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Jul 27, 2020 - 8:30:47 AM
453 posts since 10/17/2006

A friend just recently got a Ludwig tenor and is looking to replace the neck with a 5 string neck. Any suggestions. He and I have only worked on necks that use coordinator rods, and this has the dowel stick. Can the dowel stick be removed from the old neck, and how. From his description the fit of the neck to the body appears to be rather challenging. I'd like to help him since he has been trying to get this banjo for quite some time and seems to be excited again about playing - if he ever gets it together.

Jul 27, 2020 - 9:20:01 AM
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170 posts since 4/14/2014

One thing about Ludwigs, you may have to change the or alter the tension hoop. The hooks against the neck are usually pretty close fo be wide enough for a conversion. I've seen two Ludwig conversions. Each sacrificed a hook and were left with an odd number. Also, the head is a hair under 11".

The dowel stick can usually be removed with a bit of heat and some muscle. Often enough though, many opt to just saw it out. I wouldn't recommend that but, honestly, I wouldn't recommend a Ludwig for a conversion. 

Edited by - Tweelo on 07/27/2020 09:21:42

Jul 27, 2020 - 9:25:09 AM
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2297 posts since 4/7/2010
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I did a conversion for a Ludwig tenor early in my career, and have not done another since (not that I build necks anymore). I remember it was an OK sounding banjo, but there were plenty of hurdles to make it work.

A major warning on Ludwig tenors; The top tension style tension hoops are mostly made of die cast zinc alloy that degrades and disintegrates over time. They were on the Ludwig Dixie and the Ludwig Kingston model banjos. If you have a top tension Ludwig and there is any deformity of the tension hoop, don't do anything to it. It will break as soon as you try to tighten or loosen the head. There is no replacement and no repair available.

I have had a few of these banjos with a brass top tension hoop, but far more of the zinc alloy die cast hoops are out there.

Bob Smakula

Jul 27, 2020 - 9:31:03 AM
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170 posts since 4/14/2014

I have an Ambassador, which is something like their flagship model. It does not have the top-tension or zinc Bob refers to, but the hooks are right up against the neck and the tension hoop has a notch cut for where it joins to the neck and it is only as wide as the neck.

So you'd have to really mess with those on such a banjo, or find a replacement hoop that would work and, considering it's odd size, may be a tall order.

Edited by - Tweelo on 07/27/2020 09:31:35

Jul 27, 2020 - 11:15:38 AM
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3272 posts since 5/29/2011

I have never seen a Ludwig five string but that does not mean they never made them. Ludwig banjos are sort of like Bacon banjos, they have a sound that defined the era in which they were made. The flat, stacatto sound was great for Dixieland and early Big Band jazz because it sounded off and died away which was great for rhythm. That's why tenor banjos were so much more popular in that era than five strings and why so many more were made.
The sound that makes an instrument good for one type of music may not be adaptable to another style. So, soundwise, the banjo may not be ideal for a conversion in addition to all the other comments that have been made about structure.
I hope that made sense.

Jul 27, 2020 - 12:23:06 PM

453 posts since 10/17/2006

My friend has had his heart set on this banjo for years. At one point it was his and he had a 5 string neck on it, but his brother-in-law wanted to learn to play banjo and it was given to him with the original tenor neck. He's so enthused about getting it back that I want to help him in any way I can. So...........

Jul 27, 2020 - 12:26:05 PM
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170 posts since 4/14/2014

What happened to the last neck?

Jul 27, 2020 - 2:13:24 PM

453 posts since 10/17/2006

I think that was over 30 years ago. Probably traded.

Jul 27, 2020 - 5:54:25 PM

7776 posts since 1/7/2005


Ludwig never made a five string banjo. Too bad for that. I've played a number of conversions and made two of them myself, (three were the "Capitol" model.) and they make for an excellent bluegrass and/or frailing banjo. They made their all-metal pots from bronze, and are still as solid as the day they were made. Their higher-end and top tension models (the ones with gold plating rather than nickel) have pot metal tension hoops, which deteriorate over time. Their tension hoops are grooved rather than notched, so any suibstitute tension hoop of the correct diameter can be mounted regardless of the hook spacing.

Here is the rim/toner ing as found:

They made two flavors of rims. One without a flange and one with. I've made a conversion neck for both models. They are a bit more complex than most other brands, but not too terribly difficult to fit neck to rim. I made a cardboard template that fit the rim closely, and used it to trace the neck heel. Once the heel cut is made on a bandsaw, or whatever, you just have to carve out the center portion of each contour to provide clearance for the rim shape. The neck only needs to fit tightly on the outside edges of the heel, so is not worth sweating blood over. Once the tracing is cut out, I shaped the curvatures to fit the rim using a shallow-cut carving chisel. Go slowly and check fit frequently and it can be done.


Hear is a shot of the original pot as found:

And here it is after a quick cleaning:

The rim and tone ring are made of nickel plated bell bronze.

As an anecdote, I read that a ludwig conversion banjo was the favorite practice banjo of Ralph Stanley when they were traveling on their tour bus. 


Jul 27, 2020 - 7:27:06 PM

453 posts since 10/17/2006

Thanks for all the input. I talked to him again and he said it was all engraved and gold plated, and he thought all the metal was brass.

Jul 27, 2020 - 9:52:39 PM

2441 posts since 3/30/2008

I'd like to follow up on  & agree w/ what D Drabek said. Ludwig did not offer a 5 string. The Zinc top tension hoops were used on even the top tier banjos & not just the low end.
The Ludwig all metal construction was designed at a time when only skin heads were available & sound best w/ a skin head, which tempers the tone. I have Ludwigs w/ both calf & mylar. The mylar instruments have a somewhat strident, harsh voice that has less character.
(I know set up & heads are personal, but Ludwigs can especially sound thin & brash w/ modern heads)

Edited by - tdennis on 07/27/2020 21:57:12

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