2/21/2013

c.1960 John Grey 5-String Resonator Banjo




This simple, no-frills resonator 5-string banjo was made in England probably in the late 50s or early 1960s. Per this useful website one can find out that the John Grey name began to be used again postwar (World War II, that is!) on banjo instruments c.1960 after its use was halted or used helter-skelter in the immediate postwar years.

That seems about right considering the hardware on the instrument and construction. I've worked on earlier Greys but the cool tag on the headstock as well as the simple appointments caught my eye.

When I received the banjo it had a warp down the neck that was almost 1/16" -- a height that I managed to whittle down to a bit below 1/32" via a fret level and dress. This gives it clawhammer-style playability at the 12th fret of 3/32" and with the (necessary) light gauge strings (9s) it plays easily and sounds great. This is a lightweight banjo and would make a great instrument for a clawhammer or old-time player seeking a bit more volume and focus to their tone. Other work included shimming back the neck joint, general cleaning, and setup.


The basic construction is just like 1920s/30s student banjos -- a simple wood rim with a shaped top and no tonering. This is dressed up with a simple resonator and fun, almost deco indivudual flange pieces. The head is synthetic (like a Remo) and sports a "John Grey" logo on it. I'm not sure of the rim/resonator wood -- possibly some sort of maple or other similar hardwood. It's finished in a butterscotch color so the grain isn't totally obvious.


That metal badge is so cool! Plastic nut is original. Actually, everything but the bridge is original to this 'jo. The simple headstock reminds me of late-1800s Buckbees -- and for that matter, the feel does, too.


One-piece mahogany neck (very fast and shallow) with a rosewood board and plastic dots.


Simple, but cute hardware -- and it's nicely clean.


While non-adjustable, this tailpiece gives plenty of down-pressure on the bridge to bring out good tone. The bridge is a slightly-cut-down modern Grover type.



Friction pegs all around, though they do turn nice and smoothly.


The resonator comes off with a single bolt and inside there's a wood dowel and a giant bolt-style neck brace like on a 40s/50s Kay banjo. This makes the neck very secure to the pot.





The period faux-alligator chip case is rough but very functional.

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