11/30/2011

Upcoming Stuff

Very cool stuff in the near future!

First for excitement -- an EVIL instrument -- a friend's 1922 Gibson F-2 mando which I'll show you all in the morning... how did he know that I've always lusted after one? And how could he have possibly brought one by in such amazing shape and with SUCH a sound? Too bad I can't afford it!

Also, coming soon:

c.1925 Langestile II (by Lange) tenor banjo
c.1925 Regal fancy curly Cuban mahogany uke
c.1930 Harmony mahogany soprano uke
various 1920s banjo ukes
c.1930 Kay-Kraft style tenor guitar
various 1920s student ukes
c.1930 celluloid-fretboard 5-string banjo
and plenty more

11/20/2011

c.1890 Lyon & Healy 5-String Banjo (fretless conversion)





Lately I've had a lot of folks asking after 5-string banjos... so here's one for ya!

This banjo dates to around c.1890-95 or so and was built in Chicago by Lyon & Healy (check out the obvious headstock shape, pot build, hardware, etc. with other period L&H to confirm). It came to me with a lightly warped neck, bad frets, and a chipping-out fretboard (which happened to be less than 1/16" thick ebony)... so I did what I'll usually do in that circumstance and converted it into a fretless neck.

It's converted well, plays nicely, and because it has a nice double-spun 11" pot it's quite loud for a fretless as well. This banjo has most of its original hardware though the headstock pegs are replacements as well as the tailpiece, head (a new Remo Renaissance masquerading as an Elite), and end-bolt hardware.


The original ebony nut was good to go. Those replacement tuners are c.1960s Grover Champions and work perfectly for the Aquila Nylgut strings this is strung with (note: only nylon/gut/nylgut, etc. for this banjo -- no steel!).


To make the 'jo fretless I removed the old board along with its pearl inlays and frets. I back-filled the fret slots with the fretboard leavings (ie, sandpaper-dust) and also back-filled the old holes where the pearl was installed. After that I simply planed/leveled/sanded the remaining board residue down until I was more or less on the top of the neck wood (in this case, nice-looking cherry!).


After that, I sanded finer and finer and micro-polished, then rubbed in a few coats of gel varnish to seal the neck. The result is a faux-fretted vintage-looking (because I left a little grunge rather than sanding toooooo much off) neck, that's super playable, that easily marks out where your fingers should be while playing. No need to stress out about off notes, here!


Nice 11" double-spunover rim with thick metal cladding. The curled top edge of the cladding makes an integral tonering that ups the volume and sweet resonance.


I used an ebony-topped maple bridge to focus the tone as fretless 'jos can get a little muddy at times. This one is crisp and sweet, though, with tons of volume. I like!







I absolutely love "boat heel" cut necks like this.



Here you can see the previous owner's "dowel adjustment" mechanism. I works, and had already been done before, so I left it. Convenient.


Like most c.1880s/90s banjos, the "neck brace" mechanism on this is simply two big wood screws joining the neck to the pot. This is plenty sturdy for the tension of the nylgut strings.



The previous owner also had been using this newer repro No-Knot tailpiece, so I re-used it as it works perfectly fine with the Nylgut.

Overall, I'm very happy with this 'jo. It has a really nice feel and tone coupled with a quick-playing, 24 3/4" scale (I typically play a 24" scale Buckbee from about 5 years earlier than this model), and sweet worn-in looks. And how many old fretless 'jos are out there, anyway?

c.1919 Martin Style A Flatback Mandolin


This is a customer's Martin mando that I did a fret dress, cleaning, and setup on. I'm hoping I can convince him to sell it to me, though, as this one's a sweetie! It's crack-free and in glorious shape with just the tiniest relief to the neck, which was settled down in my fret dress anyhow. Everything is original and it plays and sounds like a champ with a good, strong voice that has a great amount of cut for a canted-top flatback design.


This particular mando dates to around c.1920 or so, judging by the tuners and the fact that it has rosewood binding on its rear (hence, post 1918).

UPDATE: I just checked the serial and it's a 1919 model. Tehe.


Ebony nut, rosewood veneer on the headstock, and no logo on the 'stock (it's stamped on the rear like '20s Martins).


The micro-dot inlay is always a classy choice. Ebony board. Frets are bar stock, too.


Simple and delightful rosette.


Compensated ebony bridge -- note chipped string channels. I'm thinking of simply cutting down the top of this and reprofiling to make it look a little more normal.


Stamp on the backstrip.



Lovely mahogany and the finish is in great shape, too!




I lubed the tuners so they're working nicely, now.





Like usual, I popped a bit of foam under the tailpiece cover to mute the extra string length (which means fewer weird overtones). Check out the pretty rosewood binding + purfling at the edge. Oh, and right -- I had to glue up a top/side seam around this area, too.


...with an original chip case! Not bad!

11/19/2011

c.1918 Weymann Style 30 Banjo Mandolin





This old Weymann bears a 272xx serial number and "Style 30" stamped on the top of the headstock which dates it just about around 1918. If you've been following the blog, you know just how much I admire these Philadelphia-made instruments -- and especially their banjos. The quality is extremely high (I think of these as the Martin of teens and '20s banjos in terms of understated craftsmanship), the build is rugged, reliable, and durable, and the hardware is all heavy-duty and high quality. Though harder to find than other makes I can always recommend one to friends and customers as a good, "have for the rest of your life" instrument.

This particular instrument was low on the totem pole of the Weymann price list (but not cheap compared to catalog banjos, mind you) in terms of expense and adornment. Style 30 is relatively plain but has it where it counts -- good thick maple rim (no tonering on this, just a shaped top edge), rock-solid build, and a great feel (and sound).

My work would have been a fret dress, cleaning, and setup except that some darn fool had cut the original fingerboard off before the 12th fret! So... I popped off the old board and fitted a new rosewood board to the neck -- complete with bigger (more modern) frets, a new bone nut, and also the re-used MOP dots from the old board. Like a dunce, though, I marked my sizing for the new board from the profile of the old one -- which had shrunk -- so on the bass side there is a cardstock-thin edge of neck-to-board overlap. I'd have to point it out to you in person to notice it, but it bugs me just the same because I know it's there! ...though, for sure the old board would have been worse even had it been whole and intact. Anyway!


Good solid headstock. Note the enclosed tuners.


New rosewood board feels nice and the brand-new frets give it a fast, modern feel (though I used a flat board).


I also installed a new head as the original skin one was torn -- this is a 10 1/2" Remo Renaissance I just happened to have on hand. The bridge is a parts-bin Grover maple/ebony type. I usually end up modifying a bigger, heavier (and rosewood) mandolin-style bridge for banjo mandolins (to cut down on overtones for the most part) but due to the fact that this lacks a tonering, the woodier and sweeter tone of the rim allows me to get away with a thinner, lighter banjo-style bridge.



I love Weymann hardware. Always gives the owner the feeling of confidence in the machine.


Metal-buttoned enclosed tuners look great and have aged wonderfully (they worked perfectly, no lube necessary).




The cover plates are lightly engraved at the edges (or stamped?).



Here you can see the traditional shim-style neck brace (with two new rosewood shims) as well as the "tension bar" which reinforces the neck brace's job.


Adjustable.

Did I mention the whole banjo is glorious maple? Good quality stock and the one-piece neck has a nice light flame/curl here and there.





The original tailpiece was broken so I installed this new repro "No Knot" tailpiece from my 5-string bits collection. I like these as mando-banjo tailpieces as well but it means that my foam mute is visible under the strings and on top of the head.


...oh, and it has its original hard case! Nice!