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George P Matthew banjo - information/restoration advice

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Sep 16, 2019 - 10:48:51 AM
25 posts since 5/25/2015

I have just bought an old George P Matthew banjo as a restoration project and would be interested in any information on the maker/model and advice for the restoration. I have seen the online information on vintage British banjo makers, and read through the historical threads on George Matthew and suspect this is possibly dated around the 1890s. It has an 11 inch open back pot with metal rim over wood, with a nice-looking engraved metal headstock and plain metal heel plate. The neck has an almost triangular profile.

There are quite a few restoration issues, but it looks fairly sound structurally. The fingerboard is warped and coming away from the neck, but I suspect this may not be original, as there is a visible layer of glue under it and the frets look pretty rough. I can't tell how straight the neck itself is with the fingerboard attached, but hopefully not too bad. Somebody also decided it would be a good idea to drill 2 holes straight through the board and neck at some point, presumably to attach it to a wall, and then splashed it with paint for good measure! Hopefully careful filling and cleaning will sort these out.

 

The pot is a bit out of round, but can't see any signs of cracks or damage. The dowel stick looks intact, although I can see what might be a hairline crack at the neck end, so probably needs to be handled carefully.

 

Most of the hooks look original, there are 2 obvious new ones and one missing, but the rest match. The head is intact and looks original. One of the tuning peg heads has snapped off, and one peg is a replacement, as its different  wood.

I'm going to take it to a local luthier to see what they think, but would also be very interested if anyone has any information about this banjo and thoughts about restoring back to good playable condition?


Sep 16, 2019 - 11:21:39 AM
likes this

505 posts since 5/19/2018

Ok.

Here are my two cents. Or seeing you are In The UK, my two pennies thoughts, if that makes sense.

Originally, this banjo was a fretless banjo. Somebody at some point thought it would be a brilliant idea to glue a fretted fingerboard on top of the fretless fingerboard.

You may be in luck because of this. Steel strings on this banjo is not the best thing. These were originally designed for gut strings.

The good new is you may be able to take that added finger board off and if the Ancient banjo spirits are in good favor, the original fingerboard underneath may still be on somewhat good condition. If not, nothing lost. Just do as what was done before and put a new fingerboard on.

There are numerous ways of removing that secondary and nasty fingerboard. I’m not going into them as they are not simple procedures and I don’t want to hold responsible myself for any further damage. Others may chime in.

If is can be brought back to decent and playable condition , that would be a very nice banjo.

Good Luck and please show the finished project when completed.

Sep 16, 2019 - 12:30:57 PM

21 posts since 7/4/2019

Some of the photos you posted are kind of dark. My first question would be: Did you use a black light to see if it had any repairs done to it? The black light would reveal a broken heal or neck. Sometimes it is almost impossible to see without a UV light. Alvin Conder is right. It looks as if someone glued a guitar ebony board with frets onto your banjo. Removing it may not be that hard. I recently saw a video on You Tube showing how to remove an ebony board. I believe he used an electric steam ironer. He heated up the board for 5-7 minutes to loosen the glue. He used a putty knife to lift up slowly the board. I believe it took him 30 minutes to remove his fret board.

 

Here is the link to the video:

https://youtu.be/ppwmG85rPKk

Edited by - Sped Man on 09/16/2019 12:33:39

Sep 16, 2019 - 1:26:35 PM

274 posts since 1/30/2019

Hi Gentrixuk. I bought one similar to this a few months ago. It didn't have that nice peg head overlay though. It was previously fretless, but had bass guitar frets added to the original board with incorrect spacing too. It was a shocking job, and we couldn't sort it in the way suggested above. The only option was to send the bag of bits to a luthier to have some expensive magic worked. The luthier replaced the fretboard with a new fretted board, reinforced with a thick ebony slab to allow for light metal strings. He made a replacement shoe, and put on a couple of Rickard hooks. Photos below. 

The dots along the side of your neck are the clue to it being fretless. Use those to check the scale length, for some reason, mine had a really long scale length, putting the bridge position right back almost at the edge of the pot. If you add frets you may not be able to position with the dots on the side.

I had a later fretted  Matthew for a while too, they are super quality instruments, and are under rated. Which reminds me, unless you can do the work required yourself (unlike me) you may not get your money back. 

I'm looking at what I spent on mine like a rental charge. When I sell I know I'll lose money, but I'll have enjoyed the banjo for as long as I have it! 

My YouTube is Cerddoriaeth Fynyddig / mountain music to hear what it sounds like. 

Cheers!

Andy


Sep 16, 2019 - 2:35:09 PM

326 posts since 6/26/2011

Hi, I bought a Matthews fretless about ten years ago, it sounds beautiful and is in excellent condition. The headstock is different but the pot is reasonably similar to yours and indeed the ivory inlay and neck profile. Andrew is correct about the long scale length, this is typical of late Victorian instruments, as the sound they sought back then was very different to today. Fellow member Joel Hooks has some very interesting articles on his website on period banjos, it will be a good thing for you to check out. He may chime in on this thread anyway. If you need photos of the original tuning pegs, pm me.
All the best from Bill.

Sep 16, 2019 - 2:40:26 PM

25 posts since 5/25/2015

quote: Thanks. That's very encouraging. I'll see what the local luthier says as I don't think I have the skills to do the job it deserves. It didn't cost much to buy but I guess a full restoration could cost a fair bit.
I enjoyed your videos. The banjo sounds really nice. Hope I can get a similar result. Did Howson do the restoration? I'm aware of his work and he's based near my parents, so he could also be an option.

Originally posted by Andyrhydycreuau

Hi Gentrixuk. I bought one similar to this a few months ago. It didn't have that nice peg head overlay though. It was previously fretless, but had bass guitar frets added to the original board with incorrect spacing too. It was a shocking job, and we couldn't sort it in the way suggested above. The only option was to send the bag of bits to a luthier to have some expensive magic worked. The luthier replaced the fretboard with a new fretted board, reinforced with a thick ebony slab to allow for light metal strings. He made a replacement shoe, and put on a couple of Rickard hooks. Photos below. 

The dots along the side of your neck are the clue to it being fretless. Use those to check the scale length, for some reason, mine had a really long scale length, putting the bridge position right back almost at the edge of the pot. If you add frets you may not be able to position with the dots on the side.

I had a later fretted  Matthew for a while too, they are super quality instruments, and are under rated. Which reminds me, unless you can do the work required yourself (unlike me) you may not get your money back. 

I'm looking at what I spent on mine like a rental charge. When I sell I know I'll lose money, but I'll have enjoyed the banjo for as long as I have it! 

My YouTube is Cerddoriaeth Fynyddig / mountain music to hear what it sounds like. 

Cheers!

Andy


Sep 16, 2019 - 2:49:35 PM

25 posts since 5/25/2015

quote:
Originally posted by Alvin Conder

Ok.

Here are my two cents. Or seeing you are In The UK, my two pennies thoughts, if that makes sense.

Originally, this banjo was a fretless banjo. Somebody at some point thought it would be a brilliant idea to glue a fretted fingerboard on top of the fretless fingerboard.

You may be in luck because of this. Steel strings on this banjo is not the best thing. These were originally designed for gut strings.

The good new is you may be able to take that added finger board off and if the Ancient banjo spirits are in good favor, the original fingerboard underneath may still be on somewhat good condition. If not, nothing lost. Just do as what was done before and put a new fingerboard on.

There are numerous ways of removing that secondary and nasty fingerboard. I’m not going into them as they are not simple procedures and I don’t want to hold responsible myself for any further damage. Others may chime in.

If is can be brought back to decent and playable condition , that would be a very nice banjo.

Good Luck and please show the finished project when completed.


Thanks. I suspected the fretboard might be stuck on top. Fingers crossed it will come off clean and there's a nice board underneath. If I can get a nice end result I'll share later.

Sep 17, 2019 - 12:25:59 AM

1217 posts since 4/25/2007

Nice early Matthew. Hopefully the board will come off easily and you will have a nice fretless. The pot being slightly out of round shouldn't cause you to much trouble. Nylon strings are best for these old banjos. The necks and pots are lightly constructed and steel strings may damage both.

Sep 17, 2019 - 2:15:12 AM

25 posts since 5/25/2015

quote:
Originally posted by Sped Man

Some of the photos you posted are kind of dark. My first question would be: Did you use a black light to see if it had any repairs done to it? The black light would reveal a broken heal or neck. Sometimes it is almost impossible to see without a UV light. Alvin Conder is right. It looks as if someone glued a guitar ebony board with frets onto your banjo. Removing it may not be that hard. I recently saw a video on You Tube showing how to remove an ebony board. I believe he used an electric steam ironer. He heated up the board for 5-7 minutes to loosen the glue. He used a putty knife to lift up slowly the board. I believe it took him 30 minutes to remove his fret board.

 

Here is the link to the video:

https://youtu.be/ppwmG85rPKk


Thanks. Sorry about the pictures - the natural light but must have been a bit darker than I thought. I'll use a flash next time. I hadn't heard of using a black light to check for cracks, but will try this. It looks like removing the board could be a DIY job; the join is quite rough, with some clear gaps, so it might come off easy.  Based on the comments, this job might be more economical if I could do at least some of the work myself; I'll see what the luthier thinks and then decide what to do. I'm really curious to see what the original board looks like.

Sep 17, 2019 - 2:20:38 AM

25 posts since 5/25/2015

quote:
Originally posted by Stephen John Prior

Nice early Matthew. Hopefully the board will come off easily and you will have a nice fretless. The pot being slightly out of round shouldn't cause you to much trouble. Nylon strings are best for these old banjos. The necks and pots are lightly constructed and steel strings may damage both.


Thanks Steve Stephen John Prior. Definitely nylon strings. I've not played a fretless before, but keen to try it. What sort of date do you think this is - 1890s or slightly later?

Sep 17, 2019 - 2:42:33 AM

274 posts since 1/30/2019

Hi again, yes, Will Howson did the work on mine. He's good.
Go for nylon and enjoy the slides if you keep it fretless. Reinforce the neck somehow if you go for frets and fancy steel strings. I already have a really nice fretless, so didn't mind being a bit of a banjo vandal. It had already been massacred iny defence though.
Good luck and enjoy it!
Sep 17, 2019 - 3:07:19 AM

1217 posts since 4/25/2007

quote:
Originally posted by gentrixuk
quote:
Originally posted by Stephen John Prior

Nice early Matthew. Hopefully the board will come off easily and you will have a nice fretless. The pot being slightly out of round shouldn't cause you to much trouble. Nylon strings are best for these old banjos. The necks and pots are lightly constructed and steel strings may damage both.


Thanks Steve Stephen John Prior. Definitely nylon strings. I've not played a fretless before, but keen to try it. What sort of date do you think this is - 1890s or slightly later?


2609 i can only assume would be early 90's. Matthew was a prolific maker and numbering seems to have gone well into 5 figures. The shape of your headstock is similar to the "Celebrated Gem" models he made for others to retail. These ran from a 10 bracket No.1 up to a 40 Bracket No.5.  It will be interesting to see the inlay pattern on the original board. Like a number of English makers the higher the grade the more brackets !!! 32 is sort of midway. Your engraved peg head cover is particularly nice. Some also had beautifully engraved pots and fancy tailpieces with a pearl rosette. It's a good plan to check with your Luthier regarding removal of the board. Applying some heat would probably be the way to go. With regard to bridge placement original depictions show the bridge at roughly 1/3rd of the pot diameter. The position of the side dots is sometimes a mystery.

 

I've yet to play a Matthew banjo i didn't like. Marvellous.

Sep 17, 2019 - 4:36:10 AM

Hawgfiddle65

Scotland

1166 posts since 9/15/2010

Hi

I have two Matthews banjos ,a 5 string fretted and a 7 string fretless. Both lovely instruments.

What is the white stuff on the back of the neck ? Paint ? Dont use any solvents or alcohol to clean the neck . I discovered my 5 string was french polished and alcohol took the finish off. If it is emulsion ,maybe water will get it off ?

Jim

Sep 17, 2019 - 6:27:08 AM

25 posts since 5/25/2015

quote:
Originally posted by Hawgfiddle65

Hi

I have two Matthews banjos ,a 5 string fretted and a 7 string fretless. Both lovely instruments.

What is the white stuff on the back of the neck ? Paint ? Dont use any solvents or alcohol to clean the neck . I discovered my 5 string was french polished and alcohol took the finish off. If it is emulsion ,maybe water will get it off ?

Jim


Hi Jim. I'm hearing lots of good things about it via the board, which is very encouraging given the state its in at the moment. The white stuff is some sort of paint, not sure what type, but seems fairly well attached to me. The finish on the neck feels a bit rough to me, so it may need to be refinished anyway.

Sep 17, 2019 - 6:34:24 AM

1217 posts since 4/25/2007

French polish as Jim said.

Sep 17, 2019 - 11:28:14 AM

Hawgfiddle65

Scotland

1166 posts since 9/15/2010

My Matthews 5 string has the same peghead shape but in ebony. Mine I believe was always fretted

Jim


Sep 17, 2019 - 1:33:37 PM
likes this

25 posts since 5/25/2015

Just left it with the luthier. We'll decide what to do about frets once the board is off, but overall it's not going to be too big a job so it's looking good. I'll share info and pics when its finished.

Sep 17, 2019 - 2:32:57 PM

2201 posts since 4/29/2012

What do you mean "what to do about frets" ? If the overlay fretted board comes off cleanly leaving an original fretless board in usable condition then the answer is "nothing". There are numerous fretted banjos around. Decent fretless vintage banjos are not so common.

Sep 17, 2019 - 4:51:44 PM

263 posts since 2/22/2015

Looks very J B Schall to me. If he didn't use Schall parts to start with. He was sure a fan. 5th string bump and metal engravings and heal.

Sep 18, 2019 - 1:26:05 AM

1217 posts since 4/25/2007

quote:
Originally posted by AlanCook

Looks very J B Schall to me. If he didn't use Schall parts to start with. He was sure a fan. 5th string bump and metal engravings and heal.


You could well be right there Alan. Several English makers fitted GS engraved peghead overlays and heel caps. But so far I've not come across an original Matthew with American parts. Matthew also did a pretty neat rip off of the Stewart NN tailpiece.

Sep 18, 2019 - 2:19:26 AM

1217 posts since 4/25/2007

FYI a Matthew tailpiece


 

Sep 18, 2019 - 2:30:44 AM

25 posts since 5/25/2015

quote:
Originally posted by AndrewD

What do you mean "what to do about frets" ? If the overlay fretted board comes off cleanly leaving an original fretless board in usable condition then the answer is "nothing". There are numerous fretted banjos around. Decent fretless vintage banjos are not so common.


Hi. Just want to make sure it all comes off cleanly - will definitely keep it fretless unless it turns out to be wrecked underneath.

Sep 18, 2019 - 2:44:02 AM

25 posts since 5/25/2015

quote:
Originally posted by Stephen John Prior

FYI a Matthew tailpiece


The tailpiece currently on the banjo isn't original, so maybe would have looked more like this originally.

Sep 18, 2019 - 3:24:52 AM

1217 posts since 4/25/2007

quote:
Originally posted by gentrixuk
quote:
Originally posted by Stephen John Prior

FYI a Matthew tailpiece


The tailpiece currently on the banjo isn't original, so maybe would have looked more like this originally.


The type pictured went on his more ornate models. I have a fair amount of Matthew parts. If you need anything PM me. 

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