3/13/2018

1920s/2018 Oscar Schmidt-made Electrified Ukulele




Update July 2018: I've added new pictures and updated the description where necessary.

I've had this extra-stiff, birch-bodied, little '20s Oscar Schmidt uke for a long time and I've always liked it but never really had a use for it. Strung with nylon or fluorocarbon it sounded thin and a little thwacky and it was always my fourth or fifth choice of the ukes in the house to pick up and strum. A year or so ago I modified the bridge and tuners to string it like a cavaquinho with steel in gauges suited to DGBE tuning (with the high E the same pitch as a mandolin's high E). I liked that, but because it's not a familiar voicing for me, I still only played it once in a while.

So -- seeing as this was the third school snow-day in two weeks (I feel like when the kids are home, my work schedule must involve a bit of play), I figured I could spend an hour or two solving my problem and making it useful. I've always wanted to try a steel-string electric uke, so I yanked the almost-dead original bridge off, made a funky metal bridge for it (for grounding and weirdness purposes), installed a mandolin-sized, blade-style, Fender-ish pickup, and wired it up. The pickup is an Alnico-mag unit with 4 poles hidden under the cover. It sounds good, though! The strings are gauged 13, 22w, 18w, 12 for high-G, GCEA tuning.

It sounds the biz and through a clean amp it has a mellow tone that really suits uke-style strumming and fingerpicking. I'm thinking this will be excellent for filling spaces on recordings or getting just the right weirdo solo going-on.




The inlay is non-original. I added this stuff years ago from random, ex-banjo pearl bits in my parts-bins.



Miraculously, the strings intonate almost perfectly along a straight line. The "saddle" is ebony-on-maple left-over from a broken banjo bridge. It's tacked in place with a little glue.




Check out how many different tuners were on this over time! It came to me with some imprints and I added at least a couple different ones myself. It's now wearing ~$70 Gotoh UPT pegs that're 4:1 and geared like banjo tuners. These are lovely.





The only crack on the instrument is a shorter hairline on the lower-bout-rear that's tight, glued-up, and going nowhere.



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