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Eastman Whyte Laydie compared to Fairbanks/Vega Whyte Laydie

Jan 21, 2021 - 5:45:59 PM
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60 posts since 2/7/2014

I picked up a barely used Eastman Whyte Laydie at a good price. Only problem was serious scraping on the corners of the tolex case covering. I fixed it with black Flex Seal. Pretty amazing stuff.

Have any of you compared the Eastman to the originals in both material details and tone? I understand that Bernunzio and Eastman spent a lot of time trying to get it right.

All I can say, this Eastman has been a great find for me in feel and sound.

Jan 21, 2021 - 6:57:42 PM
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5942 posts since 9/21/2007

I have. There are some slight differences in fit and finish. The neck is set for wire strings on the Eastman. The metal parts on the Eastman are better fitted and seem to be better machined. The Eastman fingerboard is ebony and not dyed wood like Fairbanks Vega.

The 10th position is marked on the Eastman (it is usually 9th on originals).

The engraving in the inlays are pretty cheesy on the Eastman.

I set mine up and played it as originally intended for “classic banjo”, the ones I compared it to were set up the same.

I loved mine and played the heck out of it, but I like bigger banjos with longer scales so I eventually passed it on to a happy new owner.

Jan 22, 2021 - 4:51:49 AM
Players Union Member

jduke

USA

1100 posts since 1/15/2009

The Eastman is (I believe) a copy of a WL#2 from 1909. My original WL#2 is from 1911. I bought an Eastman WL neck to put on my vintage Tubaphone pot and was surprised to find the scale slightly shorter. I can't make the comparison you ask for, but that is a difference between an original and the Eastman.

Jan 22, 2021 - 5:48:37 AM

253 posts since 6/15/2006

To Joel Hooks. On one of my home made banjoes from several years ago I have one of these Whyte Laydie necks that I bought from the Bernunzios. I was so thrilled when I got it and still am. I think it is perfect in every little detail. I have it here and have my strong glasses on :), and I have to say that the inlay work and the engravings in the inlays are absolutely flawless on this one. I doubt that anybody could have made a better work. The only thing is that during the years little pieces of the yellow lacquer (or what it is) that covers the "monster" on the peg head have begun to crack off so you can see the mother of pearl under. But that´s ok with me.
I write this because you called the engravings in the inlays "pretty cheesy", which i cannot confirm. I think my neck may be from the start of Eastmans Whyte Laydies, and maybe they do not pay the same attention to details now as in the beginning ??? But I can not complain about anything at all, but the opposite, and I hope (but don´t think) I was just lucky. Best wishes Steen
P.S. I also love the the thin and low frets they have put on. :)

Jan 22, 2021 - 6:24:15 AM
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R Buck

USA

2893 posts since 9/5/2006

I taught on one of those Eastman's when teaching in town at a music store. A student has one and so did Adam Hurt. Those are the three I have seen up close and held in my hand. They are fine banjos and in some ways better than the old ones in some materials. Eastman proves over and over again that the Chinese fan build to any spec. Their guitars and mandolins are very good for the price point and so are their banjos. Their bowed instruments speak for themselves.

Jan 22, 2021 - 7:18:42 AM

5942 posts since 9/21/2007

When you compare the hawk head on the Eastman to many of the Fairbanks/Vega examples the difference is pretty obvious. The square position markers on the Eastman are not scalloped as deep as many Vega examples.

Don't get me wrong, the Eastman's decoration is nice, just not at the same.

Yeah, jduke , they are shorter. I believe that the Fairbanks/Vega sized 10.75" are 26", the Eastman is shorter than that. The only reason I sold mine was due to the small size. I know many people like that, esp. if playing old time, but I could not get past it.

Jan 22, 2021 - 8:16:04 AM
Players Union Member

Eric A

USA

1036 posts since 10/15/2019

The short scale is about the only thing that has kept me from buying one of these. Maybe if I get more left shoulder problems then I'll want one, but for now, no.

Edited by - Eric A on 01/22/2021 08:16:50

Jan 22, 2021 - 8:36 AM

1959 posts since 2/12/2009

I have one of those necks on an old 20s Tubaphone, I never even noticed it was shorter ! I guess I am not very observant !

Jan 22, 2021 - 9:51:07 AM
Players Union Member

jduke

USA

1100 posts since 1/15/2009

I'm not bothered by the shorter scale. When I bought my Tubaphone, it had a nice repo neck on it using the original dowel and some of the original inlay, but it was narrower at the nut than I like and that drives me crazy. The Eastman neck has turned it into a banjo that I enjoy playing, but I will put the part original/repro neck back on if I ever go to sell it.

Jan 22, 2021 - 10:33:48 AM

1959 posts since 2/12/2009

mine has the original dowel too, I keep thinking of having a plainer more appropriate neck built but. lockdown has put all such plans on hold for now !

Jan 22, 2021 - 5:02 PM
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60 posts since 2/7/2014

I find the neck to be about perfect. It's a little chunkier than my old Rettberg and Lange and certainly beefier than my Wildwood, which has a modern shape and a monstrous volute. I think the Wildwood will go on the marked; the Eastman being my #1 and the old R&L a keeper for sentimental reasons.

Jan 23, 2021 - 4:44:02 AM
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12 posts since 10/21/2008

I loaned the WL#2 to John Bernunzio that was sent to theEastman people in China. It was a Consalvi engraved instrument, 10.75 X 26. I think the serial number was early 23000's.
The banjo was out of my possession for about 2 years!
I was pleased with the copy they made except for the tuners. The bump case they made was a bit wonky too but I didn't send them an original to copy.
Bob Hutton

Jan 23, 2021 - 5:18:57 AM
Players Union Member

Eric A

USA

1036 posts since 10/15/2019

quote:
Originally posted by chubbydragon

I loaned the WL#2 to John Bernunzio that was sent to theEastman people in China. It was a Consalvi engraved instrument, 10.75 X 26. I think the serial number was early 23000's.
The banjo was out of my possession for about 2 years!
I was pleased with the copy they made except for the tuners. The bump case they made was a bit wonky too but I didn't send them an original to copy.
Bob Hutton


That's interesting that you say it's 26" scale when I see them often spec'd out at 25 and change.  I wonder what's up with that.

Jan 23, 2021 - 1:03:13 PM

60 posts since 2/7/2014

Thanks for the background info concerning construction. Sounds like Bernunzio and Eastman made a serious effort.

Jan 23, 2021 - 1:32:39 PM

208 posts since 4/17/2015

I also got one of the Eastman's at a "good price", and have a circa 1906 original W.L. No. 2 ("mid 23000s") as well. So I am fairly well poised to compare, side by side.

The scale length is around 1/8" shorter on the modern version. (I had never noticed until this discussion-inquiry). It really feels about the same to me.

The one marker is at the tenth fret on both.

The square or diamond inlays have scalloped edges on both, although the double inlays are a bit further from the bindings on the Eastman.

And yes, the engraving is not up to that on mine or other "better" vintage ones, but even some later originals and some of the modern craftsman are not as well done. (There are some really great engraver currently around!)
It lacks use of any multi-line gravers (for shading), and in general is broader, but certainly "acceptable" (and reasonably attractive). I successfully chipped the varnish off the peghead inlay with my thumbnail, and think the raw pearl looks a bit more "real" than the very dark amber finish there from the factory. (Don't try this at home, results may vary, usual disclaimers. I noted a chip starting after a few years, and it came cleanly off just where the inlay was.)

The inner rim binding is dark with high contrast while the original is a lighter, more even, and more subtle, swirl "tortoise". And the inner rim has a tight "flame" unlike most period Whyte Laydies.

The rim depth is quite similar on the two.
The bracket band is thicker on the "import", with more of a squared edge, and the bottom exposed part of the rim is consequently a bit thinner. So the wood rim is about the same thickness on both, but the band takes a little more room where it sits and in the area it fits over. They are very close to the same width on the side.

The new frets are measurably thicker, but still a nice narrow fret "similar" to the originals. And they go over the edge binding.

Most of the hardware appears quite similar, with the noted exception of the bracket band, and that the collar on the top of the nuts is a bit taller than on originals, and the hex section tapers down at that point as well, making for a somewhat different profile.

The tuners of course are quite different, being geared with faux pearl buttons- I changed them out on mine, replacing the fifth peg with a Stu-Mac friction one, which is visually quite similar to the original period ones used, and the four top pegs with "five star" planets, which use a much smaller washer on the peghead surface. The pearloid buttons I felt detracted, and that changed with the pegs, of course.
And I don't care for either geared fifth pegs or pearloid buttons.

The black line for both the center strip on the neck and under the fingerboard binding is noticeably thicker on the Eastman, but not such that it detracts.

Without measuring, the dimensions overall seem quite similar, as does the balance and weight.

The nut is a bit wider, and thicker, and is not mortized into a slot on the neck, but rather sits on top of the peghead veneer. So it is visually more prominent.

The peghead veneer is much thicker on my original, and thin on the Eastman.

And finally the shape of the neck where it meets the peghead is quite different, with an elongated "V" rather than the graceful tight curves which relate more to the peghead shape.
That is probably the biggest disappointment to me.

By and large the playability, tone, balance, volume and feel are nice, and compare with period ones. The neck captures the comfortable, thicker with a slight "V" shape, of period Fairbanks banjos. So it is a functional instrument, which I think has a good traditional feel, and sound, and look. And they are easily replaceable too. Just not as elegant or subtle as an original in detail or aesthetics.

Jan 23, 2021 - 2:04:41 PM

208 posts since 4/17/2015

The early Fairbanks (and Vega) catalogs don't specify scale length per se, but rather neck length. a 19 inch neck (or "26" scale") on a 10 3/4 inch rim, and a 19 3/4 inch neck ("27" scale") for an eleven inch. On the WL I mention above, it is just shy of that, along the first string from the nut to the tension hoop, while the Eastman version is less than 1/8" shorter. So pretty easy to miss the difference if you don't measure.

Jan 23, 2021 - 3:44:28 PM

5942 posts since 9/21/2007

I've seen/played a Regent with the same thickness center Laminate in the original neck owned by my dear friend Eli Kaufman.

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