C.1900s, Berkeley CA.

In 1917, a Hawaiian maker, Alvin D. Keech introduced his "banjulele-banjo", which became known as the banjolele or banjo ukulele. Although Keech (who later moved to England) claimed to have invented the instrument, and who trademarked the name 'banjulele', there were earlier pioneers working on the same design. John A, Bolander of California filed a patent for a banjo ukulele design with a closed back resonator on June 25, 1917. He had been manufacturing his "Bolander's Ukulele Banjo" at least since 1916

More info on Bolander from other websites


The back has a leather gasket I will have to remake it, its rotted

The rim assembly will not come out of the design, I'll try and explain...

When it was built it was 3 sections of wood, pinned together with wooden dowel (seen above screw) thru the bottom

And the rim itself has "Tangs" that were bent in to hold it in place before the bottom ring went on.
I removed the neck joint screw but the neck itself is glued onto the rim in a mortise joint, and will not easily release

So unless you were to drill out these dowels...


And somehow repair all the cracking of the shrunken wood without it all falling to pieces.......they go halfway into the topside layer.


I just do not see it happening without destroying something irreplaceable, so my plan will be to shore up what I do have
Seal up the cracks and see if I can get a little tension on the head and at least make it into a nice semi playable relic that is stabilized from further degradation.

I will start by feeding wood glue into the largest crack
The wood is shrunk so I can only go down, not together

That's glued and clamped, and a maple "dutchman" made to fill the gap

Next day out of the clamps, Im sealing all the smaller cracks and pores with cyano and maple dust

Now that all the cracks are stable, I feel like I can push on this rim and pull the tabs in a bit and force it up out of the top as intended, without cratering the wood rim
Lets rip off that torn head now

There is a zinc plate on the topside that insets into the frame

And also a flesh ring that sets into a recess.
  Some of these banjo obscura are not as easy as others when it comes time for this type calfskin installation
For once, Id love to be pleasantly surprised.
The head will tuck in reverse of normal procedure so I doubt it...:(

I'll clean that off and prep for new hide

At least the stabilized body maintained its shape and I can shoot new lacquer onto it while I se what I can do on this head install.

Pulling the brass fret wire which has no life left

There are saw cuts forming rudimentary tangs on the wire, this is replaced with barbs on modern wire

Sealing the fret slots because they are brittle, this will reinforce them for new wire

Old finish removed, I have to lacquer before fretting, that is the style of finish this instrument came with

Rim sealed and neck with one coat of sealer

Fingerboard cleaned and sealed, ready for reslotting to accept modern fret wire
All of the cracks are filled and smooth, it only appears to be cracked as before.

Prepping the Emblem for fresh gold paint to hide oxidation

Finish completed

ready for refret and head installation.

After inserting the bottom retaining ring and then the internal adjusting ring, I cut the old 1930's vintage hide head to a size that would fit this uke, wet it down.
Here I have just pushed the flesh ring into its groove and now I'll make a tool to spread it until it is fully bedded
I prefer vintage skin, and its recycling as well.
This was an 11" torn on one side.
These premium hides from old tanneries long gone, will someday all be a thing of the past.

Pushing on the adjuster ring

That is the height I will stop to trim the excess

I'd say that went extremely well, and now I will say that Bolander thought that out better than I could have hoped.
This design, modernized even more would have applications today if someone wanted to work with it.
Now I'll dry it a few days while I fret and such

New Stewmac 764 wire installed and leveled, trimming the ends and filing now

One more adjustment on the head
It should be noted this is normal maintenance and on this instrument the backplate must be removed and a 7/16 wrench backs up the nut.
Turn the screw until it goes up snug, there is no perfect method, only experience.
This is a very crude method of tightening but it does work.
You have to make sure the screws stay standing perpendicular as well.


I have been informed by Mike that he actually intends to learn to play, not just display so we have to get some real tuners on it.

The old friction pegs, no one uses that has any sense, period, that's a n archaic way to tune and not reliable at all.
I will use a remake of  the 1920s Grover Champion, a decent friction peg that requires very little alteration

They hold tension well and look "period"

Ready to string up

Oh, and if you are wondering about the Crown stamp on the head, that shows it was from a top of the line  1900's tannery whose name escapes me at the moment.

Using premium Aquila "NyGut" strings, a modern replacement for real gut strings, also hard to maintain and expensive.
This Uke has REAL TONE
Very open and airy sounding, better than expected and quite pleasing to the ear
The bridge is a wonderful piece of art and has to be used.
Usually a tiny head will not give that good a tone so it was worth the effort to make it back into a player.

The one thing this uke has, by design ,  is a   high action in the 3rd position that is not caused by neck warp or any problems.
With Ny Gut strings, it still works VG
 It plays comfortably in first position and I could suggest that later on if Mike wants to use this instrument and is moving up the neck in skill level, a little lower bridge could be implemented but in no way would I alter the other original.
The other caveat on soprano banjo ukes is they are Tiny and hard to hold and usually require a strap or a big belly to sit it on!

Another thing I spotted is a difference in the patented design and this design, you can see the differences  (Patent pic at the top)  in the head tensioning apparatus so this is probably pre-patent, commonplace in those days

It's been a fun project and everyone that knows me knows it is not always the 10,000 Gibson that intrigues me, it is small builders like myself!
Thanks for watching


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