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Jun 13, 2024 - 9:27:46 AM
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1605 posts since 7/12/2004

Hi all, the weekend's coming so I figured I'd offer y'all a research project. I'm looking for a banjo with fairly unique specs that I bought/converted back in 1974-5 and sold, and I'm hoping someone on this list will recall seeing it.

This banjo, a TB-11, was actually the one that got me started. I bought it at a yard sale in the spring of 1974, from the original owner who was retiring to Florida, for the kingly sum of $15. The broken calfskin head had a pen and ink drawing of a 1920s flapper and the name of the owner, which matched the business card he gave me to go along with the banjo. I hadn't really thought hard about playing banjo before I got it, and after I replaced the head and broken tailpiece I never really got further in my guitar to TB journey than "I'm In Love With A Big Blue Frog". But having the banjo in hand put me in mind of the bluegrass and semi-bluegrass my parents listened to in the 60s. So when I had a chance later that summer to buy a 60s Sears Silvertone 5-string by Kay at another garage sale - for the even more kingly sum of $25 - I started taking formal lessons, and the course of my life was set.

If you've ever played a 60s Kay, you know that it doesn't take long to outgrow, so when my teacher suggested that you could convert a tenor to a 5-string by bolting on a new neck, I sought out a nearby guy who did that kind of work - Roger Siminoff. Spent much of the spring of 1975 in Roger's shop, taking in his building skills and his deep research into Orville Gibson and Lloyd Loar, and I was thrilled when he put my new/old banjo in my hands.

This is where you all come in, since this is the banjo I'm trying to find. Here are the specs, which I'm pretty sure are unique:

  • Style 11 resonator, sides finished brown but the original stenciled plastic veneer on the back
  • Bucks County Super Flathead tone ring (don't remember if it had holes)
  • Straight maple neck, plain bindings, like a wreath style 3, with wreath pattern inlay in white pearl
  • And, the thing that should set it apart - the wreath elements on the headstock are abalone, not pearl.

Beyond these elements, there's not much that could likely have been swapped out over the past 50 years, so I won't muddy the details with elements of the banjo that might have changed.

After this banjo, I started comparing instruments, and quickly found others that sounded better to my ear at the time, and started indulging my interest in building. I bought a Gibson -150 conversion with a -250 neck as my daily player, and started building my own neck, cutting and inlaying a flying eagle pattern in a rosewood board. The neck eventually got put on another banjo that I quickly sold, and the board kicked around for over 40 years before I sent it to Tom Nechville and had him build a mahogany neck around it for my Bluetone Classic so I could swap with the original maple neck for tonal variety.

And, to draw the circle even tighter, I later met and became friends with the guy who cut the pearl/abalone wreath set for Roger to inlay on that first neck, Dave Nichols. He became best man at my wedding a couple of years later.

And that first converted style 11 banjo? I pretty much stopped playing it after my next Mastertone or two. It ended up on the wall of a music store in New Brunswick, New Jersey, where I understand it was bought by a local policeman. That was probably early 1976, and I never saw or heard of that banjo again.

After my investment in the neck, tone ring, refinish and other incidentals like the case, I netted a loss of about $200 when the banjo sold. So I may be the only person who has ever lost money on a $15 prewar Gibson banjo.

I've been tempted for many years to check with this community to see if that banjo is still around. I'd love to hear where it's been and see pictures. I can make things more interesting by offering up pictures of the original parts I still have - mainly the neck and the artwork on the original head. I do still have the original brass hoop, but I transplanted that into the Silvertone in the 70s as an experiment and don't really want to take that banjo apart (yes, I still have it) since it has tremendous sentimental value to me.

I might even be open to reuniting the banjo with its original neck, if the current owner is interested

So, does anybody have an idea where this banjo is today? I'd love to know. Thanks, and have a happy weekend.

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