c.1915 Supertone-style Fancy Flushfret 5-String Banjo

This is a spunover-rim, full-size (26 1/4" scale) 5-string openback banjo with a 10 1/2" rim. Originally this would have had regular frets, but since this instrument came to me with very low frets, I decided to grind them all down level with the fingerboard and convert this to a fretless/flushfret banjo (ie, where the frets are just intonation markers). Other work included new neck brace shims, a general setup, new bridge, new tailpiece and new buttons for the tuners (the original buttons were cracked).

For a long time I thought this type of banjo (similar, less-fancy models are often tagged with the Sears "Supertone" brand name and also the Bruno brand name) was made by Lange in New York, but now I can't say for certain that they were. I still think they are, but verification is made difficult by scant records.

Anyhow, this is one of the fanciest models I've seen, with inlaid celluloid up the wazoo on the fingerboard and pearl stars and a floral motif inlaid at the headstock. Overall the look is more 1890s in style as opposed to when it was more than likely made (c.1910-1920).

The plastic nut is unoriginal and the 5 friction pegs are actually 1960s/70s vintage. Doesn't that pearl in the headstock look nice? The fella I bought this from thought it was unoriginal, but I doubt that. I've seen similar on other openbacks of this same general make.

The inlaid "tree of life" with flowerpot motif on the board is lovely. It uses a grey celluloid for the stems and a white/creamy celluloid for the flowers. It really popped out after leveling those frets down flush and sanding, polishing, and conditioning the board.

The board itself looks like dyed pearwood (typical for the time).

The upper part of the flowerpot was added later by someone filling in some missing inlay and is of an incorrect plastic. Still, it's easy not to notice that.

The skin head is still in good shape. I'm inclined to think it's original but it may not be.

The rim hardware is about 1/2 original, 1/4 slightly older (1950s?), and 1/4 new from my parts bin.

These 1960s/70s friction pegs actually look the part of 1920s pegs, so fair enough! I added the black buttons to replace some cracked originals.

I'm pretty sure this is a maple neck under that finish.

Inelegant rosewood shims, but they work just fine and fit snug! I'm fairly lazy about making my new neck brace shims beautiful, since they're bound to get hammered up, anyhow. "As long as the shoe fits," ya know.

New No-Knot tailpiece and Grover bridge. The No-Knot will allow for gut/nylon strings, too, which would sound great on this as well -- but I like the interesting tone of the steel and fretless board on this guy.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just got a celluloid tree of life banjo on ebay that is almost identical, but only one dot on the peghead.
Thank you for the information you posted!