2/20/2010

c.1925 Oscar Schmidt "Sovereign" Banjo Mandolin


What a treat! This is a nice 10" pot banjo mandolin, mid-1920s vintage, built by Oscar Schmidt out of New Jersey. It's branded "Sovereign" which was their upscale house brand, and for good reason: nice hardware, MOP-inlaid and bound ebony fretboard, good three-piece neck, and great tone. It's got a 14" scale (most are 13"), too, which gives this thing excellent, super-slick action. It's probably one of the easiest-playing mandolin necks from the period that I've had the chance to sit down with. Did I mention it sounds great, too?

Aside from regluing the dowel, I've cleaned it up, installed a new Renaissance head (I love these...), set it up, and popped in a new nut and a rosewood flattop-style mandolin bridge. The big bridge as opposed to a banjo style bridge is for several reasons: the tension is high with mando strings, so it's good to spread the tension out over more space. This also dampens down really harsh treble sounds and gives me a firm (less prone to move up and down..) base to get the action perfect with the head at proper tension. The sacrifice with this is a little less volume, but with this thing easily matching pace and exceeding the bluegrass mandolins I've had through my stable, I'd not be worried about that so much.


Headstock... star MOP inlay.


Nice MOP in the ebony board. Note a chip hole at the 11th fret. OS often kept their fretboards in place while they glued up with a pin at the 2nd or 3rd fret and another at the 10th, 11th, or 12th fret depending on the instrument. This chip probably started as that tiny pin hole and grew with wear and tear. No effect on playability.


Rim.


Rosewood bridge... note the harmonic dampeners on the tailpiece end of the strings. Also, the tailpiece cover is missing.


Side.


Rim detail.


Back.


Tuners. A couple are a little rough but are in pretty good shape considering.


Rim/neck join.



Sovereign brand stamp.



Overall: a nice player, with a good, clop-clop horse-hoofy sound. That's just the way a banjo-mando should sound: sweet and not harsh on top, with a poppy bottom. These things are great if you have an open mind about playing mandolin: they sound super with crosspicking chords behind a guitar and can easily lend that driving rhythm that a 5-string with fingerpicks gives.

1 comment:

Fran├žois said...

Hi there ! I have a very similar instrument but it's a Sovereign banjo ukulele, ie with four strings (recently bought from ebay). Very well made, I just had to replace the calf skin and now it plays great !
http://harmony.demont.net/myharmonies/francois/banjo_uke_Sovereign_01.jpg
http://harmony.demont.net/myharmonies/francois/banjo_uke_Sovereign_02.jpg