Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Banjo Ukulele Fix up

 I decided to finally fix up my banjo ukulele. It's a Slingerland from the 1920's (or thereabouts). When I originally purchased it (a couple of years ago) I meant to take the time to fix a few of it's issues, but I was having so much fun tinkering around on it that I never did. The time has finally come for it to get some much needed attention.


First things first - it needed to be taken apart. I'd recommend pulling out a Ziplock bag (or something similar) for all the hardware. Some of those small pieces could easily get lost and if your banjo uke is as old as mine,
it's hard to find replacement parts. Taking it all apart was necessary since the head has needed replacement since I got it. There were a few small tears in the head when I got it that just got bigger over time. Taking it apart was fairly painless. I did find a problem when I took it apart - some jerk had come along at some point and glued that little "shim" pin in there. Since I wasn't sure if I could get it out without damaging something, I left it alone and worked around it. Changing the head out with the neck still attached was a major pain, but ultimately I made it work. I am forever angry with the person who glued that in there. GRRR!!!

My daughter helped me "give the hardware a bath". That's what I called it in order to trick her into helping me! I used a little vinegar to remove a little rust and build up on the parts, which worked ok with a little elbow grease. Then, she helped me rinse them off in water and dry them up. I thought about actually getting some metal polish and shining the hardware up, but I decided against it. I didn't want to make it into anything that it wasn't...plus I'm lazy. :)
At this point, I also used a little soap and water to clean the grime (really wasn't too much) off the pot and neck of the banjo uke.

 I used an Exacto knife to cut the flesh hoop out of the old head.

 A close up shot of the flesh hoop inside the existing head. Once you can see the metal, it comes out of there pretty easily.

 Then came the challenging part. Here's a picture of the new goat skin head soaking in the sink. I found this awesome Youtube tutorial of how to change the head. I'd recommend watching that and taking your cues from it. I didn't have enough time in between the soaking and putting the head on to take any other pictures. I'll tell you this much though - next time, I'm buying a calf skin head. This goat skin was pretty thick and kind of difficult to get on the banjo uke. I was barely able to squeeze it on...but the situation was made more difficult by the fact that I had to do the job with the neck still attached, as mentioned above. Another frustrating part of getting the head on was the fact that the hardware is ancient and some of it has been bent and abused over time...that made it extra difficult to get some of the j hooks back on. 

 After I got the new skin on and the hardware back in place, I cut the excess skin away with an Exacto knife. Heck, doesn't look half bad! Also wanted to mention that many people mention the smell from the wet skin as overpowering and awful. I could smell a little of that wet dog scent, but really it wasn't that bad.

After the skin was dry, I tightened it up a little more. My friend Bobby let me borrow his drum tuner. Pretty cool little device. It lets you measure the pressure all around the rim of the pot to make sure that the tension is the same at each j hook. It's not necessary for this project, but kind of fun to play around with.

Last thing I did was add the little plastic friction part from a different set of tuners. As you can see in the above picture, over time the tuning machines have started digging into the wood. The addition of these little plastic pieces seems to have helped. I really just need new tuning machines though. It seems the old ones are a smaller size and different shape. Anybody have any idea what modern tuning machines might work?

After that, just had to string it up and reset the bridge. It's back and sounding better than ever! Overall, it was kind of a pain, but well worth the effort. I wouldn't call it a "difficult' project, but it had it's moments of frustration. 

Here's hoping that you can take some of this information and apply to your own banjo uke fix up!

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