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Tombo Ukulet Vintage Electric ‘Ukulele Rebuild

My life has been busy as of late! The Institute of Hawaiian Music is giving me all kinds of great opportunities. Aside from the college classes, there are gigs to be played, songs to be learned and arranged, and concerts to attend!

One of the guys that I’ve met through the IHM program, Axel Menezes (who plays mean ‘ukulele), came back from spring break with an interesting item in tow – an old electric ‘ukulele that he found in the dirt on Kaua’i. It was in pretty rough shape so he took it apart and sanded it down. Some of the stock parts went missing as he worked on cleaning it up, so now all that’s left is the main body, neck, pickguard, and string mount.

After some obscure Google searches I was able to identify the ‘ukulele and get a little bit of info on it. It’s an old Ukulet (or Ukelet) ‘ukulele from the 60s made by the Japanese company Tombo. Modeled after a Fender Strat, the Ukulet came with a case that had an amp built into it.

The original look is pictured on the right (photo from Lardy’s ‘Ukulele Database).

Naturally, we feel a need to restore the Ukulet to its old playing condition! So we’ve taken it upon ourselves to try and figure out how to bring the Tombo back to life.  Here’s the one that Axel found:

tombo ukulet electric ukulele

There’s a good deal of work that needs to go into it, but it will be a fun project.

Knowledge wanted:

Does anyone know anything about how the bridge on a Tombo ‘ukulele is setup? All that’s left on this ‘ukulele is the string mount and it looks like there is at least one other piece needed to support the string. All the pictures of stock Tombos I’ve found are not detailed enough to see the bridge in. Any information you could give would be appreciated. Feel free to leave a comment

Meet The Author:

Brad Bordessa

Brad plays 'ukulele on the Big Island of Hawai'i. He writes original music, performs, and hunts unicorns - all with only an 'ukulele.

12 comments… add one
  • Larry Sep 18, 2012, 3:03 pm

    I assume by now you know there is an additional cover/string saddle, height adjuster clip over the string mount. My question for you is this…is this intended to be tuned like a guitar first 4 strings? Seems that way…not a uke.

    Thanks

    • Brad Bordessa Sep 18, 2012, 10:44 pm

      I saw pictures of the string cover, but without the original my friend and I decided that we should just stay simple instead of trying to replicate it.

      It’s definitely of the right scale length to be tuned as an ‘ukulele and I believe it was intended as such, but maybe if you put super heavy strings on it you could go down to DGBE.

  • Larry Sep 19, 2012, 5:44 am

    Hi Brad, I tuned it like a uke thinking it was intended to be one. It does have the right scale length to be a tenor uke. But….that did not work because it is fretted like a guitar. go to Stewmac website and look at their scale length calculator. This is a guitar. Probably intended for the higher 4 strings of a guitar. If you send me an email address I will send you pictures of the bridge assembly and the case/ amp I got with my unit. lrd8350@aol.com

  • Moon May 4, 2013, 9:19 am

    I just picked one of these up from ebay. It’s a Ukulele. Frets are calculated the same for a guitar and a ukulele. (Larry – put a capo on you guitar at the 5th fret and play the top 4 strings only – you have the same low g tuning as this uke.) It tunes like a tenor ukulele with a low g string instead of he re-entrant high g tuning. I need to make a trip to rad.io.shac.k to pick up an adapter so I can plug it in to my amp, but so far, even unplugged, its more fun than greasing your teacher’s toilet seat.

  • Frank Lockwood Jun 29, 2014, 1:28 pm

    I had one of these for many years, having first come across it in a department store in Calgary, AB, Canada, when I was in my teens. I’d been playing baritone ukulele for several years (learned to play, the Mel Bay way), and the idea of a solid body electric version was very appealing. The store had a white one and a red one, and both came with a small amplifier. The uke was $50 and so was the amp. My family bought it for me when I passed my Grade 9 final examinations with good marks.

    It came tuned as a baritone ukulele – D, G, B, E, low to high, same as the highest four strings of a guitar. I used guitar strings cut to length. An E string of .010″ gauge gave good tone and was fairly bendy. There were some serious electrical shortcomings to the instrument and amp. The amp always had a pronounced 60 hz. hum (so you’d know it was on, I guess). The instrument’s connector was originally an 1/8″ phone jack, but that was far too fragile for the gyrations of a hormonal teenager, so I eventually replaced it with a 1/4″, but due to its larger dimensions, I had to bore a hole through the back because the whole assembly was larger than the thickness of the body. I later replaced the pickup with a knock-off humbucker, facilitated by gouging a larger hole through the pick guard, and chiseling out the required hole in the body.. This, coupled with a fuzz-wah pedal created sufficient overdrive distortion to overcome the amplifier’s hum, and any notion of pure instrument tone. I always called it “The Minicaster”.

    As far as the bridge is concerned, I think your replacement is in all likelihood a huge improvement over the original, which could be called a bridge only because it held the strings. You can see some good pictures of the missing piece here: http://blog.goo.ne.jp/span_21/e/8eb0fd4600fb21b26b69e99e0faba02c?fm=entry_awc

    The whole idea of this thing was to provide easy screwdriver access to raise and lower the string action. However, because the string holder was essentially anchored at the tail, you could not get much variation between the height of the highest and lowest strings. In fact, one or other of the two screws would vibrate loose, and then the whole thing would start to rattle and buzz. I think I eventually found a good setting and then soldered the screws in place (when I get this thing in tune, I’m gonna weld it!). At other times, energetic playing could knock the string holder right out of its moorings, which would immediately de-tension the strings, and possibly break the E or B strings while it was bouncing around. All in all, not great.

    • Brad Bordessa Jun 30, 2014, 8:26 am

      Thanks for sharing, Frank! That’s some great insight. There’s not much online about the history of it so I was kind of flying in the dark when repairing it. Glad to hear I’m not alone in hodgepodging my own version of the instrument together!

  • Tom Jan 20, 2015, 1:59 pm

    Hi,
    I have one exactly like the one you’re rebuilding. A friend wants to buy it and I’m willing to sell but we have no idea what is the right price. Did you run across anything that might indicate its value? Thanks.

    • Brad Bordessa Jan 20, 2015, 9:02 pm

      Aloha Tom, I saw one on Craigslist years ago that was going for $700 super clean with the original case (I think the number is right…). But other than that it’s such a specialty item that it’s only worth anything to the right person. Good luck finding a price that works for both of you! It’s a cool piece of history.

  • Annette Rodrigues Mar 18, 2015, 7:37 am

    I also have a Tombo Ukelet for sale. It is in good shape and comes in the original carrying case that has the amplifier as part of the case. The battery power source is corroded, so not working, but it is in excellent condition. I will be listing the Tombo on Reverb.com this week. If you are interested, let me know and I could sell directly.

  • Sarah Smith Aug 15, 2015, 6:48 am

    I’ve recently acquired one of these and took it to Guitar Center to rebuild the nut and replace the tuners. However, the mandolin tuners they ordered for it do not fit. What did you use for tuners? Did you have to do any adjustments to make them fit properly? It’s in near mint condition otherwise.

    • Brad Bordessa Aug 15, 2015, 9:15 am

      Aloha Sarah, The tuners were already on it when it came to me. I can only imagine they are the stock ones. There must be a mando tuner that would work. Do you have a small local music store or luthier that you can go to? I’d tend to trust that they could give you more personal assistance than Guitar Center. A more folk-instrument oriented store might even have several options in stock that you could try out.

  • t williams Sep 4, 2015, 8:19 am

    I have a tombo ukelet in original case amp would like to sell how to go about selling it

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