3/01/2012

c.1870 Minstrel-style 5-String Banjo





This is a minstrel-style banjo with a Dobson-y headstock shape, fretted, and probably dates to around 1870, or at the earliest, 1860s. It's certainly in the pattern of a Civil War era banjo but seems to be more of a "production" instrument considering the hardware and banded thin wooden rim. I'm entirely unsure of the maker as this was a popular form at the time.

Replacement parts (I'm gathering) include the bridge, tailpiece, (bone) nut and tuners. The 5th string peg was installed improperly so I have it shimmed to get it to hold. I may ream the hole slightly and install a slightly bigger peg later today.


The skin head looks quite original. This is an extremely lightweight instrument -- it feels almost like holding a uke -- and this makes it very comfortable to play.


Cool minstrel-style maple bridge (I had to recut it) and "violin" style tailpiece.


The taper on the peghead tuner shaft holes is nicely done and these work perfectly.


Brass frets, freshly leveled and dressed. The neck has a bit of a twist in it but the action is still about average for an old gut-strung banjo of this age -- 1/8" at the 12th fret -- which is where I have my own, similarly-sized gut-strung banjo setup as well.


Rim hardware is nice and original to the rim with the exception of one hook & nut.




Good heel join.







Check out the cool "end pin" tailpiece holder.


The neck is joined by one bolt that goes into the heel. I used a modern screw and washer for "safe assembly" (ie, very hard to strip) but have an older-looking screw and washer that could be installed for aesthetics.

Overall, a nice old 5-string banjo in a rare-to-find and authentic format. This would be ideal for folks that play music from the minstrel age as it really, really has that sound and feel.

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