1930s Slingerland MayBell Soprano Banjo Ukulele

This lived-in banjo uke is certainly well-loved. It's grungy but great. Like many of these latter-era ('30s) Slingerland jo-ukes, it still has a smaller rim size (6 3/4") but with a scale lengthened to 14" over the earlier 13 1/8" length. That puts the bridge close to the edge of the head, increases tension on the strings, and gives it a snappier, brighter tone.

My thinking on this change is that the factory wanted instruments that would sound good and play well even when a head went slack -- as the closer you put the bridge to the edge of the rim, the less the head will press down around the bridge if it goes slack. Thus action wouldn't change much and the tone would still remain somewhat bright even as the seasons changed around the instrument without setup alterations.

But I digress! I worked on this for a consignor and it got a fret level/dress, new bone nut, much cleaning, a new/old bridge, fluorocarbon strings, side dots, a swapped-out older tailpiece, and a good setup. It plays spot-on with 1/16" action at the 12th fret. Tone is as advertised -- bright and snappy and plank-y -- just what the Dr. ordered for vaudeville strumming.

The original head is worn and weathered but still kicking.

The maple neck definitely shows the instrument's life all over it. This guy has a 1 1/4" nut width and the usual soft-V neck profile these Slingerland products tend to have.

The dots are pearl and, aside from the level/dress job, I also wicked glue into the fret slots to keep them stable. I managed to work-around a somewhat uneven neck-cut by aligning the frets all in a plane with one another and then doing this wick-job before the final level. It works like a charm.

Note the pad of muting foam behind the dowel -- this cuts down on unwanted overtones.

The rim hardware, by the way, appears to be all-original.

The '60s friction pegs are nothing to write home about but they get the job done just fine.

This would've had a wedged shim in that slot in the dowel to tighten the neck up to the joint. I prefer a straight bolted joint -- which is what I modified this to. It holds a lot better as the weather changes.

The maple neck is joined by a multi-ply, maple rim.

The tail accepts loop or ball-end strings.