12/13/2015

1890s Buckbee-made Hoseus Tonering 5-String Banjo




Oh, sheesh, what a project this turned out to be! It was supposed to be a simple tuner install, fret level/dress, and setup but in the end I had to counter a variety of not-so-elegant old modifications to the instrument which meant a refret, among other things, was in order.

This banjo is more than likely a Buckbee (New York -- later becoming the Lange factory) product of the mid-grade sort, and has an interesting "scaled" spunover rim design complete with an experimental tonering that the owner has tracked-down to an inventor by the name of Henry Hoseus (patent information at the end of the post).



The rim hardware is mostly original but the head is an older frosted-top Weatherking. This is just-about an 11" rim.


Don't you love that Buckbee headstock shape? Always elegant.

I replaced some 60s "Perma-Tension" Grover friction pegs with a set of StewMac/Waverly planetary (geared) pegs. The tricky part about this is that the back of the headstock has a v-shape to it and I had to adjust some of the surfaces to get them to mount cleanly.


The fretboard is actually a replacement, big old slab of ebony that was installed a long time ago. This originally would've had a veneer-thickness ebony board and, as the owner concurred, the dang things wear out and start to chip like crazy. I've removed a number of them on old Buckbees because of it so I'm familiar with the issue.

The problem, however, is that the guy who installed this board didn't plane it correctly and as a result there was a bunch of backbow in the 1-5 frets area and in the 10+ area. The frets had also been slap-dash installed and leveled and the heights were all over the place. You can also add to that a few "slanting" slots that don't help intonation -- but, to be honest, don't hurt it too much.

This meant that I couldn't simply level/dress the frets to make the problems go away -- so I pulled the frets, planed the board (up to a point), and refretted it with new banjo stock. The board still had a tiny bit of backbow at the nut after the refret but I pulled that relief out by jumping the gauges up to medium (rather than the 9s I can just barely suggest for these) as the thick ebony board is giving plenty of stiffness, anyway.


The last guy to work on this moved the old brass star into the new board, which is a nice thing to see saved.


This parts-bin bridge happened to fit "just so" and was easily compensated -- so I used it. I'm also including several other old bridges for the owner to swap-around depending on setup needs. That tailpiece isn't original (60s/70s), but is plenty functional.




Can't knock Waverlies!

This, by the way, is a cherry neck under that stain.


See the slice out of the rear of the heel? The owner told me that there used to be a big old bolt in there! Yikes! The dowel, needless to say, is a replacement and not quite as stable as I'd like it to be.

I wanted to use an old parts-bin neck brace but found it wasn't a tight-enough/sturdy-enough fit for the neck/pot join, so I did what Buckbee used to do in the old days and simply popped a screw/washer in there to hold it pat. 

The foam muting cuts down on overtones. With a 26 1/2" scale length and a bridge that sits near the edge of the rim, the overtones from a setup like this can be overwhelming if not tamed.


This interesting tonering makes this, effectively, an early "archtop" banjo. There's more information on the patent a little ways below...


Installing the 5th peg was... interesting. The old Grover "Perma-Tension" friction peg had to be drilled-out to remove it and after that I realized that this Waverly was going to be an odd fit because of the way the other had been installed. I did manage to make it work, however, though it's a pretty narrow window to fit the string into the "head of the needle" on the tuner shaft embedded in there.

To get the 5th string where I wanted it to hang, I simply notched the ebony in front of the 5th fret, rather than adding a 5th pip. We'll see if the owner needs the latter for right-hand needs.


While that brass sleeve would've been nickel-silvered all over, doesn't it just look grand with the brass showing through? It's like we've caught a fish-jo!





Here's the patent for Henry Hoseus. Who knows what happened to that central bit, though, huh?

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