2/19/2011

c.1930 Oscar Schmidt "Delux" Tenor Banjo


I'm usually not a big fan of resonator-backed tenor banjos as they tend to sound too piercing or trebly for my taste, but once in a while I come across nice ones like this fella. It lacks a tonering and simply has a shaped top to the wooden rim, but the extra weight of the one-piece flange and a nice stiff 3-lam rim means that you get loads of volume and projection as well as a smooth, warm tone with plenty of bass.


Everything is entirely original to this banjo save the new Grover non-tip bridge and the strings. It's amazing that it's come through in such clean, excellent shape with its original hardware. And, for figuring out a maker, hardware is quite important: all of the hooks & nuts are what specifically put this banjo down as a "made by Oscar Schmidt" instrument.

Admittedly, the neck profile, dot pattern, and Champion tuners are a giveaway, as well as the nicely-made resonator and funky sunburst finish... but OS was very typical with their hooks & nuts... and almost all of their banjos from the 20s and 30s have the same type.


As a "Delux" model (so says the headstock), this OS tenor sports an ebony fretboard. The neck, rim, and resonator look to be either birch or poplar, however, which is quite usual for the New Jersey-based company.



Tailpiece is a nice, heavy, reverse-hinged covered type, which puts some good downpressure on the strings.


It's a nice, simple looker.



Action looks high in this shot but is in fact quite low and fast.


See those stripes on the side? It's actually celluloid binding that's been inlaid... and it's crazy looking stuff -- sparkly yellow/green. Bonnie told me, "it looks like an Emerald City banjo."


Fun, Gibson-esque rings of inlaid binding material on the back, too.


The simple friction Champion pegs are great. They're definitely the best of the friction peg designs of the time, as they tend to slip far less than any other type and turn more easily.


Gotta love that green/yellow sparkle!







I love the tone of this banjo... loud, punchy, warm, and sweet. I've got a thin pad of foam wedged between the dowel and the underside of the hood at the neck join which gives some muting but not a lot, and helps focus the tone of the banjo. I've got it strung in "Celtic" GDAE octave mandolin tuning, and to tighten up the low G and D strings it helps to just lightly mute the head (this is true for most tenors tuned GDAE).

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