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Resonators for 1920s and early 30s Vega and other banjos now played as obs

Nov 27, 2023 - 5:13:34 PM
894 posts since 10/23/2003

My sense of history, and maybe I am dead wrong, but I believe that many of the Vega Whyte Ladies, Tubaphones, and similar "Boston" banjos in circulation today as open backs that were built in the mid and late 1920s and 1930s were originally built with resonators.

My guess-but I know there are folk out there who know the exact history== is that the misinformed fashion among old time revivalists that genuine old time banjo is done only on open backs, hides that many of the banjo we play from the 1920s and 30s as open backs originally had resonators, but are sold without resonators to please the fashion.

  And of course, anyone who bothers to look at reality knows that many of the great masters and not so great bangers of both African American and European American old time music from the 1920s on loved their resonator banjos.

First is this true. Did Vega follow the trend of resonator banjos by making resonator models, and were such models standard issue by the mid 1920s.

Are many of the original five-string Vega Tubaphones and Whyte Ladies from that era actually resonator banjos deprived of their resonators.

Of course a number of such banjos are conversions, tenor and guitar banjos more probably originally built with resonators, and but deprived of them after they were converted.

Finally, does anyone currently market a resonator to restore such banjos to being resonator banjos??

 Has anyone out there tried this??.

Are there luthiers or banjo makers out there who do this?

I would argue that of course, the designs of resonator banjos that Paramount, and then Gibson and Bacon and others triumphed as designs over say a tubaphone with a resonator, but I am curious about this.

I did have a friend who passed away about 15 years ago who had a magnificent 20s Tubaphone and still had the resonator for it and brought it to the collectors gathering and allowed me to play it.

However, I am wondering about the larger story.

My view is there is a lot of unhistorical thinking among old time revivalist sentimentalists that there is something more "traditional" about open-back banjos, a view not at all shared in my research by African American and European American "traditional" and old time banjoists when old time music was extant. Not shared either by master classic banjoists like the great Frank Bradbury.

However, I wonder what the real history is and I know there are people around here who know the answers to these vital questions.   

I want to underline that I have nothing against resonator banjos,  but I remain a slave to my open backs.  I also believe firmly that both the Gibson Mastertone design of a resonator banjo and the different David Day-Fred Bacon design of a resonator banjo  were among the most significant achievements of humanity , at least banjo making humanity.

Edited by - writerrad on 11/27/2023 17:28:58

Nov 27, 2023 - 7:07:47 PM

967 posts since 12/19/2010

I think this was something of a rare bird (a custom build?) but Retrofit Vintage Guitars had this 1928 Vega Tubaphone #3 with resonator (and four piece flange) up on Reverb for a while: https://reverb.com/item/70529901-vega-tubaphone-3-5-string-resonator-banjo-1928-ser-94685-original-black-hard-shell-case?show_sold=true

You might want to inquire with them about the backstory on this banjo.

Nov 27, 2023 - 7:24:31 PM

894 posts since 10/23/2003

My dear late friend gone now almost 10 years the truly great Shlomo Pestcoe used to work at Retrofit, so every time I visited NYC for years involved a trip to Shlomolian (his apartment in Brooklyn Heights) which often involved a guided tour of Retrofit long after he ceased to work there.

My definite romance with the Tubaphone really began with a Tubaphone they had there, not this one but one  that had to be before 2015 or so without a resonator, and with a more narrow neck.

I ended up with a conversion that Bernunzio believes was once a guitar banjo, that has the Eastman neck that Eastman puts on its whyte ladye imitation, which feels clubby and uncomfortable on their WLs from the prototype which I played, on down, but is comfortable on my Tubaphone.

Thanks for provoking that dear memory.

Edited by - writerrad on 11/27/2023 19:25:58

Nov 27, 2023 - 10:07:44 PM
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13007 posts since 10/27/2006

The full resonator was introduced in late 1923 on the Vegaphone. Resonator & flange kits were popular aftermarket items obtainable from Vega dealers beginning the next year. The reason they were popular was because of all those open backs that were converted  

If there's no groove on the back of the dowel from the clamp or screw holes from the front, a Vega open back from the '20s to '30s was built that way. The presence of either does not indicate the reverse, however, due to the ease of which it was possible to buy and install those kits. 

Edited by - mikehalloran on 11/27/2023 22:20:05

Nov 28, 2023 - 7:07:23 AM
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8072 posts since 9/21/2007

Hi Tony, it seems to me that in general people playing "old time" are not attempting any sort of "Historically Informed Performance" and are content with playing modern festival styles, largely Roundpeak, but also other "styles" based on arbitrary rules of which finger to start playing with.

It also seems to me, as an outsider looking in, that the "Vega" pattern banjo is largely falling out of favor with the younger generation who are drawn to a more nostalgic fantasy ideal of "old time banjo" which may include un plated metal work, scoops (developed by Bob Flesher in 1965), centrally placed bridges, and very short scales (perhaps to facilitate pitching in A for modern festival "follow the fiddle" jamming).

I'm not telling you anything new in that what we call "old time banjo" was ALWAYS, by design, nostalgic, and never a historical recreation of an actual era.

There is nothing wrong with any of this. In fact, I think it is fantastic that music is progressing.

On the outer circumference of this is a small movement to play "old time" on classic era banjos-- set up historically accurate to the classic era. Thin nylon strings, correct bridge and no back angle to the neck. The focus of this group seems to be on pre resonator era. Which I also think is great as they are not folking up classic era banjos which are no longer being made. And frankly, work just fine as is for down striking styles.

Nov 28, 2023 - 8:40:09 AM

islandgirl

Canada

117 posts since 4/30/2009

Are these four piece flanges readily available? The resonators are often popping up for sale, either the flat or sided pie plate versions, but I don’t recall seeing flanges. I would love to find some.

Nov 28, 2023 - 10:18:17 AM

894 posts since 10/23/2003

Yes  Joel of course,  idea and fashions of instruments among most old time revivalists reflect the cultural, social, and ideological makeup of the OTM revival that has been ongoing longer than the classic period of actual OTM say from 1900 to 1940.   This makes discussion about banjo history or the other history of the music increasingly difficult, even if more information is available than might have been 50 years ago.
The percentage of people actually having any historical reference or desire seems to be declining, but the tendency is for people to misreprent what they do as the history rather their current invention or fashions.
There was a role for the reenactors 60 or 70 years ago when few people had access to the original recordings, but less and less today when it all is pretty much accessible.
Some of us are actually interested in getting the history right versus the general pablum and mistaken ideas because we care about history.   I do think people should do whatever comes to their minds, but I just want to get history right.  The problem is that people mistake what they heard of 10 minutes ago as history.   
All the best.
 
 
 

Originally posted by Joel Hooks

Hi Tony, it seems to me that in general people playing "old time" are not attempting any sort of "Historically Informed Performance" and are content with playing modern festival styles, largely Roundpeak, but also other "styles" based on arbitrary rules of which finger to start playing with.

It also seems to me, as an outsider looking in, that the "Vega" pattern banjo is largely falling out of favor with the younger generation who are drawn to a more nostalgic fantasy ideal of "old time banjo" which may include un plated metal work, scoops (developed by Bob Flesher in 1965), centrally placed bridges, and very short scales (perhaps to facilitate pitching in A for modern festival "follow the fiddle" jamming).

I'm not telling you anything new in that what we call "old time banjo" was ALWAYS, by design, nostalgic, and never a historical recreation of an actual era.

There is nothing wrong with any of this. In fact, I think it is fantastic that music is progressing.

On the outer circumference of this is a small movement to play "old time" on classic era banjos-- set up historically accurate to the classic era. Thin nylon strings, correct bridge and no back angle to the neck. The focus of this group seems to be on pre resonator era. Which I also think is great as they are not folking up classic era banjos which are no longer being made. And frankly, work just fine as is for down striking styles.

Thanks Joel as I consider your opinions on such subjects to be usually as or more correct than mine.


Edited by - writerrad on 11/28/2023 10:21:20

Nov 29, 2023 - 12:32:56 PM

13007 posts since 10/27/2006

quote:
Originally posted by islandgirl

Are these four piece flanges readily available? The resonators are often popping up for sale, either the flat or sided pie plate versions, but I don’t recall seeing flanges. I would love to find some.


I have a 4-piece flange set for the 28 bracket 10 15/16" rim. I also have resonators including "close fitting" for use without flanges. PM me for details. 

I'm out of individual flange sets at the moment  

Vega also offered another 4-part set or the later 24 bracket banjos. 

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