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1890 Banjo Project

Posted by vintagewells on Saturday, December 1, 2007

Over a year and a half ago, our friend Don asked if $40 was too much to bid on a banjo at an auction.  AGH!
Since that time I have been trying to educate him as to when $40 is too much....
One thing I said was the more brackets the better - with reference to a 8 or 9 as compared to 20 - 24.
Well Thursday, he called saying he had bought a banjo at the auction and it had 38 brackets and since he remembered me saying that more is better...he paid $50 for it.
So after gulping down dinner and driving over we purchaced the banjo for $100, which I felt was a more than fair price.
It is a project banjo, The neck is not original, and has a slight bow. The first four frets have been filed flush, and the top four or five removed. The scale is 25" and the neck shows evidence of having been shortened at the heel.
The remaining frets above the 12th have been replaced and are pulling up. Since they are set directly into the neck, no fretboard. there is no problem - just remove them and put it a fretboard!
I don't know what the neck is made of. It is not maple, and considering the age, it has held up very well. There is a minor crack alongside the 5th string nut, but it isn't going to be a problem as it will be covered with a new fretboard.

There is also a minor crack at the back of the heel, but it is shallow and does not go through the neck. When I removed the neck from the rim, there was clear evidence that it was not original. There is a screw hole in the heel and none in the rim. The neck has been shortened by removing material from around the dowel and carving out the notch for the head/tension hoop. The hole for the dowel was cut out at the bottom to allow for the lowering of the neck  relative to the rim. This was, I believe, a compensation for the slight bow. I believe the missing frets on the heel end indicate that it was intended to be a clawhammer open back.

If you look at the spun over metal, it has buckled from the pressure of 38 brackets. i've been told that this is common. The metal is rolled over the wood at both the top and the bottom. The wood is bent maple.

When I removed the brackets, all 38 of them..... I noticed that the head had a small hole in it from where the bracket  touched it. Each bracket has a nasty point on it from being cut that should have been filed down. I have to get a picture of one to post.

The bracket shoes are the hexagonal style. I haven't found any info on them and would appreciate any comments. There seem to be three or four that are not original, but do not match one another. One has to look closely to see the differences. There seem to be the same number of non-original brackets.

The Grover no tip bridge is very thin and the string grooves worn.  The head is an old Remo Weatherking, frosted top. The logo is smaller than modern logos. The Tailpiece is an Elite,and is marked pat'd Sep't 17, '95. This one differs from the  one shown on Mugwumps page in that it has prongs on the bottom which initially hold the strings, instead of balls. It does have the balls across the top.

The tuners are most likely Grover Sta-tites. They appear to be in fine working order. The two on the bass side of the peghead appear to be of larger diameter than the ones on the treble side.???? did someone have the idea that  that   would work better? The 5th works smoothly and matches the others.

There is absolutely no inlay, position markers or any ornaments/ makers marks, or anything to indicate where the rim and neck were made. Tuners, bridge, head, and tailpiece are identifiable, as mentioned.

since this appears to be a Frankenbanjo, I view this as a rescue project, rather than a restoration. I can do pretty much what i want with it without decreasing it's value.

I plan to make it an openback for clawhammer.

Even with the ru



4 comments on “1890 Banjo Project”

John Herrington Says:
Friday, February 20, 2009 @8:20:22 AM

Lorna, what a delightful blog! You have a great gift of expression. It does me good to observe fellow "mature" folk (I'm just 74) pioneering in banjo engineering...on the cutting edge of the art! Your blog made me look an old Kay over and think about restoration, or is it alteration? It is a tenor and certainly playable, but a new neck with nylgut strings (5 of them instead of the tenor's 4), and off we go...

Keep up the work, and writing, too.

Old John on the Big Horn

Jonnycake White Says:
Thursday, April 2, 2009 @9:43:29 AM

Lorna, I had a spunover rim with the same problem of the metal buckling around the lugs.  When I put it back together, I stuck some washers between the lugs and the rim to try and straighten out the lugs some.  Sounds like a nice project you've got there.  If I were you I'd ditch the Remo head and put on real skin, and with the friction pegs I'd use nylon or Nylgut strings.  But that's just me.

stillearning Says:
Wednesday, November 4, 2009 @6:35:11 PM

Well it is 2009 and I was wondering how youhave fared on you're project.

ELWOOD Says:
Tuesday, July 13, 2010 @4:30:15 PM

Hi, Lorna, I get it .The project you are undertaking is inspirational. I have two old, old banjos they are like nothing else, old is sweet. .... ELWOOD

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