12/28/2012

c.1918 Vega Style K Banjo Mandolin


Here's a nice, early Vega "style K" banjo mandolin. The serial dates it to 1918 and it's early enough in the model history (I'm supposing) that it doesn't have the "Style K" imprint on the dowel stick. The Vega logo itself is also imprinted on the side of the dowel where it's not as visible.

Like all the other style K banjo-mandos I've worked on (many!), this one is a good, dependable, sturdy, and well-thought-out instrument. I wouldn't expect less from a Boston-made Vega, though. My work included cleaning, a fret level/dress, setup, and replacement tailpiece cover (these Waverly "cloud" covers are getting harder and harder to find!). I also installed some period tuners I had in my parts bin to replace the ugly 1960s tuners that were installed on it.

These have a great, "horse-hoof-clop" tone to them and sound best played with a very thin pick that gives them a precise edge. The simple "hoop style" tonering used on these style Ks gives the instrument fewer random overtones that need to be removed by muting -- a plus! -- while still offering good volume.


This instrument came with a replacement (1960s) Remo head that cleaned up pretty nice and is perfectly functional. Many of these rims are 10" but this one happens to be 10 1/8" so finding a replacement head if need be is a little easier. 10" heads are very hard to find, from my experience.


Nice rosewood headstock veneer, original bone nut.


Good ebony fretboard, pearl dots, and bar-stock frets. These are original frets and while relatively low, still have a good amount of life left in them. This banjo-mando has a long 13 7/8" scale so I've used extra-light (32w, 20w, 13, 9) strings to back the tension off but still get a full sound.


Usually I replace the banjo-style two-foot bridges with mandolin-style one-foot bridges, but I decided to leave the original bridge on here since it sounds and works just fine and the Remo head means that tuning stability is less of an issue.

Note that I've added foam under the tailpiece cover to mute the extra string length.



I love the simple aesthetics but quality build. This has all Vega-style heavy-duty hardware and also has the typical tortoise-bound rim bottom edge. The wood throughout except for the board is maple stained to a dark red mahogany/dark walnut color. This is slightly unusual in the sense that later style Ks tended to have a mix of mahogany and maple.


The replacement tuners from my parts bin are from exactly the right era -- late teens -- and the right make, Waverly.


As typical, the hardware has some rust spots and tarnish but is ready to go. I love the contrast of the dark wood with the brighter tortoise trim.




Vegas across the board have sturdy, big heels. Very practical!



Good, heavy-duty neck brace.


The brand and the serial are on the side of the dowel rather than the back of it.






The tailpiece is actually attached right to the tension hoop which means that it's vitally important to get a straight line with it down the neck when remounting a head and applying tension to the tension hoop.

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