howard. Well, they both sounded great for intonation, but two things hindered a great analysis: (1) these Bakelite (I think) tuners don't hold well, so I have to clean them up, add a brass washer, and they'll be fine, and (2) the strings on them when I got the ukes were like a thousand years old!

stevepetergal
06-08-2014, 03:21 PM
Yes, that's quite a pair. Congratulations, Steve.

Teek
06-08-2014, 10:45 PM
What a couple of honeys and the one does look like cedar, is there any tell tale fragrance left?? YUM!

coolkayaker1
06-09-2014, 04:58 AM
What a couple of honeys and the one does look like cedar, is there any tell tale fragrance left?? YUM!
The funny thing is, there's no smell to either, Teek. Good question. It sure looks like cedar to the eye. Yet, it does not have the scratches and dings that I'd expect of cedar for being handled for 60 years, plus others have said that Tonk Bros. (in all its incarnations) used spruce. Sometimes, according to R. Turner on another thread, spruce can turn apple-brown with age; perhaps that's what occurred here.


Yes, that's quite a pair. Congratulations, Steve.
Thanks, Stever!:eek:

river_driver
06-09-2014, 01:41 PM
My best guess is that they are both Regal builds - the headstock shape, and especially the routed edge on the headstock of the spruce-ish one suggests it.

Compare to these, from Jake Wildwood's blog:
http://antebelluminstruments.blogspot.com/2012/03/c1930-regal-made-june-days-soprano.html
http://antebelluminstruments.blogspot.com/2013/01/c1930-regal-made-mahogany-soprano.html
http://antebelluminstruments.blogspot.com/2013/09/c1930-regal-made-army-green-banjo.html

jeff mercer
06-09-2014, 05:42 PM
Good to see that Tonk Bros. catalogue again, Coolkayaker..No 'Tonk Americans' in my collection, but I have two ukes that are advertised within;
Weissenborn 'style C' & a Harmony 'Vita-uke'..interestingly, both probably pre-date that particular catalogue. The W/Born has a 'Stadlmair' label (distributor 1923-26), & the Smeck 'Vita' has 'Patent Pending' stamped inside..the patent was granted in mid-'28 (from memory), so an early one. Nice finds there, mate !
Jeff.

river_driver
06-10-2014, 02:53 AM
My best guess is that they are both Regal builds - the headstock shape, and especially the routed edge on the headstock of the spruce-ish one suggests it.

Compare to these, from Jake Wildwood's blog:
http://antebelluminstruments.blogspot.com/2012/03/c1930-regal-made-june-days-soprano.html
http://antebelluminstruments.blogspot.com/2013/01/c1930-regal-made-mahogany-soprano.html
http://antebelluminstruments.blogspot.com/2013/09/c1930-regal-made-army-green-banjo.html

I got Bob Carlin's book on Regal yesterday (http://www.amazon.com/Regal-Musical-Instruments-Bob-Carlin/dp/1574242733) which indicates that Regal only produced Tonk-branded ukes in 1930. Of course we all know how bad record keeping was for all the Chicago builders...

coolkayaker1
06-10-2014, 06:58 AM
Good to see that Tonk Bros. catalogue again, Coolkayaker..No 'Tonk Americans' in my collection, but I have two ukes that are advertised within;
Weissenborn 'style C' & a Harmony 'Vita-uke'..interestingly, both probably pre-date that particular catalogue. The W/Born has a 'Stadlmair' label (distributor 1923-26), & the Smeck 'Vita' has 'Patent Pending' stamped inside..the patent was granted in mid-'28 (from memory), so an early one. Nice finds there, mate !
Jeff.

Jeff, you have some fine ukuleles, there. Although I know of the Vita ukulele--a fine piece, indeed--I have never heard of the W.born with Stadlmair label. Sometime you should take photos of that uncommon instrument. And old uncommon instrument, no less. Superb!

coolkayaker1
06-10-2014, 07:07 AM
I got Bob Carlin's book on Regal yesterday (http://www.amazon.com/Regal-Musical-Instruments-Bob-Carlin/dp/1574242733) which indicates that Regal only produced Tonk-branded ukes in 1930. Of course we all know how bad record keeping was for all the Chicago builders...

67645
http://antebelluminstruments.blogspot.com/2013/01/c1930-regal-made-mahogany-soprano.html
River, thanks so much for your input and taking the time to locate those Antebellum links. I see what you mean: this one in particular looks a ton like my spruce-ish, squared fretboard Tonk (the one on the right in the photo). Thanks! And then you add the information that you garnered from the Regal book, and I think you are right on the dot: that particular ukulele is a Regal-made Tonk from 1930 (since that's the only documented year Regal made Tonks!). Love it! So the other Tonk that I own, the one with the cedar-ish top, is not a Regal (unless it's a Frankensteined part-Regal) since it is decidedly different than the now-suspected Regal spruce-ish topped one. Gosh, I'm glad this is all in this thread so I can find the info again at a future date. And this will help anyone online who looks up Tonk Brothers Ukuleles (a term on the google search popularity list right between "Sports Illustrated swimsuit models" and "Nigeria's Olympic Curling team").

Thanks again for your detective work.

Pukulele Pete
06-10-2014, 08:52 AM
Oh, okay, Pete. Hey, I'm from Mass., too. Born, raised, college, the works. Love Mass and New Hampshire. Heaven! The reason I asked: if you lived close to me, I'd get them both all cleaned up and you could come and play them with me and choose either you like and buy it for the exact eBay price I ld!

Thank you for the very gracious offer.

river_driver
06-10-2014, 12:44 PM
Thanks again for your detective work.

Don't mention it, I've found this thread and the Nunes thread and a couple others recently to be really entertaining!