c.1925 The Dayton Tenor Banjo

Dayton instruments are very rare and also very high quality. They were built at first by Charles Rausch (as I recall) in Dayton, Ohio and then the factory moved post-1922. At first glance they're similar to Gibson-made instruments of the time but they have their own flourishes and enhancements.

For example, the Dayton banjo line features block-rim construction throughout and tall, thick hoop-style tonerings. Block rims didn't really catch on in the mainstream for a long while after these were being made.

Dayton banjos also have a unique neck attachment system which mounts a nice big-sized plate that's inset into the banjo's heel for a very secure neck-to-pot join. From there a steel "dowel" joins to the tailpiece "end bolt" in the same manner that Gibson-made banjos use.

This particular tenor is interesting because it's got an 11" head and rather short scale length (19 3/4) with extension fretboard which gives it more the feel of a long-scale mandola rather than a typical tenor banjo. It plays very fast and has a great, punchy, crisp but still sweet tone with a nice warm but tight bottom. Action is 1/16" at the 12th fret on treble and a hair higher than that on the bass.

Another nice feature of many Dayton banjos are the guitar-style geared tuners coming out at right angles from the headstock. This is similar to early snakehead Gibson tenor banjos and greatly facilitates tuning for those not used to the more common 1:1 friction pegs installed on most tenors of the time.

The headstock has an ebony veneer and pearl-inlaid The Dayton script. Note that the headstock looks better than in this pic -- there is some wear and scratching but the glare makes it look weirder than it is.

Fretboard is bound ebony with nice MOP inlay. The frets are low, small, nickel-silver types similar to period mandolin frets.

Note the side dots for easy positioning. The treble side binding is also replacement material.

The bridge and head are both replacements as well -- a Remo "frosted top" synthetic head and a mid-60s? Harmony-style tenor bridge which I've modified for better action and grip of the strings.

Nice adjustable tailpiece.

Aside from the head, bridge, treble neck binding, and 3 hooks and nuts, this banjo's hardware is original as well.

See how gorgeous that is?

Nice block mahogany rim with holly? or maple? mid-rings. Note the heavy-duty hardware and also how the hooks fit into holes in the tension hoop for a nice "smooth top" tension hoop and clean look.

The rim is really nice.


OH -- and as far as work on it? Cleaning, fret level/dress, and setup.

Nice Waverly tuners! I lubed these and they're back in perfect working order.

Note the two-piece mahogany neck (for strength) with maple? center-strip. Also check out the nice, big neck attachment plate at the heel.

I love the "white walls" effect of the rim cap on the bottom.

Nice heavy-duty "coordinator rod" form of dowel.

And here's the Dayton serial plate. This one is 1740. I know there are Dayton user groups out there -- feel free to grab these pics and plate numbers for serial charts.

Nice 'hog on that neck and pot!

I'm really happy with this banjo overall. Daytons are really nice instruments and because they're so hard to find I have a feeling in the future the prices will start getting higher as soon as folks start knowing about them. For now, though, they're a great buy for the money.


Anonymous said...


I'm going to show my ignorance. What do you mean by the term "block rim construction?"


Antebellum Instruments said...

Usually a banjo rim is made of several thin laminations of maple or mahogany, all glued up in layers -- sort of like rolling paper up into a tight tube.

Many modern makers (and very few old makers) use block rims where the rim is actually built of many smaller wood pieces glued together in a round-ish shape and then cut and turned on a lathe.

Anonymous said...

My sister-in-law bought a banjo just like the one pictured here and is wondering what the actual value of it is. Any idea?

Anonymous said...

My sister-in-law bought a banjo just like the one pictured here and is wondering what the actual value of it is. Any idea?