12/26/2015

1910s Oscar Schmidt 5-String Openback Banjo




This is a plain-Jane, lightweight old openback 5-string and during work and setup I decided to play to its strengths rather than its weaknesses and thus set it up how it was probably intended when built -- with Aquila Nylgut (ie nylon/gut tension) strings rather than light steel. This was a good choice as after work it's turned into a great-sounding 'jo. It's got plenty of focus, a very fast feel, and a clean overall voice with a decent amount of depth to it.

The heel design, headstock shape, rim design, and hardware all suggest it was made by Oscar Schmidt around 1910. Their banjo ukes from the time are also often appointed in a similar fashion and their wood-body ukes from the time also share the same curious "cigar box mahogany" fretboard and heel cap material (at least that's what it looks like to me).

Work on this one included a lot of cleaning, a board level and refret, new bridge, 2 replacement period shoes, 2 replacement (newer) hook/nuts, and a setup with a good fiddle-maple minstrel-type 1/2" bridge. It plays perfectly and is strung with the copper-loaded Aquila "Reds" which means an unwound D string is possible (hooray).


Oops -- I forgot to also mention that the 10 7/8" rim has a brand new Remo Renaissance head as well. This rim features a simple multi-ply maple construction with a flattened hoop-style tonering. Often this design can be a bit ringy but this rim actually gives the banjo a nice, fundamental, relaxed tone.


New bone nut -- but original tuners. The friction pegs all-around are just fine for the nylon-style string tension. This has a headstock veneer of the same material the board is made of, though the headstock was stained a lot darker.

The nut is 1 5/16" and the scale length is 26 1/4" which gives it a proper, long-scale feel.


I refretted with modern banjo-style fretwire. Ironically, the neck itself was perfectly straight, but someone had leveled the original brass frets in a bizarre-enough way that I needed to refret. I only needed to level/dress the board itself to remove the marks from recutting the fret slots a little deeper for the new wire.


While the newer tailpiece isn't period-ish (a No Knot would be nicer), it functions well (though you have to be extra-careful to mount any Nylgut strings in such a way that they're not riding directly over metal if possible as they tend to tear/cut).

The bridge is an old-stock German part and cut from nice-quality fiddle-bridge maple. I love the period look and sound of these ones.




The tuners are original friction pegs with ivoroid buttons and I re-buttoned the original 5th peg with a period button of the same style for a cleaner look.




The neck is good-quality maple with a very fast, modern profile. It's almost like a shallow bluegrass banjo feel, though the nut width gives it proper old-timey spacing at the nut.


I have zero patience, these days, for the old "knock in place with shims" neck brace styles (they often loosen up with a lot of road use) unless I need to use them (read: on more expensive banjos) and so I've replaced that mechanism here with a simple drywall screw and plate. If it was good enough to last for the old 1880s/90s Buckbees (and, in a modified sense, for Gibsons), it's certainly good enough for this banjo.

3 comments:

Warren Grice said...

Good to see some banjos again!

Jake Wildwood said...

Yep -- I buy them when I come across ones I like well enough. I got sick of warped 5-string necks, though, so I stopped buying for resale. I have a new refretting bench setup so it makes some of this work a bit more snappy and I'll probably be buying more 5s in the future for sale.

That aside -- there are a couple more gorgeous customer 5ers in the shop for repair, too.

Michael Aiello said...

Hey Jake, aside from widening the nut, do you have any advice for my home conversion of a Deering GoodTime into a nylon string? Should I fabricate a more minstrel type bridge? Thanks! Love the OS.