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Please help ID a family heirloom

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Aug 9, 2020 - 7:59:57 PM
4 posts since 8/9/2020

Good afternoon banjo players.
Recently, I inherited my great-great grandfather's banjo. I know zero about the banjo, in fact, I'm a cellist, so the very most I know is "be careful with it". Other than that, it's all a bit of a mystery to me.

After acquiring it I looked for identifying marks to see if I can figure out what it is and a bit about its history.
It is a Gibson. A tag that says "Master tone" is on the fingerboard (assuming it's called the same for a banjo as it is for a cello). This much, I can find in many places when I search. The thing that leaves me stumped is this. It has a plug. Right up by the neck. A very ancient looking plug. One, that when plugged in and then plugged into an outlet, caused the whole thing to glow red... right before it sparked and blew the fuse in my house.

I'm not itching to plug it back in any time soon again. The burnt o-zone scent will take a bit to air out, but when I try to find any information about any very old banjo that had a plug I find nothing.

Does anyone have any information on a banjo that fits this description I'd appreciate it.

Aug 9, 2020 - 8:07:30 PM
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beegee

USA

21840 posts since 7/6/2005

You will have to post pictures of it to get a reasonable answer.

Many old banjos would have lights inside, an add-on to help keep the calfskin head from sagging due to atmospheric humidity. It's possible this is what you have. It probably has some defective wiring. It is not necessary to use it. In fact, I would remove it.

By the way. A banjo is NOT like a cello. A banjo is a machine, assembled with nuts and bolts and screws and such. It can be readily disassembled and reassemble by average persons with only a few simple tools.

Aug 9, 2020 - 8:08:05 PM
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O.D.

USA

3508 posts since 10/29/2003

The folks here can help but you need to out up some photos
Especially the inside of the pot,you'll have to take the resonator (back) off for that ,which is essential for a positive ID

Good luck

Aug 9, 2020 - 8:11:20 PM
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2228 posts since 5/2/2012

I'll be the first (now 3rd) to say it -- lots of pictures, close up/far away, different parts of the banjo, front/back. The kind of pictures you would want to see if buying an expensive cello online. A picture of the headstock (where the pegs/tuners are, likely were it says "Gibson") and the Mastertone block on the fretboard. And, just for kicks, the plug (and what it is wired to).

Edited by - thisoldman on 08/09/2020 20:12:48

Aug 9, 2020 - 8:38:30 PM

4 posts since 8/9/2020

Ask and ye shall receive...






 

Aug 9, 2020 - 8:54:04 PM
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GStump

USA

380 posts since 9/12/2006

What you have here is a later 20's, (about 1929 if I had to guess) TB 3. TB is "tenor banjo," style 3 would be the model designation. The worth is approx 2000 dollars give or take a hundred or two. Ask and ye' shall receive....

Aug 9, 2020 - 8:55:27 PM
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G-run

USA

44 posts since 10/15/2007

Based on the FON on the inside of the resonator, which I read as 9094, in Spann's guide says it's a 1928 TB-3.

Aug 9, 2020 - 9:02 PM
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4 posts since 8/9/2020

Awesome! Thank you for helping me to "give it a name". After removing the back, I realized the lights are probably something my g-great grandfather jerry-rigged. It's actually kind of cool to touch something that probably only he touched. That said, I may remove it. I'm sure it messes with reverberation and I'd never plug it in again for fear of burning it... or the house.

And thank you for letting me know its dollar worth, though, to me, it will remain priceless.

That said, I had to smile a little when I realized, while taking the picture, that the headstock is in the shape of an upside down cello. Maybe it's time to set my own instrument aside for a bit and attempt something new.

I appreciate all of your help. I've learned so much tonight!

Aug 9, 2020 - 9:42:23 PM
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Eric A

USA

820 posts since 10/15/2019

I'm reading that chalk as 9024-17. Same answer?

Aug 9, 2020 - 10:57:50 PM
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2156 posts since 1/16/2010

Heck...I wouldn’t remove those lights. That’s part of what makes it so cool.

Back in the day, banjos like yours had skin heads...like yours...and those lights were to help keep the skin taught. Too much moisture in the air will cause that skin to sag and slacken...the lights help warm it up to prevent that. Not many banjos have that setup anymore...I’d leave it alone. Your grandfather knew what he was doing.

Dow

Aug 9, 2020 - 11:14:42 PM
Players Union Member

G-run

USA

44 posts since 10/15/2007

Right, 9024-17 would give you the same answer as 9094, 1928 TB-3.

Aug 9, 2020 - 11:28:39 PM

4 posts since 8/9/2020

quote:
Originally posted by Texican65

Heck...I wouldn’t remove those lights. That’s part of what makes it so cool.

Back in the day, banjos like yours had skin heads...like yours...and those lights were to help keep the skin taught. Too much moisture in the air will cause that skin to sag and slacken...the lights help warm it up to prevent that. Not many banjos have that setup anymore...I’d leave it alone. Your grandfather knew what he was doing.

Dow


If it helps the health of the instrument then I'll keep it.  I'll just have to rewire it so I get a few less sparks and a lot less smoke.

I am curious though, this instrument came from Indiana where it is very humid (relatively speaking).  I live in Colorado where they don't even stock dehumidifiers on store shelves because... open your window and give it 5 minutes.  Do I need to worry about the skin actually being too dry?

Aug 9, 2020 - 11:32:56 PM

2156 posts since 1/16/2010

quote:
Originally posted by VexingEve
quote:
Originally posted by Texican65

Heck...I wouldn’t remove those lights. That’s part of what makes it so cool.

Back in the day, banjos like yours had skin heads...like yours...and those lights were to help keep the skin taught. Too much moisture in the air will cause that skin to sag and slacken...the lights help warm it up to prevent that. Not many banjos have that setup anymore...I’d leave it alone. Your grandfather knew what he was doing.

Dow


If it helps the health of the instrument then I'll keep it.  I'll just have to rewire it so I get a few less sparks and a lot less smoke.

I am curious though, this instrument came from Indiana where it is very humid (relatively speaking).  I live in Colorado where they don't even stock dehumidifiers on store shelves because... open your window and give it 5 minutes.  Do I need to worry about the skin actually being too dry?


Yes. Skin heads can break/rip if they are too tight...if they are tightened down really tight and the humidity is low. That's why most folks just use a plastic head these days...they are much less effected by the weather. 

Aug 10, 2020 - 1:51:23 AM
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2861 posts since 4/29/2012

And the really good news is that standard tenor banjo tuning (CGDA) is the same as a cello (but an octave higher).

Aug 10, 2020 - 4:34:23 AM
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Emiel

Austria

9565 posts since 1/22/2003

quote:
Originally posted by VexingEve


That said, I had to smile a little when I realized, while taking the picture, that the headstock is in the shape of an upside down cello. 


That's the reason why this peghead shape is called the fiddle-shaped peghead.

Aug 10, 2020 - 4:54:08 AM
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geemott

USA

244 posts since 7/7/2005

Doesn't anybody think those lights might have been for decoration? If grandfather played in a band that played novelty numbers, it might have been part of the act to light up the banjo at a certain spot in a hot number. Even these days, I've seen people dress up their banjos with Christmas lights inside.

Aug 10, 2020 - 5:25:02 AM
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Tweelo

USA

175 posts since 4/14/2014

The lights were sold as an aftermarket add-on. I've seen a few come up for sale, but with a chord much in need of replacement.

Aug 10, 2020 - 5:34:30 AM
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5523 posts since 9/21/2007

I would take those lights out. They are some kind of homemade version that was not well done. They look dangerous.

Aug 10, 2020 - 5:53:33 AM

2228 posts since 5/2/2012

Some people put lights in, well, just for fun Jingle Bells Nice to own a piece of personal (and banjo) history. There are other ways to control humidity levels for an instrument, which you probably already  know as a cello player.   Hope you take the opportunity to play it.  

Aug 10, 2020 - 7:01:12 AM

7627 posts since 8/28/2013

I, like Joel, would remove the lights. In their current configuration where they are blowing fuses, they are very dangerous. In a dry climate, they aren't needed. I'd just keep them separate as a remembrance of your grandfather.

Aug 10, 2020 - 7:13:15 AM

374 posts since 3/26/2009

Yeah I would take those out just on the chance someone might plug them back in. Looks like they shorted out where the cord goes past the flange. I think I see bare wires and a charred spot. I hope it didn't damage the flange.

Aug 10, 2020 - 7:33:47 AM
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13271 posts since 10/30/2008

YIKES! Take 'em out! But save them for display. That banjo is a very fine professional-quality instrument. Congrats. All of us bluegrassers on here would have a luthier make a 5 string neck for it, and play it in a bluegrass jam or band!

Aug 10, 2020 - 8:07:40 AM

BobbyE

USA

2756 posts since 11/29/2007

Is the ring the same as the modern day version of a 40-hole arch top? If so, I would think you could put a $1200 neck on that pot and have a pretty good banjo. That is, if everything else is in good shape. I don't see a resonator but do see the mark on the heel of the neck where it was at some point, I think.

Bobby

Aug 10, 2020 - 8:22:19 AM
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55456 posts since 12/14/2005

quote:
Originally posted by AndrewD

And the really good news is that standard tenor banjo tuning (CGDA) is the same as a cello (but an octave higher).


So your LEFT hand already knows how to play it.

Now, if your RIGHT hand is any good at pizzicato, you can just tune it up and keep it is the family.

Aug 10, 2020 - 9:44:03 AM
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RioStat

USA

5267 posts since 10/12/2009

quote:
Originally posted by BobbyE

Is the ring the same as the modern day version of a 40-hole arch top? If so, I would think you could put a $1200 neck on that pot and have a pretty good banjo. That is, if everything else is in good shape. I don't see a resonator but do see the mark on the heel of the neck where it was at some point, I think.

Bobby


The very first photo is the resonator.....smiley

Aug 10, 2020 - 10:20:38 AM
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1902 posts since 1/4/2009

Wow, this is great that it ended up in the hands of a cello player! You should have no problem playing this as is, same tuning as other said. I would encourage you to keep this and try to play it. If you love playing it and want to continue, you already own one of the highest quality banjos youll ever need. And you carry on family tradition, plus there are few tenor banjoists left so you would also carry on that tradition.

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