Crawls Backward (When Alarmed)

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1927 Gibson TU Tenor Ukulele Clean Up

Hmmm, this is interesting.  It looks like an old violin case.

But as much as I love violins (can't play one, and I am learning too many other instruments to justify one), I don't think it's a violin.

Whoa.  It's an ukulele, it's sunburst...and it's a Gibson!

It's a Gibson TU tenor ukulele from 1927-29.  Crazy!
Gibson was very late getting into the ukulele business.  In fact, by the time this uku was made, the 1920s ukulele craze (aka the First Wave), was subsiding.

Ironically, Gibson contacted Martin for advice on ukulele building!  Martin offered to help them source small parts.  It's not known if they followed through, but we know Gibson made three soprano uku models, as well as an extremely rare TU, or "tenor ukulele."  The TU was in production for just about 2  years, 1927-9.

The TU features a spruce top over mahogany back and sides.   The neck is also mahogany.  The bridge and fingerboard are Brazilian rosewood.  You can see the lovely celluloid binding on the front and back.

One of the most interesting features is this double-layer bridge.  I thought it was a replacement, but the 1927 Gibson catalog pictures the TU with this bridge, so it is original.

There are four tiny bridge pins and a fifth decorative pin.  Very unusual.

Here are the pins removed.  They're hand carved of bone - you can see how the taper is not consistent.

I sanded just a touch off that fifth pin - it stuck up way too high for my taste.  (In the picture above, you can see how high up it was).  I had visions of that little piece snapping off.

The saddle and nut are also bone.

The instrument is in wonderful condition.  There is some wear on the back of the neck - it was played a lot.  There are also a few well-repaired cracks - the worst is this triangular-shaped one on the top.

It looks worse in the photos than it really is.

The interior bracing is spruce, and it's very light.  This picture is a mirror image looking up a the top.

There are 2 thin braces that are similar to fan braces on a classical guitar which are alongside the bridge plate.  The plate could be maple - it's hard to tell.

In addition to the top cracks, there are 2 cracks in the back that were nicely repaired.  The glue used on all of the repairs appears to be hide glue - whoopee!  Nicely done.
There are also 2 thin back braces.  You can see the 2 back cracks at the top of the picture on the left.  Nice clean repair.  Not easy to do on such a small instrument.

While the bracing appears to me to be lighter than a Martin, the ukulele is almost twice the weight of a Martin due to that relatively massive bridge.

Gibson sopranos use a much lighter and more conventional bridge.  I can only guess that Gibson was concerned about the longer tenor scale length needing a stronger bridge.

There are no serial numbers or other markings inside the instrument that I could see.

The ukulele is in very fine shape.  I'm just going to clean it up and restring it.

I like Dunlop fingerboard cleaner for boards like this.  You can see some of the grime that came off.  Not too bad.

I used to use lemon oil on fingerboards, but lately I've been using this ColorTone fretboard finishing oil.  I like it a lot.  It really enhances the wood, and helps to keep it from drying out.

This picture was taken while the oil was still soaking in a bit - I wiped the excess off.

Then a clean and polish with Virtuoso cleaner and polish.

The Virtuoso polish is fantastic, but the cleaner is even better.  I can't imagine using anything else.

You can see the gloss on the old finish really coming alive.  Remember, this finish was put on about 87 years ago!

Compare this picture to the picture of the back at the top of this post.  The Virtuoso cleaner gives a cloudy finish terrific clarity.  The polish is the the final touch.


Post a Comment 3 comments:

  • June 24, 2014 at 11:06 AM
    Do you tend to use the same types of products to maintain your instruments as you use for restorations? I have always just used some ernie ball "polish" and a microfiber cloth but I don't think it actually does anything other than wipe my fingerprints off the clear coat. I'm interested in taking better care of my guitars so I'm interested in what you recommend for fretboards and finished surfaces at string change time.
  • Yr Fthfl Blggr said...
    June 24, 2014 at 3:13 PM
    Hi -

    Thanks for reading. I like the regular Dunlop polishes for new instruments. The Ernie Ball you mention is probably just as good. If it takes fingerprints and other marks off, that's good.

    A lot of modern guitars have poly finishes - which are super durable. If you have any of them, just wiping them down periodically with plain water - or the polish - works fine. If you want, you can wax them.

    On older, nitrocellulose finishes, clean and polish them, then just use a polish periodically to clean them up.

    For fingerboards, I've used Dunlop conditioner and oil. They sell it as a 2-pack. But the Colortone oil I'm using now is really great. I like it a lot.

    I'd say once a year for cleaning and conditioning is a good schedule for fingerboards (rosewood, ebony, etc,). Unless they get really dirty, that's plenty.

    Thanks again, and I'm reading your blog now too - digging the Leslie project.

  • June 25, 2014 at 4:11 PM
    Thanks for the info.

    My blog is woefully out of date right now but I plan to remedy that in the next week or so. The Leslie is working (though not finished). I'll try my hand at sound clips when I post more on it.

    Your blog is a lot of what motivated me to start documenting my projects online.

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