“The Gift of Music Lasts a Lifetime” that’s how the musical instrument page of the 1952 “Christmas Catalog” of Sears & Roebuck opens. On the page there is the crème de la crème of 1952 teenage dreams: accordeons, three guitars, two soprano ukuleles and (drumroll please) a baritone ukulele.
One of the perks of my job is that people bring by the most interesting and outrageous vintage instruments. From 18th century archlutes and 19th century romantic guitars to the archtops that started rock & roll in the Netherlands. Last week a friend brought in something different: a 1950’s Silvertone baritone ukulele.
At first glance it is made in a simple and plain fashion. Made of mahogany, with a rosewood bridge and fingerboard and some tortoise celluloid trim around the top. No frills, but quite elegant.
But when I played on it the whole thing came alive. A beautiful articulated tone, not too loud, but very sweet and open. When I took a better look at it the rosewood of the bridge and fingerboard proved to be Rio Rosewood (Dalbergia Nigra) and the rest of the instrument appeared to be Cuban Mahogany, both of these are really endangered by now and protected by CITES.
His question was whether I could put some machine heads on it to make it more reliable during concerts, as the old friction pegs had become a bit temperamental. No problem, but I had a question as well: could I draw a plan of this?
Well, I have a sweet spot for post-order instruments. The Sears & Roebuck catalog provided lots of people with their first guitars and other instruments. The company ordered instruments and amplifiers by various factories like Danelectro in New Jersey and Valco (maker of Airline, Harmony, Kay) in Chicago, and sold them under their own “Silvertone” brand.
While being budget instruments at the time, they are now highly regarded amongst a small group of players. I already drew a couple of Silvertone branded instruments by Danelectro (1444 Dolphin Nose Bass, 1448 Amp-in-Case guitar). But also the famous Harmony Stratotones which were also sold under the Silvertone name. Instruments that formed the foundation of modern music.
But I also wanted this one for the instrument making courses. It is simple to make, but has all design and construction elements of a full size guitar. And its DGBE tuning (low to high) is very accessible for guitar players. An ideal travel companion.