c.1915 Mated Supertone Ragtime King 5-String Banjo

Update 2013: I've completely updated the photos and description for this banjo.

Last year (ie, the date on the post, 2012) I picked up this banjo in trade, gave it a new head, new tailpiece, cleaning, fret level/dress, and set it up with light (09s) steel strings as a clawhammer machine. I've since received this banjo back in trade from my buddy who just didn't use it (he's not a banjo player at heart). I noticed that the neck had gained a bit of relief in the year he'd had it over at his place, so I clipped the strings and let it sit.

Since then, the neck has sprung back to its original 1/64" overall relief (very slight) and I've cleaned it up once again and set it up for Aquila Nylgut (nylon/gut tension) strings and the neck is perfectly happy with that. It also sounds better to my ears. It plays nicely (between 1/16" and 3/32" at the 12th which is spot-on for gut/nylon), too.

Figures! When the components of this banjo were first put together gut strings were still the most common string type found on 5-string instruments. It wasn't really until the mid to late 1920s that steel was in common use on these guys.

The rim is 10 5/8" and sports a new-ish Remo Renaissance head. It's also got a new Grover ebony/maple bridge and repro "No Knot" tailpiece.

Older (but non-original) bone nut, faux-ebony (dyed) headstock veneer, and pearl-inlaid circle on the headstock. The bakelite-buttoned friction pegs are all original.

The frets are mostly original but it looks like the first 4 were replaced at one point as they're brass rather than nickel-silver. All the inlay is pearl. The neck feel on this is slightly wider (side to side) than modern or bluegrass-style banjos which makes for a comfortable clawhammer or fingerstyle instrument. It's also relatively thin front to back and C-shaped rather than deeper and V-shaped as its direct predecessors might have been.

Tons of hooks to keep that spunover pot's head nice and tense! The rim hardware appears to be all original.

Here's a note on this instrument: the rim bears the standard Sears "Supertone" label with "Ragtime King" as the model specified. The neck, however, is Gretsch-built and is made in a style common to Gretsch-made "Clarophone" or similar lines and shares the same 2-piece-with-center-strip maple build and Gretsch-style headstock shape with "volute" on the rear.

Usually the Sears banjos have a Lange-looking neck like on this regular Ragtime King. My guess is that either this is a mated (Frankenstein) banjo or that Sears (or an unknown supplier) may have been cobbling some spare parts together since the instrument fits together so well (I didn't suspect any dowel recutting to fit when I had it apart).

These are friction pegs -- 1:1 ratio -- but they work just fine, especially for use with the gut/nylon strings.

Rather than the shimmed-wedge neck brace as usual on a Supertone, this one has a more "modern" bolt-adjustable neck brace which makes keeping the neck stable to the pot way easy (just tighten that bolt once in a while to keep it snug).

The new No Knot tailpiece is a repro of a vintage tailpiece which allows you to just sort of hitch/loop the strings to secure them... however... I (ironically) knot them anyway which I think is a bit more secure.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice work!