1920s Oscar Schmidt "Stella" Resonator Tenor Banjo

This is a mid-late 20s "Stella" made by Oscar Schmidt (of blues parlor guitar fame) in New Jersey. It's a very simple instrument and the build, aside from the turned resonator, is almost identical to 1880s-1900s instruments rather than the average 1920s build. This means it has a thin, lightweight maple rim with no tonering and a simple friction-set neck brace. The rim design means this instrument has a woody, round, mellower tone compared to the typical mid-20s zing and pop. It behaves more like an old-time 5-string banjo... though the resonator certainly pushes the volume right out front.

I've worked on this same model about a half-dozen times and each time I'm surprised by the design's fight between tension and overall lightweight build. Fortunately, after doing so many of these over I've figured-out what needs to be done to make them effective (and stable) and this one's now all set to go. Work included a fret level/dress, new Remo Renaissance head, extra washers to stabilize all the shoes on the rim, new compensated bridge, a bit of finagling on the old pegs, cleaning, and general setup. It plays great with 1/16" action at the 12th fret and a straight neck. It's currently tuned to CGDA.

The decalcomania touches are what make Stellas... Stellas! The nut looks like bone but it's actually celluloid. Please excuse the slight dust from adjusting the slots...

Pearl dots in the board, a D-shaped neck, and frets in good order. This has a 21" scale length.

I'm pretty sure this tailpiece was borrowed from someone's parts-bin long ago. I usually see the Waverly "Cloud" mandolin-style tailpieces on these and this one appears to be an old tail for a gut-strung 5-string banjo from the 1890s/1900s. Still... after looping the strings through... it's working just fine... though ball-end strings would load more easily.

Note that the bridge is compensated for wound/wound, unwound/unwound -- CGDA or DGBE tunings.

So -- I'm pretty sure the rim is maple, the resonator is birch, and the neck is poplar. The resonators on these are turned and have an elegant "swooping" shape to their inside.

Yeah... and a cool decal on the outside, too.

All the rim hardware is (luckily) original. OS used a system of 4 "extra long" nuts on the hooks to (supposedly) hold the resonator back from the rim just a bit. I see this on all of them -- all matched save 4 evenly-spaced around the rim. The reality is that you need to adjust the nut past the length of the hook so the hook-ends do this instead.

No comments: