10/09/2013

c.1920 GH&S 5-String Pony Banjo


This cute little thing is roughly the size of a small tenor banjo and sports a 20 1/4" scale length and 5-string neck. It's sort of a rare contraption, this one, and it just happened to walk right into the store via it's 2nd owner (the son of the first owner). I bought it on the spot as it was too cool to pass up.

Work included a fret level/dress (which helped removed a 1/32" warp to the neck down to an adjusted under 1/64" relief), cleaning, and setup. It plays beautifully and the scale length puts this at a "C scale" or "pony banjo" tuning with regular 5-string light-gauge set. This means that it's tuned cGCEG or like a 5-string with a capo at the 5th fret. The GCEG (fretted) part of that correlates to the same range as a uke with a low G string. I think with a medium set of regular 5-string strings one could probably use this as an A-scale instrument, though. Whatever the use, the lighter tension, the better!

It's 100% original with the exception of a later Grover-style ebony/maple bridge.





It's a handsome thing and very understated. The rim and resonator rear appear to be stained maple while the neck seems to be walnut. The fretboard and headstock veneer are very thin sheets of ebony.

This rim style is similar to a "zither bnajo" rim in that the rim/head and tonering assembly are a two-piece metal type that's then suspended in a back/sides resonator unit. Many of these set on brackets or bolts set into the resonator but this one sits on a ledge that's routed from the side of the resonator. This is a much nicer design and fits a bit more snugly and securely than most of this style.

The skin head is still in great shape and this banjo has a sweet, fairly loud, and sustained tonality. It's pretty much perfect for clawhammer or two-finger picking.


So, this instrument came from the UK to the US via a shop in Toronto. Apparently B&S (based on that "Master" nameplate?) was the retailer, though the lion branding and "British Made" label are hallmarks of GH&S (George Houghton & Sons), a Birmingham-based maker that had a ton of output from the very low end to the somewhat high end. This instrument sat in the middle of that range and as such is a no-frills, but well-made design.

Original bone nut, too.


I love the "pizza slice" tuner buttons. Pearl dots, bone "pip" nut for the 5th string. The frets are nickel-silver, and even though some near the nut and near the rim join are lowered from the fret level/dress, they still have plenty of life left and feel good.


This banjo came with a few extra little gadgets that (supposedly) helped to hold the rim assembly in place against the ledge in the resonator's sides, but they were superfluous and loose so I removed what was left of them and simply re-tacked the assembly back in place with the tack nails that were actually doing the job.


Someone marked the wrong place for the bridge! ...but I marked the right place around the bridge feet with faint red pencil lines.


No cracks or much scratching at all... pretty surprising, really.



The tuners are simple friction pegs and work fine, though I did need to slightly loosen them upon setup to keep them feeling comfortable.



The maple on the rear has a bit of figure here and there.




The "knee" side shows some finish flaking.

Note that the action is setup nice and low: a hair over 1/16" at the 12th fret. It seems most clawhammer players will like it around 3/32" at the 12th, but I think on a shorter scale like this the just-over-1/16" feels a little nicer.


I replaced tack nails that held the tailpiece in place with some older screws from my parts bin. Way more stable...


The (beat up) original case and remaining (unused) rim hardware is also included!

4 comments:

D Barclay said...

so is this one going to making it's way to the shop?

Antebellum Instruments said...

If it makes it past the fellow who's had it on pre-sale hold. :D

A lot of instruments on the "incoming" list tend to get picked up before I can even get them listed these days. If you can get my attention on something that looks good before I finish it, you get first dibs.

Thanks for the interest!

Jake

John Percy said...

Looks like the first cousin to my GH&S banjo mandolin, the twin of which you featured on this blog a couple of years ago.

D Barclay said...

Awww, well glad to know business is going well though, love the blog!