Hi. Just got this at an estate sale. Obviously the peghead needs major repair. I am mainly interested in learning the age of the instrument or any thing else about its history Thanks! I think it's beautiful even with its damage. Gorgeous carving on the neck. So we are limited to three photos here....will try to include more somehow.
About 1898, from the serial number. Upload all your photos to your home page in the media section, then you can post here and the photos will be at the bottom of the post you are writing, and you can choose the photos you want to include. Take a full front and side, and back shot, and a close up shot of the side of the pot.
This was a professional grade banjo built by S.S. Stewart circa 1890. Stewart was one of the largest and best manufacturers of the era, and was based in Philadelphia. The company operated under Stewart's management from roughly 1880 to 1900.
After Stewart passed around 1900, the company passed into the control of others; and within a few years quality deteriorated, the factory was closed down, and the Stewart name eventually ended up in the hands of distributor Buegeleisen and Jacobson [B & J]. Various budget and moderate grade Stewart branded instruments were made for B & J by several different manufacturers through sometime in the 1930's.
Yours is a "real" Stewart, and it is a good instrument worthy of restoring to playable condition.
Hope you're able to find someone to fix it up competently so you can play and enjoy it.
Your peghead picture has not come through as of yet.
The purists will say nylon only. Many of these banjos have held up well with light steel strings. Some of them have held up well for many decades, but there is a chance that the neck will develop a bow- some do, some don't. Medium steel is too heavy for these banjos.
I have two of these, slightly different sizes (my icon). The larger one I've had for about 40 years; it had steel strings most of that time without a problem. I got the smaller one a few years ago. I now have nylgut on both, and they sound great.
That peghead will be a tricky repair, but worth it.
Nylon ojnly (there can be many issues besides neck warpage on banjos intended for gut strings. Nylon--and not that polyester Nylgut--is closest to gut in all aspects). Do not put ANY strings on until the two ebony wedges that fit between the metal "V" shaped piece and the inside of the rim are replaced (they keep the neck snugged up to the rim).
This is a very good banjo, although not optimum for some modern styles of playing, and well worth proper restoration. If your inte4nt is to play bluegrass, please sell this to someone who specializes in "classic" banjo, as it's now called, the style such masters as Vess Ossman and Fred Van Eps played around the late 18th and early 20th centuries (actually Van Eps was playing until the 1950's). _Please do not change to a modern low action neck position, use steel strings or do anything else that will change it from original and therefore diminish its value.
I hope your luthier knows about ancient banjos and isn't mostly a guitar man or modern banjo guy. These oldies are not the same thing and require a repair person who has knowledge of setting these up properly.
thanks for all the information. I think it would be cool to have nylon strings on this intent is just to enjoy it, not necessarily for bluegrass - more just to make up tunes, play classical or melodic. my luthier definitely knows and appreciates and has worked on antique instruments.
The peghead inlay was soured from a supplier around or just after the forcing out of Stewart’s widow and children. I don’t have proof, but I think the in-house inlay went out when Bauer started firing workers.
If your repair person is really good, he'll be able to fix that head well enough that it will be difficult to spot the repair from the front. The repair will be visible from the back, but unobtrusive if it is well done.
Some info for your repairman, in case he isn't familiar with the old Stewarts: The neck is some variety of cherry, and the finish is probably a shellac based spirit varnish. If it is necessary for him to use any stains, he will probably get the best results by using the old-fashioned aniline dyes, which were common when the instrument was built and are still available today.
At least some of the peghead overlays were dyed hardwood. They may also have used ebony. It should not be difficult for him to find all the materials that he needs to replicate the missing sections. He will probably have an easier time locating an appropriate piece of cherry from a cabinet or furniture maker than he will finding it at a luthier's supply house. If any of the hooks, nuts, or shoes are missing, Bob Smakula may be able to come up with them.
The long adjustable neck brace should be adjusted for a snug fit, but not tightened with great force. These braces are sometimes known as "heel crackers" in the repair world, because so many users have overtightened them and cracked the neck heel.
Good luck on a nice restoration and enjoy the banjo.