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Repairing a Vintage Banjo - Heel/Neck catastrophe - Your opinion?

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Jul 14, 2020 - 1:24:42 PM
11 posts since 9/21/2019

Hi there, about 18 months ago I purchased a 1920ish S. S. Stewart Wondertone archtop banjo. I just loved the look of it. I was not really inquisitive about conditions etc. because I expected it to have some damage. And yes, scuff marks, some pedestrian attempt at repairs showed, but hey, I like the way it played. I got a better head, bridge and tuners and went on practicing. The other day, I went to change the strings and CRACK! the heel split in two pieces (it was already cracked but it held together). At this point I had to fix it for real. This is what I did:

Glued the heel back together
Plugged the original hanger bolt hole with a bobinga 3/4" dowel and re-bored the hole for the new coordinator rod
Bored a second hanger bolt hole in the heel and the rim (only one travesty of a coordinator rod held the neck attached)
Put 4 #6 1 1/2" wood screws true the heel
Hid the screw heads under some mother of pearl
Pulled the frets
Repaired and leveled the fret board
Replaced the binding
Repaired and repainted the inlays (yes, they were hand painted) using stained glass colors
Repaired and repainted the rosette on the resonator

I don't really want to sell it, but I'm sure now this banjo is worth about $20 (twenty) or is it?

I'd love some feedback. Have I been "foolish"?


Jul 14, 2020 - 2:13:09 PM
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Bill H


1325 posts since 11/7/2010

I don't know much about SSStewart banjos, but I don't think any built in the twenties have much value. If you have a playable banjo that you enjoy, the makes it priceless.

Jul 14, 2020 - 2:21:12 PM



21753 posts since 7/6/2005
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Post some pictures. Let's see what it is

Jul 14, 2020 - 3:58:37 PM

991 posts since 5/19/2018

I’m pretty sure the S.S.Stewart Wondertones were made by Puntitillo (sp.?) in the late 1920’s.

Medium quality. Usually tenor or plectrum models. Nice looking instruments.

I had a 5 string model. Never saw another 5 string. Arch top with a steel tone ring with huge holes in it. Pretty nice instrument, but I Ebayed it away years ago. Saw the same banjo on eBay years later in pieces. Actually felt bad for it.

Show us pictures, then all can be sure of what you have. I would crack up if it was my old instrument reassembled.

Would also love to see your repair job.

Jul 14, 2020 - 4:12 PM

11 posts since 9/21/2019

Oops, some pix


Jul 14, 2020 - 4:15:10 PM

11 posts since 9/21/2019

I will post the finished job in the next couple of days. Still tinkering with it.

Jul 14, 2020 - 6:54:26 PM

895 posts since 10/31/2007
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What you posted looks good. There are no pics of the heel.
You cannot go wrong for $20(?) for an original 5 string Stewart, even if it is from the 20's.
It looks cool.
And your touch up looks great.

Tom in Maine

Jul 14, 2020 - 7:23:42 PM
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399 posts since 7/20/2013

It's interesting, there's been a spate of "How much is a banjo worth?" posts here on BHO the last couple of weeks. The REAL answer is that a banjo is pretty much worth about 75% of what you paid for it.

IMHO, everybody who is worried about resale is just worried about a few dollars, not big money at all. Forget about banjo resale values, unless you have an autographed-by-Earl pre-war Mastertone. It looks and sounds like you have succeeded in fixing up what is now a very playable Stewart.

Play it, enjoy it. Be proud of what you did to repair it. When you get the urge to sell it, find a kid who really needs a playable banjo and give it to him/her, then write off the donation on your taxes.

The banjo market isn't going to be a very lucrative place for the foreseeable future. You can prolly sell the drill you used to make the dowel hole for more than you could profit by selling the banjo.

Jul 15, 2020 - 4:41:23 AM

1599 posts since 6/2/2010

I used to own a Wondertone and really liked it. The only reason I got rid of it was because it was getting too heavy for me the older I got. Nice sounding banjo though.

Yours looks really nice and probably fairly rare with the original 5-string neck.

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