11/16/2011

c.1885 Haynes Excelsior 5-String Banjo


This is a customer's Haynes "Excelsior" banjo and is one of the earliest Haynes I've personally seen, with features that probably date it to around 1885 or so. The marquetry-inlaid wood pot is quite pretty stuff and the mahogany-with-ebony-board neck has a very high quality and fast-playing cut.

This instrument is one of those late-1800s banjos that should only be strung with gut/nylgut or nylon strings as it's definitely not built heavily enough to take steel. When I started work on it I noticed someone had been playing it with light steel, but luckily enough they gave up on it pretty quickly as the neck is still very straight and good to go.

My work on this banjo included: total refretting, replacement tension hoop and flesh hoop (cut-down from parts-bin ones), replacement small tonering, replacement hardware, new skin head (and mounting of said head), cleaning, setup, and all the rest. It was a total resto job.


Original bone nut, cool sun-like inlay in headstock veneer. The headstock shape is great, too!


Ebony board in great shape with nice MOP inlays. That 5th peg is a replacement. I reseated it nicely.


"Leaf and stem" engraved inlay. These new modern banjo/mando frets feel super nice.



Really cool engraved acorn inlay. Note an added shim at the tension hoop and my "chop shop" replacement tension hoop's slight gap on its top edge at the neck join (it originally had a cut-out for string passage as it was a tenor banjo hoop from the '20s).


I really wanted to mount a Remo 10 1/8" synthetic head on this (I bought one for it) but due to the short rim and the height of the shoes I couldn't make that work for this banjo so I had to install this thin skin head the old fashioned way with a flesh hoop (also a cut-down one from a '20s tenor banjo).


This all-maple bridge has been recut from a too-low old banjo mandolin bridge. I think the nice cut of it adds some elegance. I thinned it up quite a bit from its old bulk and also, of course, slotted it for 5-string setup. Plain maple bridges are the best-sounding type for use with nylgut, gut, or nylon strings.



These are c.1960s tuners but work fine.


Beautiful little 5th-string relief cut.


And a nice boat heel. Note the cool marquetry!



This banjo was considerably more disgusting when it arrived. I've since cleaned it a lot and also removed a lot of tarnish and grunge from the hardware with my ultrasonic cleaner.




I had to replace a number of missing hooks but the new ones are vintage parts so they don't stick out too much.


There's the Haynes (Boston) dowel-stick imprint and the three-bolt neck attachment system. Works decently but if this were my banjo I might retrofit it with a Vega-style neck brace for better hold over time.


Very few tailpieces would fit right over this tension hoop and hook spacing with the right down-pressure on the bridge so instead I borrowed a 1920s-style banjo uke string-mounting trick and drilled 5 holes through the tension hoop for mounting. This gives a very clean look, very clean sound, and removes any rattles that might pop up over time typical with tailpieces on banjos.


Here you can see I've knotted the strings, passed them through old guitar ballends, and then through the tiny mounting holes. Isn't that a nice-looking bridge? Note my replacement "end bolt" is simply a hex-head screw I had sitting around.

1 comment:

Birdy said...

hi is this banjo for sale??
thanks