6/14/2012

c.1920 Bacon Orchestra Style B Tenor Banjo




Update: I've been researching a little and apparently this banjo may have been made at the time when Bacon was having their banjos built by Lange in New York. That would explain why this looks and feels an awful lot like an Orpheum, Paramount, or Langstile banjo and also doesn't share the 1920s inlay style as seen in the 1926 Bacon ad in the next picture below. Bacon serial numbers seem to be a bit hazy on the history front. One reference points to 5000+ being built at Groton (c.1920 and onwards) while several other banjos with the same build style and inlays as this fellow point to late-teens dates and are referenced as Lange-made. I can easily buy that, having worked on a few Paramounts and Orpheums for customers with very similar features.

I bought this banjo from an acquaintance of mine yesterday and managed to get it fixed up and ready to go for today. The main work on it included a dowel reset, repair to the tension hoop (the weld had broken at the tailpiece, so I "stitched it together" with some steel wire), fret level/dress, new head, and setup. I also replaced a missing neck brace and replaced the original bridge (stowed in the case) with a slightly taller modern one.

I must say, though, I'm quite blown away with the excellent tone and playability of this instrument. I very rarely have older Bacons through the shop and they always please me when I do. This one is nice and fancy as well as having it where it counts!


Here's a catalog shot from 1924 of this same model. Ours here on the blog is essentially the same though it sports a spin-on/spin-off Elton resonator and slightly fancier inlay. Also, considering the relative dating of these guys by the serial numbers, this one in the 6000 range seems to date around 1920 or slightly earlier.


No bones about it, this is an elegant and also classy banjo. Bone nut, dyed-something headstock veneer and fretboard. I like the pearl-inlaid logo.


The inlay on the board is really nice. The board is also bound in two-ply binding. The frets are low and smallish but after dressing feel great -- there was some wear on the D&A string locations from the 1st through 10th frets -- so the original owner must have been playing a lot of solos vs. chordal backup.



I installed a new Remo Renaissance (11") head on it for a good, sparkly, but old-timey and warmer tone. I love the way these sound -- and also the way the Bacon-patent "half-donut" tonering sounds. It's similar to a Vega "Little Wonder" style in tone but a bit more bold and crisp.


Apparently original tailpiece (gives good downpressure) and my replacement bridge. I used a 5/8" 5-string bridge to try to eke out a bit more low end vs. a standard two-foot tenor bridge and it did the trick.


The hardware is in glorious shape and is good, heavy-duty stuff as well.

Did I mention, woods?? Solid two-piece with center-strip maple neck with multi-ply maple rim and nice maple veneer walls. Also check out the excellent multi-player rim "foot" and details at the heel.


Tuners are pretty standard-fare ivoroid-buttoned friction types.


Pretty snazzy!



This banjo is a looker from all sides.

As one would expect, the neck is straight and true and the action is superb and fast. This has a short (20") scale so it works excellently as a soloist's instrument.






Here's that Elton spin-on resonator. It definitely boosts projection, though the instrument sounds great with it on or off.


Here's the rim "open."


"The Bacon Orchestra."


Serial and Style B mark.


Check the cool rim "foot" layer cake as well as the nice tonering.


The neck brace was missing so I adapted this similar, but not the same, 1920s parts-bin one to work in its place. It does the job and works well.


Oh, and an original hard case. It could use some slight work to the inside felt but serves just fine the way it is.


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