4/04/2013

c.1895 Washburn Style 421 Presentation 5-String Banjo


This is my Dad's banjo and he left it here for repair the last time he visited. I've been so busy that it took me a while to get the spare time to get to it and in the end I didn't have the spare time, but fixed it up pat anyway! It's a high-grade Washburn, built around 1895 per the serial number, and the model is the 421 "standard size" (meaning full 26 1/4" scale and 11" pot) presentation model banjo.

My Dad received it as a dirty box full of dirty parts in 1965 and he was the one who originally put it all back together enough to play. This also included a topcoat of finish on the wooden parts of the instrument (minus the fretboard), though thankfully the original varnish appears to have been left intact underneath. Later on he had a fellow at McCabe's Guitar Shop refret the neck and preserve the inlay. As most folkies during the time, he didn't know that these were intended for gut strings, so of course it has been strung up with a light set of steel strings ever since.

Thankfully, it was set aside for some time with the strings detuned, so the neck warped only just so and when I started work on the setup side of things today all I had to do was level the frets down on either end of the neck to remove that warp as far as playability is concerned. While he was here last we also reset and repaired the dowel which had been twice-repaired in the past and somewhat clumsily. Our new repair (which included installing a new dowel into the dowel) seems plenty stable for the Aquila Nylgut strings that now reside on the banjo. My first inclination was actually to install a coordinator rod assembly into the old dowel's socket and leave the dowel itself as heritage in the case since the dowel and joint into the heel had been pretty well-botched-up and I wasn't optimistic about stability in the future. I'm glad, though, that we managed to work around it enough to preserve it on the banjo itself.


My Dad wasn't into the new Renaissance heads so much and asked for a regular frosted-top instead. I chose a Taiwanese model instead to get a bit more of a warm tone from it than a regular USA Remo.

Tone and feel is, of course, very professional. It's got a good, clear, loud and crisp sound with a lot of fundamentals and very few overtones. I'll bet that this would record excellently.


Nice multi-layer headstock veneer. Those appear to be original or period Champion pegs.


 The inlay is really pretty stuff and the stems between the engraved pearl floral motifs are actually copper wire. They popped right out after cleaning up the board. Note the vintage tuner button on the (70s?, geared) peg: I had one in my parts bin that I fit to this to match the originals at the headstock. The one on this as it came was pearl and looked a bit funky mismatched from the headstock set.


Don't ya love that flower pot?



I managed to get the "player's side" of the rim loaded fully-up with those original Washburn-patent "Imperial" hooks and nuts, though the other side is about 2/3 replacement hooks and nuts.


Check out that lovely engraving on the nickel-plated brass spunover sleeve of the rim!



 All the wood except for the ebony board and headstock/heel veneers is maple.


The neck and headstock are elegantly cut and the whole instrument just feels very much like a serious piece of musical gear.




Replacement No-Knot tailpiece. The original tailpiece would have screwed into the top of the tension hoop but it was long gone

1 comment:

Hank Murrow said...

Jeez Jake; What a beautiful job of work you did on that Washburn! I am glad you got it done for the old codger in NM, as he needs to send some music out into the air from his ranch.

Cheers1 Hank in Eugene