Workshop: Vega Banjo Guitar Repairs

At first glance, this 1920 Vega "Little Wonder" banjo-guitar seems like it's in decent shape.

However, the first sign of trouble is always unoriginal features: like these geared, right-angle guitar tuners. The originals were friction types as seen on regular banjos. The hole in the headstock is "aftermarket" as well.

Some chipping of the headstock veneer. I removed this piece and will reinstall it once other repairs are complete.

Here's the back. Isn't that lovely? At least the 1960s Kluson tuners can be reused on vintage Gibsons that will no doubt make their way into the shop.

See the split in the headstock? This goes right through to the other side.

And this hairline, old enough to have gotten a bunch of "patina" around its edges, goes right from the headstock to the heel. Sigh.

At least, however, the ebony fretboard is straight, good, and true.

Here's that big crack. Yikes!

See the two holes on the rim's side? They were there for mounting an arm-rest -- ugh! I'll probably fill them later.

Nice original tailpiece! Too bad the original skin head has these 1/4" tears, though. While it's likely this head would survive a lot longer, I'm going to replace it with a synthetic Remo Renaissance head instead, just to be on the safe side.

It says "Little Wonder" on the dowel stick, and the banjo conforms to Little Wonder stylings, except...

...under the hood is a much more desirable Vega "Whyte Laydie" tonering! Talk about a nice bonus. It's all original, too.

And speaking of the rim? It's 11 13/16" diameter, making it just shy of 12" -- a big one.

With the ring removed you can see how the "teeth" ring is meant to sit on the rim while the spunover sleeve plus hoop ring sits on top of it.

The ebony fretboard looks like it got some "wiping" with 100-grit sandpaper. More sighs... but at least the original bar frets are all still there.

Here's why the headstock had that ugly metal plate on it.

Here's the other major crack at the headstock.

And on the other side, too.

Here's the big hairline on the treble underside of the neck.

Got that clamping up now, nice and tight. On cracks like these, if they're not poorly repaired already, I can often just infuse glue all along its length and clamp them up to make them "good for service" again.

And here's all of the cracks gluing up. These are going to get a nice long set time, since I won't return to this instrument until the new banjo head comes in. Those "strapping" clamps are really nice to have for light-medium tension clamping around necks.

So, because I didn't have to reset the dowel, once that head comes in I'll just need to fill old screw holes in the headstock, clean it up, give it a fret level/dress, and a setup. Luckily, all the rim hardware is original and in good shape and also, luckily, I have a number of friction pegs with ivoroid buttons that will look almost perfect at the headstock.

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