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Dec 9, 2022 - 1:29:41 PM
Players Union Member

TX2AK

USA

224 posts since 12/23/2011

Does anyone know where I can get Stelling parts or how to contact them directly to see if I can buy what I need from them? Maybe I’m missing it, but I don’t see an email address on the site now. I just bought a 1977 Starflower (ebony, pre-ebanol), and one of the thumb screws is missing and one star inlay is missing. The Stelling site says they are going to post referral luthiers, but nothing there yet. I’m in north Texas, so if anyone knows of a good banjo luthier, I’d appreciate that referral too.

Dec 9, 2022 - 2:03:56 PM

13866 posts since 6/2/2008

Stelling is shut down.

Dec 9, 2022 - 6:04:46 PM
Players Union Member

TX2AK

USA

224 posts since 12/23/2011

Yes, but they are looking for and planning to list luthiers for referrals, according to their website; and they still have some parts around, according to many on here.

Dec 9, 2022 - 7:34:25 PM

34 posts since 6/19/2021

If you go to Marketplace on this site it will pull up a green screen. In the upper right hand corner, you will see Luthier search. That might help you find a luthier than can help you.

Dec 10, 2022 - 12:10:16 PM

13866 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by TX2AK

Yes, but they are looking for and planning to list luthiers for referrals, according to their website; and they still have some parts around, according to many on here.


Sorry to have been not very helpful.  I'm aware Geoff talked about his plans post shut-down. Sometimes things don't go as planned. Or take longer than expected.

That said, even though an email address is not curently posted, the previously posted email was: info@stellingbanjo.com.   Seeing as the domain still exists and the site is still up, email may still be working.  I think Geoff does sy on the site that he's not promptly responding to email. But it's an address and probably worth a try.

I imagine that once the inventory of parts is gone, that's it. It's my understanding he was not successful in selling the business, which I take to mean the custom tooling for Stelling tone rings, flanges and maybe tension hoops, tailpieces and armrests is going unused. 

I have to admit I don't know how custom to Stelling those three parts were. Likewise resonator thumbscrews and star inlays. For individual, possibly generic inlay pieces, you could try the vast selection at DePaule Supply:  https://luthiersupply.com/Individual-Inlays-Many-Styles.html

Good luck.

Dec 10, 2022 - 12:15:26 PM

13866 posts since 6/2/2008

Follow-up:

Luthier and Hangout member sunburst (John Hamlett) used to work for Stelling, so is probably a good choice for Stelling-knowledgeable repairs. I'm not saying he has access to Stelling parts, because I don't know that. But he's worth writing to. He did an excellent refret and some other very good work for me on an old neck about 7 or 8 years ago.

Dec 10, 2022 - 12:40:04 PM
Players Union Member

TX2AK

USA

224 posts since 12/23/2011

Excellent, thank you!

Dec 10, 2022 - 1:28:44 PM
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2701 posts since 9/18/2010

The star inlay can be replaced by anyone who is good at inlay, the Stelling resonator thumb screws are unique to the brand and I don't know if they are available (I have no more access to Stelling parts than anyone else.).

Dec 11, 2022 - 12:42:41 AM
Players Union Member

TX2AK

USA

224 posts since 12/23/2011

Thank you. I heard the same, no buyer or successor for the business. Honestly, I don’t understand that. Stelling banjos are second in name only to Gibson, as far as I know - and Gibson isn’t making banjos anymore; and Stellings are second to none in quality. Whether or not we would be happy with the successor, it’s hard to imagine that the business wouldn’t sell. I am an attorney, and businesses with a good model and good product, like Stelling, are readily traded all the time. I don’t think I have the knowledge or time to take on a new project; but I am at a loss when it comes to how Stelling banjos couldn’t or shouldn’t continue to be produced. Frankly, if you are Stelling, or a stellar banjo luthier in
Texas, and you want to see that heritage continued, contact me; and I’ll at least make an effort

Dec 11, 2022 - 11:14:39 AM
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13866 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by TX2AK

Whether or not we would be happy with the successor, it’s hard to imagine that the business wouldn’t sell. I am an attorney, and businesses with a good model and good product, like Stelling, are readily traded all the time. I don’t think I have the knowledge or time to take on a new project; but I am at a loss when it comes to how Stelling banjos couldn’t or shouldn’t continue to be produced.


Lots to unpack here.

In no particular oder:

By the end, Stelling banjo was Geoff Stelling. Yes, many skilled luthiers could make a Stelling banjo to the same specs, including turning rims to fit the unique Stelling tone ring and flange. John H who I tagged in this discussion used to make necks when he worked for Stelling. Plenty of people can make a Stelling.

And ever since the patents ran out, everyone has been free to copy the Stelling wedge fit pot and the solid tone ring and make their own banjos in the exact Stelling way. But no one has. Why have there been no Stelling copies?

I believe Geoff made and sold about 7500 banjos over the life of the business in nearly 50 years. That may be more than some of today's niche builders are ever going to make. It's far fewer than Gibson made and I believe fewer than Deering (not even counting Goodtimes).

So the question becomes: How much money would it cost to buy Stelling's custom tooling and what kind of return can someone get on that investment and in how many years? How many $5,000 - $7,000 banjos can a small business make and sell in a year? Can someone actually make a living doing that?

My guess is the economics just aren't there. Maybe some wealthy banjo lover who doesn't need the money could buy the business and hire luthiers to make "Stelling" banjos at break-even or less just for the sake of keeping the name and sound alive. I doubt such a person exists.

Frankly, I would have thought Deering might have been interested in acquiring the tooling and rights. Greg Deering started out working for Stelling. I think Deering has more scale than any US maker and already has products priced at Stelling levels. If the cost of acquisition made sense, I'd have thought Deering could have added the Stelling line. But maybe the design is too different, and would be disruptive to productivity. I don't know. Being an uneducated layperson outsider, I have no idea who the potential buyer was. Or how any of this works.

At least one music industry insider said here years ago that people with the actual capability to make it happen had approached Gibson with ways to keep banjos in production but Gibson wasn't interested. If Gibson banjos couldn't be saved, what hope is there for Stelling?

Dec 11, 2022 - 11:56:21 AM

GStump

USA

490 posts since 9/12/2006

I have to chime it - One would at least think that whoever Stelling had contracted to make some of the unique to Stelling parts - the flange for instance, the tailpiece, etc. - Obviously could make a few of those parts now and then. Yes, of course it wouldn't be a big profit maker, BUT over time of course an occasional flange or tailpiece or thumbscrew will be needed because the original simply breaks, or the plating or wear becomes so bad that the owner wants a new one (a really good replate would cost nearly what a new part would cost!) or the part somehow gets lost. Thumbscrews are lost now and then; it's hard to see how a flange could be lost..... Anyway, I just absolutely hate it when these things happen. I also find it hard to believe that someone did not buy the business. Actually a thought about that does cross my mind - "Maybe, just maybe," the price of the business was (perhaps?) too high, or cost prohibitive, any potential buyer could easily see that the time period needed to begin making money on the business was too far out in time to make the purchase of Stelling Banjoworks a sound idea?

Dec 11, 2022 - 12:00:05 PM
Players Union Member

TX2AK

USA

224 posts since 12/23/2011

I guess that’s a good point. Maybe the economics aren’t there or other builders want their own name to become “the next Stelling.” Gold Tone bought the Mastertone label, Deering bought the Vega label; if one of those bought Stelling and made it a large production model, that would be worse than the name living on as it is - an almost 50 year run of some of the best banjos ever made.

Dec 11, 2022 - 5:36:24 PM

13866 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by GStump

One would at least think that whoever Stelling had contracted to make some of the unique to Stelling parts - the flange for instance, the tailpiece, etc. - Obviously could make a few of those parts now and then.


Not obvious. Whoever casts the ring and flange probably doesn't own the molds. The molds might have been stored at the caster for convenience, but that doesn't give the caster to use them to make Stelling's proprietary product. Expiration of Stelling's patents freed everyone to make copies using their own tooling. But I have to assume these materials were always Stelling's property and so not available for anyone else to use without permission.

 

quote:
Originally posted by GStump

"Maybe, just maybe," the price of the business was (perhaps?) too high, or cost prohibitive, any potential buyer could easily see that the time period needed to begin making money on the business was too far out in time to make the purchase of Stelling Banjoworks a sound idea?


Of course.

Deals don't happen because the parties can't come to terms. From my few discussions with people who have sold small businesses, I know that the price received, either up front or over time, is probably the biggest term.

How much does custom banjo making tooling cost? In a meet-and-greet with Greg Deering at a lcoal music shop not too many years ago -- where I was the sole attendee! -- he told me he mortgaged his house to pay for the mold for Deering's custom non-Mastertone flange.

Dec 12, 2022 - 6:53:41 AM
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GStump

USA

490 posts since 9/12/2006

Yes - of course I had given thought to that also. However, what I meant was that someone possibly could have made whatever arrangements with Geoff Stelling to make some of those parts with the proper permissions of course, "license, contracts, percentages of sales," or just whatever was necessary to do so. I do realize that no profit was to be made on small numbers of parts such as flanges and tone rings and tailpieces, but over time and a large enough supply of said parts, one could make a profit of some size. Anyway, as the old saying goes, "where there is a will there is a way."

Dec 12, 2022 - 7:50:47 AM

216 posts since 4/3/2009

quote:
Originally posted by TX2AK

...  I just bought a 1977 Starflower (ebony, pre-ebanol), and one of the thumb screws is missing...


Though the thumbscrew may be custom to Stelling, I'd be surprised if the thread wasn't standard.  A functional thumbscrew might be obtained at a nearby Ace Hardware or other hardware store with Hillman parts; just match the thread and approximate the length.  If available in stainless steel, so much the better; stainless will best approximate the color of the nickel plating.

Dec 12, 2022 - 9:44:09 AM
Players Union Member

TX2AK

USA

224 posts since 12/23/2011

Thank you. I'm sure I can find something to work, it would just be nice to have a match. Sherry had me send a picture to confirm which screws I have, and she is going to see if they have one, I believe. Fingers crossed.

Dec 12, 2022 - 11:23:32 AM
Players Union Member

Texasbanjo (Moderator)

USA

28206 posts since 8/3/2003

Geoff is a member here. PM him and ask him if he has a list compiled yet or would give you some ideas for luthiers in your area.

Dec 13, 2022 - 6:39:22 AM

13866 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by TX2AK

Thank you. I'm sure I can find something to work, it would just be nice to have a match. Sherry had me send a picture to confirm which screws I have, and she is going to see if they have one, I believe. Fingers crossed.


If the threading is the same as most years of Gibson, then you can use thumbscrews from Sullivan, Elderly, Stew-Mac, RK and elsewhere. Maybe even Deering or Prucha. If the threading is different, you can buy  a thumbscrew together with a replacement wall lug that will fit that one screw.

Have to admit I don't know Stelling design.

A resonator will stay in place with only 2 screw, so there's no rush. I think the best thing to do is write to Geoff and wait for a reply. I would imagine that if he still has any thumbscrews he'd sell you one. Why not?

Edited by - Old Hickory on 12/13/2022 06:43:28

Dec 13, 2022 - 7:21 AM

13866 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by GStump

... someone possibly could have made whatever arrangements with Geoff Stelling to make some of those parts with the proper permissions of course, "license, contracts, percentages of sales," or just whatever was necessary to do so. ..."where there is a will there is a way."


Totally agree on thinking -- and wishing -- it could have been done, even though it's nothing to me since I don't own a Stelling.

Certainly some arrangement could have been reached in which the new party pays for all the cost of manufacture, including something to Geoff on every part sold. But what do I know? I'm just shouting from the sidelines.

I imagine control of the brand is or was one issue. To the best of my understanding, Geoff never sold his flange as a banjo construction part. Maybe as replacement for a proven broken flange on a known Stelling banjo. I think it was a way for Geoff to keep copies out of the market.

Even though people have been free to copy Stelling's wedge fit ever since the patent expired, I imagine the high cost of making flange and tone ring casting molds is one reason we haven't seen the Stelling pot copied.

Maybe Geoff's son, Jimmy Stelling (a banjo player), will inherit the business's assets some day and strike a deal with someone.

Dec 13, 2022 - 7:29:19 AM

770 posts since 11/9/2003

about any good machine shop can make you a thumb screw from stainless and polish it or from any other metal and have it plated. Expensive ? Probably but your banjo will be complete.

Dec 13, 2022 - 7:45:40 AM

13866 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by TX2AK

Maybe the economics aren’t there or other builders want their own name to become “the next Stelling.” Gold Tone bought the Mastertone label, Deering bought the Vega label


Not exactly.

"Mastertone" as applied to banjos was not registered or legally owned by anyone. Including Gibson. So Gold Tone claimed and registered the name. They came to some arrangement with a DC-area violin-maker who still owns the name for violins. My guess is Gold Tone agreed not to make "Mastertone" violins and the violin shop agreed not to make "Mastertone" fretted instruments.

Gibson's new management briefly challenged Gold Tone's registration, then withdrew its challenge. Pretty strong signal we've seen the last Gibson banjo.

Deering's website says they acquired the Vega name in 1989. Martin made Vega banjos until 1979. I don't know if Deering bought the name from Martin or if Martin abandoned it, making it free for Deering to claim and register.  There are still Vega banjo strings bearing the CF Martin name, so this is a puzzle.

I believe Deering has also claimed and registered some of the other early-20th century banjo names. No one else owned them, so why not?

Dec 13, 2022 - 7:51:38 AM

GStump

USA

490 posts since 9/12/2006

Ok - one more time! IF the molds exist, and the flange and tone ring CAN be made, why shouldn't they? Of course if any of those parts are ever needed, and NO replacements are available at all, anywhere, it would seem to me that Stelling Banjo Works will be more or less responsible to replace that part. That is - IF the owner can show they are in fact the original owner. Because if I'm not mistaken, those Stelling banjos did come with a lifetime warranty - which to me, means FOREVER or for the life of the original owner. Good grief as Charlie Brown would say - It just seems hard to believe that a part for a banjo cannot be made because the builder decided to close shop (Yes, we all certainly hope to retire someday) BUT again, it just seems to me that some arrangement could have been made which would have allowed someone to keep building those banjos with or without Geoff Stelling having to be involved to any great degree. What a shame. Perhaps in time, someone will, at the very least be able to supply some of the parts which are subject to breakage or wearing out, if not entire banjos.

Dec 13, 2022 - 8:21:45 AM

13866 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by TX2AK

Does anyone know where I can get Stelling . . . thumb screws 


Jump on this!

Dec 13, 2022 - 8:37:16 AM
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Players Union Member

TX2AK

USA

224 posts since 12/23/2011

Thanks for the catch! I made the donation; hopefully, I was first. Pretty neat idea to “sell” the parts for a charitable donation. I just love good people!

Dec 13, 2022 - 9:40:33 AM

13866 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by TX2AK

Thanks for the catch! I made the donation; hopefully, I was first. Pretty neat idea to “sell” the parts for a charitable donation. I just love good people!


Did you write to the seller?

Glad to have seen this.

Dec 13, 2022 - 9:45:41 AM
Players Union Member

TX2AK

USA

224 posts since 12/23/2011

Yes, he said he'll put them in the mail today. Thank you again - I'm glad you saw it too!

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