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May 6, 2021 - 2:17:40 PM

bobbo

USA

9 posts since 11/24/2020

My wife has an old (1890's?) SS Stewart that I had a local luthier do some quick/cheap work on (his choice, I wanted to have the banjo play well and was willing to spend more). Essentially he replaced the skin head with a fiber head, replaced all J hooks, strings and set it up. He apparently set it up to an "F" not a "G" that my wife wanted. My wife is having a heck of a time tuning it to a "G", if not impossible (probably why he set it to an "F". I do not play but am very handy. I was thinking that the tuners are at least 45 years old (that is how long she has owned it and never replaced them, and perhaps it is time to replace them or at least tune them up if such a thing. I assume they are planetary (see photos). At the very least I can see (what I assume to be) leather washers that are all washed up (pun intended). If I take off the tuners will I be able to re-grease them? If so what is the best way to de-grease them and what type of grease should I replace? Would it just be best to replace them? In either case, am I wasting my time? If not and I do this work can I reuse the strings (brand new) or should I replace them as well to ease the installation? Seems to me they may be difficult to reuse die to their already cut to length. If I replace them (they are cheap enough) what strings would be best to install? Lots of questions and I do appreciate any help you folks might offer. Thanks




May 6, 2021 - 2:41:19 PM
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2499 posts since 5/2/2012

I know next to nothing about truly vintage banjos, but if this is truly an 1890s banjo, I don't think it was meant for steel/modern strings. I would detune the strings to take the pressure off the neck (and other parts) until the experts weigh in. I'm sure someone will come along with ideas for the tuners. If the banjo is that old, it probably has friction (non-geared) rather than planetary tuners.  I'm wondering if bridge placement is an issue with not being able to tune to G. 

Edited by - thisoldman on 05/06/2021 14:54:44

May 6, 2021 - 2:56:06 PM
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8544 posts since 8/28/2013

Please post more pictures: front back, and sides of the entire banjo, close-up of the inside where the neck attaches to the rim, tailpiece, etc.

There may be other problems causing the tuning issue, especially since this banjo was never intended to have steel strings on it. Steel strings pull to a higher tension than the original gut strings (nylon is used now instead) and can damage a banjo made in the 1890's or early 1900's.

May 6, 2021 - 3:06:02 PM

1473 posts since 4/13/2009
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There is no reason those tuning pegs should prevent tuning to G. You probably can not disassemble them anyway. There is something else wrong - from attempting to tune an octave too high to strings that not secured to the pegs. If you have the option, take it to someone else for another opinion.

May 6, 2021 - 3:39:28 PM

6187 posts since 9/21/2007

quote:
Originally posted by G Edward Porgie

Please post more pictures: front back, and sides of the entire banjo, close-up of the inside where the neck attaches to the rim, tailpiece, etc.

There may be other problems causing the tuning issue, especially since this banjo was never intended to have steel strings on it. Steel strings pull to a higher tension than the original gut strings (nylon is used now instead) and can damage a banjo made in the 1890's or early 1900's.


I already know what it is from the photos.  It is a Stewart & Bauer "Monogram" which was the budget line introduced just after SSS died.

May 6, 2021 - 4:50:46 PM

bobbo

USA

9 posts since 11/24/2020

Thanks for all the quick replies. We understand there may be so much more at work here regarding tunability as the banjo is over 100 years old. I was hoping to do some minimally intrusive things to get it to tune better, if not possible it may become a wall hanger. At any rate, G Edward asked for more photos so I have attached more. So most definitely we should put on nylon strings? Thanks again.

May 6, 2021 - 7:10:55 PM
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8544 posts since 8/28/2013

quote:
Originally posted by Joel Hooks
quote:
Originally posted by G Edward Porgie

Please post more pictures: front back, and sides of the entire banjo, close-up of the inside where the neck attaches to the rim, tailpiece, etc.

There may be other problems causing the tuning issue, especially since this banjo was never intended to have steel strings on it. Steel strings pull to a higher tension than the original gut strings (nylon is used now instead) and can damage a banjo made in the 1890's or early 1900's.


I already know what it is from the photos.  It is a Stewart & Bauer "Monogram" which was the budget line introduced just after SSS died.

 


The reason I asked for more photos is not because people would not know the make of banjo (even I knew this was a Stewart and Bauer). The reason I asked is because photos could show other possible issues that could cause this to be un-tunable, such as missing wedges at the neck attachment.

Although it's likely that the tuners need attention, I just felt that all possible issues should be explored.

Edited by - G Edward Porgie on 05/06/2021 19:16:52

May 6, 2021 - 7:23:16 PM

bobbo

USA

9 posts since 11/24/2020

Thanks and I did not mean to imply anyone did not know the make of the banjo, just posted more cause you asked for them. Any additional insights based on the new photos?

May 6, 2021 - 7:39:24 PM

615 posts since 7/10/2012

Just for the sake of mentioning it, did you loosen the screws on tips of the pegs? If those are crammed down, it would definitely cause tuning to be more difficult. Apologies for mentioning the obvious.

May 6, 2021 - 7:42:23 PM

6187 posts since 9/21/2007

The wedge plate has been replaced with a fabricated piece of bent metal.

Did you keep the old hooks? Why were they replaced, unless they are cracked there is no reason to do that.

Get rid of the wire strings.

The pegs are replacements and should work fine.

La Bella no. 17s are appropriate tension for this banjo.

May 6, 2021 - 9:44:31 PM

rcc56

USA

3521 posts since 2/20/2016

The first thing that I would do would be to try to adjust the screw that holds the tuner button on.  If it is too loose or too tight, the instrument will be difficult to tune.

If that does not help, you can replace the leather washers.
Remove the screw and the tuner button. Then you will be able to remove the collar and replace the washer.
Re-assemble, and attempt to tune up. You may have to adjust the screw tension to allow the tuner to operate smoothly.

If the instrument is still difficult to tune, it would be a good idea to visit someone who has some experience with old banjos. If you need help with the instrument, you can visit Retrofret in Brooklyn. They know a bit about old banjos. You will have to make an appointment.

Currently, a lot of people don't want to see wire strings used on any old open back banjo. That's a judgement call. Many of these old banjos have held up fine with wire strings for many decades.   In other cases, some of the old banjos have developed warped necks.  Your wife is the owner. It's her call to make.

If the wire strings are of a sufficiently light gauge, the chances that the banjo will hold up with them are not bad.

Edited by - rcc56 on 05/06/2021 21:51:27

May 7, 2021 - 4:49:45 AM
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2610 posts since 4/7/2010

I agree with Bob Chuckrow that most old banjos can support the tension of wire strings with no issues, but the few I have seen that were visibly effected by steel string tension happen to have been S.S. Stewart Monogram banjos. The necks on those particular banjos were thinner than the norm and I had to go wireless.

On the original question of the tuners; It looks like the original friction tuners were replaced with geared tuners made by Elton. They were an upgrade at the time of installation, but with modern gearing being significantly better, I recommend installing a set of Gotoh planets. I stock a full line of Gotoh Banjo tuners, including an aged nickel finish that I think will look best on your banjo. See my new banjo parts web page for more details.

Bob Smakula
smakula.com

Edited by - Bob Smakula on 05/07/2021 04:51:44

May 7, 2021 - 9:19:16 AM

2565 posts since 6/19/2008

In my opinion, if you decide to go with nylon strings (and you probably should), the geared tuners on the banjo should suffice. It appears that they are geared with regular old gears, not planetary gears. Planetaries are distinctive in that the string shaft and button are in line with each other, whereas yours appear to be offset. Also, in planetary tuners, the string shaft turns in the same direction as the button. I believe (having never seen one in person) that with the geared tuners like yours would turn the string shaft in the opposite direction. These tuners would have a 2:1 gear ratio, the planetaries have a 4:1 gear ratio. Nylon strings stretch so much that (again IMHO) you don't really need the greater gear ratio. The above goes for the four tuners on the peg head. The fifth string tuner looks like a simple friction tuner. If it works okay and doesn't give you fits tuning the fifth string, then let it be. Otherwise, Mr. Smakula no doubt has a good replacement geared tuner at a great price.

May 7, 2021 - 11:29:19 AM

11411 posts since 10/27/2006

quote:
Originally posted by Bob Smakula

I agree with Bob Chuckrow that most old banjos can support the tension of wire strings with no issues, but the few I have seen that were visibly effected by steel string tension happen to have been S.S. Stewart Monogram banjos. The necks on those particular banjos were thinner than the norm and I had to go wireless.

On the original question of the tuners; It looks like the original friction tuners were replaced with geared tuners made by Elton. They were an upgrade at the time of installation, but with modern gearing being significantly better, I recommend installing a set of Gotoh planets. I stock a full line of Gotoh Banjo tuners, including an aged nickel finish that I think will look best on your banjo. See my new banjo parts web page for more details.

Bob Smakula
smakula.com


I'm with Bob on this. Eltons can be ok till they are not. When that happens, they should be replaced. I'm not positive when the Elkington Company came into being but the date that is normally thrown around is 1920. In any case, the first practical in-line geared tuners for banjos did not hit the market before the mid 1920s.

May 7, 2021 - 11:38:20 AM

bobbo

USA

9 posts since 11/24/2020

Thanks again for all the replies, I will consult with my wife. She may be leaning toward having this become a wall hanger and buying something new(er) for less headaches.

May 7, 2021 - 1:05:54 PM

8544 posts since 8/28/2013

I have seen far too many banjos damaged by steel strings, not all of them Stewart Monograms. Sometimes necks can be okay, but I've encountered egged rims and taco-like rims that rock on a flat surface, damaged dowelsticks, ruined tailpieces and tuning pegs, and badly worn frets. Admittedly, these were generally cheap "jobber" banjos, but I think it's best practice to use strings the original makers intended.

May 7, 2021 - 3:11:19 PM
Players Union Member

Helix

USA

14043 posts since 8/30/2006

It’s a buyer’s market right now

Confer with Mr Smakula regarding vintage
The used classified here are deep

May 8, 2021 - 5:10:06 AM
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hbick2

USA

357 posts since 6/26/2004

This is too nice of a banjo to relegate it to the wall. Your tuning problems are not inherent to the banjo. Something is simply not being done correctly. If nothing else, those strings look heavy enough to put on a D-28. Find yourself a player nearby who can help you with it. My bet is that the solution is pretty simple. Bob's suggestion of replacing the tuners is probably a good one. Get yourself a new tailpiece, too. That one is pretty horrible.

I would suggest that you make this a nylon-strung banjo and find another one to use with steel strings. Remember, there is no such thing as too many banjos.

May 14, 2021 - 3:21:52 PM

bobbo

USA

9 posts since 11/24/2020

Again, thanks for all the responses. I know that Bob suggested Gotoh tuners. I was also considering Rickard (will the 10:1 ratio help to tune the banjo)? I would also appreciate suggestions for strings. I apologize that in fact I do not play, my wife does the playing. Thanks

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