1952 Regal "Tara Guitar" Baritone Ukulele

What a pearl-encrusted find! A customer/trading partner brought this in this morning and I bought it on the spot. Anyone else seen anything like it? It's a Regal tenor guitar body (same size/layout as their 30s ones) made into a baritone uke (with proper bari-style classical bridge) for the booming bari market of the early 50s (yes, it was). This would've been made in the last stages of the original Regal company as they were sold off in 1953. There's a stamp at the heel that suggests 1952 manufacture.

The only real work needed was shaving-down the saddle, doing a light fret level/dress, replacement of the crumbling tuner buttons, and a general cleaning and setup. All done. It plays beautifully with 1/16" action at the 12th fret. The last owner had Aquila Nylguts on it and I left them on.

This instrument is very clean aside from some use and playwear. It's also all-original except for the tuner buttons. There are no cracks on the top but the back has two tiny hairlines right at the bass edge of the back (over the kerfing) so they're good to go.

The top is solid spruce, ladder braced, over solid mahogany back and sides. I think the neck is poplar or maple and the board and bridge are both Brazilian rosewood as far as I can tell. Nut and saddle are original bone.

Who knows why they called it the "Tara Guitar" -- but we don't have to care because the pearl inlay in the rosewood veneer is just fantastic.

The "Guild-style" big-block pearl inlay with abalone corners is just too excellent on a baritone uke.

The soundhole rosette has the same yellow/green/red/black purfling that Regal used in the 20s and 30s for their uke-family instruments (and many tenor guitars).

I knot my string-ends on classical bridges to get as much down-pressure on the saddle as I can. It cleans up the tone and drives the top much better.

The hog for the back and sides is very straight, good-looking stuff.

The tuners work well and are original old Klusons that look like 40s models to me. I've popped new black buttons on them as the original cream ones were just on the edge of falling apart.

Note the pearl dot at the heel!

This neck joint was sturdy and good to go as-is, but I don't trust Regal joints unless they're made stable for the long haul. To that effect I pre-drilled a hole and did an internal screw/bolt/washer reinforcement bit through the soundhole, then capped the tiny pre-drill hole on the heel with a pearl dot. I have a friend with a double bass that got this treatment 20 years ago and it's still holding perfectly. So if it's good enough for that kind of tension...

Here's the big washer and screw that were installed through the soundhole. Like I said before -- this is just a precaution for down the road.


Joe Dan Boyd said…
Wendell Hall, in one of his ukulele instruction books, mentions the Tara Guitar, which might (or might not) suggest that the name or terminology originated with him. After all, Regal did make Hall's signature tenor uke called the TeeViola (which, as I recall, you also featured some time ago when you worked on one of those). I don't have Hall's instruction book at hand just now, but I think he mentioned the "proper" tuning for the Tara Guitar is E-A-C#-F# (from the "top" down), another possible reason to speculate that Hall might have "invented" or at least "sponsored" the original Tara Guitar? Jake, you do not mention the scale length or the dimensions of the instrument, probably because you assume we are all familiar with the Regal tenor guitar details, but it would help some of us to include those in your post here. Best from JOE DAN BOYD
Joe Dan Boyd said…
Forgot to mention that I have been searching for information and photos on the Tara Guitar for several years (motivated entirely by the reference in the aforementioned Wendell Hall ukulele instruction book) and you are the first (and only) person to provide any information at all. My query to the ukulele hall of fame yielded nothing. Nor did any of the chat rooms and/or forums on ukulele subjects. To say that I am impressed with your post is a gross understatement, and the pictures make me really want to own one of these instruments. Thank you so much. The nearest thing I have to a Tara Guitar is a 1928 Martin 5-15-T strung with baritone uke strings (or sometimes with Martin silk-&-steel D-G-B-E strings). JOE DAN BOYD
Jake Wildwood said…
Sorry, the scale is 20 7/8" as I recall (it's gone, now) and the body size is almost on par with a size 5 Martin. The upper bout is narrower, the scale is shorter, and it has 12 frets to the body, though, which makes it more compact and like an elongated Harmony baritone uke in the way it fits in the lap.

Not only did Regal make custom instruments for WH, but there's a very bizarre 8-string tiple-like/tenor-guitar-like instrument on the cover of one of his sheet music books that was given to me by a friend. I'll have to scan that book as it has all sorts of oddball songs of his with easy chord and capo suggestions.

Considering the keys in the songbook, and the suggest capo positions, sharp and flat open strings made sense for him as that was where he was playing. Are you sure the Tara Guitar wasn't tuned E from the bottom? That'd make more sense for chords -- like DGBE up a step.
Joe Dan Boyd said…
Sorry, when I say "from the top," I mean the top string when the instrument is held in playing position, and that would mean the "E" would replace the "D" in standard baritone uke tuning. I understand that this is a "contrary" way to reference the order of strings, but it has always made more sense to me. This puts the "bass" sounding string at the "top" of the instrument (the position nearest the ceiling of a room if one is playing the instrument) while the "F#" would be at the "bottom" (position nearest the floor of a room in which one is playing). Thank you so much for the scale and info on dimensions of the Tara Guitar. One day I do hope to see a Tara Guitar "in the flesh" and perhaps even own one.
Jake Wildwood said…
10-4. I usually talk "bass and treble" so as not to confuse, but that is sometimes meaningless when we talk uke-family instruments and Latin American stringed stuff... :D
Unknown said…
This was built as a tenor guitar in the 1930s. The bridge is most likely a replacement. The inlay was done by Joe Phetteplace who worked for Regal at that time and eventually did inlays for all of the Chicago manufacturers. See Bob Carlin's book on Regal instruments for an account of Joe's work. I aquired a fair amount of material from the Phetteplace estate about 25 years ago including many sample inlays. I know that this one is in the pile somewhere though I can't lay my hands on it at the moment.
Jake Wildwood said…
I think you're wrong about that. This neck-cut style was not made in the '30s, the type of rosewood on the board is the same that Regal was using a lot in the '40s and '50s, and there are adverts for this type of tenor/Tara guitar from the late '40s and early '50s.

I've read the Carlin book -- it's great but by no means tells the whole story down to every last detail.