7/06/2014

c.1931 Vega-Harmony Frankenstein Tenor Banjo




This long-scale (23") tenor banjo is a Frankenstein for sure with a 1931 Vega Little Wonder neck (ebony over maple, yum) and a same-timeframe 11" Harmony openback pot (with bigger hoop tonering) which would've originally come on one of the fancier Harmony resonator tenors. It sounds... much like a good quality openback tenor... because it is. It has chirp and sustain as well as volume and a smooth, sweet, tight mids sort of sound.


Work included a fret level/dress on the neck, new tuners, cleaning, a new head for the rim (parts-bin almost-new frosted-top Remo synthetic), new bridge (compensated), fitting of the neck to the pot, and a good setup. She plays great with slick 1/16" action at the 12th fret and a dead-straight neck. I was going after a "practical, no frills, high quality" sort of tenor in this build.


This Vega headstock actually does have the engraved pearl star inlaid into its ebony-veneered front. It's also got its original bone nut. The finish on the neck is chipped off here and there but it adds a nice, workmanly charm to the whole thing. I know this would look fancier with a set of $90 4:1 Waverly banjo pegs but these 16:1 Kluson-style repro guitar tuners certainly are practical. If such stuff was good enough for Pete Seeger's Vega headstock they're good enough for mine!

The #1 customer request when it comes to tenor banjos is more modern tuners than the usual friction pegs that come on necks from this time (I can understand: for a novice friction pegs are a pain in the butt). On fancier gear I've been using 4:1 planetary uke pegs when I can justify the upcharge (the new Gotoh mini uke-style models are excellent at $60ish) and these Kluson-style repros on more budget-minded instruments.


Ebony board, pearl dots, and binding! The (original) frets leveled and dressed up nicely. It's a quick, sturdy, good-feeling neck.


I compensated the new Grover bridge for standard pitch (CGDA) with two plain trebles. This also works for Chicago (DGBE) tuning and octave mandolin (GDAE) tuning if you use a plain A (think gauged 17-18).




Note the finish chipped off around the nut on the back of this neck. Whaddya call it, "mojo?" Fair enough!a


The rim's foot has a few shrink-cracks but it'[s all stable. There's also a small amount of lifted veneer on the interior of the rim but it's all good to go. The rim wood seems to be laminations of maple on the inside with a veneer of mahogany on the outside. It's also got a cool inlaid decorative strip on its centerline.

Also: note the good, heavy-duty neck brace... tightens up with that set-screw.


The serial on the Vega neck dates it to 1931.


The hardware and tailpiece are original to the rim.






The adjustable Waverly tail is nice to have...

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