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Feb 28, 2021 - 2:03:46 PM
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7915 posts since 1/7/2005

I found this little banjo at a yard sale a few years ago. It is obviously a hand-made instrument, and that's about all I know about it. It might be quite old, or not. The entire neck and rim are carved from one piece of wood. ( looks somewhat like apple wood ) When I got it it was missing tuners, nut and tailpiece. I fit some viola size pegs and made a new tailpiece for it. And that's about all I can do to get it playable, until I know what it is. Off hand, I would tend to describe it as a long-neck banjo-uke. The pot is tiny--(about 4-1/2" diameter, while the neck is fairly normal--( about 14-1/2" scale length). 

The head looks like goat skin, and is mounted with a metal ring and wire brads. The neck is fitted with 5 bar frets. The banjo has seen a lot of use, and has the patina of some significant age. Could be American slave make, possibly African import, or some kind of homemade hobby project. . 

My question is, what the heck is it? Should I string it with Uke strings, violin strings, or tenor banjo strings? I wish it had a fifth string, but it doesn't. The scale length might provide a clue. It might even have been a bowed instrument. If nothing else it makes a cute wall hanger.


Edited by - Dan Drabek on 02/28/2021 14:14:37

Feb 28, 2021 - 2:24:43 PM

2307 posts since 9/25/2006

Wow probably intended as a tenor banjo or Uke. No reason why you can’t add a fifth string peg!

Feb 28, 2021 - 2:28:25 PM

Hunter Robertson


903 posts since 5/19/2006

A Tahitian ukulele I think.

Feb 28, 2021 - 2:30:28 PM
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13472 posts since 6/29/2005

Very cool, Dan!

The way the V-profiled neck starts as a dart at the peghead and continues into the pot as a heel is very sculptural and sophisticated—you can see the joint where the neck was glued to the rim.

The paddle shaped peghead looks as it it was made by CF Martin (ha ha).

Really an amazing instrument—are you going to set it up so it can play?  It looks better than just a wall-hanger.


Feb 28, 2021 - 3:41:19 PM

2117 posts since 1/21/2003

Don't know what it is exactly, but the maker clearly subscribed to the saw about there being no money above the 5th fret.  wink

Feb 28, 2021 - 4:07:26 PM
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56988 posts since 12/14/2005

String it like a uke, frail it like a banjo.

Feb 28, 2021 - 5:10:25 PM

7915 posts since 1/7/2005

Thanks for the speculations guys. It may well be unidentifiable if it's a one-off piece. The wear on the wood shows it being well used. But I doubt it was used for jazz or ragtime.

Ken, I can see how some of the tooling can give the impression that it was made in two pieces, but in hand, it is clearly whittled out of a single piece of wood.


Feb 28, 2021 - 5:44:48 PM

3674 posts since 5/29/2011

I don't think this is a one-off piece. I saw one of these on eBay some time ago but with more frets. It had the same deep V shaped neck. I remember wondering where the bridge would sit since the body is so out of proportion to the neck. The description didn't offer any idea as to its origin though.

Feb 28, 2021 - 8:12:08 PM
Players Union Member



13789 posts since 8/30/2006

It looks like a sailor's project, someone with time and forethought. If you've seen another, then somebody probably made a few.

Like Mike Gregory, I've seen a lot of people frail a uke. string it for that first.

I hear slurs where the frets leave off. What music would go with that?

Mar 1, 2021 - 3:01:29 AM
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Hunter Robertson


903 posts since 5/19/2006

Mar 1, 2021 - 4:57:08 AM

13472 posts since 6/29/2005

Based on those images from Hunter Robertson's links, it is almost certainly a Tahitian uke, and you can see what the bridge ought to look like.

Mar 1, 2021 - 7:29:12 AM

7915 posts since 1/7/2005

Polynesian! Thanks Hunter. You nailed it. Even the unique mounting of the head is displayed on a few of them.

I suppose the wood might be koa. Guess I'll string it like a uke.


Mar 1, 2021 - 8:22:41 AM

1312 posts since 5/19/2018

I’ll second the Polynesian aspect.

I have a beautiful violin case that is attributed to be from the South Pacific. Late 19th - Early 20th century. The amazing thing about it is it’s made from one solid piece of wood. Pretty amazing piece of workmanship.

Don’t know the species of the wood, but looks similar to the instrument in question. Very dense and very heavy.

The way it’s built, almost looks as if the same artisan made it.

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