c.1930 Unmarked (Maxitone/U-King Style) Banjo Ukulele

I worked on this cool Gumby-headstocked soprano (13" scale) banjo uke for a customer of mine. These come in several flavors (metallic orange finishes with matching brass-finished rims is my favorite) but the most common is this black-finished (hah, not now, thought) neck with nickel-plated brass rim. They bear many different labels but all have the "U-King" tailpiece and tend to favor the "Maxitone" brand name. Years made...? ...probably the mid-30s.

My work on this guy included a new skin head (from my vintage stock of skins), fret level/dress, new bone nut, replacement bridge, cleaning, and setup. Along the way I also changed the (originally painted) position dots for pearl. More on that below...

Basically, though, these guys sound great after work. I trust that's mostly due to the rim being brass and thin (so you get a warmer, airier sound) rather than heavy and thick plated steel (which = lots of ring, brash sound). They also look pretty neat with the integrated flange/shoe look to the rim.

The finish is flaking all over the neck. I'm pretty sure this is because they were painted rather than stained.

These dots used to be all silver painted dots but I replaced them with pearl. While I was working on the frets on the board, my fingers were chipping the flaking paint off and it was looking a little bit sad, so I just went ahead and replaced them all to keep it looking a bit smarter. I've found that most of this style of banjo uke has severely-flaking paint/finish. Oh well!

No charge on that pearl to the customer, of course. And if you're wondering on some of the slightly wonky placements -- well, that's because I did them "dot for dot" so that's where the original paint dots were. Heh -- suits the instrument.

One of the things I like best about re-using vintage skin heads (from larger-rimmed banjos that I've removed them from for various reasons) is you get a good-quality skin that looks period, too.

The tuners have interesting cone-shaped pieces under the buttons and I finagled the shaft holes a bit to fit them better and now these (pretty typical) friction pegs turn a lot more nicely than I usually find.

One thing these type of banjo ukes don't have is a proper neck brace which means all the tension and "hold" on the neck is at the "endbolt" which is located near the tailpiece and anchors the dowel there. I decided to remedy that issue by adding a second, smaller screw, right into the heel to serve as a stabilizer and secondary neck brace. The necks on these have a tendency to move around a little bit if the instrument gets bumped, otherwise (sigh).

Unless you flip this instrument and look at it from this angle you can't even see the new screw, though, as it's covered by the curled "lip" to the bottom of the rim.

I love those U-King tailpieces... so simple and perfect for uke-jos.


Anonymous said…
Hi, I found one of these old ukes and this one is brass and the back rather than be open is a brass lid with f notes cut into it kinda cool. it has no skin so im going to use buckskin wet it and strech it. whats ur thoughts on that. thank you
Most folks use calfskin -- you can order the stuff from Elderly Instruments for about $10.
Unknown said…
Hi - I purchased one of these at an antique store. I can't figure out how to string this with nylon strings that I was sold by a musician who says he runs a uke group. I think I need brass ends on the strings, right? Love some advice. Very new to ukes and banjos. Thanks.
Chesley said…
Did you change the skin on this instrument? I am trying to find out some information about a possible original acetate (but looks like paper) head that may have been used on instruments like these.

Jake Wildwood said…
Acetate/paper would not be original. Every single one of these I've seen has original skin or replaced skin, so another material would be interesting but probably not the real deal.

In regards to Patrick's Q: "ball" the strings by knotting them over and over (2-3 times) to make a big enough knot to stick.