Saturday, January 09, 2010

Ukulele madness: Carl Ostergren's banjolele

On January 6, I received a belated inheritance: my grandfather's banjo ukulele. Chip Funk, family friend and luthier, had helped my mother clean out my grandparents' house after my grandmother died. Grandpa had died several years before that, but in a closet in the livingroom was stashed an old canvas case containing a banjo uke. My grandfather, I discovered when I talked with my mom about this delightful instrument, had been in minstrel shows (in blackface) back in the thirties, maybe the twenties, too. He used to ride a motorcycle around New England with his banjolele strapped to his back, playing music with friends.

I didn't know what a banjolele was until this summer, when Gretchen Kerndt brought hers out to the Golden Eagle to jam with Lost Dog on the porch. This one has the original skin drum on it, signed by my grandfather's friends (and his brother Harold, too).

It sounds a lot like a banjo, only not quite so twangy. It's a little smaller than a tenor banjo, and the strings are nylon. Buck thinks it's a Sears Silvertone, but it's hard to tell—no brand name on it anywhere. The tailpiece is a replacement for the original. It has a nice sound. More reasons to practice!

So this makes now four ukuleles: my Lanikai baritone, the Lanikai soprano, my Kala mangowood cutaway baritone with pickup, and my mystery banjo uke. I've been taking lessons with Russell Copelin (had my third lesson last Monday); that's been helping, but I REALLY need to practice every day. I slacked off a bit this week.

I've been showing off my banjolele to the Banana Girls and various local musicians. Last night Robin Dale Ford, Pat Fitzgerald, Richard Fineberg, Andy from on Pebble Road, Hans, and a couple of other people came to the Eagle to jam. I brought ukes and played a bit, but definitely could not keep up. It was lots of fun, though. Hans made a case for the banjolele, a temporary one of foam, duct tape, ribbons, and a bungie cord, but he's making a sturdy wooden one of cedar for it.

No comments: