6/09/2013

c.1915 Orpheum 12 1/4" Head Tenor Banjo


This nice old teens-era Orpheum (by Lange in New York) tenor banjo sports a huge 12 1/4" head. Standard Remo synthetic heads don't regularly come in that size so I installed a new skin head (to replace the torn original) instead. Other work included a fret level/dress, slight repair to the fretboard, and new bridge. It also got a good cleaning.

There's nothing like a big old head on a tenor banjo -- it's certainly a different feel and really suited to lush chord backing and closed-position sliding chords.


The new skin head has "just the right amount" of whitening to it. It looks pretty cool in person. Note how that big head puts the bridge right in a nice sweet spot for full tone. The scale on this guy is 20 7/8" which makes it feel right at home for short-scale tenor players.

In the above photo you can see the tonering design really well -- it's a big old plated hoop that sits on small "arms" that connect to the main wrap-around sleeve that sits on the top of the rim and is supported in part by the shoes of the rim. This is a more complex version of a simple "archtop" tonering design. This gives the instrument a balanced, loud, and sweet tonality. It's not harsh at all on the high end and not tubby on the low end. Notes sit happily in a balanced middle.

The neck, as usual on these guys, is slim and absurdly fast.


Note the multiple layers of headstock veneer as well as the gorgeous amount of pearl inlay. When I popped these friction pegs back on I added a bit of violin peg dope and they work quite well.


Nice pearl in the board, too! The board is bound with rosewood, has side dots, and the board itself is dyed pearwood (I believe).


I'm pretty sure this is totally unoriginal, as it's the type of tailpiece I'd expect on an 1890s 5-string banjo. Still, it looks good with this 'jo, though I think it'd be better used for a gut/nlyon-strung 5er.


The rim hardware is all original.





The neck is 3-piece hard maple with two stripes between the outer and center sections. The buttons are ivoroid.


Nice heel cap.


Here you can see the (next to useless) serial number as well as the two new rosewood neck brace shims I cut for this guy.


The label...



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