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May 26, 2022 - 4:41:06 AM
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2 posts since 5/25/2022

Hi all. I come to you with the very familiar story of being a guitar player who inherited an old banjo and is curious to know more about it. While my grandfather wasn’t a serious player by any means, he had a couple guitars and this banjo lying around the farmhouse that he would pick up and play once in awhile. I remember him showing me some chords when I was little.

It has no brand name, and there are no markings or numbers that I can find anywhere on or in it. In looking online a bit, I’ve found the peghead shape indicates it may have been made by Kay and that it wasn’t uncommon for these models to be sold with no name. I’ve seen a lot of variation online in the type of tuning pegs may have been used on similar models, though, so I’m having trouble pinning down any more info on it.

My plan is to keep it, as it’s a cool family relic. I’m just looking for any further details on what this banjo is and when it was made, as I think my family would get a kick to know more about it.

Thanks for any info and help you can offer. I’ve already had a lot of fun looking around this site.


May 26, 2022 - 5:56:30 AM



22961 posts since 7/6/2005

stromber-Voisinet, predecessor to Kay, circa early-to-mid 40's. Value $100-150

May 26, 2022 - 6:38:35 AM
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374 posts since 2/11/2009

By the time this banjo was built the company was called Kay Musical Instruments.

May 26, 2022 - 8:04:08 AM
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5152 posts since 3/22/2008

Welcome to Hangout.
Excellent photos.
Tough question ("when it was made").
I'll walk through it (not your fault just the way I think).
For starters - Your banjo is definitely a Kay (Kay Musical Instrument Co. Chicago, Ill. Illinois articles of incorporation corporate name amendment approved Aug. 6, 1931).
Among other things it is identified as a Kay banjo by the metal neck adjuster wedge, the heavy metal flange with dot-dash sound holes and the "gumby" peghead shape.
The company was formerly named Stromberg-Voisinet Co. (inc.) Chicago - Feb. 1922 to Aug. 1931. The "owner" of S/V, Henry Kuhrmeyer, simply changed the name to Kay in 1931.
Kuhrmeyer invented the metal neck adjuster in 1930 and began employing it on his banjos late 1930 and into 1931 and forever more at least up until the 1950's. The dot-dash flange is left-over from S/V days. The gumby peghead shape was introduced on Kuhrmeyer's Kay Kraft line of banjos in June 1931. The resonator decal is not quite like the early 1930's Kay banjos that I have seen depicted.
AFAIK the gumby peghead shape quickly disappeared in the very early 1930's and by mid-late 1930's Kay was using a guitar-style peghead shape with guitar-like tuners. It appears to me (Montgomery Ward catalog) that the gumby peghead reappeared in the late 1940's (I have one-a tenor no flange) and I think the metal friction tuners were employed at that time.
So, I will opine that your banjo was made post-war late 1940's into early 1950's. The rub is the resonator decal which was a popular decoration mid-1920's into early to mid 1930's not so much a post-war kind of thing to my recollection.
Hopefully, some other Hangout people will chime in with help as to when your banjo was made. Meanwhile I've attached photos of my Post War ca. early 1950's Kay Gumby peghead and tuners.

May 26, 2022 - 8:35:12 AM

5152 posts since 3/22/2008

I think you might find the attached Montgomery Ward catalog Spring/Summer 1957 to be of interest. Banjo "BB". Appears to be a gumby with dot-dash flange and friction pegs. Unfortunately, no picture of the resonator back. My gumby tenor has a plain, unadorned resonator back.

May 26, 2022 - 9:34:15 AM
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12196 posts since 10/27/2006

Originally posted by beegee

stromber-Voisinet, predecessor to Kay, circa early-to-mid 40's. Value $100-150

It's a Kay with the patented Kay Neck Adjuster.

Kay took over SV in 1930, the neck adjuster was patented around 1931 (? I don't recall the date) and the new factory opened 1935 which appears to be the time that Kay dropped the SV name. This means that there were both dowel stick and neck adjuster versions made by Kay sold under the SV name during the transition.

We should stop looking at the headstock shape that Kay still used on private label banjos in 1968.

For the sake of convenience, it isn't a bad idea to call all of the dowel stick versions Stromberg-Voisonette—even if some were made by Kay—and all Neck Adjuster versions Kay since they are, even if some early ones have an SV label.

May 26, 2022 - 9:58:33 AM
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12196 posts since 10/27/2006

Originally posted by jazzmasterjr

Thanks for any info and help you can offer. I’ve already had a lot of fun looking around this site.

I suspect yours being earlier than later because of the way the resonator is attached and the lack of a nut/washer at the opposite end of the threaded rod. It doesn't matter. These are absolutely ok for learning. I still have my pair from the 1960s.

The Kay Neck Adjuster is the secret to setting these up. Here is Frank Ford's web site on how to go about this.

Kay Banjo Setup.

A couple things that Frank doesn't mention:

There may be brads or screws holding the curved metal spacer to the end of the neck. If the neck doesn't rock like it should when the big nut is loose, back it off and remove the neck. Now remove the nails or screws and throw them away—only some years have these and it was a mistake. If none are found, the spacer is sticking to the finish—it should come off easily with a little persuasion. The spacer needs to glide smoothly against the end of the neck.

Because of the size of that nut, you'll be using a big wrench. It's very easy to over-tighten that nut and this can damage the neck. You want it to be snug enough so that there's no movement and nothing tighter.

He does tell you to oil everything and I agree wholeheartedly. Those hooks & nuts can be replaced but it's so much better if they're never damaged in the first place. Since liquid WD40 is hard to obtain, I spray some into the cap and use a toothpick or Q-tip to dab a little onto the threads including next to the big nut. It penetrates so a little bit is fine. Wait 24–48 hours before turning anything.

May 27, 2022 - 7:24:14 AM

2 posts since 5/25/2022

Wow, this is some fantastic information! I've learned more in the last 24 hours than I have in the past.....let's just say it's been awhile.

Thank you all for helping me to get a sense of this banjo's journey.

May 27, 2022 - 7:45 AM
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94 posts since 2/11/2009

It may not be worth all that much, but it was good enough for Roscoe Holcomb.


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