An unusual handmade hybrid instrument! This came to us via a large estate from a hobbyist luthier, harp builder and collector. It is a vintage instrument - not made by him, though he did make the very nice wood custom case that is included. We don't have much background from the family on this. Though they thought it might have come from Okinawa around WWII, we recently consulted with ukulele expert Tom Walsh, who identified it as similar to an instrument design patented in 1928 by Harold Petterson, a US citizen living in Tientsin, China (see photos). We do not know if this one was made by Petterson or by someone else based on his design. Mr. Walsh also forwarded us an ad from a 1928 Musical Merchandise magazine, which indicates these were aimed for the American market.
So what is it?? Essentially, a banjo-ukulele with some unusual design features. The octagonal pot has wood sides and back, and a goatskin head. Head and back are handpainted. The body, friction tuning pegs and headstock somewhat resemble a traditional Japanese sanshin. The instrument has a 13" scale length which is comparable to a soprano uke scale. Overall length is 23 inches, and the pot measures 7.5 inches across.
Tonally, it sounds very much like a banjo uke with a plunky, mellow tone. This has been set up by our Asian instrument specialist and plays nicely with good intonation. The friction tuning pegs are functional, however not the most efficient to use compared to geared tuners or the vintage friction tuners you tend to see on older ukes/banjo ukes.
Shipping is $50 within the continental US.