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Dec 1, 2020 - 2:24:38 PM
7 posts since 11/30/2020

Hi All,
I'm new to the Banjo Hangout, though I've been collecting guitars and ukuleles since I was a teenager. I'm looking for information and opinions anyone might have about this unmarked project banjo I've had for several years now. It originally turned up at a flea market in New England many years ago, and I acquired it from that antiques picker as part of a bunch of projects. I'm posting pictures, and will add more if necessary.
Here's what I know about it.
It has an 11 inch rim, in what appears to be Brazilian rosewood, married to a curly/birds eye maple neck and dowel stick. The tuners and hardware are original, with the exception of one hook and nut, and the Frank Converse tailpiece, which has been modified to fit this banjo. The original hooks are thin and have a 6-32 thread.
It's a very high quality build, though there are obvious modifications. In addition to the tailpiece, the frets appear later, as would the black finish to the fingerboard.
The most obvious problem (and the reason I was able to buy it at all) is the lack of a piece around the 5th peg. The seller assumed this was a bad modification though I'm quite convinced buy the quality of the milling and glue residue that it was an original addition which has since been lost.
My aim is to restore it and display it with the rest of my collection.
Any ideas about maker, age, and what the missing pieces would look like -- so I can restore it -- are greatly appreciated.
Randy




 

Dec 1, 2020 - 2:46:38 PM

7 posts since 11/30/2020

Trying to add some additional pictures.

Dec 1, 2020 - 3:31:36 PM

2451 posts since 4/7/2010

Randy,

It is nice to see your name pop up. I remember reading loads of articles you wrote in various guitar magazines 20 + years ago and always appreciated the quality information you shared.

You scored a banjo that was likely made in the late 1870's to early 1880's. The shield shoes and hooks and nuts are standard trade hardware, but the neck is unusual enough that it might be hard to ID.

No doubt there will be other knowledgeable folks chiming in.

Bob Smakula
smakula.com

Dec 1, 2020 - 3:38:51 PM

7 posts since 11/30/2020

Thanks for the kind words Bob, I love those guys at VG magazine, though these days I just help them write the uke section in the Price Guide.
I'm trying to add some closeups here, hopefully these will tell more of the story.




 

Dec 1, 2020 - 3:49:41 PM

56505 posts since 12/14/2005

As we say here in Sonava Beach:

"Sonova BEACH, that looks painful!"

Dec 1, 2020 - 5:37:24 PM

1298 posts since 3/1/2012

What a cool heel carving!

Dec 1, 2020 - 5:54:32 PM

898 posts since 2/17/2005

yeah, way cool heel carving...ouch on the neck surgery!
pot looks a lot like the two hammigs that have passed through my hands.

Dec 1, 2020 - 6:04:43 PM

8051 posts since 8/28/2013

That's a rather unusual neck. I suspect the cut away section may be original and that a geared "guitar style" tuner was used there, similar to the tuners on the peghead.

I also don't think that's a rosewood rim. To me it looks more like cherry. Hard to tell, though, from the photo.

This may originally have had a tailpiece mounted like those on violins, with a gut cord wrapped around the dowelstick hardware. The metal ferule might be a repair, or it could be original.

One other thing: never use steel strings on this banjo.
 

Dec 1, 2020 - 8:34:16 PM
like this

7 posts since 11/30/2020

Thanks to all who shared opinions and ideas today! Tonight I carved a mockup replacement for the missing 5th peg section using balsa wood. I went by the placement of the existing peg hole, the long 7th fret (previously overhanging) and the 3 bump contour on the back of the neck in that area. This piece exactly follows the shape of the neck carve  in that area. Any chance this is something like what this piece might have looked like?  If I'm in the ballpark I'll remake it in curly maple.




 

Edited by - rjklimpert on 12/01/2020 20:37:06

Dec 1, 2020 - 9:29:04 PM
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3553 posts since 5/29/2011

I am not the expert on old time banjos that Bob Smakula is so I will defer to his knowledge of when it was made. The carving you made for the fifth string peg looks appropriate for a banjo of that era. Go with it.
George's idea about the guitar style tuner is possible since it has geared tuners on the peghead but I really like the design you came up with.

Dec 2, 2020 - 6:15:01 AM

1672 posts since 1/13/2012

That "let in" 5th string area seems to have been a somewhat popular construction technique at one time. I have a banjo with the same problem (missing "let in" area) and I've seen several other ca. 1870-1880 instruments that were built that way.

Dec 2, 2020 - 6:49:44 AM

5852 posts since 9/21/2007

We have seen that same heel detail before but it was a while back and I just don't remember who posted it or what the title of the discussion might have been.

To me, and this is just opinion, your mockup looks to fancy and curvy. I would bet that it was original pretty straight. It is a super cool banjo though.

Dec 2, 2020 - 7:18:15 AM
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Brett

USA

2405 posts since 11/29/2005

I’m with George, I can envision this originally with guitar style 5th tuner. Pretty workmanship on your mock up, I can see you’re talented. That is one nice hunk of maple with a bada$$ heel! I like the curvy stuff but I have zero idea of historical correctness or anything like Joel. He truly knows massive amounts regarding the old ones in particular. I don’t know that George is right, but he’s sharper than I on older stuff also. But, it makes sense with the guitar tuners on the peghead, the 5th might’ve also been guitar style tuner mounted in some manner we don’t see often.

Very interesting project, please share pix when you’ve got it “dialed in”! Congrats on your find!

Dec 2, 2020 - 7:19:49 AM
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Brett

USA

2405 posts since 11/29/2005

That’s about like running across a cool old original black powder rifle laying in a barn or cabin or something. Nice find.

Dec 2, 2020 - 2:31:51 PM

56505 posts since 12/14/2005

Might be hard to match the wood on that "let in" part.
Might have to use regular maple, and draw in the matching curlies.

Reminds me of an article in a gun magazine, umpdiddle years ago, where some guy faked a tiger-striped maple on his own black powder rifle by scorching it with a propane torch.

Dec 2, 2020 - 3:29:46 PM

5852 posts since 9/21/2007

Yes, it would likely be a matching worm and gear.

Dec 2, 2020 - 4:02:35 PM

7 posts since 11/30/2020

quote: Yup, that's what I thought too, but a guitar tuner isn't going to fit there.  At least with the existing drilled 5th peg hole, it puts the tuner backing plate about 1/8" proud of the surface of the fingerboard.  I'm really thinking it must have been a peg.

Originally posted by Joel Hooks

Yes, it would likely be a matching worm and gear.


Dec 2, 2020 - 4:19:43 PM

5852 posts since 9/21/2007

A banjo with this exact heel was posted on BHO not too long ago. I seem to remember it being fully intact. There is another and there are photos somewhere on BHO. It would be worth searching the archives to try and find it.

Dec 2, 2020 - 4:25:29 PM

7 posts since 11/30/2020

quote:  Thanks!  I'd love to find that.  Any search terms to try?  Anything you can recall?
Originally posted by Joel Hooks

A banjo with this exact heel was posted on BHO not too long ago. I seem to remember it being fully intact. There is another and there are photos somewhere on BHO. It would be worth searching the archives to try and find it.


Dec 2, 2020 - 4:33:57 PM

5852 posts since 9/21/2007

I'm sorry, but I don't remember details like what the discussion was titled. You might just have to sift through the "identity this banjo" pages.

Dec 2, 2020 - 6:39:32 PM

8051 posts since 8/28/2013

quote:
Originally posted by rjklimpert
quote: Yup, that's what I thought too, but a guitar tuner isn't going to fit there.  At least with the existing drilled 5th peg hole, it puts the tuner backing plate about 1/8" proud of the surface of the fingerboard.  I'm really thinking it must have been a peg.

Originally posted by Joel Hooks

Yes, it would likely be a matching worm and gear.


 


I doubt that that 5th string peg hole is original, and that it should be ignored as far as positioning a tuner is concerned. I'd plug it and start over.

Dec 3, 2020 - 2:00:44 AM
like this

1672 posts since 1/13/2012

The presence of geared tuners on the peghead is not really evidence of the 5th tuner having been geared. I've seen several banjos from this era with geared peghead tuners and a friction 5th.

Is the existing 5th tuner hole tapered, or straight? That would provide some evidence of what was there originally. I see no reason to discount that hole as not being original.

I don't recall seeing another banjo here with a heel *exactly* like this one, though there have been a couple that were similar. Not similar enough that I'd say they had any connection, beyond the general aesthetics of the era.

Edited by - Andy FitzGibbon on 12/03/2020 02:03:08

Dec 3, 2020 - 6:29:50 AM

3553 posts since 5/29/2011

Maybe this is the heel people are thinking about?


 

Dec 3, 2020 - 9:37:54 AM

7 posts since 11/30/2020

The remnant of the 5th peg hole is tapered and fits a standard violin peg exactly.  And although the shafts on some 19th c. geared guitar tuners are slightly tapered too, the fact that a peg fits so seemingly correctly in this existing hole is what leads me to believe it was originally a peg.
 
Originally posted by Andy FitzGibbon

The presence of geared tuners on the peghead is not really evidence of the 5th tuner having been geared. I've seen several banjos from this era with geared peghead tuners and a friction 5th.

Is the existing 5th tuner hole tapered, or straight? That would provide some evidence of what was there originally. I see no reason to discount that hole as not being original.

I don't recall seeing another banjo here with a heel *exactly* like this one, though there have been a couple that were similar. Not similar enough that I'd say they had any connection, beyond the general aesthetics of the era.


Dec 3, 2020 - 10:15:39 AM

5852 posts since 9/21/2007

quote:
Originally posted by Culloden

Maybe this is the heel people are thinking about?


Nope

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