1920s Epiphone Banjo Ukulele

New York-made Epiphone banjo ukes are not the most common sight. Heck -- any old prewar Epiphone banjo is something a bit hard to come by. This one, with its big 8 1/2" rim, one-piece flange, and heavy-duty tonering, appears to be targeted at a professional player. It's build is distinctly upscale despite its simple looks -- and that large rim and tonering also means that it dishes it out. This is a loud jo-uke that also has full-range, balanced tone. It's not at all shrill or overly-bright and lends itself to playing a variety of styles -- not just strummity-strum-strum-strummity vaudeville (though that sounds awesome, too).

This one came to me via trade and I was thrilled to receive it. I've never had the chance to work on an Epi banjo-uke and I always get excited when I see them pop up on eBay or the like (usually at hyper-inflated prices). This one needed a new head, a fret level/dress, new bridge, and a good setup -- but was otherwise in good shape. It's now playing spot-on with 1/16" action at the 12th fret and strung with D'Addario "Titanium" strings. I've been liking them on my own ukes, lately.

I re-skinned the rim with a cut-down skin from an old 20s 5-string banjo that'd torn at its edges. It's a good-quality one, and as a bonus, shows some playwear around the path of the strings.

I love the "paddle" headstock shape. The fretboard and heastock veneer look like stained maple to me, though the original nut is ebony.

The dots are tiny pearl ones. This has a nice, professional neck shape, too -- with a thin (front to back), soft, C shape that recalls high-grade wood-body ukes (read: Martin, Gibson) as opposed to the chunkier, mandolin-thickness necks one often finds on banjo ukes (my thinking: in an effort to make sure they'd stand up to steel strings).

This neck, while it's built sturdy, was clearly intended for use just as a ukulele -- with gut/nylon/fluoro strings.

The factory neck angle has survived and allows for a good, tall, 5/8" bridge. This, aside from the strings, is the only new part on the uke.

The rim is good, sturdy, multi-ply maple with nicer maple veneer on its outside edges and a good, maple, "rim cap" on the bottom.

Here you can see that big one-piece flange. This is a heavy banjo-uke -- at 4lb 13oz! -- but that's the sacrifice that's made when you want full power out of something like this!

The chipping-away decal label states "House of Stathopoulo - Epiphone." These tuners are those spring-loaded Waverly friction pegs and they work nicely.

You can see the two-piece maple construction of the neck in these photos.

The big, shiny, nickel-plated brass bit above the flange is all tonering -- in a tall, giant hoop about 3/32" thick.

The previous owner said that he'd replaced some hook/nuts but I think he may be thinking of a different instrument. These all appear to be original or at least period and of the right type. As you'd imagine, all the hardware is heavy-duty and in good order.

The neck attaches with one bolt and I've added a couple of extra washer-style hardware bits to fit it a little better than the single flat-washer this had before. I like this design (I'm big on coordinator rods and bolted necks for banjos) but I think it could be improved slightly with a tiny pin hidden between the heel and the rim to keep the neck from rotating if the bolt gets loose.


Unknown said…
Is this item for sale? If so, how much?