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Jul 5, 2021 - 7:05:38 AM
359 posts since 3/27/2011

I have an old Vega Ranger, my first banjo acquired in 1966. Since these aren’t really worth anything I’ve decided to try and improve it, making it play a little better. One of the worst aspects is the neck, not too bad near the nut but as you go further down the neck it just turns into a huge C shape that really is a struggle to play. Asking to see if anyone has tried to slim one of these down at least into somewhat of a slight V and if there was any success. As thick as it is I have to believe it would take a lot of wood removal before getting into the truss rod. Ideas?

Jul 5, 2021 - 7:34:50 AM
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3935 posts since 5/29/2011

If you have one, a palm sander is good for this. You can start with a fairly coarse grit paper like 80 or 100 to take it down close to where you want it. Then use 220 grit to smooth it out. I usually finish up with 400 grit but lots of people only go as far as 220. Sand all the finish off the back of the neck, even the back of the peg head, because you will have to refinish it when you are done sanding. If you don't, it will be a real job to match colors when you are done.

If it was a neck blank there are better ways to do the shaping but, since this is a shaped neck, the palm sander should do the job. I have built several necks that came out too thick and had to go back and redo them. This is one of them, my Vega Ranger which started life as a tenor. I made the five string neck.








Edited by - Culloden on 07/05/2021 07:36:48

Jul 5, 2021 - 8:01:09 AM
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2767 posts since 4/7/2010

I would worry about the truss rod location. If you cut into the truss rod chanel there is no going back and the neck is scrap. 

Check with a veterinarian about the cost of a banjo neck x-ray, or even better if you have an x-ray tech for a pal who could do it during the slow 1:00 am shift at the hospital. Knowing the location of the rod will keep you from taking off too much wood.

Bob Smakula

Edited by - Bob Smakula on 07/05/2021 08:04:11

Jul 5, 2021 - 8:35:07 AM

359 posts since 3/27/2011

Thanks for the replies and yes Bob the truss rod is my concern. If I remember correctly on some of the Gibson necks there is a type of plug in the end of the neck sort of indicating the location but I haven’t removed this one to see. I feel I’d be safe from about the seventh fret down and since it’s ok from there to the nut I’d just try to mostly concentrate on the larger end of the neck. I’m not a speed neck fan but I would probably just leave it natural after sanding. I did auto body for years so I could probably refinish it but I’d soon spend more on material than the banjo is worth. At best this will become a knock around banjo for the garage or patio.

Jul 5, 2021 - 9:17:24 AM
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3935 posts since 5/29/2011

Bob's idea about the truss rod is valid. Since I made the five string neck for mine I knew how deep the channel was but a factory neck is a different story.
Larry, if you don't want to spend a lot of money on finishing materials you can use water based wood stain which is not too expensive. Home Depot has a spray finish called Varathane which I have used several times with good results. I wouldn't use it on guitar or mandolin bodies but it does fine for banjo necks.

Jul 5, 2021 - 9:50:06 AM
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Players Union Member

TLG

USA

1599 posts since 10/11/2004

Larry,
During the past couple years, I have taken several Little Wonders & Rangers & turned them into great banjos of which I am playing today 3 finger Bluegrass style. I started with making a new neck & cutting the heel to fit the rim getting rid of those 2 set screws & making it wide enough & slimming it down comfortably & did a radius on a couple, SS frets & VEGA inspired inlays, ebony fingerboard, 27 inch scale. I also cut down that tall resonator to normal size & added binding on the top. For the rim , I purchased the full 11" tubaphone ring & cut the rim down to the correct height for the new neck. I had to purchase an 11" notched hoop but the old 24 hook B&D hoops are the same spacing as the VEGA of the 50-60's. Used the rim shoes & the 4 piece flanges. These are lighter than the gibbies, Stellings & ODEs , play in tune better & sound great !
Email me & I'll send pics & discuss it more & if you are coming thru west TN near Memphis, stop by.

Jul 6, 2021 - 6:34:37 AM

359 posts since 3/27/2011

Thanks so much for all the comments. Tommy that’s quite an undertaking upgrading those Vegas. I may check into that but have 3 others banjos with of course one favorite. I always thought it would be neat to add one of the Vega tone rings and see how it would improve. Really wish I had access to an X-ray but I’d guess that’s a long shot since I’m not familiar with anyone who works in that field. I think one day soon I’ll pull the neck off and check out the mounting area, maybe while it’s off decide to pursue or not. It’s one of those things that once you start the commitment is made so I better be sure it’s worth the effort. Luckily this neck has some pretty serious scars from the old spring type capos so I could clean those up in the process. It also has a flat to back bow even with the truss rod loose. One nice suggestion is the Varathane Mike mentioned which may be an easy way to finish off the sanding without going to extremes and placing cost prohibitive orders with stew Mac!. I really am surprised to find people who have made necks for these. We purchased this one in 1966 when I was 13, I’m now 68 so I guess this is one of those the kids will sell someday. Talk about your forever banjo????

Jul 6, 2021 - 10:56:36 AM
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13963 posts since 6/29/2005

I think you may be underestimating the value of that banjo—I would go so far as to say it's a better instrument than many entry level banjos made today, even in this country, and certainly worth restoring to playing condition.

I think the fix for the crooked neck would be to remove the fingerboard or soften the glue joint with a heating pad, and re-glue the neck/fingerboard assembly straight against a flat surface like a table saw table.

Edited by - Ken LeVan on 07/06/2021 10:57:56

Jul 6, 2021 - 6:16:33 PM

11765 posts since 10/27/2006

quote:
Originally posted by Ken LeVan

I think you may be underestimating the value of that banjo—I would go so far as to say it's a better instrument than many entry level banjos made today, even in this country, and certainly worth restoring to playing condition.


The Deering Vega Senator is the current equivalent. $2,399 for the open backed version.

Go back a hundred years, this banjo was the Vega Regent original 5 string. The Senator of those days was a lower grade banjo though it had the same tone ring. If you can find a 1920s Regent, plan to pay around $2,000 or so. Mine was a great banjo.

Edited by - mikehalloran on 07/06/2021 18:17:41

Jul 7, 2021 - 10:03:31 AM
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359 posts since 3/27/2011

Just a follow up to all you who were kind enough to offer information. Very hard to admit the stupidity here but I thought about Tommy mentioning the set screws so yesterday I removed the neck for the first time in decades and have to say that I've never done a lot to it set up wise so I had never noticed those screws. Sure enough they were too far in causing the neck angle to be very wrong resulting in hi action. I removed the screws and after reinstalling the neck the action was just where I like it, about .090 at the 12th fret with a 5/8 bridge. It plays so much better now, good intonation and of course by getting the neck mounted firmly against the rim the tone and volume improved as well. There really seems to be no back bow, the fingerboard is flat without relief and no truss rod tension but still no problems with string buzz. I did notice the notch at the end of the neck and from what I can tell the truss rod is very hi and close to the fingerboard but with the improvements I don't have any desire to go thru with reshaping the neck as stated in the first post, at this stage I'd hate to ruin the original finish. I suppose I've just always played banjos I like better and never investigated improving this one until now. Probably one of the few Rangers that still has a pre EPA Remo head and recently removed Keith Scruggs Bump tuners!
So in short I've learned about the set screws and that there are people who still value these, even with all the Asian imports.
So thankful for all the response

Jul 7, 2021 - 10:12:36 AM
Players Union Member

TLG

USA

1599 posts since 10/11/2004

Larry,
You have a great banjo as is , made in the USA & better than any import being made today, it's a keeper & like anything else, cars, houses, tools , ect, need some TLC from time to time.
I would not hesitate to buy another old VEGA .
If you are ever down my way , stop by , & I come to Alcoa a couple times a year ,maybe we can meet up.

Jul 8, 2021 - 11:24:20 AM

11765 posts since 10/27/2006

quote:
Originally posted by lbartosh

... It also has a flat to back bow even with the truss rod loose. ...


Your banjo was not designed for the string sets popular today.

Although you can't buy a commercial set with the original string gauges, this set comes really close. The original strings had a .015 second and .026w fourth. Although John Hartford may have used them tuned down a 4th and that's how they're sold, they are not designed for D tuning—marketing hogwash.

Pearse 1950D

Gibson Mediums of the day had a .025w fourth and a .011 fifth—I still have a set I bought about 5 years ago when they were finally discontinued.

One thing nice about a wound third is that a banjo intonates up the neck much nicer with a straight bridge—not perfect but a whole lot better.

Jul 8, 2021 - 11:31:56 AM

359 posts since 3/27/2011

Interesting, I have a set of j60+ On it now but will try some heavier ones I have here.
Thanks

Jul 8, 2021 - 1:33:53 PM
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3982 posts since 5/1/2003

Here’s a neck from a ‘64 Folk Wonder. Luthier Leo Posch skimmed this down to comfortably slim with no problems. I’ve had him do this more than once and he doesn’t seem concerned a bout the truss rod. He’s so good with wood that I think he uses a tap method to stay away from trouble.
He mounted this neck on a ‘24 pot with White lady ring. It sounds great.

Jul 8, 2021 - 6:14:49 PM

3982 posts since 5/1/2003

quote:
Originally posted by Ks_5-picker

Here’s a neck from a ‘64 Folk Wonder. Luthier Leo Posch skimmed this down to comfortably slim with no problems. I’ve had him do this more than once and he doesn’t seem concerned a bout the truss rod. He’s so good with wood that I think he uses a tap method to stay away from trouble.
He mounted this neck on a ‘24 pot with White lady ring. It sounds great.



Edited by - Ks_5-picker on 07/08/2021 18:15:52

Jul 8, 2021 - 7:56:42 PM
Players Union Member

Helix

USA

14627 posts since 8/30/2006

All my truss rods are no deeper than the truss rod underneath the fingerboard, mostly 7/16"

Nice, simple neck reset you did there.

Jul 9, 2021 - 3:47:47 AM

359 posts since 3/27/2011

Rod, that looks like a fine job he did on the neck and something like I had in mind. This would play much easier with a little less bulk, especially from about the fifth string on where it gets so thick and the finish on yours is nice too. I’m still shocked at how much better it sounds after a little work fitting the neck, I believe as good as many of the old tb1 and 2 5 string Gibson conversions I’ve played without tone rings! One thing I’m curious about is how Leo worked the area near the fretboard. Did he sand the edge along with the neck wood or just up to it? I would think he sanded the whole thing right up to the frets. The edges on my fretboard are thick and just about 90 degrees to the frets. Hope that makes sense.
In 1970 I went from this to one of the fender concertones with the extra slim neck so you can imagine how different it was. Those old fender necks are still possibly my favorite.
After seeing the job in your pics and feeling sure there is thickness to work with I may give it a try, I believe your folk wonder neck is probably really much the same as mine.
Thanks Larry, from what I could see at the end of my neck this is exactly how the rod is installed, just under the fretboard
Thanks again for the info

Jul 9, 2021 - 5:18:31 AM
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Players Union Member

Helix

USA

14627 posts since 8/30/2006

They are all installed that way. You may find a thin strip of wood also to maybe help keep the rod from rattling.
Some of the first rims I made were two for a Fender Leo.
The Vegas should be good for a century if cared for, heck that applies to everyone of us. Not just banjos.

Jul 10, 2021 - 12:53:44 PM

3982 posts since 5/1/2003

ne thing I’m curious about is how Leo worked the area near the fretboard. Did he sand the edge along with the neck wood or just up to it? I would think he sanded the whole thing right up to the frets. The edges on my fretboard are thick and just about 90 degrees to the frets. Hope that makes sense.

When I picked it up he had forgotten to replace the side dots or maybe they were never there but he redid them in about 10 minutes so I think he must have narrowed the fingerboard a little too.

Jul 10, 2021 - 2:05:36 PM
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13963 posts since 6/29/2005

your pictures don't show the binding.  Most of us would only remove material up to the binding unless the neck needed to be narrower, in which case you'd have to sand through the binding, rout new rabbets, and put on new binding—quite a lot more work than just re-profiling the thickness and shape of the neck.

Most side dots are put into drilled holes at least as deep as the thickness of the binding, but some may be surface decorations, which would easily get sanded off.

Jul 10, 2021 - 7:10:32 PM

359 posts since 3/27/2011

My neck isn’t bound but seems best to me to only sand up to the fingerboard, that would accomplish what I want. The other issue with neck shape is that the top corner is very square, seems it should have been rounded a little before the frets went on. I don’t think anything could be done to improve that without a refret but the edge is ok as is. The idea of removing some of the bulk would be a far bigger improvement.

Jul 10, 2021 - 7:50:55 PM

3982 posts since 5/1/2003

The folk wonder,at least the one this neck came off of,was a bottom feeder of the Vegas in ‘64. The hardware was cheaply made and there was no binging on the fingerboard.

Jul 11, 2021 - 4:45:41 PM

359 posts since 3/27/2011

Rod, that describes the Ranger perfectly, no trim anywhere, a few dots in the fingerboard, some kind of vinyl decorative band around the rim and of course no tone ring.

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