3/31/2011

What's next?

Instruments coming up... '30s/'40s Kay archtop guitar as mentioned before, a c.1925 Dayton tenor banjo "Frankenstein" (replaced rim), c.1930s Lyric by Gretsch fancy tenor banjo, c.1920 Gretsch-made tenor banjo w/spunover rim, c.1954 Martin 0-15 guitar, c.1918 high quality Weymann tenor banjo, c.1925 Regal-made soprano uke, and various customer fiddles.

3/29/2011

c.1925 Oscar Schmidt Tiple


While I see mostly Regal and Harmony made tiples wandering the vintage market, followed closely by higher-end Martin-made instruments, tiples like this one with its delicious solid headstock, are much rarer and were made by Oscar Schmidt out of New Jersey in the 1920s (and 30s, maybe?). This one has a rosewood fretboard and bridge, birch back/sides/neck, and a spruce top, ladder braced with a fairly large "bridge plate."

This instrument was kind of a pain to finish up work on... the neck angle is pretty low due to the geometry of the top/body changing (though the neck joint itself is entirely solid and in good order)... and the bridge had been shaved somewhat, but to get the action right, I had to remove the remains of the cracked-through string-loading section of the bridge (these usually mount through holes in the back of the bridge block like a classical guitar).

Instead, I've cut the bridge all down and drilled holes for a pin-bridge setup, which looks pretty darn cool. In addition, the instrument got a new bone nut and saddle, fresh fret dress, and also a glue-up of the only crack (a 1.5" hairline on the back, tight) and some brace regluing to the mid and under-fretboard braces.

It plays comfortably now, with rather light-gauge strings setup for GCEA (modern) tuning. I wouldn't tune up to ADF#B unless I went a step lighter, as that higher tuning seems to be the usual reason that these instruments go into a collapsing-top fate.


The body shape on these Oscars is very cute -- with a slightly smaller-than-usual upper bout which gives it a nice look.


Rosewood headstock veneer, too. I oiled up the tuners and they work pretty well, hold nicely.


Tiny pearl dots in the board. When I got this instrument, the board was covered over to the 12th fret with note-indicator glued-on papers, typical for learners from the time. This was hell to remove as the glue remains even after you've scraped all the remains of the paper/stickers off. Thankfully, it came out alright in the end, and looks much more professional and happier now!


My wonky pin-bridge layout. Kinda cute!


I like the simple appointments -- binding top and back, 2-ply purfling on the top and around the soundhole, and a simple ring rosette. It's all very "Martin-ish."



Gotta love the 5-on-a-plate tuners!








Some previous tailpiece-setup holes. That lower one would make a great lead for a strap button install.

3/27/2011

New sidebar stuff...

Just added some new toys to the sidebar -- subscription link, follow by email link, followers, and "popular posts." Ironically, my "most popular post" is the Stewart-branded Harmony archtop from the late 30s/early 40s. Peculiar, to me!

3/26/2011

c.1950 Italian? Tenor Banjo


This tenor banjo is short scale (19 3/4") with a smallish head, set into a wooden shell rim in "zither-banjo" fashion. It also has a slotted headstock with geared tuners... and all of this is typical of French and Italian (as well as some German) banjos of the c.1920s-30s. I'd guess that this banjo is later, however, probably at earliest 1940s and more than likely built around the 1950s-60s or so, which makes it (more than likely) Italian.


Fun headstock, plastic nut. These geared pegs make tuning a cinch compared to the usual friction pegs found on most American tenor banjos.


I dressed the frets and the neck is quite straight. Rosewood fretboard.


Gotta love the top-tension rim. Keeps the rim nice and comfy against your lap and belly (no hooks to gouge you). Also, that resonator-style rim means the sound comes forward as opposed to splish-splashed everywhere. The tone on this banjo is sweet, warm, and very woody. It's not at all like a more brash and bright "regular" style banjo. This kind of tonality is typical of this pot design, though, as I've heard the same thing out of a banjo mandolin of the same type as well as an earlier zither banjo of the same style.


Bridge is lower than a typical 1/2" style, and I've repurposed an old 1920s mandolin bridge, which sounds just dandy.




Resonator back has a big crack that's been glued up, and I had to glue up a couple major seam separations. There's one minor seam separation left that I didn't address, though, that's stable and not an issue at all.



Cool brass-plate tuners. In good order, as well. This banjo originally had a "zero fret" but like most European zero frets, it was taller than all the rest of the frets, which meant playability suffered. I removed it and moved the nut up. Now the action's nice and low and the playability is spot-on.


Not sure what the wood is on this instrument, but it's stained a deep red mahogany color.


The tailpiece is really grungy and the brackets are pitted and rusty on their tops as well, but everything functions well. The skin head's in great shape. A lot of these show up with torn heads and are quite frustrating to re-head.

c.1968 Gibson Blue Ridge Guitar


This is a 1968 Gibson "Blue Ridge" guitar, and before you ask -- yes, it's been retopped, and a very professional job it is (though, not mine). This guitar is a true "banjo killer" -- loud, projecting, crisp but also balanced and warm on the bottom end. Back and sides are laminate rosewood, top is solid spruce, and the neck is one-piece mahogany with a rosewood fretboard. Rosewood bridge, too.

When the top was replaced it also got a sunburst top finish and Martin-style D-28-ish appointments and teardrop pickguard. Pretty snazzy!

A friend handed me this guitar (which, I thought was a Japanese Gibson-style clone at the time) and the action had crept up quite high over time. Since the neck looked like it had been set in the past and was nice and flush with the body, I decided to shave the bridge to take up the slack, and now it plays fantastically -- just like you'd expect from an old '60s Gibson dreadnought. They have such fast necks!



Gibson logo is gone but the Blue Ridge trussrod cover remains. Old Klusons were replaced with Schallers at some point.



Good compensated bone saddle (and nut). Plastic pins, freshly shaved bridge.








Typical era screwed-in end pin. I actually prefer these to the "friction" end pin as it's harder to pull these off by accident in the middle of a show.

3/25/2011

c.1920 Vega Style K Banjo Mandolin


This is a Style K banjo mandolin, 10" pot, made by Vega. The serial number dates it to 1920. Mahogany rim, mahogany neck, ebony fretboard and headstock veneer, simple rolled tonering, and all-original save its new Yellowstone head (a synthetic head that sounds very much like skin, and mounts like skin as well) and new rosewood mando-style bridge. It has a long 14" scale length which feels very comfortable (more room to stretch).

These Style Ks are bare-bones, but classy, quality, and effective instruments. It's very important to setup a banjo mandolin correctly, however. When I set them up I use heavier-than-normal bridges with big wide feet which removes a slight amount of volume but does wonders for undesirable overtones, head sinking caused by too much tension in one area, and the associated unfriendliness of unstable tuning caused by said "head sinking."

I also use thinner gauge strings (especially with this 14" scale length) of 28w, 22w, 12, 09 -- which, as it happens, is two sets of GHS Phosphor Bronze tenor banjo strings. Add to that a foam mute under the tailpiece cover to mute the extra string length, and you're ready to go with a great-sounding, uniquely-voiced instrument, with about twice the volume of a typical flatback mandolin. It's a sweet, mellow, and slightly "clop-hoppy" tonality.


Ebony headstock veneer, original tuners, bone nut.


Oh right, forgot that I did a fret dress on this as well. Frets are bar stock.


Simple $5 rosewood replacement mandolin bridge. Works perfectly and looks elegant.


The Yellowstone heads look quite classy (a parchmenty-skin-like look) and are excellent for odd rim sizes that you might have trouble fitting a Remo head to.



The finish is in great shape and has that silky feel of like-minded Martin instruments.







Good tough neck brace.



Tailpiece with fun "cloud" cover.

These Vega banjo mandos (of various types) are among the best-sounding, most playable banjo mandolins I've worked on. They're very solidly built and are a joy to play, vs. many less expensive catalog banjo mandos of the time which can simply have an awkward "feel" to them. In comparison Vegas are very well thought-out.