5/29/2015

1890s/1925/2015 Stewart/Orpheum 5-String Frankenbanjo




If this banjo's SS Stewart neck looks familiar, that's because I joined it to an old Vega pot back in 2013 for its owner. He recently picked up a giant old 1925 (per the serial) New York-made Orpheum (Lange) rim, so the objective became fitting the same neck... again... to a non-original rim. Oh, banjo players!

This time around the conversion was a bit more work (aren't they always?) because I had to convert the neck to a double-bolt (Gibson-style) rim attachment, fit a new tonering, repair the tension hoop, fuss over fitting the neck to a different-style rim shape, and then of course -- set it up! It turned out "dandy" and has a good sound.

My opinion on big old Lange-made rims is that they generally don't give you the standard "old time, giant rim" banjo sound that folks are looking for -- with a big bottom end and sloppy mids. That's because they tend to have "archtop" tonerings which are suited more to the tenor or plectrum sound -- a tight, bright, chimey tone when cranked on the tension and a slightly mellower, ringy variant on that tone with the head slacked a little. It sounds full but quite different -- and has lots of volume for an openback.




While doing the work, the owner had me fit some Waverly pegs to it as well. I can't say I blame him -- they're a lot easier to use than friction pegs!



I replaced the bridge currently in use with this all-maple one that mellows the tone a little bit. The tail replaces a No-Knot style (repro) one that was on the old incarnation of this Frankenbanjo because it sits on the tension hoop a bit better and also allows me to mute the extra string length.






So... here's the secret. The plate is one I cut from old electric guitar parts and helps me mount two big hanger-bolts that're embedded in the neck. The original old dowel is now a "sleeve" that's suspended over the lower hanger bolt nut just for an old-timey look.

Because of the way the neck fit to the pot, keeping a dowel installed (the original Stewart neck's dowel was actually split in several places, anyway) was not useful. This setup is rigid and functional for the conversion.


The new copper tube tonering replaces a missing plated-brass one. It's suspended on a whole ton of small L-shaped round stock that're tacked into the edge of the rim and there's a "sleeve" of nickel-plated brass that then is suspended on top of the "shoes" and forms the outer bit of the mixed archtop tonering. This is typical "Orpheum" construction.



This neck has a long scale and the big pot suits it -- check out the prime bridge location.



The resonator that this rim was probably fit with when first made is long-missing. The "foot" of the rim also came without a cap and was bare maple slices. I lightly sanded it, stained it, and finished it to more or less match the mahogany veneer of the sides.


It's not elegant, but this was a more practical tailpiece for the rim design compared to what else was on hand.

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