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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Wurlitzer open back tenor banjo, worth fixing?

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/383071

Old Man Bo - Posted - 05/07/2022:  20:01:01

I am new here and do not play banjo but I inherited a Wurlitzer banjo and my grandson is interested in playing banjo. The instrument has been in its case since the 1930s and has not been played since. There is no serial or manufacturing number and only has its Wurlitzer label. It was my father's and he played it a short time before moving to a dobro guitar. I had it inspected and appraised by a Luther in the early 90s and he said the string tensioners slipped and it wouldn't hold tune. He also said it didn't have much value, $125 or so. Before I give it to my grandson I would like to put it into playing condition but am unsure how or where to have the tensioners repaired or if the instrument is worth repairing. I am looking to the experts here on any advice I can obtain.

Laszlo - Posted - 05/07/2022:  20:17:38

The tuners are normally pretty easy to replace. You have to measure the hole size and the thickness of the peghead. Then find a set on an online retailer like Stewmac that will work with those dimensions.

Might be worth checking if the neck is still nice and straight. You can google search that, it's basically looking down neck towards the instrument body.

What sort of banjo players does your grandson listen to? Not every style is playable on a tenor banjo.

G Edward Porgie - Posted - 05/07/2022:  20:37:40

Wurlitzer didn't make banjos themselves but had them made by other companies,. Some are quite good, although this one is more of an intermediate model. I'd guess it's from the 1920's and probably better than a lot of new banjos. More pictures and a few measurements might help identify the actual maker. A shot of the back, inside the round part (the "pot") the side of the banjo, and a measurement of the skin head diameter (not the metal part holding it) would all help.

The slipping tuners can probably be fixed by tightening that small screw at that holds the black button in place. Any luthier worth a darn should have known that. If that tightening doesn't work, there are other things that can help, or a new set of high quality tuners (made by7 a company called Gotoh) are available at a very reasonable price from Smakula Fretted Instruments. Bob Smakula is a BHO regular.

This banjo may not be worth a fortune, but could be very valuable to someone who is interested in playing. If your Grandson is looking to play bluegrass style banjo, this is probably not the best for that. Bluegrass usually requires a five string banjo, and this one is a tenor, which was the style prevalent in the 1920's. Tenors are generally used for jazz and old pop standards or, tuned down, are used to play traditional Irish music. (those are just the usual styles, but one can be creative and play many other genres, including Bach, Sousa marches, etc.

It looks basically in decent condition and worth fixing. This time, though, avoid a so-called luthier who doesn't know tuner remedies. The people here can help with many, many, repair operations and also with setting it up to sound and play its best.

We welcome you, and hope to hear that your grandson is enjoying this banjo and appreciating its place in your family's history.

tdennis - Posted - 05/07/2022:  20:56:00

This is well worth restoring to playability. Friction tuners are easy to adjust, & even if they are kaput, replacements are readily available & affordable. (The Wurlitzer name was put on instruments made by several different makers. (I've had 2 types of banjo ukuleles & a mandolin banjo w/ the Wurlitzer name on them which were made by Slingerland). Perhaps a few more pics of the inside pot & the neck brace would help identify the manufacturer. BTW, any genre of music could be played on this banjo.

DSmoke - Posted - 05/08/2022:  05:32:25

If you mention where you are located we might be able to recommend someone to help you.

Bob Smakula - Posted - 05/08/2022:  05:35:27

Before investing too much time and money in this instrument, check the string height. With a 1/2" bridge the strings should measure 1/16" to 3/32" at the 12th fret. That is measuring from the top of the fret to the bottom of the string. If significantly higher than that, the banjo will be uncomfortable to play and cost significantly more that its value to have professionally repaired.

If the string height is OK, then consider having a set of Gotoh planetary tuners installed. I sell them for $65 per set of 4 and they are a modest price upgrade that you will not regret.

Bob Smakula


Old Man Bo - Posted - 05/08/2022:  19:16:11

Thanks for all the replies. I will try to answer a few of the questions and will work on others in the future. First the Luthier that looked at it was a highly recommended person but the banjo was not the main interest for my Mother that hired him. He was restoring a F7 Gibson mandolin for her that she played from original new purchase until arthritis got her fingers in her 90s. I have that instrument, too.
I have added a photo of the open side. The head measures 11 inches. I am located in Loveland, CO. and my grandson is in Richland, VA. I have searched for banjo repair/restoration services and the nearest to me is not convenient but I found one in Kalamazoo, MI that would be convenient for my grandson. I could also ship it to someone. If adjustment of the tuners is sufficient I could try that. I will measure the string height and try for pictures of the other items requested..


tdennis - Posted - 05/08/2022:  21:23:33

The neck brace appears to be the type used by Oscar Schmidt, & this company may be the maker.

G Edward Porgie - Posted - 05/09/2022:  05:24:25

Neck brace does look like Schmidt.

I don't think Michigan is any more convenient for someone in VA than it is for a person from CO. Do check the string height, as Bob Smakule outlines, but even if the height is good, make sure the neck doesn't wobble. That's not as bad a situation as a neck that's warped or twisted, but it's still a tricky repair.

Hope you get things all straightened out. (by the way, Smakula is a great source for unusual parts and he's very knowledgeable when it comes to all banjos.

DSmoke - Posted - 05/09/2022:  16:26:43

If you're going to ship it to someone ship it to me, just kidding, I can do the work but Bob has the tuners you need and can certainly correct any other problems with it. I have a friend on the north side of Denver who I can ask about a qualified banjo repair person near you. He might actually be able to help you. I was out there last summer, coming down 25 to Denver, but can't remember how far you are away, I don't think too far but we got stuck in construction or an accident, maybe both. I'm happy to send him an email if you like. He's not on this forum.

Old Man Bo - Posted - 05/09/2022:  19:27:08

Oops, my mistake, my grandson is in Richland, MI, just down the road from Kalamazoo.
Neck is straight and solid, to my untrained eye and touch. String height is tough for me to measure but appears to be 0.09" as best I can determine and bridge is 1/2". Is being made by Oscar Schmidt a plus or minus?
DSmoke, I would be pleased to talk to your friend. Where is he located? You passed within a mile of my house and that is probably where you you hit the construction.

DSmoke - Posted - 05/10/2022:  18:35:09

Old Man Bo I sent you a private message so as to not share private email addresses here.

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