12/28/2012

c.1918 Vega Style K Banjo Mandolin


Here's a nice, early Vega "style K" banjo mandolin. The serial dates it to 1918 and it's early enough in the model history (I'm supposing) that it doesn't have the "Style K" imprint on the dowel stick. The Vega logo itself is also imprinted on the side of the dowel where it's not as visible.

Like all the other style K banjo-mandos I've worked on (many!), this one is a good, dependable, sturdy, and well-thought-out instrument. I wouldn't expect less from a Boston-made Vega, though. My work included cleaning, a fret level/dress, setup, and replacement tailpiece cover (these Waverly "cloud" covers are getting harder and harder to find!). I also installed some period tuners I had in my parts bin to replace the ugly 1960s tuners that were installed on it.

These have a great, "horse-hoof-clop" tone to them and sound best played with a very thin pick that gives them a precise edge. The simple "hoop style" tonering used on these style Ks gives the instrument fewer random overtones that need to be removed by muting -- a plus! -- while still offering good volume.


This instrument came with a replacement (1960s) Remo head that cleaned up pretty nice and is perfectly functional. Many of these rims are 10" but this one happens to be 10 1/8" so finding a replacement head if need be is a little easier. 10" heads are very hard to find, from my experience.


Nice rosewood headstock veneer, original bone nut.


Good ebony fretboard, pearl dots, and bar-stock frets. These are original frets and while relatively low, still have a good amount of life left in them. This banjo-mando has a long 13 7/8" scale so I've used extra-light (32w, 20w, 13, 9) strings to back the tension off but still get a full sound.


Usually I replace the banjo-style two-foot bridges with mandolin-style one-foot bridges, but I decided to leave the original bridge on here since it sounds and works just fine and the Remo head means that tuning stability is less of an issue.

Note that I've added foam under the tailpiece cover to mute the extra string length.



I love the simple aesthetics but quality build. This has all Vega-style heavy-duty hardware and also has the typical tortoise-bound rim bottom edge. The wood throughout except for the board is maple stained to a dark red mahogany/dark walnut color. This is slightly unusual in the sense that later style Ks tended to have a mix of mahogany and maple.


The replacement tuners from my parts bin are from exactly the right era -- late teens -- and the right make, Waverly.


As typical, the hardware has some rust spots and tarnish but is ready to go. I love the contrast of the dark wood with the brighter tortoise trim.




Vegas across the board have sturdy, big heels. Very practical!



Good, heavy-duty neck brace.


The brand and the serial are on the side of the dowel rather than the back of it.






The tailpiece is actually attached right to the tension hoop which means that it's vitally important to get a straight line with it down the neck when remounting a head and applying tension to the tension hoop.

12/23/2012

Holiday Net-Free Zone


Happy Holidays to you all! I'll be having a patented Holiday Net-Free Zone until Thursday after Xmas. So, if you need to get in touch -- sorry! All packages will be shipped on Friday and all calls, emails, etc. will be returned on Friday as well.

Thank you all again for keeping an eye on the blog and merry, merry!

(p.s. really fun stuff coming up after this short break)

c.1970 Dobro Fancy Resonator Mandolin


What better way to celebrate the holidays than with a far-out Dobro mandolin sporting green and red trim? This is the strangest Dobro mando I've seen yet and the only one I know of that looks like this. I'm gathering that it dates from around 1970 or so since it has "that era" fittings and build.

This came to me by way of a customer of mine and will shortly be going off to him. He picked this up recently at Christie's in New York and I'll tell you... this one sure befits sale in that house. It's a classy, if bizarre, little axe.


The moons-and-stars coverplate has always been one of my favorites and it sure fits in with the curious "faux-f" style design of the body. I like the cute little 2nd soundhole screen in the "point" (turret?) on the lower bout.

When I unpacked this, I had to remove said screen and shake a whole bunch of dust bunnies out. I also got a glimpse of the interior with its good hefty soundwell. The work I had to do to it was pretty much general setup adjustments.


Multi-ply veneer on the face and rear of the headstock. Original bone nut (since shimmed up slightly), too.


The ivoroid-bound fretboard has red(!) fret markers which is very cool. The board itself is ebony with pearl dots. I had to lightly dress some of these frets because it came in with pretty flat-topped fret profiles.


The tailpiece is a curious thing -- a standard "Waverly Cloud" style tailpiece that's been riveted to a backing plate.


Note the green/red/green trim. That's so cool, especially against the natural birch of the instrument!



The scale on this guy is 13 3/4" which is way, way more practical than the 15" National scale. I strung it up with a set of 34w-10 lights and it sounds excellent. Because it's a Dobro cone, the low and mids are especially meaty.



The small wrist-rest/saddle cover is kind of cute.






Overall the mando is in really good, clean shape. I've noticed maybe an old neck reset job done in the past and a scratch here or there, but otherwise it's like "shopworn new."




Tuners are lubed. Note the curious strap holder. This looks like a 1920s/30s throwback attachment.




12/22/2012

c.1924 Weymann Style #180 Tenor Banjo


This beautiful tenor banjo would have cost quite a pretty penny when new! Style #180 was approaching the higher part of the Weymann line in its day and the build, styling, inlay, and playability all speak to that.

The serial dates it to around 1924 and it's very typical of a "professional grade" Weymann product, sporting a big, multi-ply 11" maple rim, heavy-duty quality hardware, and a medium 22" scale. It also has a tonering very similar to a Vega "Little Wonder" type -- a bigger brass hoop that sits on top of the rim and is enclosed in a sheath of nickel-silver that's "half-spunover" the rim's edge.


Aside from the head, bridge, and replacement tuners, this banjo is all-original. Check out that lovely pearl inlay in the headstock! A few pieces have chipped out, probably due to a sloppy tuner install. Bone nut.


The fretboard and headstock veneer appear to be stained fruitwood of some sort. There's lovely pearl-inlay in the fretboard as well and much playwear. The board itself is bound in ivoroid binding.

My work on the banjo included: general teardown and rebuild, fret level and dress (which removed a tiny amount of relief in the neck), new head (a synthetic Remo frosted-top type, but the Taiwanese model which is a little warmer-sounding), cleaning, and setup.



It's really a handsome banjo and the colors chosen for it -- a yellow-cream ivoroid binding throughout and a medium-red stain over flamed-maple veneer on the pot -- are really attractive.


New Grover two-foot bridge. I like this model a lot as it has a good balance between response and fullness of tone.


This original, adjustable Weymann-patent tailpiece still has its engraved cover. Nice!


Here's some more pearl on the neck...!



Interestingly, while everything else is a variant of maple (flamed, curly, etc.) the resonator "walls" are mahogany.


Here you can see some more lovely details -- check out the pinstripe sandwich below the neck binding and also on the edges of hte headstock.


Really pretty stuff! The curly maple used for the neck is absolutely stunning, too, especially with its grey-brown "violin neck" coloration.



Gorgeous flamed maple on the back of the resonator... but this must have gotten a lot of sun since much of the red stain has leached out leaving this almost pumpkin-y color behind.


These Grover 4:1 planetary pegs are replacements but I went a step further and replaced the metal buttons that were on them with this more period-looking ivoroid ones.


Nice "stripe" on the back of the neck, too.



Ah, yes -- the resonator is a simple "pop-on, pop-off" type that uses friction to hold it in place. It's as easy as that to convert this to an openback for an old-timey sound.

Speaking of sound -- tonally this is very Weymann: crisp, precise, but with a sweet woody mwah to the low notes. Clarity is one thing these guys excel at, but you're certainly not going to compete volume-wise with a high-end Bacon or Lange.


See the big tension adjuster bar on the back? That works in tandem with the shim-style neck brace to keep the neck firmly attached to the pot very well. This is a patented Weymann design.


The heel cap has a split hairline along the path of the screws. This is very typical.



Serial and model number. Note the new ebony shims for the neck brace.


I love the multi-line inlaid "foot" on Weymann rims.


See the outrageously pretty flamed maple sides of the rim? Nice color, too!



Interior of the rim -- note the slight damage at the neck pocket area -- par for the course and nothing to write home about.