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 Seeking info on this one-off Fender electric tenor banjo

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OldFrets

United States
25 posts
since 2/11/09

02/17/2017 06:18:29 View OldFrets's Photo Albums Reply with Quote

I'm a big proponent of the electric tenor guitar, so when I saw this come up for sale, my jaw hit the floor. It's currently in a Fedex truck on its way to me, but I figure it's worth seeing what more I can find out about its history. Here's what I know:

The banjo was built for Freddy Morgan, the banjo-playing associate of Spike Jones. I don't have a date for the banjo; the pot codes may provide some help, but Fender apparently bought a huge stock of pots in 1966 and used them for around a decade, so they might be a few years older than the banjo itself. The pickguard seems to be made from the same material used on the LTD archtop guitar model, introduced in 1969. Freddy Morgan died the following year, so theoretically that should pin it down pretty tightly.

The banjo itself seems to be partially derived from Fender's standard models at the time: it's made of walnut and the inlays are lifted from the Artist line. The vibrato is from the Mustang [guitar] while the pickup is from Fender's electric mandolin. I particularly like the pearl dots on the edges of the top, which I think were intended to simulate lugs.

Is anyone familiar with this instrument or its history? Are there any clips of it in action? Also, in the pic of Morgan, I think I see an arm rest that doesn't appear to be there currently; did Fender made more than one of these?







Edited by - OldFrets on 02/17/2017 06:19:22

beegee

United States
19841 posts since 7/6/05

02/17/2017 07:14:39View beegee's MP3 Archive View beegee's Photo Albums View beegee's Blog Reply with Quote

Contact Scott Zimmerman (Desert Rose)He would be the one most likely to know. It is a 60's-70's California -made instrument

 

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Jbo1

United States
383 posts since 5/19/07

02/17/2017 10:46:44View Jbo1's MP3 Archive View Jbo1's Photo Albums View Jbo1's Blog Reply with Quote

Comparing the photos, your banjo seems to have a different neck and inlays than the Morgan banjo. So, if Fred is playing a Fender in the photo, it looks like there were at least two of these made. Looks like a great find. Congrats.

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Dan Gellert

United States
547 posts since 2/9/07

02/17/2017 14:12:23 View Dan Gellert's Classified Ads View Dan Gellert's Photo Albums Reply with Quote

 

And... the article says he was to be awarded "a costly gold banjo" by the Fender Co., implying that he doesn't have that one yet.  There isn't any gold on yours, which would mean that we are talking about 3 different instruments.   Might the gold Fender have been an acoustic banjo rather than a solid-body?

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Jbo1

United States
383 posts since 5/19/07

02/17/2017 14:19:24View Jbo1's MP3 Archive View Jbo1's Photo Albums View Jbo1's Blog Reply with Quote

That's what I was wondering.

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OldFrets

United States
25 posts since 2/11/09

02/17/2017 14:50:52 View OldFrets's Photo Albums Reply with Quote

That's a good catch - it's definitely not the same instrument (body or neck) in the photo. I thought about that gold one, and I realized that it isn't explicitly described as an electric; it could be a third prototype, or it could also be a standard-issue Concert Tone.

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southerndrifter

United States
3071 posts since 4/27/04

02/17/2017 15:21:35 View southerndrifter's Photo Albums Reply with Quote

If I were a betting man, I'd bet that the banjo he is holding is a Gibson. It looks like the electric that Gibson made around 1940 with the TT neck/peghead style.

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Jbo1

United States
383 posts since 5/19/07

02/17/2017 15:41:28View Jbo1's MP3 Archive View Jbo1's Photo Albums View Jbo1's Blog Reply with Quote

I would have to agree Lynwood. Bet away.

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OldFrets

United States
25 posts since 2/11/09

02/17/2017 15:44:31 View OldFrets's Photo Albums Reply with Quote

I see what you mean. I've found pictures of him playing an ETB-150, which could easily be the banjo in the picture.

Looks like my proof of provenance is slipping away. Oh well, not a big deal - I mainly bought it because it's a unique and useable instrument, not for the association with any particular player.

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desert rose

Japan
14009 posts since 2/7/03

02/17/2017 22:15:14 View desert rose's Photo Albums Reply with Quote

Interesting bit of history.

 

A few points, one that I drive home always. FENDER HAD ZERO BANJO KNOWLEGE, ZERO. The reason they bought Salstrom turnkey is because they knew nothing about banjos and didnt want to know anything. There was nobody in the history of Fender who had any banjo building knowlege, until I started there, and nobody after. And I didnt work in the building of the banjos, but was shown the entire construction process, asked questions regularly, the banjo building team were all friends, a couple of them CLOSE personal friends

As mentioned the Fender banjo here is not the same as the picture showing him holding a banjo. I am willing to bet I can explain this banjo. First off, its a ONE OFF instrument totally.  Secondly its obvious to me its an authorized instrument, because the neck is definately a real California Artist, the tailpiece and pickups are authentic as well. However Im sure it was never made inside the Fender factory. The neck was supplied with the heel uncut. An outside entity was given the neck ,tailpiece and pickups and the instrument crafted, returned to Fender for finish and setup etc.

There were and would have been no extra parts. Fender sourced ALL wood rims from an outside subcontractor, they sourced all California made banjo resonators from an outside subcontractor, likely the same one who made the resonators when it was Salstrom. Rims and resonators were never made inside the California factory, necks were made 100% inside the factory including inlays.

 

 

Im sure the " gold banjo " refered to is a Concertone acoustic .

 

Hope this helps

 

Oldfrets by all means feel free to contact me off list if you have questions or would like to share more info

 

Scottsmiley

 

 


Edited by - desert rose on 02/17/2017 22:16:09

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OldFrets

United States
25 posts since 2/11/09

02/18/2017 04:28:39 View OldFrets's Photo Albums Reply with Quote

Scott,

Thank you so much - all this is very helpful! It also answers a question that was in the back of my mind - how Fender managed to create a line of quality banjos without prior experience.

One point confuses me, though. If Fender created the neck, pickup and other hardware, wouldn't it have made more sense for them to outsource the rim and assemble everything at the Fender factory? Especially if it had to return there for finish and distribution.

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desert rose

Japan
14009 posts since 2/7/03

02/18/2017 17:33:31 View desert rose's Photo Albums Reply with Quote

Noah

For them to do ANYTHING, someone would have had to KNOW. They would have had to understand the details of the neck angle, they would have had to make tooling to correctly cut the heel to fit the pot... ONE pot, which they knew NOTHING about. This equals time and effort and engineering and $$$$$$. This is why like resonators, like flanges, like tone rings and wood rims, subcontractors did it

 

Please keep in mind they were shipping about 300 guitars a DAY, a fine tuned machine. THIS was their mentality, their world. It would be like ordering a new Ford Musang from the factory and asking them to fit a Ferrari engine in it for yousmiley

If you were a nobody of course the answer would be no. IF you were a pro race driver, somebody MIGHT say yes... but they would take a new Mustang and send it out to one of their trusted contacts and paid them to retrofit the odd engine for them

 

Scott


Edited by - desert rose on 02/18/2017 17:37:12

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OldFrets

United States
25 posts since 2/11/09

02/18/2017 18:07:10 View OldFrets's Photo Albums Reply with Quote

I see your point. I received the banjo today, and it's definitely not a Fender-style of construction. The top only has a few small routs for the pickup and the vibrato, and the pots are attached to the top itself rather than the pickguard. This means that they must have been installed before the top was attached to the rim. As it turns out, it's all screwed together, and those pearl dots are covering the screws.

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