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May 26, 2022 - 1:20 PM
35 posts since 5/24/2009

Been refurbing my Rettburg & Lange 5 string into playing shape - even found a period correct dowel/rim bracket (thanks, Vinnie!!). Pretty much all done except putting on the calfskin head. One thing I've noticed, though, is the frets are incredibly tiny and the fingerboard (ebony? dyed whatever?) is very thin, probably <1/8" thick. Is this normal for this era banjo? It seems it would very difficult to refret with new, larger fret wire as the tang would probably go all the way into the neck wood. Leave it alone and play it as it is? I'll be using Aquila Classic Banjo Nylgut strings.

May 26, 2022 - 1:57:40 PM
Players Union Member

RioStat

USA

5796 posts since 10/12/2009

Stew-Mac fret-wire has tangs ranging from .048" to .073" in length (height?) nowhere close to .125", so you'd be safe cutting fret slots into a fretboard that is .125" thick

May 26, 2022 - 2:02:39 PM
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14604 posts since 6/29/2005

That was par for the course on many old banjos, and they used dyed pearwood, holly, etc. to look like ebony—PW Gibson Mastertones had 1/8" actual rosewood fingerboards, and the holes for the inlays went all the way through, probably cut with a scroll saw. The pearl shapes were cut after being glued to thin sheets of poplar, which (1) helped prevent the pearl from breaking during sawing, and (2) made the finished inlay 1/8" thick, so it went into the cavity and the pearl was flush with the surface.

That's more or less the way I do it today, and put a structural / decorative lamination under the fingerboard.

May 26, 2022 - 5:11:45 PM
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9651 posts since 8/28/2013

Tiny frets and thin boards are pretty normal for these very old banjos. There's no need to replace anything unless the frets are worn out or the dyed hardwood has begun to flake from the acidic dyes used back then.

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