6/06/2015

1923/2015 Vega Frankenstein Tenor Banjo




This is a cobbled-together Vega! The neck is a 1923 "style F" neck which places it at the entry-point for Vega tenor banjos from that year. The pot is a 1920s Vega pot, probably from a banjo mandolin, and fits the "Little Wonder" description with a hoop tonering concealed in a nickel-plated sleeve that's rolled over its top. I'm not sure if the bracket band is original to the rim, but it appears to be more or less an original unit.

At any rate, I put this together from parts given to me by a consignor/customer and it's turned out really nice for a short-scale tenor: it has oodles of volume, a crisp/clean sound, and a very fast neck thanks to its 19 3/4" scale length. It's almost more like playing a mandola than a tenor banjo in terms of fingering. FYI -- please don't mind my chuckle in the soundclip -- I bumped it out of tune on the desk in front of me...!


The 10 1/8" rim was in use for a while with a 5-string neck and the fairly-new Remo Renaissance head shows a bit of playwear. I like to see that, m'self.


The friction tuners are parts-bin units but work just fine. I always suggest upgrading to 4:1 tuners, but these will be good to go if you can handle friction pegs. The nut is bone and new.


The neck is straight and the frets got a level/dress. The neck is stained maple and the board is dyed maple with pearl dots. I added side dots to keep it "up to code" with modern players. I currently have it strung with 32w, 20w, 13, 9 for standard CGDA tuning.

Action height is a perfect 1/16" at the 12th fret and it plays quick and easy.


I put on a nice 5/8" tall Grover bridge and compensated it for DGBE or CGDA tuning. I really don't suggest using this banjo for octave mandolin GDAE pitch as it this rim won't get you the low-emphasis that tuning wants for.

Note also the "notched" area at the tail. Because this tension hoop/rim was off of a banjo mandolin, it'd been cut from the factory like that for a mandolin-style tailpiece. This combination ball-end/loop-end/gut-tied-end tail works pretty well, though, for tenor use. I like.



Most of the rim hardware is original but there are 2 modern hook/nuts on there.



My customer totally owes me for scoring this neck brace from my parts bin. I didn't think I had a Vega-style one hanging around... if you order a repro unit of one of these you're looking at $40 worth of parts. There's a reason Vega used them -- they're very sturdy.

In fact... this whole instrument feels like a pint-sized boxer: it's really "substantial" in build and volume/cut.

It also took me a while to file/sand that dowel-stick hole to fit the (larger) dowel, but I'm glad I left the dowel full-size as extra stability is always a plus.


I love the double-layers of tortoise binding.






The endbolt and tail hanger (both vintage) are from my parts bin, too.

1 comment:

bonnybroome said...

Looks good, sounds good. I guess we need to talk...