Hey banjo lovers! I just joined the hangout because I got a new old banjo at a local auction. I've been playing guitar/mandolin for over 40 years and am now trying to learn banjo. The instrument is in great shape for being so old, but I'd really like to know what year it came out and any other information about it. I've read some archived threads that the Vega Earl Scruggs banjo was produced in the 60's and then the line was sold to Gibson in '69 or '70 where they dropped Earl's name off the line. Will the SN provide a clue to it's age? Also interesting is the '5th' that is written on the label. thanks for any help! cheers.
I've read some archived threads that the Vega Earl Scruggs banjo was produced in the 60's and then the line was sold to Gibson in '69 or '70 where they dropped Earl's name off the line. Will the SN provide a clue to it's age?
The Martin guitar company purchased Vega in 1970. Gibson was never associated with Vega musical instruments.
The banjo was manufactured in 1969.
I have played a few Vega Earl Scruggs model banjos that were exceptionally good. Of course a few duds too, but maybe they needed adjustment attention.
SR II means it's the Earl Scruggs II (Roman numerals 2) model. USUALLY the white truss rod cover would say "Earl Scruggs Model II". But Vega was inconsistent in their pulling truss rod covers out for later Scruggs models. The writing at the end says "5st" not "5th".
I date these yellow tags ROUGHLY by the number following the "12". "8" is a rough guide to 1968. Mine is a "7" so I say it's "around 1967).
The Earl Scruggs II had a new set of inlays. The original Earl Scruggs inlays were all rectangles, I call them "soap bars". Also the II had maple resonator outside walls. The original model had dark purple Pyralin plastic outer resonator walls. Finally, the Tu Ba Phone tone rings used in all these banjos varied a bit in the shape of the holes/apertures. The Earl Scruggs II catalog began to describe these holes/apertures as "AudioSonic apertures", even there had been a variety of these shapes before the catalog gave them the fancy name. Originally the holes were single holes. Then came holes connected with a slit, looking like a dog biscuit or dumbbell. Then there were groups of 3 holes. Your photo shows the last variety, the double row of machined slits. Regardless of the holes, the tone ring was the Tu Ba Form metal.
"SR" stands for Scruggs Regular tuners. "ST" stood for Scruggs with D tuners for factory installed Pittman D tuners tuners. Sometimes they'd write even more on that yellow tape. "5 string capo" appeared sometime for a factory installed Vega Pittman sliding 5th string capo, and even "Keith tuners" for the later factory installation of the Keiths. My Scruggs II is also factory gold plated, so the yellow tape lists it as "Scruggs Custom" (it has factory installed gold plated Pittman D tuners).
Vega packed a lot of info onto those yellow tapes!
I will add your banjo to my spreadsheet of Vega Scruggses and Osbornes. These are a good value vintage American banjo and with judicious setup, and no head cutting against a flat head Mastertone, will hold their own in the bluegrass world. I have an old radio tape of Earl discussing his new banjo with T Tommy Cutrer. "That's kind of a gold thing there, isn't it Earl?" "Actually T, I designed it..." Earl then picks Foggy Mt. Breakdown, and guess what, it sounds just like Earl!
What an incredible wealth of knowledge you all have! I'm very impressed and thankful to have found this forum, and to have made the decision to invest in this instrument. I love playing it already, and to know that it is more than 50 years old and looks and sounds fantastic is a real treat. ..and Dick, that gold one is just gorgeous! thanks all! -pat
Sorry to be picky but Mike Longworth gave me Martin's serial number list for Vega banjos made under his watch. 1968 serial numbers start with # 128585, 1969 numbers start at # 129120. You can extrapolate about when in 1968 your banjo was built.
Jim, So the serial number 127946 would be before 1968 based on your knowledge? The auction house had the banjo listed as a 1967 Vega, but they are not experts and often get provenance incorrect. In this case perhaps they were accurate.