2/23/2012

c.1915 Frankenstein Tenor Banjo





It's a gloomy Thursday outside and the perfect weather for a Frankenbanjo to roam the lands. I have absolutely no idea how original this instrument is, but certainly the neck and pot and most of the hardware date to the teens or early 1920s.

This banjo has been sitting in my workshop for a long time. Most of the frets were loose or missing so it needed a total refret and in addition the condition isn't the best -- it's been modified, the dowel has been spliced together from two pieces, there's a gap between the dowel and the end of the rim that I've filled with some nuts, and it needed a few replacement parts as well (tuners, endbolt, tailpiece, bridge, one replacement hook/nut/shoe set).

So, I put it off for a while, but finally this gloomy Thursday I resurrected it and connected it up to 20,000 volts... and... well... it's alive and all that.


New Grover friction pegs, original celluloid nut, vaguely "Stewart" style headstock shape but more crude.


These inlays were probably celluloid or clay and are deteriorating, but give a certain effect. Note the new frets.


The head is an older Remo type and I left it on because it fits so well with the rest of the banjo's personality.


This is an old bridge from my parts bin and looked perfect on it.



Here's the quirky part: this rim has no wood on it -- it's just a big hunk of brass -- so the rim itself is like a giant tonering. This gives it a lot of zing , stability and cut but not as much warmth as a wood rim.




Tuners work just fine.


Big old heel.



The oft-repaired dowel (previously) is too short so I used a longer end-bolt and popped these nuts to space it properly.


Here's the joined-together dowel.


That green screw serves as the "neck brace" to keep the neck tight to the pot. This was someone's previous modification and recalls 1880s banjos that used this method of reinforcement. It works just fine.



The all-brass rim is seriously cool. I had intended to use the pot to make a fretless 5-string banjo but never got around to it.


Here's a modern tailpiece (1920s style) from my parts bin.

Overall the banjo plays nice, has a cutting rumbly tone, and certainly has the home-field advantage when it comes to "one of a kind."

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