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).


Coming Soon??

New stuff coming up includes: cool c.1930 (Bacon?) no-frills quality tenor banjo, c.1850 flamed-maple/spruce (really beat up, but sweet!) gut-strung "parlor" guitar, c.1925 Oscar Schmidt-made tiple, c.1900 Weymann? 5-string banjo, c.1930 Oscar Schmidt "Stella" floral-deco ukulele, c.1940s Favilla soprano uke (super clean customer's instrument)... etc, etc.

c.1925 Unmarked (Flamed) Maple Banjo Ukulele

This is a super-cute, sweet-toned banjo uke with great volume and slick playability. Its neck is also tough enough that you have the option of equipping it with either gut/nylon/synthetic strings or steel strings (which were popular back in the 20s/30s on banjo ukes).

While it's unmarked, it bears much resemblance to other makers' banjo ukes of the time in that it has no tonering, a 3-ply maple rim, and maple neck. Where it differs is the rosewood fretboard, obviously custom-style headstock and decorative dot inlay on the headstock, and the 5-piece, flamed maple/rosewood (or mahogany?) neck.

Oh, and also, good quality heavier-than-usual hardware with nice (non-hex) shoes.

Nice original skin head. Showing some wear but with plenty of time left to go.

Nickel-silver frets. I've dressed them and filed their edges. Smooth, quick action. MOP dots on the board.

Interesting headstock cut with inlaid cream/ivoroid dots. The tuners are period but are from my parts box and are a nice upgrade vs the originals. The original tuner buttons had deteriorated quite badly.

Gorgeous flamed maple neck with a great and cozy profile. Nice and wide (side to side) like a uke but with lots of strength.

Cleaned up nice... that maple and original finish just glows.

Here you can see that fancy flamed maple.

Tuner buttons are newer parts-bin buttons and are pearly-looking.

Shim-style neck brace.

Stamp on reverse of head.

Apparently this was "re-gifted" in 1954. The build is entirely 20s/30s, though, for sure.

Simple maple pot.

I like the tension-hoop-as-tailpiece design. Makes for a nice clean tie/knot-off that doesn't add weight or more parts that can loosen up and make buzzing.

A purty uke! Forgot to mention that the bridge is a period Grover Non-Tip from my bin, the strings are Aquila Nylguts, and that some of the frets aren't set into the board perfectly perpendicular, but it plays pretty well in tune nonetheless. Nylon/nylgut is thankfully forgiving in that respect.


c.1963/64/2011 Fender Duo-Sonic Guitar

I picked up this guitar in trade as a '63 old-style Duo-Sonic body and a '64 Duo-Sonic II neck, 24" scale length. Both parts were stripped of their hardware and the finish was pretty shot on the body... I would have left it but someone had sanded the top edge bare as if it had binding... really weird looking. The back was entirely bare.

At any rate, I resprayed the body and went on the search for new hardware... strap buttons were off of a '60s Japanese parts guitar, though all the rest is new... repro Kluson tuners, new repro Duo-Sonic bridge, new string tree, new one-ply black pickguard by Jeannie Pickguards, new Tele-style chrome knobs, pickups are Japanese-made modern Fender Mustang reissue pickups which are the closest I could find to the originals. The toggle switch and jack are both Switchcraft, and curiously I used 500k pots and an Orange Drop capacitor. The 500k pots give a bit more sparkle when you roll off the treble and the volume pot is super sensitive which makes it super-cool for tremolo effects.

I think it turned out pretty spiffy and I've always wanted a green guitar! Tone is nice and bright with a really nice pure, clean bell-like tone when in the mid position. The bridge pickup has a lot of twang while the neck pickup is great for more heavy-handed chordal playing. Mid position, though, is definitely the winner hands-down.

What's cool about the neck is that it's got the slightly-larger 1964-style headstock, which coupled to the older late '50s-looking body, is pretty darn sweet.

Clay dots with a nice rosewood board.

The new style bridge doesn't fit perfectly but that's okay -- a number of old Fenders have gaps between the pickguard and the bridge, and I was surprised at how well it fit in.

Gotta love the Tele style knobs.

And of course a vintage-style F neckplate.

Kluson repros work great.



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c.1925 Martin-made SS Stewart Bowlback Mandolin

Very cool! Here's a c.1920s (probably c.1923-1925) bowlback mandolin, almost undoubtedly made by CF Martin in Nazareth, PA, for B&J (who owned the SS Stewart brand name at the time). It bears no markings (serial numbers, style numbers, etc.) that would guarantee that it's a Martin-made instrument, but Martin's fingerprints are all over it... body style, finish style, build (and build quality), binding and decorative details, diamond-shaped volute on back of headstock... etc.

It's a 23-rib Brazilian rosewood bowl, with mahogany neck, and spruce top. The bracing is Martin-style, lightweight and nicely shaped. It's got rosewood binding with 4-ply wooden purfling, a nice inlaid celluloid (cracked up) tortoise pickguard, and all of its original fittings except for a replacement (1930s) tailpiece.

Pretty mando, and crack-free save some reglued seams on the bowl.

Rosewood headstock veneer.

Rosewood fretboard... and curiously enough this actually has tanged frets, rather than typical (for the time) Martin-style bar frets, which is slightly unconvincing to me for a Martin ID, though everything else seems to fit (it even has side dots). I suppose it's possible they could have been replaced?

Bone-topped ebony bridge.

I've got 28w, 22w, 12, 09 strings on this... two sets of GHS tenor banjo phos. bronze strings. These are excellent gauges for old bowlbacks.

Classy binding/purfling.

Nice bowl!

Good-quality inset tuners.

Martin-style volute.

There's the Stewart label... but it's in name only.