1/11/2013

c.1915 Lange-made Orpheum No 1 Tenor Banjo


There's a reason Lange-made Orpheums and Paramounts were the banjo of choice for many professionals back in the jazz age... they're just plain, great banjos! This one is an Orpheum No. 1 from around 1915-1920 and it's in beautiful shape, sounds tops, and plays effortlessly.

My work on it involved a fret level/dress, fitting of the replacement neck brace, new bridge, and general setup and cleaning. I've strung it as a "Celtic tenor" with GDAE (octave mandolin) tuning. This suits the shorter 21" scale quite well and a fiddler or mandolin player can pick out leads on this to their heart's content all day long since the neck is so fast and the action so sweet. Aside from the older replacement Remo head, 1920s neck brace and new bridge, it is otherwise all original and even has its nice Vega-style wire armrest.


The build is all quality, here: nice heavy-duty hard maple rim with fancy veneers n the inner and outer edges as well as a good maple "rim cap" on the bottom, flamed-maple 3-piece neck with bound dyed-hardwood fretboard and detailed multi-layer headstock veneer, and of course the instrument is loaded with the big old Orpheum-style archtop tonering.

The tonering consists of a big old hoop set on the interior of the rim, raised up on flattened studs-like appendages that then connect to the outer sleeve where the edge of the head is mounted. This whole contraption is half of what gives the Orpheums their magical sound -- a projecting, clucky, bright but warm tonality with overtones and sustain that complements rather than detracts from the overall sound.


Lovely multi-layer headstock veneer with pearl inlay everywhere.


The same goes for the pearl-bedecked, bound and side-dotted fretboard.



Nice hardware, huh?




I love the big old maple rim-cap on the bottom of the rim.


Bruno label -- typical, since these were sold exclusively via Bruno's distribution system.


Simple ivoroid-buttoned friction pegs.


And there's the Orpheum label.



See that fiddle-flame maple neck? Super pretty.



This isn't the original neck brace but it came with the banjo. This one is more like a mid-20s type where the original would have been a wedge type that would be set with ebony shims. I like these a lot better, anyway, since they use a set-screw to tension the neck up to the pot and are therefore a zillion times more stable. I properly fit this one to the dowel by redrilling the hole for the crosspiece a little better and using a dime as a "rubbing plate" for the set screw... tightened it right up... ready to go!



Update: Commenter suggested that this is probably not original. I concur -- it should probably have the spring-loade Lange type that's adjustable. Duh. Still, this is maybe c.1920s.


Update: Commenter suggested that this is a Ludwig case. Probably! I imagine the oversize fit is due to this probably having a resonator attached at one point (notice on the back of the dowel there's a "foot plate" mark and screw hole for a resonator attachment piece).

No comments: