c.1930 Unmarked (Oscar Schmidt?) Tenor Banjo

Update 2014: I now know these to most likely be Oscar Schmidt builds (New Jersey).

Tenor banjos like these drive me a little nuts due to the difficulty of a positive ID. You see this model and its associated versions (banjo mandolins, 5-string banjos, plectrum banjos, banjo ukes, etc.) show up under all sorts of names and while they're not totally an entry-level instrument, they're definitely only a step or two up from the base model instruments offered by most firms.

That's not to say it's a bad instrument -- it isn't! -- but it isn't fancy.

Work on this fellow included a fret level/dress, a couple replacement hooks/nuts (period), a good cleaning, parts-bin replacement bridge, and full setup. I also replaced a funky neck brace with a bolt-style neck attachment which firmed up the pot-to-rim join much better.

It's currently strung for CGDA (standard) tuning and has that warm, sweet, but gutsy old-timey tone. The neck is ultra-slim and combined with the 20 3/4" scale length, it plays really fast (1/16" at the 12th fret).

The multi-ply maple rim is 10 3/4" and has a hoop tonering on its top edge. These dramatically increase volume and clarity over a typical wood-topped rim but don't have that ice-picky nasal quality that some really big rings tend to have.

Original ebony nut, nice thick headstock veneer and "cloud" shaped headstock topper.

White clay dots in a dyed-hardwood board. The frets are low-ish but will last a good while yet. These were pretty small right from the factory and the dressing didn't take much off.

This plain-maple bridge with glued-on feet seemed perfect for this banjo, so I pulled it out of my parts bin.

The stripes on the side of the rim are actually inlaid. The hardware shows wear and tarnish and a few rust spots here and there but is perfectly functional.

The tuners are more recent (1980s?) but work just fine.

Here you can see that two-piece hard maple neck construction with the 3-stripe center inset.

At least the head was sourced from Slingerland.

The old neck brace wasn't quite functional so I installed this bolted-in solution instead. This gives a good, firm, grab to the heel and simplifies year-to-year setup for the amateur (no knocking shims into place while constantly checking neck angle).

There's some nice birdseye figure in the maple of the neck...

The tailpiece is simple but it works!


Chuck said...

What does it take to change the tuning to G - D -A - E on this instrument? Different strings & set-up? Is it a bad idea? Thanks!

Antebellum Instruments said...

Nope, it'd work just fine for it. New strings and just light nut/bridge reslotting. About 15 min of effort.

All the best!