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Jan 31, 2023 - 6:11:52 PM
48 posts since 12/9/2018

I recently bought this open back 5 string beauty from a friend of mine that owns an antique store. I can't find any identifying marks and a newbie to open back banjos I'm stymied. I hope the photos have enough glues for an educated guess or two.


Jan 31, 2023 - 6:28:35 PM
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495 posts since 11/29/2012

I would remove the steel strings. The wood wedges for the neck/dowel bracket are in the wrong position. They need to be turned 90°, but loosen the neck/dowel angle bracket first. Anyway, you probably know all that and others will have a clue what it is. Seems like a reasonable mid-grade or fancied up student model 1880s-90s. Looks like the Elite tailpiece isn't stamped with a name. Cool banjer!

Jan 31, 2023 - 6:44:11 PM
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7426 posts since 9/21/2007

Generally attributed to Rettberg & Lange or Lange, but I don't believe we truly know.

Someone will likely claim "Supertone" but without a tag (the only thing that would make it a "Supertone") it is not one.

That inlay pattern was found on many low end "jobber" banjos and some were only printed and not actually inlaid.

Yours looks to be inlayed with celluloid so don't smoke when you play it.

Jan 31, 2023 - 6:50 PM
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60174 posts since 12/14/2005

 Celluloid flammability warning


Feb 1, 2023 - 5:01:45 AM
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3238 posts since 4/7/2010

Oscar Schmidt is one to the low end banjo companies that many folks overlook. I have seen that celluloid vine inlay pattern on Oscar Schmidt banjos, but this particular instrument seems to have a better quality rim than most Oscar Schmidts. I would not say for sure unless I could see it in person.

Bob Smakula

Edited by - Bob Smakula on 02/01/2023 05:02:41

Feb 1, 2023 - 5:35:04 AM

48 posts since 12/9/2018

Thanks for the rapid responses; despite the typos. ( I caught them after the fact but could not figure how to edit the text.) Each of your comments moved the ball forward in identifying what I bought for my $20.00 plus tax. I can't make it worth any less right? For better or worse, it's my late winter project. Learn by doing!

The rim had some loose powdery red residue in various places. Would the metal ( This appears to be unpolished steel.) on banjos of this vintage have been painted, if so is the red powder a hint at the original color or is it likely just decomposed termite toe nails?

The tailpiece is stamped Elite, under all the crud. Since taking the photos, I have disassembled the banjo and found that at some point, for some reason. somebody appears to have tastefully "refitted" the upper part of the neck heel (The clearanced portion.) with a small hand axe. Possibly a field modification due to the wedges being installed incorrectly? The lower portion that contacts the rim seems to fit the rim properly but the rim is almost a 1/4" out of round ! One thing leads to another I guess.

I appreciate your help.

Feb 1, 2023 - 5:36:28 AM

98 posts since 1/13/2023

I'll buy the capo in the first picture, I need one anyway

Feb 1, 2023 - 6:19:24 AM

10371 posts since 8/28/2013

I am guessing Rettburg and Lange due in part to the Elite tailpiece. If the upper part of the heel has been chopped on, I suspect it was dode to clear the flesh hoop of that Stretched out head, which appears to need replacement. The out-of-round rim was probably caused by too many years of having steel strings. , although the wrong-way wedges didn't help.

Metal parts were generally plated. The red dust probably came from something else.

Feb 1, 2023 - 6:27:17 AM

1724 posts since 10/12/2011

Originally posted by mike gregory

 Celluloid flammability warning


This is why I always keep 4-5 celluloid fender picks in my hunting pack. Good as emergency fire starter.

Feb 1, 2023 - 6:33:48 AM

11203 posts since 4/23/2004

These are perfect project banjos. None of the stress involved in resuscitating a valuable antique.

Looks to be a fairly easy cleanup job...but probably some hidden tasks in there.

When evaluating, lay it upside-down on a flat surface, like the kitchen table. The pot and the neck should both lay flat (in the same plane). If the the neck is tilted forward, you have some work to do. If it is flat or tilted back a little, good!

The metal is usually "german silver" or nickel-plated brass. I'll vote for termite toenails.

Feb 1, 2023 - 7:02:49 AM

60174 posts since 12/14/2005


There was ALSO a video showing guitar pick as fire starter.

If I recall properly, in the movie "STALAG 17", celluloid ping pong balls were ground up and made into a flare to alert the Allied Forces.

Feb 1, 2023 - 8:39:28 AM

48 posts since 12/9/2018

More good input. I like these discussions when a little whimsey creeps in. I'm "coaxing"; (or maybe "coersing" is the word I'm looking for) the rim back to "almost" round again with a wood working clamp. I have a couple of calfskin heads coming from Stew Mac. it is one of those In-for-a-nickel, in-for-a-dime kind of things. Or maybe one of those putting your toe in a meat grinder kind of things.

I appreciate the offer to buy the cool " home-brewed" capo but I'll have to wait to set the price until all of the bills come in for this little adventure. I think it may have all of the earmarks of a one-of-a-kind priceless heirloom by the time it's over!

Thanks again for all of your help. Good news(???), I actually bought a second $20 banjo from my friend that has (had) a Star inlaid in the peghead, a birdseye maple veneered rim and a beautifully figured solid walnut plate type resonator. It looks like a condo for vagrant dust bunnies. Early indications seem to ponit to it being one of those "powerhouse"conversions from a banjo orphanage. Next years late winter project?

Feb 1, 2023 - 10:33:54 AM



1225 posts since 5/19/2007

A second $20 banjo? I need to know your friend!

I think that capo is known as "The Neck Scratcher".

Feb 1, 2023 - 11:28:13 AM

1691 posts since 4/13/2009

This one has inlay on peghead and binding on the fingerboard


Feb 3, 2023 - 12:59:13 PM



98 posts since 3/22/2017

Originally posted by mike gregory

 Celluloid flammability warning

Think I can get it burning with flint and steel?  If so, I'll throw a few unto my tinderbox. 

Feb 3, 2023 - 4:24:44 PM

48 posts since 12/9/2018

Thanks so much for the information and advice. I've decided to tackle the project and have uncovered the first substantial (for me) hurddle. As has been mentioned, the steel strings have apparently created a destructive combination of stresses on the spun-over rim. It is wildly out of round and severely buckeled from the head tension required for the steel strings. This has been made even worse by the fact that the wood "core strip" has shrunk quite a bit over the years. It's a wreck for sure. A smarted guy would walk away, but I'm going to give it that old "trade school try"! I'll sign off now.

I'll post some photos of my other project banjo ( the dust bunny condo) soon. You fellas made identifying this one look way to easy.

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