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Will you help a bass player sort out this Paramount Style A banjo?

May 28, 2024 - 5:33:06 PM
4 posts since 5/27/2024

First post here . . . I am a bass player. A family member gave me a couple of instruments to look at. A basket case classical guitar and this beauty. I really know nothing about banjos so I did some research on the interwebs and here. Here's what I think I know so far (please let me know if I have anything wrong) . . . Its a Lange Paramount Style A tenor banjo. Built in 1922 (serial in the 300s). Normal tuning should be C G D A.

It looks like someone just put nylon guitar strings on this. I after some research, I have a set of LaBella 720L-BE strings ordered. I don't really have any tone goals yet . . . just want to get correct string tension on the neck. Can this be the right tail piece? Seems like it for a 5-string banjo . . . I haven't found any pics on line of this model with this tail piece.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do with this . . . I'd really like to dig into it, clean and polish it . . . but, I don't know how big a job that would be. I also want to make sure its not some kind of priceless antique that is more valuable with patina. I'm very comfortable with luthier tasks on my bass guitars but this banjo seems like a whole other thing. I'm also comfortable tuning a snare drum and I suspect setting up the head on a banjo may be similar.

. . . have to say, I am blow away with the quality and detail of this thing . . . maybe that's just the perspective of a bass player . . . maybe this is normal for banjos.Friction tuners seem to be original (no extra holes for machine heads)IHard to find any flaws on this thing . . . hard to believe this could be over 100 years old. I've read here that heels can be a weak point on these, but this one seems solid.






May 28, 2024 - 6:00:58 PM

DSmoke

USA

1440 posts since 11/30/2015

The tailpiece looks correct based on the serial number. This would have originally had steel strings. I'd say half of the maple Paramounts that have come through my shop have had bowed necks. You can put a straight edge on it, or fret the first and last fret with the string and see if there is gap between the string and the middle frets. Yes, heel cracks are common on the Paramounts because of a poor design. The heel is narrow and the dowel has very little wood around it in the heel. These are great banjos, however, there are typically many of them on the market which limits their value. I would upgrade to planetary tuners.

May 28, 2024 - 6:35:51 PM

4 posts since 5/27/2024

Thanks DSmoke . . . with the (wrong) strings tuned to pitch, capo'd at the first, and fretted at the last there is about 0.016 relief in the middle. That seems about right . . . at least, based on my bass guitar set up experience. I just did a search for how to adjust the truss rod on these . . . well, I guess there isn't one on this model. I suppose if there is too much relief, lighter tension strings can be used.

So, seems like you are saying these are nice but there is probably no reason to try preserve the patina. I will probably do some more repair/set-up research and see if it looks like a fun project.

I'm also noticing a fair amount of fret wear . . . I'm familiar with fret-leving/crowning/polishing . . but these things are tiny compared to what I'm used to ;-).

May 29, 2024 - 4:33:36 AM

11363 posts since 4/23/2004

Probably my favorite tenor banjo. I've had two over the years. Great sounding and affordable. I play Irish trad. on mine, strung with a set of D'addario Irish strings and tuned GDAE/ADAE.

Bob Smakula sells small shaft geared tuners that may fit. If not, the tuner holes have to be reamed to size. Friction tuners are miserable with steel strings.

May 29, 2024 - 4:39:21 PM

mb4me

USA

36 posts since 3/17/2019

So at this serial number this was one of the very first production banjos to have a resonator, correct?

May 29, 2024 - 7:02:17 PM

DSmoke

USA

1440 posts since 11/30/2015

I would say .016" is acceptable. I prefer to have zero relief. If I remember correctly the early Paramounts were bar frets. It's been a few years since I had an early model on the bench. Go for the level and dressing if they have the height left. You can also feel free to string it however you please, it's your banjo. If the neck only has the minor relief it does, and was originally strung with steel strings in CGDA tuning, it's probably done moving. As for the patina, tenor banjos are different than guitars and 5 string banjos. This is an instrument that can be cleaned and restored. Feel free to bring the shine back to nickel plating. Soap and water with a soft cloth is best, Simichrome does a great job but is abrasive so use just enough "polishing" to clean the part.

May 29, 2024 - 8:32:30 PM

4 posts since 5/27/2024

With strings off, the relief is about 0.002" . . . so, probably close enough to flat to attempt a fret level. but I don't know . . . the frets seem so tiny. The frets are between .028" and 0.030" high at their high points. I don't have a way to measure to the bottom of the divots. The pic shows the worst of the wear. I've also researched the friction tuners . . . since I'm not a player (yet, at least), I will probably see if I can get them adjusted to work well enough for now. Switching to planetary tuners seems pretty straightforward . . . reaming to the right diameter seems like the trickiest part.


 

May 29, 2024 - 9:22:41 PM
likes this

mb4me

USA

36 posts since 3/17/2019

Use a reamer, not a drill.

May 29, 2024 - 10:31:29 PM
likes this

rcc56

USA

5113 posts since 2/20/2016

Nice banjo. You might want to eventually replace those frets-- when they're that low, there won't be much fret left after you level them, and they will be difficult to re-crown. ["Not much better than no frets at all . . ."]

For an instrument of this sort, wire with a crown of .053" wide and .037" high would be appropriate, or if you want something meatier, .080" wide x .040" high. Both are common sizes available from Jescar or Stewmac.

Jazz tenor players like CGDA tuning, Irish players prefer GDAE.  Or you can use "Chicago" tuning, DGAE like the four high strings of a guitar.

Edited by - rcc56 on 05/29/2024 22:34:47

May 30, 2024 - 4:29:44 PM
like this

DSmoke

USA

1440 posts since 11/30/2015

If it was my banjo I would pull the frets, sand the fingerboard level, and refret it. BUT, you can string it up and play it as is for now and figure out if that is a project you want to take on.

May 30, 2024 - 9:31:14 PM

4 posts since 5/27/2024

Thanks, all, for the input on this. The main take-away for me is that its not so precious that I have to be afraid to tinker with it . . . so I will! Strings first . . . then, we'll see!

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