c.1925 Clef Club Fancy-as-heck Banjo Mandolin

This is a "Clef Club" brand banjo-mandolin, made in Philadelphia, PA by "McGinnis Shaw" -- who has his own bizarro take on the Washburn-style "belt" logo. Clef Club instruments are darn rare and sport a design process borrowed both from Vega and Weymann in terms of how they're built and Lange in terms of the archtop tonering design.

This one has a full 11" rim, long 14 1/2" scale length, and pearl inlay up the wazoo.

Unfortunately, and annoyingly, the heel split in transit to me, but not entirely all the way through. I saturated the light hairline break with glue and clamped it up and it seems to be stable enough, now. Sigh!

The headstock is too cool! A grumpy man-in the moon and a starfield all in pearl and a faux-cutout in the headstock's top outlined in pearl edging that goes alllll the way around. The backing is a faux-tortoise bit of celluloid, too, which I had to glue back down towards the nut.

Bone nut appears to be original.

Oodles of pearl on this ebony board, which is bound as well. I had to level and dress the frets, too. The neck has a slight backbow but plays fine with action at 1/16" at the 12th.

Pretty intense.

This fun curved-off extension seems to be typical of these Clef Club banjos.

The original bridge is like an oversized, curious rendition in rosewood of a Grover "non-tip" bridge. The little cross-foot was damaged but I cobbled it back together by building up the broken area with a bit of superglue and sandings of rosewood.

I cleaned up the hardware, as well, to fit in with the bright pearl after cleaning. I also replaced the original skin head (which was actually in good shape) with a new Remo Renaissance one. I like synthetics on banjo-mandos when I can install them (sometimes rim sizes are too small for them) because synthetics tend to be a lot more stable and it makes it easier to keep a banjo-mando in tune.

Because of the extra-long scale length (14 1/2") I've got this tuned down to "E" as the lowest note, a step and a half below standard pitch. I have 32w-9 strings on it right now, but with one of those really light GHS banjo-mando sets (28w-8) I think standard pitch would be just fine. I want to take it easy on the heel, though, and the lowered pitch gives this a nice "blues" range. Don't you hate it when a guitar player sits around playing in E all night when mandos favor G, C, D, and A so much more?

The big rim (11") also favors the lower pitch. I'm pretty tempted to reduce the tuning once more with a slightly heavier set of strings to DAEB, which I find even more useful, being just a step above mandola but favoring keys our local jam group tends to play in.

Of course it has a fancy tailpiece cover!

Under all that fancy headstock pearl is a big slab of rosewood veneer. Nice!

This hardware is sooooo "Vega" to me. The rim itself is a 5-ply bit of mahogany with rosewood veneer on its outer and inner edges. The pinstriping and binding is ivoroid celluloid.

Engraved tuner plate, too...!

Cool rounded heel cap. Also check out that fancy "footwork" on the back of the rim!

See how the dowel is out of line with center?

The whole instrument was "oversprayed" at one point with an extra layer of finish, but aside from that it looks like a previous owner recut the bass side of the heel slightly so that when tightened to the pot the neck was off-center and the dowel, too. Either that or the dowel just warped to one side in heat at some point in time.

So, I redrilled a new hole in the dowel's end and installed it off-center with some shimming at the heel's side to give a good tight fit and keep the neck-line more or less on center. I had to adjust the tailpiece slightly "treble" to get a good line-up, though.

The tonering in this is very "Lange" in that it has a metal jacket that fits over the top of the rim forming an outside lip-tonering and then soldered to it on the inner bit of the rim is a big, heavy, nickel-plated hoop forming the archtop (inner) ring. This gives a good, crisp, but also balanced tone without shrill highs.

Good Vega-style neck brace.

It's a looker from all angles!

When I moved the tailpiece over slightly I also added a strap button to the hanger. I don't like to put straps on hooks if I can help it.

Right, and original hard case, too!

Ok, enough of that beauty! Tomorrow you'll all get a good taste of that pretty Martin mando from the last post and perhaps a few other good'ns!


Anonymous said...


I believe I read somewhere that mando bluesman Yank Rachell used to keep his mando tuned to E as well.


Antebellum Instruments said...

Yup, keeps it simple to play with the geetars. :D

B. Dutch Seyfarth said...

I betcha Weymann made this man-jo. I have a late 10's/early 20's Weymann on my bench right now and I could swear the hooks, nuts, and shoes, and ESPECIALLY the decorative crowned head hex bolts appear to be exactly like that early20's Weymann. I have read Weymann did a lot of "jobbing" / "contract manufacturing" throughout their comkpany's existence, so perhaps this fancy-schmancy man-jo was Weymann made?

Great website by the way, I have quietly enjoyed following your work for many years. Cheers from the Rocky Mountain state!

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