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Apr 14, 2024 - 5:07:44 PM
7 posts since 2/17/2014

Just picked up this no-name banjo for $6. I've got a Goodtime, but this seems like it might be an interesting project. It seems a shame to part it out, but it might sound like crap and it's going to need a lot of pieces to figure it out. For example, it's got 30 hooks, but I'm short 7. Can I get away with only 23 evenly spaced out hooks? Friction tuners or spend the money to get planetaries? Or is it just not worth the trouble?




 

Apr 14, 2024 - 6:34:58 PM
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5712 posts since 5/29/2011

A few months ago I picked up an old Rettberg & Lange on eBay. It needed some work. With the help of Bob Smakula, I got a head, new old stock tuners, and a few bracket shoes. I used a Bell Brand tailpiece which was given to me by BHO member Harry Bickel and strung it with nylon strings. I added five brackets from my parts bin since it was missing a few. They don't match, but lots of old banjos have odd brackets. 

Besides Bob Smakula, you might check with BHO member Mark Ralston. He makes and sells lots of antique-style banjo parts. He may have some brackets that will match yours well enough.

Here are a few pictures of it. If you undertake the project of restoring it, you will learn a lot and will probably be glad you did.

http://smakulafrettedinstruments.com






 

Edited by - Culloden on 04/14/2024 18:36:10

Apr 14, 2024 - 6:41:02 PM
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5712 posts since 5/29/2011

By the way, using 23 hooks might work but don't be afraid to add mismatched hooks to it. That gives it character.
As for the tuners, I would use friction tuners for nylon strings. I wouldn't recommend using steel strings on this banjo. If you must use steel, use geared pegs.

Apr 14, 2024 - 6:51:52 PM
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1670 posts since 1/9/2012

It's possible to aim way short of Bob Smakula's standards and still produce an instrument with charm and an interesting sound, of which you'll be proud to have done the work. And, yes, it's educational.

My wife loves the one shown with an armrest because it weighs only 2 1/2 lbs and has only eight hooks. Sometimes we play together, she on that one and me on the one that resembles an archtop.


Apr 14, 2024 - 8:25:13 PM

7 posts since 2/17/2014

Thanks for the encouragement. I can't stand missing out on bringing something back to life. Broke it down and cleaned it up. Gave the neck and wood body a light steel wool to knock back the dead varnish/shelac? then a coat of BLO. What do you finish with or just leave it with oil?

Wire brushed all the hooks and got the brass to show up. The ring was difficult as the finish was very sensitive. I first hit it with some Brasso but it seemed to eat through the nickel? finish into some red base metal. I then tried a 600 grit wet sandpaper and same problem. I finally ended up with some silver polish, but any idea how to knock back the tarnish? Fret board was slightly lifting so I glued it back down.

Thanks for the advice on the friction tuners and loosening up on the hardware. It's going to a be player so the goal is to get it playing.




Apr 15, 2024 - 2:58:18 AM

banjo roo

Australia

231 posts since 5/12/2010

Rickards have similar style hardware. Check out what they have as well. You can antique them with brass black to take off the new brass shine, but test to be sure you like the look.

Apr 15, 2024 - 6:32:20 AM

1670 posts since 1/9/2012

For synthetic strings, ebony or rosewood violin tuners do a fine job. Fitting can take some finesse. (That's what I put on the eight-hook one pictured above.)

Apr 15, 2024 - 8:12:05 AM
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5712 posts since 5/29/2011

quote:
Originally posted by ctuai

Thanks for the encouragement. I can't stand missing out on bringing something back to life. Broke it down and cleaned it up. Gave the neck and wood body a light steel wool to knock back the dead varnish/shelac? then a coat of BLO. What do you finish with or just leave it with oil?

Wire brushed all the hooks and got the brass to show up. The ring was difficult as the finish was very sensitive. I first hit it with some Brasso but it seemed to eat through the nickel? finish into some red base metal. I then tried a 600 grit wet sandpaper and same problem. I finally ended up with some silver polish, but any idea how to knock back the tarnish? Fret board was slightly lifting so I glued it back down.

Thanks for the advice on the friction tuners and loosening up on the hardware. It's going to a be player so the goal is to get it playing.


If you put linseed oil on it, you might not be able to put finish over it. Stewart MacDonald has a product called Tried and True Wood Finish which has a linseed oil base. After it's applied, nothing will stick to it. Just leave it with the oil finish. An old banjo is not supposed to shine.

The same goes for the tarnish on the nickel. It's referred to as patina and gives an old instrument character. As you have found out, trying to polish old parts can destroy the plating. You can clean things up with a little soft soap and water or just a damp rag.

For tuners, Dave mentioned violin pegs which work quite well but you have to be able to taper them properly. If you don't have the tools for them you might find someone in your area that does violin repair who could fit them. You can also find metal friction tuners. Bob Smakula has some sets of old friction tuners. You can also check the classified ads here. Once in a while, you can find them on eBay. You could also use new friction tuners in a pinch but they would not have a vintage look like the rest of the banjo.

Have fun with your project. It's quite a learning experience.

Apr 15, 2024 - 9:45:18 AM
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3390 posts since 2/18/2009

I bought a similar 38 bracket banjo at an auction in the days of yore for $20 or so, though it was missing more than half the brackets and the heel cap area had been gnawed on by some kind of animal with smallish teeth. I put a head and new hooks and nuts on it, and used shoes, and new ebony pegs, and nylgut strings, and a grafted piece of wood to replace the chewed area, and ended up with about $100 and some hours into it. Someone in a Scandinavian country bought it for $200, as I recall, and seemed pleased with it. It was not a highly lucrative undertaking, but it was fun and the banjo was a pretty good player once I was done.

Apr 15, 2024 - 11:00:55 AM
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16629 posts since 6/30/2020

Nice purchase for $6.
I think I would do a budget fix up and make it onto a wall hanger. If it ends up in playable condition so much the better.
I have an old parlor guitar as well as a 200 year old violin (both playable) hanging in my home, and they make great wall art as well as interesting conservational pieces.

Apr 15, 2024 - 2:58:49 PM
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704 posts since 9/29/2009

$6?? I want to go shopping with you.

Apr 15, 2024 - 3:26:37 PM
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15219 posts since 6/2/2008

Tru-OIl - available at Woodcraft stores or online everywhere - is a great traditional looking finish. Since it's polymerized linseed oil, it might go over your BLO. Or, you could use a single coat of Zinsser's Bullseye SealCoat Universal Sealer. It's dewaxed shellac that goes over and under anything to solve or avoid adhesion problems, especially when you don't know what you're dealing with.

I used it under Tru-Oil on an Asian neck and resonator to seal the filler and get a little build before the Tru-Oil. That's because Tru-Oil is ridiculously thin. It builds very slowly -- which is what some people want. But it does have solids content, so it eventually builds a film. Three coats will look and feel like there's almost nothing there.

If you do use Tru-Oil (which is a simple wipe-on finish) I think you should only sand or steel wool every third coat. That's mainly to get rid of dust or drips and to keep the surface even. Any more frequently and you could be taking off most of what you put on.

On my Tru-Oil pieces, I did three coats a day -- morning, mid-afternoon-evening. The pieces shown have about 30 coats and have been buffed with Meguiar's and 3M Imperial Hand Glaze. You could very well be happy with three to six coats on an old banjo like yours.

For metal, I use Simichrome, which I guess is microscopically abrasive. I use it very few times in the life of any one instrument.

I think steel wool and wet/dry sandpaper were mistakes, but too late. Seeing as the nickel is disappearing before any shine comes back, I think the previous advice is best. Cotton rags, a bit of dampness, and lots of elbow grease may be the safest thing you can do with any remaining plating. You may have to accept very old looking metal that doesn't shine like new.


Apr 15, 2024 - 3:42:48 PM
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1670 posts since 1/9/2012

Chuck Lee uses Tru-Oil -- at least he did when I contacted him years ago about refinishing part of a neck. As to locating some, he began with, "Have you got a gun store nearby?" It's apparently a common finish on rifle stocks, too. He recommended a satin-like finish that lets your hand slide without sticking. You get it as follows: After your last coat dries to a perfect, flawless, gloss finish, you attack it with 0000 steel wool "soaked" in floor wax -- and then rub with a cloth. At first, it seems a shame to ruin the perfect gloss finish, but the result is very satisfying -- At least that's Chuck Lee's opinion and mine, too.

Apr 15, 2024 - 3:46:26 PM
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7 posts since 2/17/2014

I figured $100 to get it going and I'm at $94.20 including the cost of the banjo. Got some used friction tuners, a Gotoh 5th string tuner, a skin head from thinnestman, a 5/8" golden gate bridge, and a set of 1B nylgut strings. I'm going to make the nut and tailpiece. I might even make the hooks as a good excuse to use the tap and die set that been sitting around.


 

Apr 15, 2024 - 4:04:04 PM
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7 posts since 2/17/2014

Thanks for the tips on finishing davidppp and Old Hickory . I was thinking shellac, but I think I'm going to leave it at oil and a couple coats of wax. In regards to the finish... sigh. I'm used to cleaning up tools and the metal on the banjo was pretty black and chunky. Soap and water didn't do anything, green scrubby also didn't do anything so I kept moving up through chemicals and abrasives. Didn't realize the nickel plating was so delicate. Live and learn.

Hey Billybilt Banjo. Winterpeg. I worked at Manitoba Hydro as librarian for a summer. The banjo was a good deal. It came from a luthier estate sale. Picked up all sorts of otts and sots for $48. Should be able to make back the banjo + parts pretty quickly.


 

Apr 16, 2024 - 9:41:43 PM

7 posts since 2/17/2014

Learned two things already: (a) One does not simply make a tailpiece, no more than one does not simply walk into Mordor; and (b) It's an 18 fret banjo.

So much for making a tailpiece, but it's an interesting to piece to figure out what to get. I wonder if having 17-1/2" fretboard comes into play? Lot's to learn.

Apr 16, 2024 - 10:09:42 PM
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1670 posts since 1/9/2012

FYI:




Apr 29, 2024 - 6:30:06 PM

7 posts since 2/17/2014

Got the head on and it looks good. I finger tightened and its got a good thunk, so I'll wait till tomorrow to tighten it up. Tuners are in.  Made a nut out of purple heart.  Replaced 7 hooks and 1 shoe.  5th string caused me some grief and ended up with an extra geared and had to grind down the friction one to make it fit. Urghh should have paid more attention to measuring. Replaced the missing mother of pearl 3rd fret marker, which I've been dying to try and do. Looking forward to getting it strung.  Oh and got a line on maybe getting a brain tanned groundhog skin.  


 

Edited by - ctuai on 04/29/2024 18:39:51

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