Back in the real world - Tonk Bros registered the name Tonk American in 1927 and production started soon after. JR Steward made some of the earliest, but Regal soon took over and mine is definitely made by Regal and with no features to pin it down more accurately I would say in 1932 give or take 5 years? (which covers the whole of production really). When they came out, these Ukuleles were aimed at the upper end of the market and the serious player I couldn't say it was a direct replacement but when Tonk took over the Lyon & Healy brands they stopped using the "American Conservatory" name
I got mine from ebay (as usual) and it came to me from France. How it got from Chicago to France is probably an interesting story - but I don't know it - If only old Ukes could talk...
Mine would probably say "My last owner could play me much better than you can" -Back to the real world again
On to the Ukulele itself, though it doesn't look it, its quite a small Ukulele. It has a 33cm (13in) scale and fits into my soprano cases more loosely than most, (still snug enough to be safe though). I think it is also elegantly proportioned, slightly narrower and more sinuous than the current fashion with quite a long headstock, gently rounded at the edges. It has a solid cedar top and a maple body and neck that had been darkened to look more like rosewood. You know it's not rosewood when you pick it up though, this Ukulele is remarkably light. The fret board and the bridge probably are rosewood though, with a bone nut and saddle. The bridge design is one of those where you tie a knot at the end of the string and hook it under to hold. I think these can look quite neat and tidy so long as you don't do to big a knot or leave excess string poking out past the knot. The fret board has 17 frets, meeting the body at the 12th and then running over the upper bout to the sound hole where it come to a point, just intruding over the sound hole space; elegant. The finish was probably quite gloss when it was new but this has aged beautifully and with no varnish crazing gives a dark and characterful patina
It's in very good condition for its age, there is a line on the back that might be the beginning of a crack, (I'll have to watch that; carefully), but apart from that there are no obvious repairs, no bad scratches or scuff marks, no sign the bridge or the neck have been reset, France must have been very kind to it. The tuners are original too, and they work perfectly well holding it in tune. One thing about them that is different though, is the buttons are shaped wood not the normal Bakelite. In design they remind me of nicely turned wooden chess pieces and they too have stood the test of time very well. There is no sign of any shrinkage on the fret board so the, (probably brass), frets are all still smooth and dressed nicely. My only concern (apart from the possible crack) is the action is a bit high for my taste. This may well be that they liked the action higher in the old days? The action is quite high on most of my 20th century Ukuleles and though it has a high action there is no signs of neck movement I can see?
Sound wise it has good volume and the pleasant cedar ring to the tone, well rounded and full with plenty of mid and lower tone. It does seem to sound better tuned up to D, (and this is presumably what it was designed to tune to), but this maybe the strings? I'm not 100% sure that the flurocarbons are the right choice for it and am open to suggestions, (other than real gut - I don't like gut strings).
The Ukulele must be pretty durable, it has survived 80 years, but with its lightness it does feel a little delicate. Its another model that I would only take to small civilised gatherings, and not the back room of the Fawcett Inn
I really love this Ukulele, I think its elegant, romantic and retro cool. Its probably not one I will play a lot the action is a bit high for me and I always worry that my very experienced Ukuleles are a bit delicate, (even if they aren't) so I will keep the strings loose when I am not playing it, but its very welcome at Ukulele corner. It would be very close to the top of the list of ukes to save if there was a fire and if I lost it I would be on the lookout for another
And Yes there really is a pub called the Fawcett Inn! Its in Portsmouth, on Fawcett Road - you can look it up - and it is pronounced how you think!