c.1890/1920 SS Stewart/Vega Little Wonder Frankenbanjo

This 5-string banjo is a customer's instrument that was in for a new head, new 5th peg, fret level and dress, cleaning, and setup. It's a curious hybrid of a modified 1920s Vega Little Wonder banjo-mandolin rim (10 1/16" diameter but with a Whyte Laydie bracket band) with a 27" scale SS Stewart neck from the late 1800s. This odd mix of long scale and small pot means this banjo has a clear, crisp tonality and lots of sustain but not a whole bunch of round bottom end.

The inlays are pretty and while the neck was certainly intended for gut/nylon strings, it has been strung with medium steel strings for who-knows-how-long. The result was slight relief in the 1-5 fret positions. I've leveled the frets to compensate for this and now it plays nice and quick with 1/16" action at the 12th fret.

Please, if you have an old banjo like this and want to use steel and won't be dissuaded from anything else, use light gauge (9s) banjo strings at the heaviest.

This board is a relatively thick ebony slab. During setup, if the pip for the 5th string is behind the 5th fret, I lower it enough so the string rides over the 5th fret. This helps for better intonation when capos are used.

The new Remo head looks pretty smart.

Those Vega rims sure are slick.

The awkward bridge placement (which can sometimes be seen on late 1800s production banjos) is caused by the small pot and long-scale neck. As expected, this imparts a more treble, dry tone to the instrument. One nice feature of it being so close to the rim's edge, though, is that there's plenty of down-pressure from the tailpiece and the bridge itself is super stable since it doesn't push in much on the head.

1 comment:

bonnybroome said...

Hey Jake,
That looks just like my banjer!
Can't wait to get my paws on it.
Thanks for posting the photos and