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
Wow probably intended as a tenor banjo or Uke. No reason why you can’t add a fifth string peg!
A Tahitian ukulele I think.
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.
Don't know what it is exactly, but the maker clearly subscribed to the saw about there being no money above the 5th fret.
String it like a uke, frail it like a banjo.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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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