7/19/2014

c.1910 Supertone-style 5-String Banjo




I've had a ton of folks egging me on for about 3 months to get this banjo done and so... it is! This came in with a number of issues: first it needed to be refretted... second it needed a new head and bridge... and third it needed the dowel reset and a better neck-brace system. The work's all done and it's turned out to be a surprisingly-sweet, decently-loud little number and while I haven't weighed it on the scale it seems to be about 2 or 3 pounds which makes it exceedingly lightweight. The only apprehension I'd have as a player wanting to grab it is that the nut is narrow at 1" in width. So, for someone looking for a light banjo with a long (this has 26 1/4") scale and a fast-y thin neck, this would be ideal. For players looking for that typical 1910s-1920s Supertone-style banjo feel, this isn't.

And coming to the Supertone-style labeling... that's what this is. It's almost identical (sans-label) except for the oddball nut width to other Supertone (and non-Supertone-labeled of the same type) banjos I've worked on. My sneaking suspicion is that these were all made by Lange as they're very similar to low-end Lange builds from the time but there's no way to really prove that. I think this one probably dates from 1900-1910 due to the pot design and some of its build features. It was meant for gut/nylon strings and here it's strung with Aquila Nylgut "reds" which allow for an unwound low D string and give a snappy, dry, gut-like sort of tone. It's setup for 3/32" action at the 12th fret which is how I like my gut/nylon strung banjos though someone with a light touch could swap in a 1/2" bridge and get it to 1/16" or so.



This has a simple 10 3/4" spunover pot and I've put a new Remo Renaissance (my favorite type) head on it. The bridge is a new Grover 5/8" tall unit that I've spaced out for this slightly smaller fretboard.


These are the pegs that came with the banjo and they're similar to what would've been on it originally but I think they're actually later -- maybe 1930s or 40s. New bone nut and celluloid star inlay in the headstock. The finish is all original but it's alligatored on the back of the headstock and beat up with use, of course.


New 5th peg (with older button to match the headstock ones) and brand new frets! I sometimes despise refretting these old teens-era banjos because the dyed-maple boards can be a bit mealy. This one refretted just fine but there are definitly chips in the board here and there and I made sure to seat them all with a few dabs of thin superglue just to make sure they'd be stable for the long haul. The dots are pearl inlay.


Note the Waverly-brand tail. I had the drone high G snap on me after a while so when I put the new one on I wrapped its end in a layer of masking tape. Sometimes these old tailpieces have barbs or really flat sides to their slots that might not snap gut or regular nylon but Nylgut in particular is pretty sensitive to even slightly sharp edges.

Did I mention: this is only suitable to nylon/Nylgut? Please... steel will kill that neck (which is, amazingly, nearly perfectly straight tuned to pitch... it has just the slightest hair of relief overall which most straight-edges wouldn't even notice).


Old, grungy hardware... but it works! One hook/nut set is a replacement (old parts) while the rest are original to the rim. Note the shaped upper bit of the wood rim... this is what gives this thing a bit more projection. If it were flat like many of these it would probably have a slightly darker, quieter sound. That's been my experience, anyhow.





I replaced the original neck brace on the dowel with this Gibson-y style unit that adjusts with a hanger bolt right into the heel. The dowel had been reglued in its past a few times and I didn't rate it as structurally sound enough (even though I reglued it again just fine) for decades+ worth of use as the main support for the heel/pot joint. This big hex nut adjusts easily and will stay tighter for longer than other neck-brace units. This is why Gibson uses a similar design from the 20s on up...

The angle is purposely set that way to make access easy.



The neck, by the way, seems to be maple or poplar stained a dark mahogany color.

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