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Luthier's neck reset SS Stewart Universal Favorite

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Feb 22, 2020 - 10:32:43 PM
35 posts since 1/26/2020

I recently got my first antique banjo; an c.1895 SS Stewart Universal Favorite from a reputable store (site unseen), and I chose it because it was the most original. The shop owner said he needed to get the neck straightened and asked if I wanted the luthier to put a better neck angle on the banjo. At the time I thought, "this guy knows better than I do," so i agreed.
Fast forward, I get the banjo and of course I love it. It sounds good and it's 125 years old. So cool!
The more and more I've read through the archives, I'm finding that heel contact and no contact at the tension ring is very important. So the state of mine has started bothing me. Am I losing some potential tone this banjo could be producing?




 

Feb 23, 2020 - 3:58:40 AM

csacwp

USA

2581 posts since 1/15/2014

The short answer is yes. You also just altered a historical instrument, which reduces the value. May I ask why the neck needed to be reset? If there was a serious issue that needed to be corrected, that is one thing, but often this are modified because people are ignorant about how they should be set up. They should have high action (4-5mm) at the 12th fret with a 1/2" or 3/8" bridge.

Feb 23, 2020 - 4:23:26 AM

3385 posts since 1/2/2004

And in the end it still looks as though the repair guy had to use a shim where the neck meets the tension hoop . . .

Feb 23, 2020 - 5:05:56 AM

5051 posts since 9/21/2007

This looks like a spin on the old hack job “repair” of drilling a second hole in the rim. In this case it looks like they only drilled a second hole in the end of the dowel.

As John stated, this is the #1 point of ignorance that people have regarding pre plectrum era banjos.

What is often stated is that they need to be “set up for modern playing” whatever that means. Fact is, one can play “old time” on a correctly set up classic era banjo. Or they could just buy a newly built banjo (which is better for that style anyway).

If you are not too upset by the hack alteration it would be easy to put it back. The correct way would be to dowel the new hole and drill in the original place. That is if they doweled it, chances are that they just drilled a second hole.

There should be a brass square nut between the end of the dowel and where it meets the rim that fits into the recessed square cutout. If it is missing try and get it from the hack who did the “repair” so that you can put it right. You will have to pull the neck to find it.

If they drilled a second hole through the rim I would send it back at their cost and get a full refund including shipping to you. If they give you problems then direct them to this discussion where we will happily explain how what they did was wrong and give them a chance to explain why they thought this was a good idea.

A correctly done neck reset requires pulling the dowel stick, plugging the hole, recutting the heel, and replacing the dowel in a new hole. The very lowest price you will find for that work is about $400 on up. That is about a UF No. 1 is worth right now.

But, the only reason to do that is to simulate the current fashion on wire string action or if the dowel has slipped/sprung due to wire strings or storage in a hot environment.

If you wanted that then you should just buy a post 1970s banjo.

Feb 23, 2020 - 6:37:32 AM

6850 posts since 8/28/2013

I agree that this was an unnecessary hack job, but it might be salvageable because it doesn't appear that the neck heel has been re-shaped and thus mutilated. I think Joel is right when he believes there was simply a new hole drilled in the tailpiece end of the dowel itself, rather than in the rim. I hope that's the case and the hole can be doweled and the original hole used. I don't know what you can do about the square brass nut. though, because chances are good it went in the trash. You may have to have a new one fabricated.

That shim between the neck heel and the rim will also need to be removed.

It might be good to tell everyone here who did this modification, so that others can avoid his work.

Feb 23, 2020 - 7:53:55 AM

csacwp

USA

2581 posts since 1/15/2014

It looks from the photos that the dowel stick was "lifted" and the square recess in the rim enlarged to compensate. You may need to add some wood back to that area to keep the stick from sliding up in the pot after the neck angle is returned to stock.

Edited by - csacwp on 02/23/2020 07:55:22

Feb 23, 2020 - 7:57:15 AM

35 posts since 1/26/2020

Thanks everyone. So from my disassembly, they actually slotted the original hole in the rim. It can be moved down back to its original position though, and the hole still be covered. It's using the original brass square in the dowel screw. The only issue is that the screw hole for the brace is a little wallered out. I don't think he did any alterations to the neck, as it still has the chisel marks.

Blaine

Feb 23, 2020 - 8:04:33 AM

35 posts since 1/26/2020

$400??? I paid like $750 for this. That seemed to be around the going rate for these. Where do you find a UF with what you thought were no issues, for under that price?

Feb 23, 2020 - 8:16:46 AM

5051 posts since 9/21/2007

quote:
Originally posted by tbchappe

$400??? I paid like $750 for this. That seemed to be around the going rate for these. Where do you find a UF with what you thought were no issues, for under that price?


Patience.  They turn up. Usually needing a light cleaning. 

Feb 23, 2020 - 8:19:59 AM

35 posts since 1/26/2020

That's my problem. When I get excited, my patience goes out the window. Patience, for me, was watching for an opportunity for 3 weeks and settling on this one. I'll take a dunce cap, please.

Edited by - tbchappe on 02/23/2020 08:20:30

Feb 23, 2020 - 8:28:30 AM
Players Union Member

Helix

USA

12345 posts since 8/30/2006

It might be good to tell everyone here who did this modification, so that others can avoid his work.

This comment in my opinion is against what an open forum is all about, especially the Banjo hangout with its wonderfully diverse constituency

It’s mean. And I don’t like it

You have the freedom to make any opinion you like.  A class act shows better manners

as we all know there are luthiers. And then there are some banjo luthiers 

i want to talk about banjos. Not ganging up on somebody 

Edited by - Helix on 02/23/2020 08:35:22

Feb 23, 2020 - 8:32:49 AM

35 posts since 1/26/2020

I'm not going to tell who did it. I have already emailed them with my personal dissatisfaction, and hopefully I can get a refund, and they've/I've learned a lesson. Honestly it's my ignorance upon their suggestion that is partly to blame for this. And don't worry, I feel very stupid, myself. I've not been doing this banjo thing long, and I have a habit of diving into the deep end before I've graduated from water wings.

Edited by - tbchappe on 02/23/2020 08:33:43

Feb 23, 2020 - 8:36:09 AM

5051 posts since 9/21/2007

If you buy through a dealer they have bills to pay. You are going to pay extra for that. There are people who prefer dealers and are willing to pay more. Don’t kick yourself for it.

$750 is not bad. It there was nothing changed about it, original frets, tuners, hardware and like, then that is an okay price.

Feb 23, 2020 - 8:37:39 AM

5051 posts since 9/21/2007

quote:
Originally posted by tbchappe

I'm not going to tell who did it. I have already emailed them with my personal dissatisfaction, and hopefully I can get a refund, and they've/I've learned a lesson. Honestly it's my ignorance upon their suggestion that is partly to blame for this. And don't worry, I feel very stupid, myself. I've not been doing this banjo thing long, and I have a habit of diving into the deep end before I've graduated from water wings.


There has been bad info floating around for so long about classic banjos that it is rare to find someone who actually knows what they are talking about.

Feb 23, 2020 - 8:41:56 AM

35 posts since 1/26/2020

Yes, it was all original, right down to the ivoroid violin tuners. The series was in the lower 15xxx and three only issue was it once had a broken head, which was pretty expertly repaired. The break was at the nut. It still has the original fretboard. I think the nut was replaced. Regardless, it was in pretty good original condition.
Do original Stewart's not have this shim between the neck and hoop? I've seen so many of them with a shim, from pictures online.

Feb 23, 2020 - 8:42:03 AM

1000 posts since 3/1/2012

On the other hand, I think we should all be welcoming tbchappe to the banjo collecting fraternity. We’ve all made, and continue to make, mistakes.

Feb 23, 2020 - 8:43:36 AM
Players Union Member

Helix

USA

12345 posts since 8/30/2006

TBCHAPPE, you did nothing wrong
Keep it clean, you’ll be able to enjoy your new rig soon enough

It’s the sound of these instruments that transports people back away from modern times

It’s good for us

I use claw while vamping and during the verses up at the 19th fret. I find people can listen better to the lyrics

Edited by - Helix on 02/23/2020 08:44:24

Feb 23, 2020 - 8:44:07 AM

35 posts since 1/26/2020

I appreciate that IMBanjoJim. I just really hope I didn't have a hand in ruining a piece of history.

Feb 23, 2020 - 8:48:23 AM

35 posts since 1/26/2020

quote:
Originally posted by Helix

TBCHAPPE, you did nothing wrong
Keep it clean, you’ll be able to enjoy your new rig soon enough

It’s the sound of these instruments that transports people back away from modern times

It’s good for us

I use claw while vamping and during the verses up at the 19th fret. I find people can listen better to the lyrics


How do I keep it clean? I suppose I can just reset the neck myself, since the dowel wasn't altered. What can i use to fill in the screw hole for the metal brace, to straighten it back out? I've read about glue and sawdust.

Blaine

Feb 23, 2020 - 8:52:07 AM

35 posts since 1/26/2020

And again, the shim at the fretboard. I swear I've seen these on numerous Stewart's I've seen online.


 

Feb 23, 2020 - 9:54:37 AM

5051 posts since 9/21/2007

There should be no shim. The reason you see so many with shims is due to ignorance of the original instruments.

High action with a low bridge. People try to use steel strings and a 5/8” bridge. The strings pull the neck and the high bridge makes the action 1/2” high. So they shim and drill to try and fix it.

Since a real neck reset will cost nearly as much as the total value then it does not make since to do it, unless someone just loves the banjo and wants to fix it. In that case “value” is meaningless.

UF model banjos were SSS’ entry professional level banjo. There are a lot of them. They are not really collectible.

They are great banjos for what they are. I have one as a “travel” banjo. I am fond of it. But it is not my top player.

They make great banjos for “classic” style or late “stroke” style. They are seriously lacking for modern claw hammer style playing.

Edited by - Joel Hooks on 02/23/2020 09:55:35

Feb 23, 2020 - 10:41:33 AM

35 posts since 1/26/2020

Well, I'm not a steel strings on an old banjo guy. Had I done a little more research, I'd have just said, "no," to the stop for this banjo. 
I have light tension nylguts on there now, and I really like them. This heel was just bothering me and I'm glad I brought it up with you guys.

Edited by - tbchappe on 02/23/2020 10:44:16

Feb 23, 2020 - 1:28:43 PM

35 posts since 1/26/2020

quote:
Originally posted by Joel Hooks

There should be no shim. The reason you see so many with shims is due to ignorance of the original instruments.

High action with a low bridge. People try to use steel strings and a 5/8” bridge. The strings pull the neck and the high bridge makes the action 1/2” high. So they shim and drill to try and fix it.

Since a real neck reset will cost nearly as much as the total value then it does not make since to do it, unless someone just loves the banjo and wants to fix it. In that case “value” is meaningless.

UF model banjos were SSS’ entry professional level banjo. There are a lot of them. They are not really collectible.

They are great banjos for what they are. I have one as a “travel” banjo. I am fond of it. But it is not my top player.

They make great banjos for “classic” style or late “stroke” style. They are seriously lacking for modern claw hammer style playing.


I've done an at home repair. I've put fine saw dust (no glue) and a slim strip of cardboard in the screw hole for the metal dowel brace. 

The slot in the rim that was cut for modifying the dowel position, I filled with a small piece of rosewood. I made a cardboard shim for the dowel end nut to have it a tad more than finger tight. You can see in the pics where the dowel nut sat higher, and it's now in its original position. Yes, the action is stupid high with this tall 5/8" or 11/16" bridge. I had already ordered 2x 1/2" bridges which will be here tomorrow. The fit on the heel looks tighter though I don't think it's perfect, but I don't want to stress the dowel anymore. Does that look more correct?






 

Feb 23, 2020 - 1:31:54 PM

5051 posts since 9/21/2007

Looks much better!

The original bridges look like those attached below.


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