12/16/2012

c.1930 British-made J. & A. Margolin Broadcaster 5-String Banjo


I picked this banjo up in a trade and fixed it up over the past couple days. It's a fun banjo for the musician that might blend old-time and bluegrass music -- or any sort of folk music -- in his or her repertoire. The work involved was the usual stuff -- dowel re-glue, fret level and dress, cleaning, setup -- a general banjo overhaul.

The banjo itself is curious and interesting: it was made by J. & A. Margolin Ltd, a furniture maker in London, England. They sold a number of banjo variations under the Broadcaster line and this one probably dates from around 1930-ish. They weren't fancy banjos for their day but this one is made from good materials: nice heavy wood rim (oak?) with a simple hoop tonering, excellent one-piece mahogany neck, and an ebony fretboard that's been topped with pearloid veneer.


What's cool in addition to the London connection is that this was sold by Marques & Co, a musical supplier in New Delhi that's still in operation today! Note the gold-pen-added information scrawled on the headstock right below the (London-made) Broadcaster brand.

The nut is a new piece of bone that I left purposely not-too-polished to match with the rest of the look.


At the top of the headstock the original medallion of some sort was missing. I sorted through my pile of foreign coins (which include, strangely, many English and Indian coins), but the only one that fit just right was this 5-pence piece... so that's what went in!


Fun ebony board with pearloid veneer. The frets are all in good order and got a light dressing. The 5th-string peg appears to be a replacement from the 70s and I also replaced its crummy-looking faded white button with this black one from my parts bin that matches the trim a little better.

I had to reglue a bunch of this pearloid veneer, as usual, since it was curling up here and there...


Did I mention how all the hardware is brass? ...including this cool goldy-looking tailpiece. The bridge on it at the moment is unoriginal (I reused an SS Stewart-branded Grover bridge from the 30s), but the original ebony bridge is included in the case.

The scale on this banjo is a hair under 25 3/4" which gives it good tension even on the set of 9s I have on it but might be a little bit more comfortable to a guitar player since it's not as long as many full-on Gibson-style 5-string banjo scales.


So, this banjo is mostly original, though the head is an older (70s? 80s?) Remo head that I cleaned up a bit, the bridge is unoriginal, the aforementioned 5th peg is unoriginal, and also one hook/nut is unoriginal.



The wild pearloid is everywhere -- on the rim sides, the resonator, and the fretboard. This resonator comes off really easily with one screw as the access point. Once it's off the banjo also has a very nice openback tone.






Cool, brass friction pegs. These are some of the smoothest friction pegs I've used.


See how the fret markers (pearl) are big and on the side of the neck below the board? That's a British banjo tradition since the late 1800s.


The brass trim looks fun and quite a bit different from the usual rusting steel hardware I'm used to seeing on typical American banjos from the same time.




This neck brace is quite clever and efficient.


The tailpiece gives nice downpressure on the bridge.


Here you can see it in "openback" configuration.




Marques & Co. label.


This case has no handle (rope, anyone?) but is otherwise useful.


Here's the original (slightly too low) ebony bridge.