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Dec 6, 2022 - 2:37:53 PM
8 posts since 9/5/2022

Howdy! I just came into possession of a '70s (I think) Martin Vega openback 5-string. I have no other information available about it and am hoping someone here might help me draw a bead on the identity of this critter. OK, now I want to write a song about it, but that's for another day.

It's got the Martin decal on the back of the headstock and inside the rim, with either a 686 or 688 serial number. Plain, round dots, double truss, vintage dust. It plays so sweetly, especially with a bandana in the back folded juuuuuuuust right.

I have some pics in my media folder - if you need another angle let me know. I have emailed Martin for info and have yet to hear back. The depth of expertise and ricocheting humor on this site are truly stellar. Thanks in advance for sharing yours!

PS: The '70s is vintage??? When did THAT happen?!

Dec 6, 2022 - 2:56:45 PM

15129 posts since 10/30/2008

You have what was known as the Vega Wonder banjo. Vega used to call them the "Folk Wonder" since it has no resonator. Vega also made the Wonder with a resonator.

It has no tone ring proper, instead a simple tone hoop and side skirt.

Very well made, especially the neck/fingerboard, etc. Not the entry level model (that was the "Ranger"), so perhaps an intermediate type banjo.

I owned a Vega by Martin Wonder with resonator. Fine lightweight banjo with pro quality neck.

Vega also made the Wonder (with and without resonators) prior to WWII. There's video of Bobby Hicks picking one in a 1954-55 video of Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys. Grandpa Jones played a Vega Wonder with resonator in the 1940s and 50s. A pre-war Vega Wonder with resonator is at a famous on line retailer at $1500. The post war Vega Wonders, with or without resonator sell for less than that obviously.

Did you get a good hard shell case with it? Might be worth $700-800 as a package. Probably the best VALUE open back 5 string banjo on the market, new or used!

Play and enjoy it.

Yes, the 1970s are now vintage. 50 years ago!  That doesn't make them hugely valuable, but the are old-ish, and American made, compared to a lot of new stuff in the market today.

Edited by - The Old Timer on 12/06/2022 14:58:16

Dec 6, 2022 - 3:37:22 PM
likes this

Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

26689 posts since 6/25/2005

Those are excellent banjos, suitable for "folk" playing and stringband work. A keeper, no doubt.

Dec 6, 2022 - 4:36:57 PM
like this

12477 posts since 10/27/2006

Martin obtained hundreds of completed banjos and hundreds more that were parts made by Vega when CFM bought the company in 1970.

Your pot was made by Waverly for Vega before the sale (Waverly was already out of business by then). If you post more pictures, I can tell you if your neck was made by Vega or Martin. 

Edited by - mikehalloran on 12/06/2022 16:37:36

Dec 7, 2022 - 7:07:53 AM

vtclare

USA

8 posts since 9/5/2022

 

Thanks for the details, Dick! You cleared up a lot of questions. And I did, indeed get a nice, form-fitting, crushed-velvet hard case with it.

Dec 7, 2022 - 7:09:01 AM

vtclare

USA

8 posts since 9/5/2022

quote:
Originally posted by mikehalloran

Martin obtained hundreds of completed banjos and hundreds more that were parts made by Vega when CFM bought the company in 1970.

Your pot was made by Waverly for Vega before the sale (Waverly was already out of business by then). If you post more pictures, I can tell you if your neck was made by Vega or Martin. 


Mike, I have posed some shots of the neck in my default album. Thanks in advance for taking a peek!

Dec 7, 2022 - 9:47 AM

12477 posts since 10/27/2006

You have a Vega made banjo but the neck lacquer appears to have been applied by Martin. I can see the Vega construction underneath but had they finished it, the color would be different. The darker areas at the heel and headstock are stained to cover up the scorching left by the carving machine. This is a Folk Wonder as you've been told and is a direct descendant of the Vega Regent of the 'teens and '20s.

The Elton 'pancake' tuners are original and were used by Gibson and Fender and others in the 1960s. As long as they work, no reason to replace but if they start binding or cannot maintain tension, there are many excellent replacements on the market.

The Waverly 'old style' tailpiece is a replacement but it's easier to string than the original Waverly P-110 — repros are available but good luck finding one in chrome. I'd leave it alone,

Waverly P-110 Repro

If you show the armrest mount, I should be able to tell you more.

Deering still makes a version of this banjo. It has nicer woods but the design and construction are the same. No idea why they decided to name it after the cheaper Senator instead of the original Regent. I suppose that I'll ask Greg the next time I see him

Deering Senator

I really like these. Properly set up (I like the head really tight on these), they have a nice, throaty "growl" that I don't hear in a Whyte Laydie or Tubaphone. If you break the head, the replacement size is 10 15/16" high or medium crown. My '20s Regent open back was one of my favorite banjos.

Edited by - mikehalloran on 12/07/2022 09:55:50

Dec 7, 2022 - 11:47:41 AM

vtclare

USA

8 posts since 9/5/2022

Being able to tell by the finish who applied it ... I'm once again astonished by your expertise.

I have loaded a pic of the arm rest in my album.

Many thanks!

Dec 12, 2022 - 11:58:09 AM

12477 posts since 10/27/2006

quote:
Originally posted by vtclare

Being able to tell by the finish who applied it ... I'm once again astonished by your expertise.

I have loaded a pic of the arm rest in my album.

Many thanks!


The original was made by Elkington (Elton) with two adjustable legs that often broke off. Because of this, many (most?) '60s Vegas no longer have their original arm rests. If unbranded, it was original to a Vega banjo; if stamped Elton, it was aftermarket and sold by music stores.

Around 1974 or so, I bought a big box of banjo parts from a store going out of business. About 30 years later, long after I bought my Pete Seeger, I was reading an article about these and the picture looked familiar. In that old box were two of these, one stamped Elton and the other unstamped, now sitting on my '60s PS5.




Dec 12, 2022 - 2:21:28 PM

7362 posts since 9/21/2007

Those Elton armrests are my favorite style. I also have a few British knockoffs of the style.

Deering also makes a "Little Wonder" which was the name (real) Vega used for the tenor banjo of same "ring" configuration. The Deering Little Wonder has a wood rim with no "ring".

So I guess their model names don't conform in any way with (real) Vega.

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