Small pre-war American Firms click for more

Shaeffers Harp Tone Soprano Ukulele
Shaeffers "Harp Tone" Soprano
As the first wave of Ukulele popularity grew, so a number of new companies jumped on the bandwagon. Some were Manufacturers with a history of making other instruments, some were Distributors, (or Jobbers as they were called at the time) who decided there was profit in having their own brands to market. Often now though there is very little information on what they made or sold.

Arling Shaeffer

He was a Musician, Writer of musical instrument manuals, Inventor and Jobber in the fullest sense of the term. He started out working for Lyon & Healy where as a talented multi instrument musician he was persuaded to write a "play the Mandolin manual" in the 1890's to replace the Italian translations. He went on to write manuals for most chordophones in a series called Elite. He also persuaded Lyon & Healy to make some Bandurrias in 1908 as he was then head of their retail Guitar and Mandolin department. With his notoriety in the instrument selling business and his fame from the manuals he left L&H to set up his own musical instrument distribution firm, distributing both his books and and the chordophones to accompany them, (which he had a number of the Chicago manufacturers produce - certainly Harmony for the example in the picture). He also continued to innovate and patented a corrigated Violin fingerboard in 1924 with concave dimples to help novice Violinists place the finger correctly. His range names appear to have included "Tone" in them so the Ukuleles were "Harp Tone" Ukuleles and the Violins were "Mellow Tone" Violins

Bee-Jay Products Co

From Long Island City, NJ. they made the Tivolette "the triple tone instrument" Banjolele. According to a 1928 advertisement it had the "Features of a tenor banjo, a banjo mandolin and the ukulele banjo are combined in a recently introduced instrument which has a metal keyboard to simplify playing, an aluminum bridge in place of the ordinary wooden one and several other distinctive details. It is strung like a ukulele and is constructed like a banjo. A metal resonator and an adjustable metal tone chamber and head tightener are special features. The calf-skin head is adjusted with a nut. The instrument is said to be very easy to play and produces a wide variety of pleasing tones" and it was priced at $9.50. The date puts in as a contemporary of Regal's Octophone during a time when "inventing new multi-instrument" instruments was very popular. It is said in a lot of places that Bee-Jay was a brand name of Buegeleisen & Jacobson. All of the contemporary evidence I have seen shows this NOT to be the case. I can find nothing linking them, (aside from the initials), and the geographic proximity actually shows against, as both Buegeleisen & Jacobson and Bee-Jay Products, are listed as separate companies in the 1927 members of the New York Musical Merchants association.

Rutan Inc.

John A. Rutan who had been one of the co-founders of band instrument reseller Crawford-Rutan Co. in Kansas City in 1921 left the firm in 1926 to found his own Ukulele manufacturing factory under the name of the Kansas City Ukulele Manufacturing Co. To start with it made its own "professional" Soprano Ukuleles priced at $8-$13, and in 1927 it introduced a Tenor, (that was actually Concert scale - see "Standard Approved"). He also founded another firm called Rutan Inc. at the same time and from what I have seen none of the Ukuleles produced ever bore the name of the Kansas City Ukulele Manufacturing Co they were all branded Rutan Inc. I believe the factory burned down in 1940 and this was the end of both Companies. The Ukuleles themselves were very close copies of Martins Style 2 Ukuleles apart form the distinctive cut away headstock tops and everyone agrees that they were very high quality. They usually had the makers mark and model name (if any) stamped inside the sound hole and later models had Rutan or I have read Ryutan on the top of the headstock. I have also read that they made some of PMICo's Peter Pan Ukuleles and that they used the brand name Leonora.
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