c.1915 The Vernon Banjo Ukulele

So, this 13 1/8" scale 4-string banjo would mostly be written up as a "banjo ukulele" but at the time this was probably built (1915-1920) there were several applications for the same style instrument, including 4-string melody banjo (tuned GDAE like a mandolin or fiddle) and really short-scale tango banjo (in some other variant of fifths tuning). The name "The Vernon" was a Bruno brand, as I recall, and I've seen this same model (in various configurations of hooks, nuts, and rim type) with a number of different brands.

While I think that mid-grade instruments like this one were made by Lange in New York, there's no conclusive evidence for that except for the hardware choices, neck and headstock cuts, and general feel of the instrument.

It sports a 7" head, multi-ply maple rim, good hard maple neck (thick enough for steel string use, too), and ebonized pearwood headstock veneer and fretboard. My work on it included installing a new skin head (a vintage head from my parts bin re-installed on a smaller pot), 2 replacement (20s) shoes, 3 replacement hook/nut sets, a fret level/ress, cleaning, setup, and a new Grover bridge. It plays great and has a good chimey tone. I like it quite a bit, especially with the bigger neck profile that's unusual on banjo ukes.

Check out the simple "tacked on" nameplate underneath the inlaid pearl star. The nut is ebony.

The frets are thin and small but have lots of life left. I've got it strung with fluorocarbon strings at the moment. I'm thinking Aquilas would give this a nice, dry tone.

This banjo uke has above-average quality for its probably price-point back in the day: there are more hooks than usual and instead of a thin wooden rim with nickel-silver cladding ("spunover" rim), it sports that good sturdy maple rim.

The celluloid pegs are original, and after some peg dope, work great. First-time-users of these beware! You have to turn and push these lightly "up" into the peghole as you tune up to get them to hold nicely. I can't tell you how many ukes I've sold and had the same "why won't it stay in tune" question posed to me about violin-style pegs...!

Amazingly, the original ebony neck brace shims are still extant and work well.

The remains of someone's taped-on initials are still stuck to the inside of the rim.

That's a good 5/8" ebony over maple Grover bridge. The tailpiece, by the way, allows ball or loop-end strings. I've always liked this design as it's easy to pop on the knotted uke-style string ends.

Here you can see the McDougall Conn Co label from Portland, Oregon. They were the likely retail shop where this was sold.


Anonymous said…

What string gauges would you use for GDAE on this size instrument?

Uke or mando? If mando, 32/22/13/9 like on mandos from the age.
Anonymous said…
I meant restringing a banjo uke from GCEA reentrant to GDAE with a low G
Ah, well, if we're talking nylon/synthetic, I'd use the Aquila GDAE set, of course, for soprano ukes. :)

Elderly Instruments sells it as a fifths tuning set for soprano.
Anonymous said…
thx. I didn't know they had a set gauged for that tuning. I'll check it out!
Unknown said…
so I actually just received one of these from my grandmother, and though I intend on keeping and learning to play it, what do you think it's worth? and could you actually use steel strings?