My grandfather and father both played banjo. Right before my dad died, he gave me a banjo.
I’m not able to post links yet so I’ll try an edited one. Just remove the spaces
htt ps://drive.google.com/ drive/folders/14q8IYm6QHUPnIAEykHsBjyP838CiAhZ6
Recently, my uncle asked if I had my grand dad’s banjo.
I sent him pictures and he and my aunts don’t agree / aren’t sure if this was my dad’s or his dad’s.
So I’m trying to learn anything I can about this banjo to see if I can determine how old it is, etc, to perhaps help us decide.
There’s no serial number or brand on it.
The back has a faded image of what looks like a white flower and ornate patterns.
I was told it could be from the Kay era, 1930’s, a Stromberg Voicinet. “The Rose.”
My initial research indicates that type was sold be Sears Roebuck and / or Montgomery Ward.
My Uncle remembers my grand dad ordering his banjo from Sears, and he played in Texas swing bands.
I’m trying to determine if my Dad may have added anything to it, such as the hand rest (I think that’s what the bronze colored metal thing is called),
Thanks in advance for any guidance. It would mean a lot to us.
Welcome aboard Michael. Good to have you here. You have come to the right place for an ID on the banjo. However just a description along is not enough. Close up photos are essential for an accurate ID. The link you posted did not work.
Edited by - banjonz on 01/19/2020 20:39:41
Hey there Michael! You're correct that it's a Stromber Voisinet banjo. I've never heard any designation like "The Rose" or anything for these, but perhaps more importantly this is a pretty basic instrument that would have been on the cheaper side back in the day, and isn't considered very monetarily valuable today, although an heirloom is certainly precious!
This type of banjo is called a tenor banjo, and it could have indeed been used to play swing music and could have indeed come from a catalog like Sears of Ward
The copper-looking parts (called the arm rest and tail piece) are added features, as are some other components. Everything copper is non-original. The one ivory-colored tuner looks original, and the other three metal colored ones are probably replacements, although I'm not sure of that. The shims between the pot (the drum) and the heel of the neck are also added fixes that need to be attended to. It's in rough shape but looks well loved! Whoever played it certainly made it sound good enough to play it quite a bit!
I'd be interested in what band this was played in. Banjos are not very common in western swing music any more but they have their fans!
Hope that helps a little. Someone more experienced will likely chime in.
Who made your banjo and when?
Good questions. No definitive answers but you've received some reasonable answers so far.
Kay? Stromberg-Voisinet? "The Rose"?
I believe your banjo was made by The Kay Musical Instrument Company ca 1936.
FYI my reasons for this conclusion follow:
Stromberg-Voisinet - Your banjo has the very familiar Stromberg-Voisinet peghead shape. For your purposes The Stromberg-Voisinet Company was incorporated in or about March 1922 and by April 1922 had set up shop at 316 Union Park Court, Chicago, Illinois. Their business plan was to sell instruments to jobbers and other distributors like Sears and Wards. S/V's initial tenor 4-string banjos had only 17 frets and a wooden dowel stick which was the norm at that time. By Spring 1927 S/V was making tenor banjos appearing from the outside like your banjo with 19 frets and a flange. The unique "dot dash" flange on your banjo is the very familiar S/V flange. In April 1930 one of S/V's incorporators, current officer, and moving force within the S/V Company, Henry Kuhrmeyer, filed a patent application for a neck adjustment device (Patent 1,932,975) which were then used on S/V banjos at about that time. The dowel stick was replaced with a metal rod to accommodate the neck adjuster. Your banjo has Kuhrmeyer's S/V neck adjuster and metal rod "dowel". In July 1931 Kuhrmeyer acquired (re-named) The Stromberg-Voisinet Company to The Kay Musical Instrument Company and the firm continued to be located at 316 Union Park Ct., Chicago.
Kay - Under Kuhrmeyer's leadership (company president) Kay continued to make 19 fret tenor banjos with the familiar S/V peghead shape. the familiar "dot dash" flange, and the Kuhrmeyer neck adjustment devise. I have one I dated from the resonator decal (sort of) ca 1931/1934. In Spring 1936 Kay introduced a very deep (2 3/8" high side walls) resonator to be placed on the existing Kay model banjos described above. Your resonator appears to be the deep resonator. This model banjo was advertised by Wards as "New Banjos" providing better tone and more carrying power. Ergo - I believe your banjo to be a Kay made ca. 1936.
"The Rose" - This name is unknown to me. Perhaps it has been seen in a jobber catalog and reported to you.
I hope you enjoy reading the foregoing as much as I did in writing it. Mike Halloran of BHO is also well versed on Kay banjos and can describe in detail how to manipulate the Kuhrmeyer neck adjuster devise a topic which is above my pay grade.
Great information, this give me hope it’s my granddad’s.
My grandad, PawPaw as he was known to me, played tenor banjo and piano in Texas Swing bands around the Lubbock area.
His piano was worn bare where he’d kick it for rhythm when they didn’t have a drummer. The style of music was very much in the vein of Bob Wills.
Lore is he bought a banjo from Sears. My Uncle thought it was a Bacon, which is causing so much confusion.
My aunt is trying to find a picture of PawPaw holding his banjo.
Paw Paw and multiple bands would play in dance halls and barns, and ranch hands and farmers would come from around. They’d spread sawdust over the floor, and someone would park a flat bed trailer inside as a stage.
I spent a night or two sleeping in the car when a “dance” would go late into the night.
Both my PawPaw and my dad were farmers, and the modifications/ repairs wouldn’t surprise me in the least.
My uncle claims the original case had a green interior, indicating it was a Bacon. He’s the oldest of the siblings and I can’t help but wonder if it’s hopefulness after he saw pictures on the Internet.
My Mom bought my dad a banjo, but doesn’t recall many details. I’m going to see her today and ask as many questions about that to see if I can get a hint one way or the other.
If she Dad a new banjo in the 60s or 70s, then this is my PawPaw’s banjo.
If she bought him an antique, then this could be my dad’s.
This most certainly isn’ta monetary value quest, but a sentimental one.
Thanks all again I’ll update what I learn, and post pictures PawPaw holding it family finds any.
Thank you all again.
Pretty much what John says.
The shims between neck and rim are original to this banjo. They were not added, as Cody says. The metal piece there is an important part of the neck adjuster. Also, I think he is also wrong about the tuners. The metal ones are most likely the originals, and the white one was substituted when one of the metal ones malfunctioned.
Many companies besides Bacon used cases with green interiors, so that doesn't really mean much.
Every USA made banjo with that neck adjuster, pat. 1933 is a Kay though many made before 1935 may be branded SV. As far as I can determine, the use of the Kay brand began with the move to the new factory in 1935.
Frank Ford has a nice web site with a good Kay setup pictorial
He leaves out two things you need to know: 1) if the neck doesn't rock against the shim when loose, you need to unscrew the big nut till the neck comes off and unstick the shim from the neck since it must be loose to work—if nailed onto the end, throw the nails away. 2) a large nut is really easy to overtighten with a large wrench. Tighten till snug and no more — you can damage the neck heel and hardware by tightening further.
The metal tuners are likely to be original but it's an old Kay. Side geared tuners were the upgrade back then and vintage repros do not exist for the Waverly machines from the 1930s. Repros of the Klusons from the '40s to mid 1950s do. The oval white knobbed version of these were used on many Kays. I don't know if they would sell you four only but someone might.
Modern planets will give you the "look" of friction pegs (sorta'-kinda') but be much easier to tune than those friction pegs. If you want to do planetary pegs, best to measure the peg head thickness and order from Bob Smackula so that the replacements fit.
Edited by - mikehalloran on 01/20/2020 11:37:05
'Fitting heel. ' 1 hr