c.1920 Unmarked Koa Ukulele Part One

Well, I thought you folks might like some "in-action" photos. This is a ukulele marked only with "Genuine Hawaiian Koa" inside the soundhole. It's built like some Oscar Schmidt ukes I've seen, (bracing and square kerfing is familiar) but ukes with this headstock shape have also been attributed to Harmony and others at the time. At any rate, it's an extremely well-crafted uke, sturdy, light, but neglected.

As you can see, the finish has alligatored to the point where you can't even see the grain of the wood. I'm going to be refinishing this uke because I know there's beauty underneath (and a much happier customer, in the end, I believe).


Sides could have been simply restored but because I'm refinishing the top I'm simply going to do the whole thing.

Back isn't horrible but it isn't pretty, either.

I had to pull the bridge and fretboard because they were coming up. Here's a now-sanded top (ain't that nice?) with some bridge regluing under-way. The top is nice and flat (no belly) so it's relatively easy to glue this bridge back in place with a single clamp and a medium amount of pressure.

Here's the uke in "bare bones" after sanding, fretboard cleanup and fret polishing, and everything glued back together.

The saddle is nice: bone! I'm making a new corresponding bone nut as the nut that was on it was some hastily-cut balsa -- yick. Check out how the yellowed binding is now stark white! One of the fun things about refinishing old instruments is you often get a closer idea of how an instrument looked when it came off the factory line: that is, with new finish not aged-in darker.

The back. There's some flame to the left of the back center strip.


As of this post, I've got two coats of varnish on it and probably another in the morning left to go. The wood is a rainbow of koa colors from light sunshine yellow to orange sunset tones. I can't wait to hear it! The hardware's all polished and restored, too, so as soon as the last coat of varnish is dry she'll be ready to play!


Unknown said…
she's gonna sound just lovely i bet....cheers,