6/14/2014

1920s Oscar Schmidt-made Tiple (8-String Conversion)





Update 2017: I originally worked on this for a customer in 2014 and it was used in an alternate tuning. It came back via a different customer in trade in November 2017 and I've updated the photos, soundclip, and entire description for the instrument as I changed it a little bit.

Oscar Schmidt tiples are on the rarer side compared to Regal, Harmony, and Martin builds. Of the more budget-friendly versions, they also tend to have the sweetest/mellowest tone this side of a Martin -- but a little less projection and forward oomph. This makes them great for someone using them to sing with or chord-out tunes behind other players.

This came to me in its original state -- with 10 strings and a "tie-block" bridge type as seen on most tiples and with an uncompensated saddle that was about 1/8" too forward from where it should be. Back in 2014 I gave it a neck reset, fret level/dress, swapped the 10-string tuners for 8-string parts-bin (same period) mandolin tuners, modified the bridge to pin-style load, and set it up for a DGBE (higher) tuning. When it came back to me in 2017, I added side dots, reprofiled the bridge flat, and added individually-compensated "screw saddles" -- a technique I've used before on tiples with excellent results. It certainly improved this one a bunch and, in addition, it makes the action easily adjustable up/down in case the instrument changes in the future.

It's now strung-up like a normal tiple (GCEA with octaves on the GCE strings) minus the extra octave strings on the C&E courses. 8 strings are easier to keep in tune, there's no loss of tone without the extra two strings, and the instrument is happier with a little less tension on the top. I've been swapping 10-string tiples over to 8-stringers for about 5 years, now, and they always sound cleaner and handle better minus the extras.

Anyhow, this sucker is playing beautifully and has a straight neck and spot-on 1/16" action at the 12th fret. It has no cracks and the top is solid spruce while the back and sides are solid birch with a little figure in them. The neck seems to be poplar but the bridge and fretboard are rosewood. The board itself is flat-profile and the neck has a narrower-than-normal 1 3/8" with (over a medium-depth C/V shape) which means it plays faster and easier for moving-chords than many other tiples from the time. It has a middle-of-the-road 17" scale length and the body is solidly tenor-uke in size with an 8 3/4" lower bout and 3 1/2" depth.



The finish on the headstock veneer has yellowed with age (hence the buttery color to the top,too), and the ebonized-maple veneer now looks a bit greeny. The nut is bone and newer.


The original pearl face dots are joined with new side dots. The frets are the original, tiny wire but it still has many miles left in it wear-wise.


The celluloid binding at the soundhole has one shrunken-up spot on the treble side, but the double rings look pretty slick.


Note the way I've angled the screws to grab the strings. This is so that the strings are slightly "pinched" in the slots to make good contact with the leading-edge of the screw no matter how they wiggle around. Here's a diagram:


I saw this method of stringing/saddle use on a couple guitars from the 1910s (I can't recall who they were made by, though!) and started using screw-saddles years ago for "tough problems." Because a tiple saddle either needs to be very wide or curved to allow proper compensation, I find this solution a lot more friendly and easier to do.

Lyon & Healy apparently thought the same, and they used the same technique on their high-end tiples with round celluloid shafts that were set into drilled recesses in the bridge.


As you can see, there's plenty of adjustment room for action-height finagling, too.

I've used gauges 10/22w G, 17/38w C, 15/30w E, 9/9 A and those are my preferred GCEA tuning gauges on all tiples from the era.





While I was going over this, I also added vintage-ish strap buttons at the heel and endblock, too.






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