1920s/1951/2018 Stromberg-Voisinet/Wildwood Tin-Can Electric Ukulele

Update June '18: I converted this into a "just electric" (it's pretty quiet acoustically) ukulele with a magnetic pickup that senses the soundboard and have since updated the blog post with a new video clip and some updated information.

Yeah, it's another hodge-podge. This time it's a 1920s Stromberg-Voisinet (Kay) banjo ukulele neck of nicer quality mated to a 1951 tin that I've cut down to fit. Under the hood (and giving this thing its power) this has an old '70s Ibanez humbucker electric guitar pickup wired to a Switchcraft jack.

The trick to making tin-can instruments work is supporting the body with extra blocking and making sure any sort of overtones or rattle-prone edges are damped. This one "works right" and is damped pretty heavily and so is only suitable to quiet practice unplugged.

Aside from mating the two together and installing the pickup, other work included a fret level/dress and side dots on the neck, a new bone nut, new saddle for the vintage floating bridge, and a proper setup. It plays with 1/16" action at the 12th fret (spot-on) and is strung with Martin fluorocarbon strings. It's a soprano with a 14" scale length. The bridge is tacked in place just a bit with a dot or two of superglue.

The "vent" soundholes are taken from an old National coverplate's hole pattern.

Inside you can see how I've recycled the banjo uke's dowel into a good support for the neck. The extra blocking is shored-up with screw attachments and keeps this little box very secure. The pickup is mounted directly into the dowel and rather than sensing steel strings as a normal magnetic electric pickup should do, it senses the vibrations of the metal top instead. The output is actually about the same as the pickup used on an electric guitar normally, but the tone is very different as it's acting more like an acoustic pickup and sensing the soundboard.

In the video clip I have it plugged into a clean-sounding electric guitar amp because it simply sounds cool that way, but with a dry signal into a mixer it actually sounds like a decent acoustic pickup mounted on a resonator ukulele.

Before I closed the lid, I put a bunch of foam to dampen the top and mellow-up the tone.

This has a fast, comfortable, C/V neck shape. The pegs are original friction units and they work just fine.

This has pearl dots in a stained-maple fretboard. The binding is two-ply celluloid.

The bridge is from an old tenor guitar and is painted-black maple with a bone saddle insert.

There's a funky bit of finish damage/muck below the tuners on the back of the headstock/neck. It looks like cracks in the wood but it's not. I can't figure it other than maybe that part got hot from a cigarette or something like that.

The banjo neck's dowel is pinned into place by this bolt on the rear.

The tulips and the clogs are all that remain of this cut-down "Dutch kids" decoration. I think it's pretty funny just to have the feet!

The tailpiece is offset slightly from the strap-button/dowel support. As usual for old banjo ukes, the dowel wasn't true to the string path down the neck.


Tell said…
Brilliant idea!