FOR SALE - BANJO UKES


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THE ALAN SOUTHWORTH BANJO UKE COLLECTION


Alan Southworth was a very well-known and long-standing member of The George Formby Society who I had the privilege of knowing from the very first meeting I attended (in September 1979) until his sad passing in 2017. He always enjoyed helping others to play but his particular love were banjo ukes.

 

About three years ago Alan took me to one side at a GFS meeting in Blackpool and said to me


“John, I just want you to know that if anything ever happens to me I’ve left instructions that I want you to sell my banjo ukes. Don’t worry about anything, Hilda will know all about it.”


I was really taken aback and I didn’t quite know what to say. I was very flattered that Alan had asked me to help him and his wife and family on his behalf but I also genuinely and sincerely hoped that day would never happen. I knew that Alan had been having ongoing medical issues for a while and I knew that he was a very well-organised man, so it made me suspicious that his health issues may have been worse than I thought, and very very sadly this proved to be the case.


A few weeks after Alan’s funeral Hilda contacted me to say that his banjo ukes had been sorted out amongst the family and, as Alan had wished, the remainder were ready for me to collect and sell on their behalf. I went to value the instruments for her. There is now just one left for sale. Full details of this banjo uke are listed immediately below together with link to a full set of photographs.


MARKENDALE ‘BIG’ GIBSON UB-3 Banjo Uke (March 1993). The late Gordon Markendale has gained a justifiable reputation for making some superb banjo ukes and this is certainly one of them.  The certificate states that this is a copy of a ‘UB-4’, but it has the scale length and inlays of the UB-3, although it was made of walnut.  Grover ‘Sta-Tite’ friction tuning pegs with black thumbgrips. Straight neck and no wear to the frets or the fingerboard. Makers autograph at the top of the peghead. ‘Snowflake and diamond’ mother-of-pearl inlays in the centre of the peghead and in the fifteen-fret fingerboard. Sixteen hooks, nuts and shoes and a flange containing fifteen diamond-shaped holes. ‘Nashville’ tailpiece. Extended resonator. Inside the body is written ‘R7-93-007.S’ followed by Markendale’s signature. Comes complete with a re-issue certificate and a modern black lockable hard shaped case with plush grey lining and an internal pocket containing two sets of keys. Fantastic original condition and pretty much like new! A great looking and superb sounding banjo uke. £2,000.

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ABBOTT No.1 Banjo Uke (c.1928). £350. SOLD


RON BEDDOES ‘New Concert’ Banjo Uke (c.1979). Ron Beddoes lived in Ruislip, Middlesex, and was persuaded to make some banjo ukes for the George Formby Society. His banjo ukes were called ‘New Concert’ models and they became very popular, and he also made a version that promoted (the late) Alan Randall. This example is in fantastic original condition and it comes complete with its original Ron Beddoes hard case. Original tuning pegs. ‘NC’ (New Concert) plated metal badge on the peghead. Straight neck with no wear to the frets and just the tiniest nail mark at the first playing position. Sixteen top-tension bolts. Nice low playing action, and this banjo uke produces a lovely sound. Rarely found in such good original condition. £895.


JOE BROWN ‘ABBOTT STYLE’ Banjo Uke (2003). £600. SOLD


BACON No.2A Banjo Uke (1926). ‘The Bacon Banjo Company Inc.’ was founded by Frederick J. Bacon in 1906 but the majority of his instruments were made by other companies until 1920 when his company moved to Groton, Connecticut. Here, at long last, he was able to produce his own instruments to the high standards that he wanted, and in 1922 he was joined by banjo designer David L. Day from the Vega company. Fred Bacon & David Day went on to produce a range of some of the finest banjos, mandolins and banjo ukes ever made, some of which continued to be named ‘Bacon’, whilst others were called ‘Bacon & Day’ or ‘B&D’. Best of the lot were their ‘Silver Bell’ range of instruments introduced in 1927. In about 1925 the Bacon company introduced their Style No.1 and Style No.2 banjo ukes which were made of mahogany and flame maple respectively, but whilst the Style No.1 sold for $27 the Style No.2 was a far superior instrument and sold for just over twice the price at $55. To put this into perspective, $55 was ten percent dearer than the top-of-the-range gold-plated and hand engraved Ludwig banjo uke which retailed for $50, so Bacon banjo ukes were very expensive instruments. By 1927 Bacon had added a Style No.1A and a Style No.2A to their range which both had an extended resonator (or ‘Resonance and Amplifying Chamber’ as they called it), and they had also introduced the Style No.3A Silver Bell banjo uke which sold for $75. Their top-of-the-range ‘Silver Bell’ banjo uke sold for an eye-watering $250! Many early Bacon Style No.2A banjo ukes (like this one) had ‘No.2’ stamped onto their perch-poles because they had already been produced as Style No.2’s before they first had their resonators fitted, after which they were advertised in their catalogues and sold as Style No.2A’s. Later Style No.2A’s were sold stamped as such.


With the serial number 19855 stamped onto the perch-pole and onto the inside of the pot, this is a wonderful example of a Bacon No.2A banjo uke from its first year of manufacture in 1926. It was the top Bacon banjo uke model of its year before the advent of their ‘Silver Bell’ models in 1927. Pot, neck and resonator made of flame maple with its original dark finish (‘sunburst’ on the neck and resonator). Inlaid with wooden banding on neck and resonator. Straight neck and no wear to the frets or to the bound fifteen-fret ebony fingerboard. Ebony heel-cap. Original ‘Grover’ tuning pegs. Maker’s name inlaid into the top of the peghead in mother-of-pearl. Multiple original decorative mother-of-pearl inlays in the fingerboard. Pot fitted with the highly desirable half-round spun nickel-plated caps around the top and the bottom (very rare). Eighteen original tension-hooks, shoes and bolts with original recessed bezel. ‘No-Knot’ tailpiece & securing nut and bolt. Extended flame maple resonator with nickel-plated flange and original ‘Bacon’ labels inside. All Bacon banjo ukes were originally made with the fingerboard extending over the pot which gave a playing action perfect for using a plectrum as originally intended. This example has had the neck professionally lowered to make a perfect action for playing in a ‘finger style’ or ‘George Formby’ style which is much more desirable. Great example of a beautifully made, gorgeous looking and really fantastic sounding vintage banjo uke from one of the very best vintage makers. This instrument has fittings which allow the attachment of a shoulder strap and it comes complete with a modern lockable hard shaped case with grey velvet padding and an internal pocket. £1,450.


BACON & DAY No.3A ‘SILVER BELL’ Banjo Uke (c.1927). The rarest and one of the most desirable banjo ukes ever made, and this wonderful example was once part of the amazing and magnificent collection of Akira Tsumura in Japan. With a serial number of 20737 it dates to late 1926 or early 1927.


During the period of manufacture of this banjo uke (the late 1920’s) most American musicians considered Bacon & Day to be the finest banjo maker of the time. They were based in Groton, Connecticut, and they produced a variety of banjos, mandolin-banjos and ukulele-banjos (or banjo-ukes) in the 1920’s and 1930’s, and their instruments were prized for their exceptional volume and cutting power as well as for their beautiful craftsmanship and top quality materials. It is generally agreed that the quality of their instruments was unsurpassed. In 1927, their top-of-the-line banjo sold for $900 (US) – a huge amount of money in its day, and this banjo uke sold for $75 (US), which was dearer than the most expensive Ludwig or Gibson banjo uke, which were $50 and $55 respectively.


The Bacon & Day Company was established in 1921 as a partnership between David Day (who had been plant manager of the Vega Banjo Company) and Fred Bacon. Prior to his association with Day, Bacon had banjos made for him by Vega, and by Rettburg & Lange. While these early Bacon-brand instruments were of excellent quality, it was the Bacon & Day ‘Silver Bell’ line of instruments that established the Bacon name as the zenith of craftsmanship. In today's market, Bacon & Day ‘Silver Bell’ banjos, mandolin-banjos and banjo-ukes are highly sought after as collectors’ items and command higher prices than those by any other maker.


 The only change to the original specification of this instrument is that the neck has been lowered in order that the top of the fingerboard is level with the top of the ‘pot’ where the neck joins the body. Originally, these instruments had a short length of fingerboard that extended over the top of the ‘pot’, which gives a raised playing action ideal for playing with a plectrum. For most modern players and British players in particular, this is most undesirable because modern finger styles of playing music on a banjo uke (including the older ‘Formby’ style technique) become very difficult with a ‘high’ playing action. Therefore, most modern players prefer the arms on ‘Bacon’ and ‘Bacon & Day’ banjo ukes to be lowered. This modification has been properly carried out, and in my opinion it in no way detracts from the value of this instrument, indeed it may well enhance it by making it appeal to a wider market due to its suitability to modern styles of play. Many American banjo ukes have to be modified in a similar way in order to enhance their playability in today’s style, and such modifications have been commonplace and have definitely served to enhance their values.


This particular instrument was purchased by its current owner from John Bernunzio, a long-standing and well-known musical instrument dealer in Rochester, New York State, USA, and it is a superb example of its type in excellent original condition and with excellent original plating, complete with its original hard shaped case. It is an extremely rare and highly desirable instrument, and being in such superb condition it will command a premium price. Everything is as it should be, including the correct original resonator mounting thumbscrews (often lost or missing). All the parts (apart from the vellum, the string and the bridge) are original, and it is unusual to see it complete with the original armrest. Some of these instruments were fitted with an optional ‘mute arm’, but most were not, and this one shows no sign of ever having had one. The neck is straight and the frets and the fingerboard are both in excellent condition, as is the general state of the instrument. This is a very, very nice example of one of Bacon & Day’s top-end banjo ukes, and as such it is extremely rare and desirable. £8,500.


DALLAS ‘D’ MODEL Banjo Uke (c.1941). This is a truly excellent example of these popular and well-made vintage banjo ukes and this one is in wonderful original condition. Serial Number D/1362. Body, neck and resonator made of attractive bird’s-eye maple, with an ebony fingerboard inlaid with multiple mother-of-pearl dots. Original tuning pegs. The top of the  peghead  has its original ‘George Formby Registered’ metal badge. Straight neck with no fret wear, but some wear to the first two fret spaces (caused by long nails!) which in no way affects the playability of this instrument and looks worse on my photos than it does in reality. Except for the vellum, the strings and the bridge, this instrument is in great original condition inside and out, and the all the metal plating is in stunning condition for its age. Perfect playing action and lovely sound. Comes complete with its original black hard-shaped case with a dark blue lined interior and an internal storage pocket and lid. £795.


DALLAS ‘E’ MODEL Banjo Uke (c.1942). This is a nice top-of-the-range example of these popular and well-made vintage banjo ukes and this one is in great condition. Serial Number E/1128 stamped into the back of the peghead. The top of the  peghead  has its original ‘George Formby Registered’ metal badge. No wear to the frets or the fingerboard. Inlaid ebony fingerboard. Walnut veneered body and resonator. Original tuning pegs. The metal plating is in stunning condition for its age. Lovely playing action and this instrument makes a great sound. Comes complete with its original black hard-shaped case with a dark blue lined interior and an internal storage pocket and lid. £800.


DAVIDSON ‘GIBSON STYLE’ Banjo Uke (2014). £1,400. SOLD


GIBSON UB-1 Banjo Uke (c.1927). £650. SOLD


GIBSON UB-2 Banjo Uke (c.1927) (A).  Another terrific example of a pre-war ‘Gibson’ banjo uke from one of the greatest vintage manufacturers, and fitted with all of its original parts. Straight neck with some ‘long nail’ wear between the two middle strings at the first position of the fingerboard, and a genuinely tiny amount of wear to some of the first few frets, neither of which affects the playing of this instrument in any way whatsoever. Made of North American maple throughout. Original ‘Grover’ tuning pegs with cream-coloured thumb-grips. ‘The Gibson’ in gold colour at the top of the peghead. Three mother-of-pearl position dots inlaid into the fingerboard. All the parts (except the vellum, the strings and the bridge) are original to this instrument and some of the metal parts have been beautifully re-plated in nickel. The wooden parts of this instrument appear to have their original vintage ‘Gibson’ finish which is in excellent condition for it’s age except for some very, very light ‘crazing’ on the top of the flat-plate resonator. Eight-inch diameter ‘pot’ fitted with an excellent calf-skin vellum. This banjo uke is  a great example of its type. These Gibson’s are always light and easy to hold and this one has a perfect playing action. Best of all, it makes a great sound. It comes complete with a modern, lockable, hard shaped black case, with black internal plush-velvet padded lining and an interior pocket and lid. £1,500.


GIBSON UB-2 Banjo Uke (c.1927) (B). Here is yet another gorgeous example of a vintage pre-war ‘Gibson’ banjo uke from one of the greatest vintage manufacturers. This particular instrument was originally was exported to India and sold in T. E. Bevan’s shop in Kolkata (Calcutta), whose nameplate is fixed to the top of the back of the peghead. Straight neck with no wear to the frets or the fingerboard. Made of North American maple throughout. Original ‘Grover’ tuning pegs with cream-coloured thumb-grips. ‘The Gibson’ in silver colour at the top of the peghead. Three mother-of-pearl position dots inlaid into the fingerboard. All of the external metal parts (except for the tuning pegs and the tailpiece) have been beautifully re-plated in nickel. The wooden parts of this instrument have been professionally re-finished but there is some ‘crazing’ on the top of the flat-plate resonator. Eight-inch diameter ‘pot’ fitted with an excellent calf-skin vellum. This is another lovely example of a Gibson banjo uke, which are always very popular because they were well-made, they are light and easy to hold and they usually produce a great sound. This one is no exception, and it has a great playing action as well. It comes complete with a rectangular case with a black exterior and strengthened corners, and a dark green padded interior. £1,400.


GIBSON UB-3 ‘Big Resonator’ Banjo Uke (c.1928). £2,750. SOLD


GIBSON UB-4 Banjo Uke (1926). £3,000. SOLD


JEDSON Banjo Uke (c.1928). This lovely little banjo uke was made in the USA by ‘Slingerland’ and was their No.20 ‘May-Bell’ model, but ‘Jedson’ (John E. Dallas & Son) imported it into England, put their own badge on the peghead and sold it as their own instrument, and it is still in superb condition. The number ‘20’ is stamped into the wood on the inside rim of the resonator and on the top of the back of the pot. Made mainly of maple with a veneer of attractive birds-eye maple around the pot and on the gently domed back of the resonator. Sixteen-fret mahogany fingerboard with three mother of pearl position dots, and a thin veneer of mahogany on top of the peghead. Straight neck with no wear to the frets and only the very tiniest amount of wear between strings two and three at the first position. Original tuning pegs. All original bezel and tailpiece with sixteen tension hooks nuts and shoes (one hook and nut is a replacement). Light to hold and lovely to play and with a bright and lively sound, this is a very good and well-made banjo uke from the late 1920’s. Complete with original hard shaped case (with re-placed handle and brackets). £475.


JOHN GREY & SONS ‘ROY SMECK SUPER MODEL’ Banjo Uke (c.1930). Roy Smeck was an American musical ‘superstar’  of the 1920’s and 1930’s. He became known as the ‘Wizard of the Strings’ and was an amazing virtuoso performer on a number of different instruments. This instrument is a rare top-of-the-range version of the four types of ‘Roy Smeck’ banjo ukes that were produced by John Grey & Sons in London and George Formby owned played one. They were advertised as having been ‘Designed and perfected by Roy Smeck, and built by the pick of John Grey’s craftsmen for his personal use.’ This example is in outstanding condition, including the original bridge, the original gut strings, the original facsimile ‘Roy Smeck’ signed vellum, and the original case, and even the original ‘John Grey’ tension key. Metal badge on peghead showing maker and model. Straight neck with no wear to the frets or to the fingerboard. Highly polished figured Australian maple veneered body and extended resonator with ivorine inlaid edges. Newly designed one-piece all metal flange. Aluminium under-hoop with extra heavy straining bezel and eight recessed tension hooks. Original ‘Jos Rogers’ finest quality calfskin vellum. Pressure bar tailpiece with hinged string cover. Five layer sycamore and ebony spliced walnut neck with two layer ebony faced fingerboard bound with ivorine and inlaid with elaborate mother-of-pearl designs. Ebonite buttoned grip pegs. All parts heavily chromium plated. Complete in fully shaped hard black case with brown velvet lining and internal pocket. This instrument is very rare and it makes a wonderful sound. £995.


LUDWIG Banjo Uke (1929). Pyralin Peghead model. £4,950. SOLD

 

LUDWIG ‘WENDELL HALL PROFESSIONAL’ Banjo Uke (c.1927). Fantastic sounding and with a lovely playing action, this is another fine example of these magnificent old banjo ukes (ninety years old and still going strong!). Straight neck with just a tiny trace of wear to the first two frets and only a genuinely tiny amount of minor wear to the fingerboard (between strings two and three at the first position). With vintage hard shaped case and Ludwig badge. Peghead repaired and re-ebonised, with replacement ‘Wendell Hall’ transfer and fitted with good quality replacement tuning pegs. Sixteen-fret fingerboard with inlaid mother-of-pearl position dots at the 5th, 7th, 10th & 12th positions. Lovely figured walnut back on the resonator and the original decorative transfer around the side of the resonator is in excellent condition. Original cream binding around the outside edge of the resonator. Original maker’s label still inside the resonator. Sixteen top-tension bolts. Fine original plating on the body and integral flange, the original tailpiece and the original detachable armrest. This instrument produces a beautifully deep, resonant and powerful sound and it is a joy to play. Although the vellum has been stretched over the years there is plenty of life in it yet and producing such a superb sound as it does there is no need to replace it. Fitted with GHS strings, this banjo uke also has a spare set of ‘Aquila Nylgut’ strings. I have decided to change the bridge so the one shown in the photographs has been kept in the case pocket and an old ‘Grover’ ebony-tipped maple bridge has been fitted. This instrument comes complete with a fine vintage made-to-measure hard shaped case with plush velvet lining and a large internal pocket. A ‘Ludwig’ badge is attached to the inside of the case lid. £1695.


REGAL ‘LE DOMINO’ Banjo Uke (c.1931). These great little banjo ukes were originally made by ‘J. R. Stewart & Co.’, but the company was bought by ‘Regal’ in 1930 after which production continued for only a very short time. Unusually, not only has this example got all of its little ‘domino’ transfers intact but most of them remain unblemished. Original tuning pegs and headstock decal, and original w/b/w nut. Straight neck with no wear to the frets and only some minor flaking on the ebonised fingerboard. Binding along sides of neck and around the back edge and bottom side edge of the base of the resonator. ‘Dominoes’ on fingerboard, around the side of the body and in a ring towards the middle of the resonator where they have a gold-coloured background. Twelve ‘Gibson style’ hooks, nuts and shoes. Original ‘Gibson UB-1’ style tailpiece. This instrument is in fantastic condition for its age; it is light to hold, easy to play and it produces a lovely strong sound. It comes complete with a hard brown ‘Roger A. Bamford’ case with internal green padded lining. £595.


WILL VAN ALLEN Long-Scale Banjo Uke (c.1927). ‘Will Van Allen’ was the stage name of William Dodds, a banjoist, musical comedian, variety artist and musician who had become very famous by the 1920’s. He entered into a business agreement for J. G. Abbott & Son to make a range of banjos and banjo ukes for him under various names (including ‘New Revelation’). This is a fine example of a Will Van Allen long-scale banjo uke, similar to the one played by George Formby when he sang the song ‘If You Don’t Want The Goods Don’t Maul ‘Em’ in the 1935 film ‘Off The Dole’. Straight neck and no wear to the frets, and just two small patches of scuffing to the finish on the fingerboard behind the first fret, which looks like it has been caused by long nails. Original ‘Grover’ tuning pegs. Will Van Allen transfer label on the peghead. Seventeen-fret ebonised fingerboard with multiple mother-of-pearl inlays. Ivoroid binding around the side of the body and around the top and the bottom of the side of the resonator, with a thin inlaid ivoroid circle on the back of the resonator. Nickel-plated flange with circular cut-outs. Easily detachable resonator using the two-point thumbscrew mounting. Fourteen tension hooks, shoes and nuts. Excellent original condition throughout. This is a very rare instrument and it comes complete with a hard shaped case with internal pocket and tension key. £850.


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