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Early commercial 5 String electric Banjo’s

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

I have read the blogs about the first commercial electric 5 string Banjo and who manufactured it. I found it confusing that those studying in the direction of what is first are so narrow minded in terms of what constitutes a banjo, a banjo does not have to have a skin head  nor does a guitar have to have sound holes especially when we are studying early  History of electric instruments.

 I decided to join and post here. My first comment concerns what constitutes a Banjo. I decided to compare this to the electric guitar or mandolin. Guitars come in many forms as do mandolins. For instance, guitars and mandolins started out as bowl back type instruments but then the transition to carved backs and tops followed by flat backs and tops. This was the natural progression of these instruments. The guitar scale changed from fretless to 12 frets to the body to 14 frets to the body. The modern guitar as we know it. I had the good fortune of owning a 15 fret to the body 1928 Weymann guitar that was ordered by a banjo player and mummer. It became standard in the 1930 and 1932 Weymann catalog. It was never recognized as the forerunner to the C.F.Martin 15 fret guitar. This happened for two reasons scholars like to be right and when a discovery happens they want to leave History alone. The truth is Weymann was in Philadelphia and made tons of banjos and the Mummers who were in Philadelphia were Weymann's biggest clients. Weymann also made guitars and they were the first to market the 15 fret guitar commercially. This was simultaneous to the Bechtel order that Martin scholars claim was the first 15 fret guitar. Unfortunately those scholars were wrong. The Weymann serial numbers proves this and the Weymann catalogs support it. It makes more sense that a Philadelphia Company catering to banjo players would be asked to make a plectrum scaled guitar as they made both instruments. Thus we have territory that is contested and always will be because scholars are more concerned about being right than supporting History when finds  are discovered. . 
Back to what is a banjo but more importantly what is an electric instrument. We have to understand that  George Beauchamp and Adolph Rickenbacher Produced the first magnetic electric pick -up for the a Hawaiian guitar in 1932 and  Harry D'Armond was responsible for the creating his first magnetic pick-up in 1935 which was a stand alone magnetic pick-up that could be placed in the sound hole of a guitar. Banjos had the ability to be amplified at the same time as the guitar. The difficulty I am having with pointing out the first commercial electric five string banjo is that stand alone pick-ups could make an instrument amplified but they are with-in themselves produced separately then added to the instrument. I learned from Leon Fender that guitars do not have to be hollow to be electric so why do banjos have to have a skin head to be banjos. My reason for this is that the first catalog where I find a five string commercially produced electric banjo is in 1954 The Harmony Company also in Chicago where D'Armond was making pick-ups,  Harmony was already using D'Armond pick-ups in their guitars and produced both tenor and 5-string banjos commercially using D'Armond pick-ups.
By 1954 the H282 Electro appeared in Harmony catalogs.  This is the first commercially produced electric 5 string banjo I can find in catalogs. 
Harmony  produced both tenor and 5 string "Electros". I realize these banjos do not have skin heads but electric guitars were solid bodies without sound holes and that does not stop them from being guitars. I am not certain that Harmony produced the first electric five string banjo  Commercially and would love to see a discussion on the subject. I do own one that is completely original and can post a picture. 

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Playing Since: 1960
Experience Level: Novice


Occupation: Art Historian

Gender: Male
Age: 72

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Created 12/15/2021
Last Visit 7/31/2022

I am an Art Historian that has interest in the History of American stringed instruments especially Guitar, mandolin and banjo

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