1/19/2015

1960s Harmony-made Bakelite-rim Tenor Banjo




This banjo has been knocking about at the Quechee Antiques Mall for at least a year and a half. I've passed it by over and over and over and finally snagged it this last time around after the price dropped $20. Isn't it funny what makes a tipping point for investment of time and resources? The profit margins for old student-level vintage instruments are not as wide as one would like! I also felt, well... bad for it. I like to recycle viable instruments and aside from a busted head and rust/tarnish on the hardware... it was in fairly good shape. My work was only a fret level/dress, adding a replacement head and bridge, and general cleaning and setup.



This has a 10 7/8" rim but this old 11" 5-Star head fit just fine with a little tweaking.

This banjo plays spot-on with 1/16" action at the 12th fret and is currently strung with a set of mix-matched strings for DGBE tuning. The neck is perfectly straight (thankfully).


The Paramount name no longer reflected high-quality Lange-made products by the mid-1930s and by the 40s and 50s it was often seen on student-level gear like this. The original plastic nut identifies this as late 50s at the earliest and more likely early 60s in era.

One benefit at the headstock from these later-era jos, though? Guitar style tuners make this easy to tune up and keep in tune.


The brass frets are all in good order and those diamonds are simply stenciled-on. This has a longer 22 3/4" scale length.


I bought a box of old 60s/70s parts from a local fellow and scored a whole bunch of these all-maple, simple Chicago-style bridges. I compensated it for DGBE/CGDA tuning.

While the tail (and the rest of the hardware, for that matter) is certainly ugly, it does its job just fine.


Here you can see the one-piece Bakelite construction of the rim. Tonally... these sound warm and plain and direct. They don't have a lot of annoying overtones and aren't super-loud but they'll do for hanging out in a smaller jam. They also sound excellently "old-timey" without having to totally mute your head.




Note the shim at the bottom of the heel: I had to actually reverse-shim the neck so the bridge wouldn't have to be ridiculously high (and thus sap a bit of tone because of weight).


All the rim hardware is original and "all there."


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