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Aug 12, 2020 - 10:35:03 AM
873 posts since 1/24/2008

I am considering buying another tenor banjo and would like to get something in an open back, perhaps vintage. I currently own a Recording King RK-R35 tenor which is a pretty good banjo with a standard tone ring. I would like to add a more traditional 17 or 19 fret open back tenor for Irish folk music. I would perhaps like to get a Whyte Lady or similar tone ring in it, but not sure. I see a lot of 1920s and 1930s banjos for sale but am not very familiar with what is considered "good" from this era? If not a vintage instrument, can you recommend a good American made tenor that is under lets say $1,000 or so? I also own a Zachary Hoyt banjo and considered having him build me one, but I have not spoken to him about it or gotten a cost.

Thoughts?

Aug 12, 2020 - 11:00:33 AM

rcc56

USA

3091 posts since 2/20/2016

Vega Tubaphone models such as the style M and the Professional can be found in your price range. They are powerful instruments, even the ones without resonators. You can find them for less than the RK-35 costs new.

You really can't go too far wrong with any Vega made in the teens, 20's, or early 30's, unless they are in poor condition.

Keep in mind that any 80 or 100 year old banjo may need a bit of work to get it into top playing condition. It's a good idea to avoid instruments with a no-return policy, in case you don't like the instrument or it needs more work than you can budget for.

Be advised that the $800 "Style M" in the classifieds from a California seller is not a true style M--  the pot is not correct.  The large rim $965 style M in Florida appears to have the original Tubaphone pot.

Edited by - rcc56 on 08/12/2020 11:13:20

Aug 12, 2020 - 11:08:43 AM

362 posts since 5/29/2015

What Bob said. Almost all the old as-is dowel stick tenor banjos need a $250 or so neck reset. This involves removing the dowel, recutting the neck heel (angle(S) and redrilling the dowel hole, and then set up. This is a a tricky high-skill repair which requires some of the skills of a maker and experience as a restorer. You also run into worn out frets and cantankerous original tuners. Respected vintage dealers take care of all these issues, other sellers, well you might as well be buying from a pawn shop or antique store. Yet there is something extra special about an old quality vintage banjo.

Aug 12, 2020 - 11:15:57 AM
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rcc56

USA

3091 posts since 2/20/2016

Only some need neck resets. Many of them are fine with 1/2" bridges. But sellers sometimes put too high a bridge on these banjos.
A more common problem with these banjos is that many are missing some binding, which can be replaced fairly easily. Some will also need a bit of set up work, and perhaps some minor fret work.

Edited by - rcc56 on 08/12/2020 11:19:41

Aug 12, 2020 - 11:22:34 AM

873 posts since 1/24/2008

Any thoughts on that Baldwin/Ode tenor in the classifieds?

Aug 12, 2020 - 11:37:44 AM

rcc56

USA

3091 posts since 2/20/2016

Be aware that the instrument has an aluminum rim and will sound different than a banjo with a wooden rim.

Aug 12, 2020 - 11:58:37 AM

768 posts since 2/19/2012

quote:
Originally posted by Banner Blue

What Bob said. Almost all the old as-is dowel stick tenor banjos need a $250 or so neck reset. This involves removing the dowel, recutting the neck heel (angle(S) and redrilling the dowel hole, and then set up. This is a a tricky high-skill repair which requires some of the skills of a maker and experience as a restorer. You also run into worn out frets and cantankerous original tuners. Respected vintage dealers take care of all these issues, other sellers, well you might as well be buying from a pawn shop or antique store. Yet there is something extra special about an old quality vintage banjo.


I don't understand the need for a neck reset on a tenor unless something has gone wrong with it over time.  I understand many early 1900s five string banjos getting neck resets because they were built originally for classic style playing, and today's clawhammer players want a higher bridge.  Have tenor banjo playing styles changed?  I don't mean to offend with my question, but I don't see how playing with a plectrum would have changed that much over time, no matter what the tuning.  I have a Vega Little Wonder with a 9/16" bridge, set up for GDAE, and it's great as is.  But as you point out, I replaced the first few frets and had to reglue some binding.

Edited by - Parker135 on 08/12/2020 12:00:56

Aug 12, 2020 - 12:19:07 PM

362 posts since 5/29/2015

The issue is not this or that, rather being surprised by a hefty repair bill. We can list possible issues needing repair till the cows come home--"Oh be aware that it might need new strings, the screws might need to be tightened on the tuning gears, etc. What are the deal breakers in terms of repair? A tenor player could be helpful here by stating some parameters such as given a string height of __ at the 12th fret, a working tenor banjo should have a bridge height of between __ and __.

Aug 12, 2020 - 1:26:33 PM
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7581 posts since 8/28/2013

Almost all tenors from the '20's and '30's were designed to use a 1/2 inch bridge, and the action should be pretty much the same as a 5 string banjo when measured at the 12th fret. Non-starters for me would be warped necks, entire fret jobs (a few bad frets wouldn't bother me) and loose dowelsticks. Most other issues can be fairly easily addressed: tuners and tailpieces can be replaced, if need be, same with heads and other hardware. One other thing to be aware of is that some old makes used dyed woods for peghead overlays and sometimes fretboards, and these have a tendency to crack and crumble with age.

I will add that there are many other fine banjo makes besides Vega, such as Bacon and Day, Paramount, Orpheum, Clifford Essex, and Epiphone.

Be aware that with a vintage tenor, it was probably made for standard tuning and standard tenor strings. Irish tenor strings are heavier gauge, and will require the banjo to be set up for those thicker gauges. That usually means the nut and bridge slots will need to be widened slightly.

Basically, if you know what to look for in another banjo type, you'll find it pretty easy to see any problems with a tenor banjo.

Aug 12, 2020 - 7:12:24 PM

255 posts since 12/7/2017

I could have a Van Eps Recording tenor for sale in good condition, straight neck good action, some fret wear but not critical. I paid it $1000 six months ago. ask other members for advice about the quality of Van Eps, there are not so many.

Aug 12, 2020 - 11:30 PM

793 posts since 6/25/2006

 

A Vega Style R has the whyte ladie tone-ring.  I think a lot of players also favour an archtop sound e.g Paramount, Weymann.  

Dan Shingler at Trad Banjo would probably be able to help you find a vintage tenor properly set-up for Irish style: https://tradbanjo.com/

Aug 13, 2020 - 3:53:51 PM

DSmoke

USA

864 posts since 11/30/2015

Thanks for the recommendation hobogal. I have a large pot Orpheum about done but do have someone waiting for it. You MIGHT be able to find a Weymann Orchestra A or 1 for around that price. I've sold a few for less than that. The Weymann has a pop off resonator, quality tailpiece and tuners, and were originally setup for higher bridges and have an adjustable action. Not to mention they are amazing trad banjos! Others that I really like are Orpheums and Langstiles, some Bacons and Vegas (as mentioned above). I also built a custom banjo with 11.5" rim and white laydie style tone ring. I had Zach turn the rim (to my specs) and make the tone ring and tension ring. It was an experiment and has had great reviews from some top players. So he might be willing to make another.

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