c.1927 Vega Style K Banjo Mandolin

Finally I got a tiny bit of time to get back up in the workshop yesterday. Here's a pretty little 10" rim Vega Style K banjo mando, with a serial (matching on rim & dowel) that dates to 1927. Like all of these Style Ks I've worked on, it sounds fantastic and (after setup and a fret dress) plays like butter. I'm entirely convinced this is the benchmark banjo mandolin of the '20s. They're simple, no-frills, well-built, sound sweet but have good volume, and feel like a much more expensive instrument.

Work included: cleaning, fret dress, setup, and replacement bridge. This one's missing its tailpiece cover and I had to also replace two hook/nut sets with '20s parts-bin ones. Because of the sweet-sounding original skin head I only had to do slight dampening to get an ideal tone out of this banjo mando (usually I have to mute at the tailpiece and between the dowel and head to both slightly quiet and also mute overtones on most banjo mandos). The only dampening on here is a tiny piece of foam under the fretboard extension just to lightly mute overtones.

Bone nut, ebony veneer. Original tuners work well!

Bar frets, one replacement MOP dot. Ebony board. Note that on this '27 Vega the scale length is 13 3/4" rather than the 13 7/8" and 14" scale lengths seen on slightly earlier Vega Style Ks.

Original skin head looks handsome and is in good shape!

Misc. hardwood (rosewood? or similar) bridge from my bin, cut for this mando.

I always liked the mando-style tailpiece used on these fellas.

Good heavy-duty Vega hardware is abundant and in good shape. Note the tortoise binding on the bottom edge. Rim is multi-ply maple with a hoop-style tonering on top.

The proportions on these banjo mandos are just about perfect. They sit great in the lap.

Ebony heel cap. The neck may be mahogany.

As always, the good heavy-duty Vega-style neck brace is present.

Yessir, I love these guys.


Just for Mr. Ben...

"Let the Mermaids Flirt" by Tom Christiano

(Well Ben, you asked for a clip of the Martin guitar on some country blues... here's its new owner, Mr. Tom, playing a hum-dinger for ya on a Mississippi John Hurt tune!)


New Song Videos

"Manhunt" on the c.1935 Kalamazoo KG-21 archtop

"Moonshine Silver" on the c.1940 Johnny Marvin uke

c.1925 Paramount by Lange Style B Tenor Banjo

This is a customer's tenor banjo. I didn't check the serial number for the date but it's a fantastic instrument, probably dating from around c.1925-27 or so. It's very fancy, features the Lange-style archtop tonering design (set on posts), has more volume than you'd ever need, and all the tone quality you could ask for.

I did a quick cleaning and a fret dress + setup last evening and snapped these shots just before he picked it up as I figured tenor players out there might enjoy it. This instrument appears to have been refinished at some point.

Excellent engraved pearl is found throughout. Just pretty, pretty stuff.

Looks like a replacement bone nut as well as replacement frets. These were pretty divot-ed before the dressing. Good ebony board.

Can't get enough of the engraved pearl.

Two bands of herringbone, multi-ply binding, and red striping. Nice! Not to mention all of the quality Lange hardware with patent numbers stamped all over them.

Replacement Grover 2-foot bridge.

Nice little cover also works as a down-tension adjusters. A very elegant design.

I love the "side dots" as well s the rope/red marquetry. This appears to be "bound" in ebony as well.

Note the pickholder and the "made by his wifey" arm-rest cover.

Super birdseye maple on the neck.

Old geared pegs work great.

...and there's an old pickup hanging about inside as well.


c.1935 Armstrong Orchestra Archtop Guitar

Update 2014: After much speculation about whether this is a Harmony product or not, I'm back in the "not sure" camp.

This rhinestone-encrusted, mother-of-toilet-seat-bedecked, sunburst, flamed maple and solid carved spruce top, 15 3/4" wide, hubba hubba guitar was (supposedly, and very likely) made by Harmony and sat towards the top of their line. Whoever owned the "Armstrong" brand and sold under that name was certainly not happy with anything short of high end and with heaps of class.

I worked recently on the model just above this, an Armstrong Dansant, and loved it -- but foolishly sold it. When this model, one rung down, popped up, I jumped at it and am super happy I did. It's going to be replacing something from my collection as I'm psyched to have found another one (as they're pretty darn rare).

This guitar sports 100% original fittings, though the top looks like it was oversprayed with a coat of nitro sometime many years ago and got a decent neck set at the same time. My work on it included a fret dress and general setup.

Bone nut, cool pearloid and colored inlaid headstock. Unlike the Dansant model, this one sports clear-ish/light pink-ish rhinestones, rather than the red ones I saw on the other.

Bound rosewood board with side dots and dot/flake inlay.

Did I mention the pickguard matches the headstock? Sweet!

Bone saddle bridge.

Good heavy Grover Deluxe tailpiece.

Except for the arched back, this guitar is almost identical in feel/size/body shape to Martin-made archtop guitars of the time. It actually sounds like a C-1 or similar, too.

Flamed maple back and sides. Not sure if it's solid or not but my guess is that it is, considering the hairline crack on the back that goes through.

Neck shape is a shallow V with a neck like an old Martin dreadnought.

Nice heavy Grover tuners, too.

One-piece flamed maple neck with steel reinforcement.

Here's some of the flame on the back.

I may pop a pickup jack in where this broken original endpin is.