c.1930 Gibson-made Clark Tenor Banjo

Update: After checking with Spann's Guide to Gibson (a good read), the author lists the Oriole style TB model (which this is closely related to) as only from 1927. The construction methods used on this banjo tend to agree with a '20s Gibson banjo build more than a '30s one, so a '27 date would probably make sense for this fella as well. Just my $0.02 worth.

This tenor banjo was made by Gibson for (I think) Clark's Music Center and is very similar to '30s-era "Kalamazoo Oriole" (Gibson in-house brand) tenor banjos from the time but has a "mahoghany" finish rather than natural (which most Orioles had).

The scale on this is 20 3/4" which puts it in that "17 fret" tenor category, perfect for melody players and folks who want to retune to GDAE for Celtic or old-time fiddle tune playing. I prefer the "standard" CGDA or step-up DAEB lately, though, myself as it's more fiery like a mandolin and works just as well for Celtic or old-timey stuff.

This was in pretty good shape when I received it but needed the usual work -- new head (I installed a newer 10 1/2" Remo Renaissance from my parts bin), cleaning, setup, and whatnot. It's all original save one replacement (matched) nut and a replacement (vintage) maple bridge.

Ebony nut, looks like a plain-Jane ebony fretboard that's been stained further to give it a uniform black. Note the fretboard is bound and the dots are MOP. Frets are standard thin, low Gibson style frets from the period.

Action is EFFORTLESS on this instrument, which is often the case on pre-war Gibson instruments.

Cool old maple bridge has what looks like an early plastic-y saddle installed in it.

Fun mandolin-style cloud tailpiece. I love the look of these on banjos.

Renaissance heads are the best of both worlds -- very stable like a synthetic but with a crisp, warmer sound typical of really good skin heads.

Nice original, heavy-duty hardware.

Nice, simple friction pegs hold well.

The single-coordinator-rod construction elimnates the need for dowels and let Gibson make the heel of their banjo instruments thinner and smaller and thus less cumbersome vs. doweled instruments. It also eliminates the need for "dowel resets."

...so practical!

Tailpiece area.


Ephemera: Mignon Lute-a-banjo? (c.1890)

Ah, what is that peculiar instrument this "gypsy" supposedly from the French opera "Mignon" supposedly playing?

5 strings, guitar-ish scale, and mandoa-ish body -- some sort of Pollman-like "banjola"-y mandoline-banjo hybrid? Either way, I like the look, but I wish I had that instrument!


c.1920 British-made Banjo Mandolin

This is a British-made banjo mandolin, c.1920 or so, with a "zither banjo" style suspended-in-rim-on-brackets head mount. This rim design gives a projecting, focused, and loud sound but not a lot of bottom end -- so as expected this has a sort of spidery tight sound that cuts real well but isn't as mellow as a typical American instrument.

I worked on this same mandolin a while back for a customer, but since then its been oversprayed on the rim and headstock and the neck reverse has been refinished natural. Also, a new tie-dyed sort of head was installed (all not on my watch). I received this in a trade and did a setup on it, light fret dress, and recut a vintage bridge to be a compensated-style banjo mando bridge.

It plays great, has a fun tone, and has a wider neck which makes a lot of chord forms much more accessible up and down the neck vs. a typical 1920s neck from the time (typically only 1 1/8 or less at the nut and narrow right to the heel). This sort of feels like a Gibson mando-banjo Jr model ("MB-JR") in terms of tone and playability, but with a sort of springier shorter scale and more sustain.

The nut has a broken bit on the A string pair but the pair still has slotting room left.

Ebony boards, pearlo dots, frets are freshly dressed.

This green/swirly dyed head looks pretty snazzy on this pot.

I recut this old bridge from my parts bin with a compensated top for mandolin stringing.

Tuners work great.

I always liked the cool metal "dot" in the middle of these zither-style rims.

Fun "British Made" tag.

And it says "English Make" on the tailpiece as well. Note the typical Euro-style "strap button."

And it has its original case as well.

Brass-plate tuners work dandy.

Ephemera: Cat Party with Guitar (c.1910)

Cats sure do adore music, especially when tossing back whiskey and banging out chords on an old Panormo-style guitar.

Video: Catamount

Insomnia over here means you get a new video over there. Fun was had by all.


Nice stuff coming up!

Hope everyone's holidays are proceeding nicely. Ours has!

There's some beautiful stuff coming up soon, including:

c.1940 Kay-made "Oahu" Early Archtop Electric Guitar
c.1925 Gibson-made "Clark" Tenor Banjo
c.1915 Larson-made Stahl Rosewood Flatback Mandolin
c.1900 Pearl-bedecked Oscar Schmidt Bowlback Mandolin
c.1910 Italian-made Moth (not b'fly!)-pickguard Bowlback Mandolin
c.1900 Italian-made Rosewood Bowlback Mandolin
c.1925 Holed-donut-y Tonering Mahogany Tenor Banjo


Video: The Wren Song

Here's a very traditional old Irish song that I've slowed down from jig to waltz. Tom and I played this, Xmas in Carrick, and a set of our home-made jigs for a show on Friday. We figured we'd let some holiday fever reverberate a bit on YouTube, too...! Merry, Merry!


Ephemera: A Joyful Christmas (c.1900s)

Merry Xmas, Holidays, New Year, whatnot, to you all! I'll be off until next week but you can get in touch if'n you need to via e-mail or the phone. There's a ton of "stocking stuffers" in the inventory again, by which I mean ukes.

Just a note: these silver-backed cards in this style date to the early 1900s-teens. We have a couple from I think 1908 or so.

c.1925 Oscar Schmidt Sovereign Banjo Uke

Up until Harmony acquired the Oscar Schmidt brand names in the late '30s, Sovereign was that company's high-grade line of fretted instruments. This banjo uke dates from the early to mid 1920s and, while it's had a rough life, certainly lives up to the Sovereign name.

This is a good-playing, loud, and full-sounding instrument with a wider-than average fretboard which makes it very "old school uke" in terms of feel -- not the narrow banjo uke necks typical for the time.

Rather than the typical smallish uke pegs most other maker used, OS instruments typically mounted full-size Grover Champion banjo pegs, which are (as far as I'm concerned) the best of the old friction tuner designs.

My work on the uke included a fret dress, new (vintage stock, note the cool signature) skin head, cleaning, and setup. I also added a replacement bridge.

Simple vintage bridge gets the job done.

Possibly James E Long? ...though it does read "Jams" -- heh heh. I had this skin (just the right size) hanging around in the old heads bin and I figured this signature front and center would be kind of cute.

Note the Vega-ish style tonering -- almost like a Little Wonder with a hoop ring in a half-spunover sleeve. This imparts loud, bright, but also balanced and crisp tonality... with a warmer undertone

Neck is three-piece and looks like a plain maple or similar and either ebony or an ebonized wood?

Rim has an ebony "rim cap" and some inlaid striping. Rim also looks like maple to me.

Here's the Sovereign stamp.

...and here's the weird part! The original neck brace was missing and someone had done some "aftermarket" attempts to get the neck on the pot well. This included (1) the big screw which uses a key as its washer and (2) a replacement neck-brace, though the replacement brace didn't have either of the ebony shims needed to make it work when I got the uke.

It's a cute looker, too, with some worn-in charm. The fretboard and nut are ebony, as well, by the way -- I think I forgot to mention that.

...and a non-branded "No Knot" style tailpiece.