9/12/2013

c.1925 Gibson-made Oriole Tenor Banjo



This lovely-sounding, smallish tenor banjo was made by Gibson and marketed under the "Oriole" brand in the mid-1920s. It's very similar to an entry-level Gibson tenor at the time save that it's plainer. Still, it plays and sounds like a 20s Gibson and feels like one too. Overall just a great little banjo!

The wood is all maple with a dyed-maple fretboard. There's a bigger-than-average round hoop brass tonering on the top edge, a single coordinator rod and 2nd mounting bolt replacing the usual "dowel" style of construction that most makers used at the time, and it's got plenty of hooks for the size (10 1/2") of its rim.

Work included a fret level/dress, new synthetic (Remo Renaissance) head, replacement bridge, cleaning, and setup. A bone nut was also installed to replace the missing original nut which probably would have been ebony or similar.


The Oriole script and fleur-de-lis is pretty cute. This has a quick neck and a 20 3/4" scale length which makes it a fast-as-heck player. I've currently got it setup for CGDA tuning but with this setup it'd work fine for DGBE, too. I think GDAE tuning might be a bit too low for the pot size and tonality, though.


Pearl dots and smallish, Gibson-typical frets.



I like recycling and since the height at the bridge wanted to be somewhere between 1/2" and 5/8" I re-used a nicer 1/2" bridge and added extra thickness in a "foot" rather than go for a new 5/8" and cut it down. As a bonus, an extra foot like this means the banjo will be more pitch-stable in play.


Oh man, who can argue with coordinator rods? They make setup and adjustments as well as rigid connection to the rim quite easy.



The original friction pegs work just fine.


After fitting the new head, I needed to slightly shim up the bottom of the heel to keep the neck angle nice (usually one has to shim up the top of the joint). If I hadn't shimmed this area the bridge would've been an obnoxiously-tall type, something like 13/16" or taller which just starts feeling weird for most players.



It's nice that the hardware is mostly all-original. I'm not entirely sure about the tailpiece but it's at least been there a long time.





Can't beat this banjo as a nice, practical, smaller tenor -- sits right in the lap easily, plays great, sounds great, and feels great. Tonally it's crisp and loud but not harsh. As an openback you get a bit more mellow "mwah" in there, too.

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