6/29/2013

c.1965 Harmony "Chicago" 5-String Banjo


I don't know what it is about Vermont, but one of the most common questions I get asked is: "Do you have any banjos?" -- "What type? 5-string, tenor, plectrum?" -- "Um." -- "Old-timey or bluegrass style?" -- "Yup!" -- "What's your budget?" -- "I dunno, I was thinking about $100."

At this point the mental calculations run to: if I sold a banjo for $100 after investing $50-75 time plus parts in it, how could I make any money unless I got it free or nearly so? ...which is the reason I don't usually sell $100-150 banjos! Nevertheless, "fine instruments" like this one make their way to me by hook or by crook and can be forced into submission to function as good beginner instruments.

Harmony made a heck of a lot of low-end banjos from the teens right through the '60s and this one is one of the "latter day" models with a "composite" (molded plastic) rim and wood neck with a big old 27" (too long for the construction and tension) scale.

On the plus side, it did come with a Remo Fiberskyn head which must have been way better than what was originally on here!


The neck has relief to it and much of it was corrected-out by leveling the frets closer to the nut with the rest of the frets (ie, lower) but it still has some relief and so action runs a little under 3/32" at the 12th fret with a set of 9s (light gauge) on it. This is 100x more playable than before and actually perfectly fine for a clawhammer or old-time player who would get fed up with lower action (I strive towards 1/16" at the 12th on most 5-strings), anyway.


This has a very slippery plastic nut and guitar-style tuners which make keeping in tune (at the headstock, at least) quite easy. The nut had to be cut way, way down.


Old friction-style 5th peg, brass frets, and big old fake painted white dots. See anything peculiar? If you guessed that the whole fretboard was covered in faux-rosewood stickers... yeah... you'd be right. It's very weird to me considering there's actually a real fretboard under there somewhere that's probably maple or birch!


The molded rim is actually pretty genious as a starting point and has a good, sweet, warm sort of tone. The plethora of hooks and nuts (one of each missing) is useful for keeping that head tight, too.





So, what else can I say? After work this gets the job done and will serve, but it's no Vega!

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