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Aug 7, 2020 - 7:20:09 PM
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Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

23880 posts since 6/25/2005
Online Now

They are (in alphabetical order): ca. 1920 (hard to date) Clifford Essex Concert Grand (rebuilt neck); early 2017 Ome Mira; 1924 Vega Tu-Ba-Phone (original 5-string). I got the Mira new; the Tubby came aout a year later; the Essex I’ve had since 1969. It remains my main banjo. All are great instruments and would hold up easily in a sring band, while also being fine solo instruments. I would characterize all of them s nicely decorated, but not overly so. As used instruments, all probably fall in the $2,000-$2,500 range, depending on the market at the particular time and place.

The Essex Concert Grand: This is a heavy-duty Whyte Laydie clone, with the typical WL “pop,” but a soewhat more robust sound. I got it at Jon and Deirdre Lundberg’s shop in Berkeley, where it outshone (to my ear) at least one WL, Tubaphone and Gibson tone-ring trapdoor. Right now it has (and has for some years) j a Renaissance head and a 120s 1/2” Bacon 3-leg, all-maple bridge. Loud, poppy, some, but not too much sustain. Probably more playable than a normal one because the redoubtable Mario Martello rebuilt the neck after ann attack by a plectrum player and the all-too-common peghead break. The neck emerged a tad thinner and faster thaan the factory versions. Verdict: I love this banjo; you might not like it as much as I do.

The Ome Mira: I played the prototype at Griyphon in early 2016 and ordered one (with a full 22 frets; the prototype had 17 and a scoop. Ome’s “Vintage” tone ring has incredible volume and tone that it produces from a rolled-brass hoop and tapered-top shell. It’s loud; maybe the loudest of the three. More sustain too. Renaissance head and a 5/8” Gary Sosebee bridge. The bridge,like the fretboard,is radiused. Great, full tone; maybe a tad more sustain than I prefer, but that’s a  taste  thing. I need to try it with a high-quality skin head. Would I buy it again? Absolutely.

The Vega Tubaphone. It’s from 1924, so there’s no “Fairbanks” on the dowelstick. Except for a small piece of replaced binding and (maybe) the Page 3-1(!) geared tuners and the head, it’s original. It boasts a new John Balch/Stern Tanning calfskin head, maybe one of the last ones we’ll see. Very slightly quieter than the Essex or Vega, and drier in sound, which I attribute to the head. Standard thinnish no-name 1/2” bridge. I'd bu this one again, too. Comments and questions solicited.

To anticipate the inevitable questions: I have no pix, and don’t plan to post any. You can find 20s Tubaphones and Ome Miras easily on the web. The Essex is here:  http://frets.com/FretsPages/Museum/Banjo/Essex/EssexCG/essexcg.html
 

Edited by - Bill Rogers on 08/07/2020 19:29:33

Aug 8, 2020 - 8:43:51 AM

BTuno

USA

891 posts since 3/3/2007

A nice quiver of banjos, Bill, nice to have playing options, especially these days. I wish there was an easy way to be able to play / hear each of them. I'm familiar with tubaphones, but not the others. My three favs are Vega Tubaphone big rim, Vega Whyte Layde, 10 3/4" rim, Hickler IR 11" brass hoop rim. Happy pickin'!

Aug 8, 2020 - 9:18:02 AM

1345 posts since 4/13/2017

I have three banjos. One is a 1959 Gibson RB-100, all original. One is a 1990's Alvarez 4285 converted to a woodie. One is a Lemon, one I built. All three of them are absolute killers.

Ranked in volume from loudest to quietest, as follows
Alvarez
Gibson
Lemon

Ranked in tone from best to worst
Gibson
Alvarez
Lemon

All three are absolute killers though, and they're so near each other that the above rankings are sorta irrelevant.

Aug 8, 2020 - 8:13:55 PM

1713 posts since 4/10/2005

It's nice to see there's a clip available of your Essex and would be fun to see and/or hear the others as well. It is always fun when players have achieved that golden state of having instruments that suit them and float their boat, to see what that is for the individual player.

It appears that like myself you like the sound of metal in the mix. I have wonderful "woody" and enjoy woodies, gourds, and tackheads when others play them. But I don't play my woody as much---what I reach for and listen to the most is the twang of a rolled-brass hoop or metal tone ring.

Not long ago I read an interview with the banjo player Jake Blount in which he characterized the advent of  metal on/in banjos as developed by Victorian-era "makers who were inventing new models of banjo and slapping every piece of metal they could on it so that they could make it appeal to the white middle class."

Silly me, and here I thought the advent of metal on and in banjos had to do with getting more "cut" and projection for dance-halls, banjo orchestras in noisy stage environments, etc.

Fatuous nonsense like the above racial statement notwithstanding, we are in a wonderful era at present where all configs are available depending on what calls to you. I suspect it's something deep in our brain wiring and/or emotional makeup that determines what will speak to us.

Edited by - ceemonster on 08/08/2020 20:20:26

Aug 8, 2020 - 9:37:21 PM

Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

23880 posts since 6/25/2005
Online Now

Reminds me of the 60s-era luthiers and makers who swore that they produced better-sounding instruments by not using power tools. Arrant nonsense, of course. Frank Ford had the word on that one: “Antonio Stradivari would have sold his children into slavery to get his hands on a Rockwell band saw.”

As to the white middle class...who do you suppose mostly attends Clifftop and mostly wins the various contests there? There are exceptions,of course.

Aug 9, 2020 - 9:49:56 AM

5495 posts since 9/21/2007

Hi Bill, I too have a CE Concert Grand which I am quite fond of. Mine is number 1617 and was purchased on January 24th 1930 and paid off on July 28th 1930 (I have the original payment book with tax stamps signed by A. P. Sharpe).

To give a better understanding of how to estimate dates on CE Concert Grands here are a few timeline points.

The "Professional Tailpiece" (the lyre shaped tailpiece that bolts to the stretcher hoop) was first introduced between August 1920 and March 1925. That is the gap in issues we have of the BMG. From 8/20 and before there is no professional tailpiece, in the March 1925 issue there is. At some point we will be able to locate those issues and narrow the introduction down the the month it was put on the market. Until then, I would say any banjo with that tailpiece could be no older than September of 1920.

In February of 1937 CE introduced a new model of the CE Concert Grand. This had square block inlays and a new type of tailpiece.

In February or March of 1942 Clifford Essex went into liquidation and was bought out by new owners. That was the end of their banjo production. They tried to reintroduce the Regal after the war but had limited success and likely did not make many of them

Your CE was built between late 1920 and 1937. As far as we can tell the serial numbers are sequential to the specific model so depending on your number you could use mine and determine if it was built before or after 1929.

I have two other CE banjos, a Metal Hoop Special and a Professional. The Special predates the Professional tailpiece but post dates Alfred Weaver (mine is not a Weaver). So, built sometime in the decade and a half before 1920

The Special is an excellent banjo and in my opinion one of the best clad rim banjos built. I have a special place in my heart for Stewart banjos, but this one does sound and play better to me.

The Professional is a hand full. I have to be in a certain state of mind to play it. It is pretty huge.

My other main banjos were built by Fred Van Eps, and my most played banjo was build by Gariepy using parts and tools from Fred Van Eps.

These are all top level banjos for what they are. There are much better banjos being built specifically for old time playing today than any of the classic era banjos.

Aug 9, 2020 - 10:30:36 AM

rcc56

USA

3091 posts since 2/20/2016

That's a matter of opinion.   I'll take my lowly Bacon Professional #1 over any modern old-time banjo I've played.

I've played some old Tubbies and W.L.'s that were pretty durn good also.  I've never played an Essex.

I don't think Strad would really have sold his sons for a bandsaw, they helped in the shop.  But he probably would have traded his best cello for one without blinking an eye.  And his best violin for a belt sander.  I don't know anyone who would want to finish sand a piece of wood with beach sand.  Unless they just want to personally experience the difficulties the old masters worked under.

Edited by - rcc56 on 08/09/2020 10:47:00

Aug 9, 2020 - 11:28:37 AM

Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

23880 posts since 6/25/2005
Online Now

quote:
Originally posted by Joel Hooks

Hi Bill, I too have a CE Concert Grand which I am quite fond of. Mine is number 1617 and was purchased on January 24th 1930 and paid off on July 28th 1930 (I have the original payment book with tax stamps signed by A. P. Sharpe).

To give a better understanding of how to estimate dates on CE Concert Grands here are a few timeline points.

The "Professional Tailpiece" (the lyre shaped tailpiece that bolts to the stretcher hoop) was first introduced between August 1920 and March 1925. That is the gap in issues we have of the BMG. From 8/20 and before there is no professional tailpiece, in the March 1925 issue there is. At some point we will be able to locate those issues and narrow the introduction down the the month it was put on the market. Until then, I would say any banjo with that tailpiece could be no older than September of 1920.

In February of 1937 CE introduced a new model of the CE Concert Grand. This had square block inlays and a new type of tailpiece.

In February or March of 1942 Clifford Essex went into liquidation and was bought out by new owners. That was the end of their banjo production. They tried to reintroduce the Regal after the war but had limited success and likely did not make many of them

Your CE was built between late 1920 and 1937. As far as we can tell the serial numbers are sequential to the specific model so depending on your number you could use mine and determine if it was built before or after 1929.

I have two other CE banjos, a Metal Hoop Special and a Professional. The Special predates the Professional tailpiece but post dates Alfred Weaver (mine is not a Weaver). So, built sometime in the decade and a half before 1920

The Special is an excellent banjo and in my opinion one of the best clad rim banjos built. I have a special place in my heart for Stewart banjos, but this one does sound and play better to me.

The Professional is a hand full. I have to be in a certain state of mind to play it. It is pretty huge.

My other main banjos were built by Fred Van Eps, and my most played banjo was build by Gariepy using parts and tools from Fred Van Eps.

These are all top level banjos for what they are. There are much better banjos being built specifically for old time playing today than any of the classic era banjos.


Thanks, Joel.  The tailpiece info  clarifies a lot. My Grand Concert has no serial #, nor did several other Essexes I’ve seen.  So I presume the #s started sometime after 1920, but have no idea. I agree about both the Special and the Professional, both of which I used to have.  Clearly my Essexes have been of later manufacture thatn I originally thought.

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