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Oct 13, 2021 - 7:29:35 PM

Kookaburra

Australia

23 posts since 10/26/2020

Hi
I have an SS Stewart Thoroughbred S/N 17525. I just put Labella No17 strings and a Joel Hooks J. Morely bridge on it. It is still settling in but sounding way different to the thick strings and modern bridge it came with.

In showing it to Tom Collins, amongst other things I was chiming at the 12th fret and he wondered why I was not at the twelfth fret? Well because for some reason that banjo has the markers at the 14th fret. What?

I have had a look through SS Stewarts Banjo Philosophically and Banjo notes and he talks of the 12th etc but in my skimming I can't see anything that makes the 14th fret important.

So does anyone know why it is marked at the 14th fret and not the 12th fret?

Oct 13, 2021 - 8:03:58 PM

6493 posts since 9/21/2007

It is just what he did. Sometimes he marked the octave, sometimes not. And the level of banjo did not seem to matter as I have a #1UF that is marked at 12 and a #2 Champion that is not. The champion is about 2500 banjos later.

Perhaps SSS figured people could find the octave without help.

Put a small white sticker there if it messes with you.

What SSS did that was different than other makers was to mark the 10th instead of the 9th. This is something that messes with me as I am set In my ways with the 10th and 14th.

Post 1900 the Guild of Banjoists, Mandolinists and Guitarists formalized the standards of marking 3, 5, 7, 10, 12, 15, 17, 19, and 22 at the urging of Thomas Armstrong. Below is an article on his logic behind the markings.


 

Oct 13, 2021 - 8:56:39 PM

Kookaburra

Australia

23 posts since 10/26/2020

"Its just what he did" was my general thought but the logic is still a bit weird. I have no problems adjusting, the first time I couldn't work out why the chimes ween't working and it seemed a bit strange in the length so counted it out and and arrived at 14. I had to do it about 4 times to be sure!

Oct 13, 2021 - 9:48:06 PM
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rcc56

USA

3754 posts since 2/20/2016

My theory is that the markers at 5, 10, 14, and 17 yield the notes of a C major triad [G, C, E, G] on a first string tuned to D.
But the hole in my theory is why the marker at 7, which yields an A. The best I can come up with is A minor [A, C, E] is the relative minor of C major.

We do have to bear in mind that in the days when Stewart started to develop his banjo designs, position markers were not necessarily common, and they definitely were not standardized.

Edited by - rcc56 on 10/13/2021 21:50:58

Oct 14, 2021 - 8:48:58 AM

11011 posts since 4/23/2004

Stewart would do whatever you wanted him to do. If you wanted the 14th fret marked, all you had to do was ask. I think some of these oddities are simply buyer requested alterations. There was no universal standard. If you were a newbie, you would not have the knowledge but if you were a player and you used that position a lot (I dunno, maybe you played a lot with a Guitarist who liked you to play stratospherically).

Another thing to think about is the written tuning. In the Stewart period, the "A notation" period, banjo tutors and sheet music in America were written for the banjo to be tuned eAEG#B (even though the absolute pitch was probably gCGBD). This makes the 14th fret a C#. Considering the teaching methods of the day, many pieces were in 4 sharps, locating that C# might be fairly convenient.

It is also not difficult to imagine the huckster coming out of Stewart if there were an error made. Few banjoists buy banjos with complete knowledge and familiarity of the instrument. Even today, a banjo oddly marked would probably sell like a normal one. It might be years (or never) till someone noticed. Just as now, many banjoists never played above the 7th fret anyway...

Oct 14, 2021 - 10:20:55 AM

6493 posts since 9/21/2007

I would say that SSS marking the 14 was no mistake.

A quick survey through catalogs shows that 14 and no 12 was common. Not to mention the volume of extant examples I have seen.

My weird Orchestra has 14 with no 12.

Even the woodcut in his article on neck making shows 14 with no 12.

archive.org/details/TheBanjoPh.../mode/1up

Fred Van Eps marked 12 with one square and 14 with 2.


Oct 14, 2021 - 10:23:38 AM

Jbo1

USA

1053 posts since 5/19/2007

@kookaburra "Logic" and "banjo"? Man, have you read any of the posts on BHO?

Oct 14, 2021 - 11:18:39 AM

11011 posts since 4/23/2004

quote:
Originally posted by Joel Hooks

I would say that SSS marking the 14 was no mistake.

A quick survey through catalogs shows that 14 and no 12 was common. Not to mention the volume of extant examples I have seen.

My weird Orchestra has 14 with no 12.

Even the woodcut in his article on neck making shows 14 with no 12.

archive.org/details/TheBanjoPh.../mode/1up

Fred Van Eps marked 12 with one square and 14 with 2.


Guilty, of course: idle speculation without checking. All the vintage banjos I have out (Stewart CB, Stewart Orchestra #3, CE Special) have the 14th marked. The Orchestra #3 is a tad ornate to make out any real pattern but there is a dot at 14 and then a fancy thing at 15. The center of the pattern is around the 7th fret...which sometimes makes my fingers think it is the 12th...

Oct 14, 2021 - 11:19:31 AM
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hbick2

USA

444 posts since 6/26/2004

Here is the article from the July 1908 Cadenza that announces the decision of the American Guild of Banjoists, Mandolinists and Guitarists to recommend to manufacturers of banjos that they adopt standards for the marking of banjo fretboards. The standards are detailed in the article which is the 4th paragraph down in the left-hand column.


 

Oct 14, 2021 - 7:18:11 PM

1788 posts since 1/13/2012

The vast majority of Stewart banjos (from the time he was around, anyway) are marked at the 14th and not at the 12th. Eli Kaufman showed me an article in an old issue of the Five Stringer that explained, musically, why that was. I don't remember any of the details now.

Eli has a Vega that has the fingerboard that way as well... probably a custom order from a player who was used to Stewart markings.

Oct 15, 2021 - 11:06:25 AM

6493 posts since 9/21/2007

quote:
Originally posted by Andy FitzGibbon

The vast majority of Stewart banjos (from the time he was around, anyway) are marked at the 14th and not at the 12th. Eli Kaufman showed me an article in an old issue of the Five Stringer that explained, musically, why that was. I don't remember any of the details now.

Eli has a Vega that has the fingerboard that way as well... probably a custom order from a player who was used to Stewart markings.


It is a WL #2.  It has violin style friction pegs too.

Oct 15, 2021 - 1:40:11 PM

esmic

Canada

289 posts since 6/27/2011

The 5 Stringer article Andy refers to is a reprint of an article by Thomas Armstrong, explaining why Stewart marked the 10th. No explanation for his marking 14 is given.
Already posted above I see, but here it is again.
The lower grade Stewarts are typically marked at the 10th and 14th. The higher grade Stewarts with fancier inlays typically are also marked at 12. Some are inlaid at virtually every fret. Nice to look at but hard to play as marking every position makes navigation more difficult.

I have a Vega made Bacon Dragon marked at 10 and 14, rather than Bacon/Vega's standard at the time of 9 and 12. Likely made for a Stewart player of long standing.


 

Edited by - esmic on 10/15/2021 13:51:55

Oct 15, 2021 - 2:03:12 PM

Fish Head

Ireland

99 posts since 12/15/2017

Any chance that the 14th fret marks the mid point between the nut and the furthest point of an 11" pot, where the tailpiece is mounted? I have a Nielsen marked at the 14th and that measurement works out perfect. I always wondered about this myself.

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