3/16/2013

c.1925 Regal-made? Sterling Tenor Banjo


This Chicago-made tenor banjo has the "T.B. Co Sterling" brand name on the back of the headstock (Tonk Brothers, as I recall) but was clearly built by whoever Lyon & Healy and Slingerland were getting many of their banjos at the time considering the general build, headstock shape, and specifications. My (95% sure) hunch is that these were made by Regal for distributors. They come in all sorts of decoration and surface modifications depending on who was selling the instrument but the "chassis" is basically the same.

At any rate, this is an upscale version of this type of banjo with pretty pearl inlay in the fretboard, a decorative "rim cap," good-quality Grover Presto tailpiece, birdseye maple veneer on the exterior of the (multi-ply maple) rim, a two-piece hard maple neck, and nicely-bound fretboard. The hardware is also generally upgraded compared to the run-of-the-mill variants of this banjo. It's also all-original (including the skin head) except for the new Grover bridge I added.


The rim is 10 3/4" diameter which allows for a good warm tone. The bigger hoop-style tonering installed on the rim's top edge adds punch and sustain.


The headstock veneer is some sort of dyed hardwood. Note the pretty pearl inlay, though! The bone nut appears to be original.


This has a 20 7/8" scale length making it a perfect contender as an "Irish tenor banjo" tuned to GDAE and used for fiddle tunes. I've strung it for that tuning in a lighter gauge set (40w, 30w, 16, 11) which gives it a good, slinky feel. The action is setup "on the dot" at 1/16" at the 12th fret and the neck is good and straight. This has a medium D shape to the neck and it's quite quick to play.


That inlay certainly spiffs it up! The binding is all good except on the treble side I had to replace about 3" of it since it was missing. I used period celluloid stuff, but it has some ivoroid grain to it while the original does not. The board itself is dyed maple.


This is an adjustable Presto tailpiece which means that action and tone can be adjusted a little bit on the fly. Tailpieces like this are especially useful with skin heads and more humid conditions when the head might sink slightly (which = muddier tone) or tighten up (which = brighter tone) as the weather changes.



Isn't that a pretty rim?


The friction pegs work well and have ivoroid buttons.




There's the Sterling decal.


Nice heel. Note the heavy-duty neck brace. I love these!




As said before, all the hardware is upgraded compared to the "student" models of this same basic banjo. All this heavy-duty hardware means the instrument sounds and looks better and is overall more stable.



The tailpiece is leaning slightly to the treble side for proper string alignment. This is pretty common on old banjos and is the reason that endbolts (the hanger for the tailpiece) can rotate in the first place.

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