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New (to me, anyway) aluminum pot banjos

Posted by Klondike Waldo on Monday, April 6, 2009

Two other aluminum pot Asian banjos have come into my life recently, both Japanese, both from the 1970's.

The Five string had a nameplate "Alex" , which is listed in Paul Hawthorne's Asian Banjo list among the entry level banjos, with no other description. I paid $50 plus shipping for it, which included a chipboard case.   The rim is not one of the integral flange, diecast "bottlecap" types, but more like an aluminum version of a Deering Boston if you can picture that, and measure 11 and 1/8", not 11 as in the notorious bottle caps .  The brackets are mounted to shoes bolted through the rim, but there is no flange nor individual flange plates a la Vega or Deering. The Resonator is similar to the Korean resonators (complete with the(smaller) gold eagle  on the back), but lighter in construction and attached to the rim with four plates similar to those found on some ofe the entry level Chinese banjos around today , e.g. Savannah SB80, with one wood screew into a wooden block within the rim and two smaller wood screws directly into the edge of the resonator.
Alex, or Lexie( I prefer feminine names for my instruments) had what appeared to be a mahogany neck, somewhat too thick, inexpensive guitar tuners, a wooden armrest, rectangular inlays and the usual stamped tailpiece found on many of the usual aluminum rim suspects, and a friction fifth gear peg, which I replaced early on with a Schaller geared peg.  I used Lexie as my spare banjo to keep at school when I did not want to lug my main banjo back and forth. After a while, I realized  I did not enjoy playing Lexie nearly well as my other banjo, and decided a $ 50 banjo was a good candidate for a makeover.

Step one was to slim down the neck some and replace the guitar tuners.
In sanding off the finish of the neck, I discovered that it was not mahogany under the red/brown finish, but laminated wood, and that the truss rod cover was just for show- the neck has a non-adjustable rectangular cross-section steel reinforcing rod. OK, So now I'm feeling even less guilty about re-working  this banjo.  Once I had re-profiled the neck to a shape I found more comfortable, more of a rounded V, I stained it (not opaque)  and gave it a hand rubbed satin polyurethane finish. The peghead was too thick to mount the planetary tuners I picked up in a trade, so I shaved that down a bit as well. There was no inlay in the peghead, BTW, just a Star  and the name, Alex, in gold paint.     I mounted the tuners this weekend, H&K tuners distributed by Shubb. The 5th gear tuner button was slipping, so I've put the Schaller in for now until the H&K gets fixed or replaced.   I think I'll leave the peghead un-ornamented  so whoever adopts this waif eventually can decorate it to his own taste.

The next step is to redo the resonator.   I want to be able to use thumb screws to mount it for purposes of periodic tweaking- the tree wood screws for each mounting plate is a nuisance.  I've almost completed that portion of the project now, but a major development happened today to make me aware of better possibilities-  The Iida came today.

I won a tenor banjo on eBay recently, which arrived today, an Iida 227T according to the original sales slip which was in the case with some picks, a pitch pipe and the original bracket wrench.  The pot looks exactly like that of the Alex, right down to the weird strap hangers, but it has an arch-top tone ring. It also has a one piece flange and the standard resonator mounting hardware. The over all finish is mint - clean and crisp, head and all, as if it's not been played ever. I suspect that it may not have been, because the bridge did not have the 4th string slot cut deep enough to keep the string in place when strummed. The only blemish I could find is one tiny ding , about the size of a pin head, on the handstop as if it had whacked into a counter edge.  

Now I'll have to really work on my tenor chops...

2 comments on “New (to me, anyway) aluminum pot banjos”

Jane C Says:
Wednesday, April 8, 2009 @12:09:10 AM

Would those be your cheeky chops? : )

Klondike Waldo Says:
Wednesday, April 8, 2009 @1:00:11 PM

If you say so, dearie;-)

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