2/29/2012

c.1895 Lyon & Healy 5-String Banjo





This is a Lyon & Healy 5-stringer made around 1895. Rumor has it (via the "Regal Musical Instruments 1895-1955" book) that Regal (then in Indiana) made these for L&H while fancier "Washburn" L&H products were made in-house by L&H in Chicago.

Whatever the provenance, these L&H-sold instruments from the late 1800s tend to be great values as long as the necks haven't been warped by over-zealous folkies in the 1950s and 60s. This instrument in particular is a little rarer as most of these have 25"+ scale lengths and 11" pots while this one is an "A-scale" banjo at 24 1/4" scale with a 10" pot.

Personally, I prefer to play A-scale instruments as the reach down the neck doesn't put any stress on my arm while playing and the smaller rim fits nicely in the lap.


This banjo was intended for gut (modern: nylgut/nylon) strings but due to its heftier-than-average neck (most of these 'jos have thin necks that warp easily when used with steel) I'm able to string it with light gauge steel and have it remain perfectly true.

My work on the instrument included cleaning, a fret leveling/dress, replacement tuners all around, a replacement head (usually on this size I would be forced to use skin since 10" isn't widely available, but I had a spare 10" synthetic head in my parts bin), cleaning, a new bridge, and setup.


These are good-quality uke tuners I've adapted to the instrument. Note that I've used nicer "upgrade" ivoroid buttons all around.


The fretboard is very thin ebony and the dots are pearl. Note that I've added a "railroad spike" for capo-ing the drone string at the 7th fret. That lets one quickly capo up a step for accompanying fiddle tunes in A or D.


New ebony/maple bridge.



The rim hardware is all original as far as I can tell and includes a period "No Knot" tailpiece. This rim is also "double spun" which means the metal curves over into a hoop on either side of the pot, making an "integral tonering" on the top edge which adds volume, clarity, and sustain.


These old guys used two screws to secure the neck's heel to the pot. I used whatever random (proper length) screws I had in my parts bin plus some washers as the originals were missing. While I could have dug around for "standard" one-slot screws that looked more perfect I prefer to use whatever works best for secure attachment rather than worry so much about aesthetics.


Here's the L&H stamp on the dowel.



At first glance this neck looks like mahogany but I have my doubts -- it's more likely either Spanish cedar or stained birch.


Good solid heel.



Nice period hardware looks nice as well as functions nicely.




No Knot tailpiece.

2 comments:

Unknown said...

Hi, this is the only match I've found to the banjo I just got!!!, the crown style scrolling at the top of the head, the heel , 20" pot, all the same!!!

Iron Crown said...

10" pot...srry typo