1/16/2013

c.1930 Kay/Slingerland Frankenstein Tenor Banjo


Here's another "parts bin" banjo. This time it's a mid-30s "Rotary"-branded Kay/Stromberg-Voisinet tenor banjo neck on a (very typically Slingerland-style) plain-Jane 10 3/4" maple rim. The original Kay rim was warped and the one-piece flange full-on resonator system was destroyed which made it useless. So, I used this (also Chicago-made) rim I'd had laying about, added a flat hoop tonering to it, parts-bin Slingerland head, then carried-over all the pertinent hardware from the Kay (hooks, nuts, tailpiece, coordinator rod, etc.) to complete the 'jo.

What's funny is that in the end it's got a great, warm, clear tone that's very similar to an actual Kay rim design that they used on some of their 30s/40s 5-string banjos (like this one). So, ironically, even though the neck is a lot fancier than the rim, they still "fit" just fine in the way a hypothetical Kay-style 'jo would have been made.

Other work included, of course, a fret level/dress (I had to pull and glue all the frets one by one thanks to that pearloid fretboard veneer!), cleaning, and setup. It's got strings set for DGBE ("Chicago" or baritone uke tuning) which makes the best use of its long 23" scale and light-string-loving thin neck.


Wild grey-green pearloid veneer on the back and front of the headstock. The odd "gold sparkle" Rotary label is actually in relief (stuck on top of) the veneer. Original bone nut.


Bound, pearloid-veneered board with cool markers. Note that there's chip-out at the binding for around half the frets on the bass side of the board. This is due to the maple fretboard shrinking slightly over time and the brittle celluloid binding getting older. Nothing to worry about, but it's there.


The skin head is an older Slingerland one. There's what appears to be a coffee (or similar) drip long-since stained into the top, but otherwise it's in great shape and sounds nice and warm.


New Grover two-foot tenor bridge (5/8"). The tailpiece is adjustable in theory but this lacks an end-bolt so at the moment it's stationary. It still gives great down-pressure, though!





Friction pegs work just fine.


Check out the cool carved heel! Mahogany neck, by the way.





Here's the coordinator rod/neck attachment bolt



Here you can see that metal neck plate. If one loosens the bolt on the interior of the rim slightly, you can push back then neck, then retighten the bolt to change the neck/pot angle. This lets you set action on the fly. The plate is also screwed onto the rim which keeps the neck in a much more stable position than a typical dowel joint which usually has some play before it's tightened up fully. I've always liked this design on Kays.




Here's the end of that "end-bolt" and hanger for the tailpiece.

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