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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: El Capitan banjo found.


Please note this is an archived topic, so it is locked and unable to be replied to. You may, however, start a new topic and refer to this topic with a link: http://www.banjohangout.org/archive/358972

Grezj - Posted - 11/26/2019:  23:10:45


Back round 2015 there was a post and discussion regarding an El Capitan Banjo banjohangout.org/archive/300723 . Somebody posted "In Nov. 1897 Rettberg & Lange introduced their first branded banjo - the "El Capitan". " Said it was very rare.

A friend asked if I'd look at her grandfather's El Capitan banjo. Pictures in the above discussion are identical to this example except this seems to have the original non-geared friction tuners and original nut (appears to be black painted wood). Also, the pot is not painted but left natural underneath the silver metal "bottle cap". Frets are very thin and have been filed flat unfortunately, the action is way too high. The bridge matches the banjo in that it's a very simple wooden affair that could be from any time period. The tailpiece could be from any era to my eye. It needed the neck stem re-glued so I did. As is, it sounds plunky with it's skin head and light steel strings which brings me to this question: It obviously was set up for steel strings because the nut grooves are tiny. But it has no truss rod. OK to keep steel strings on it? I'll have it for a few weeks before I return it to the owner.

If anybody is interested in pictures I can provide.

Alvin Conder - Posted - 11/27/2019:  05:18:20


Hmmm....1897....High action....light bridge....flat frets...I am near positive that this instrument originally was designed for gut strings. The nut would not be a good indicator for steel as gut strings back then were of a much finer gauge than what we are familiar with now.

I’m no expert on R&L banjos, so if I am incorrect, please someone here correct me, but I am near positive that no banjo made prior to the very early 1900s was designed to handle steel strings.

That being said, from the archived post, it looks to be a very nice instrument and I would say rare.

If you could post pictures of the instrument that you have in hand, I’m sure others would appreciate it.

Andy FitzGibbon - Posted - 11/27/2019:  05:25:41


Yeah, it was made for gut strings. The preferred gauges back then were very thin.

Andy

csacwp - Posted - 11/27/2019:  05:55:44


Yep, made for gut. 5-strings through the 1920s were intended for gut with very few exceptions.

Joel Hooks - Posted - 11/27/2019:  06:04:04


Yes, I concur, Andy and Alvin are both correct. 



It is a common mistake to presume that gut strings of the 1890s were just as thick as the modern polyester offerings.  The average 1st and 5th strings of the era when this banjo was built were .016 to .017".



Please post photos, I love looking at old banjos!  I'd like to see the bridge too.  While it might not be "factory" original, it very well might be correct to the age of the banjo (bridges, then as now, would be changed frequently).



 

kyleb - Posted - 11/27/2019:  06:24:44


please post pictures!

beezaboy - Posted - 11/27/2019:  07:08:06


Attached are a few articles about Rettberg & Lange's El Capitan Banjos.


MacCruiskeen - Posted - 11/27/2019:  07:49:58


quote:

Originally posted by beezaboy

Attached are a few articles about Rettberg & Lange's El Capitan Banjos.






Now I am curious about the Frank Patch Melochord. Did that actually make it into production?

Joel Hooks - Posted - 11/27/2019:  09:25:51


quote:

Originally posted by beezaboy

Attached are a few articles about Rettberg & Lange's El Capitan Banjos.






What is interesting is that they used the half clad rim construction that was a fairly new idea, yet went with the old style ebony tailpiece. 

Grezj - Posted - 11/27/2019:  11:04:49


Thanks for the feedback. Any idea where to find replacements thin enough without altering the not grooves?






Joel Hooks - Posted - 11/27/2019:  11:33:21


Thanks for posting the photos!



I am not sure about the bridge, could be 1930s or later.



Tailpiece is a replacement, it might be clumsy with attaching nylon strings.   If the original equipment matched the ebony TP of the wood cut that John posted then steel strings often break those.



Only source for the period correct sizes is to buy singles.



labella.com/strings/category/s...truments/



Rectified nylon singles for all but the 4th, silver plated copper wound on floss for the 4th.



.017, .019, .023, .024 (wound), .017



Most people who are conditioned to play on wire steel strings will complain that these are too light.  There are only a very few of us who like the period correct light strings.  The owner of the banjo might not like how light they are.  They are very bright sounding and when played with an appropriate technique will be very loud.



"Period" action was usually around 3/16" to 1/4" high at the 12th fret with a 1/2" bridge.  Frets were tiny-- thin and low.

Joel Hooks - Posted - 11/27/2019:  11:37:54


Looking closer at your photos, I notice that there are two holes drilled in the rim where the bolt secures the dowel stick at the tailpiece end.  That is a common amateur "repair" to try and adapt banjos from this era for using steel strings.   Usually a hole is drilled above the older one to put back angle to the neck.   



I cringe every time I see that done (and I see it on many banjos).

Grezj - Posted - 11/27/2019:  13:01:50


Joel, you have a good eye- there are indeed two holes for the dowel stick. When re-assembling, I tried both holes. The higher one closer to the head is a newer hole ( still has burrs).

BTW, my friend is not a player- She just wants it presentable to reminisce her granddad's playing, so any mods are probably to be considered correct for this purpose, because they were his. That said he did leave it with steel strings. At this point my only concern is to make it arguably "playable" as it would have been left by him while not risking damage from tension in the strings.

kyleb - Posted - 11/27/2019:  15:14:43


El canitan? That’s a cool spelling error!

mikehalloran - Posted - 11/27/2019:  16:14:41


quote:

Originally posted by Grezj

... Frets are very thin and have been filed flat unfortunately, the action is way too high. The bridge matches the banjo in that it's a very simple wooden affair that could be from any time period. 






Flat frets were common and could have been ivory or metal. Some players liked a shallow scoop between the "flush frets".



Strings were often bought by length, not gauge. A 1/4 string fit a violin. 1/2 string was for guitar or banjo while a full string fit a cello.

mikehalloran - Posted - 11/27/2019:  16:22:12


Champion tuners could be original if the banjo is new enough — they were introduced in 1888. Older would have bone, wood or celluloid pegs. With synthetic strings, I would not change them.

As for strings, some of the synthetics made for classical guitar & ukulele (fluorocarbon etc.) are thin and long enough. They aren't going to be the opaque greenish-brown of the real deal, but should work nicely.

MacCruiskeen - Posted - 11/28/2019:  08:23:01


quote:

Originally posted by mikehalloran



As for strings, some of the synthetics made for classical guitar & ukulele (fluorocarbon etc.) are thin and long enough. They aren't going to be the opaque greenish-brown of the real deal, but should work nicely.






I've put PVF lute strings on my Stewart and they work well. They're definitely available in thinner gauges than the La Bellas.


Edited by - MacCruiskeen on 11/28/2019 08:23:34

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