12/19/2015

1921 Vega Style M Tubaphone 5-String Banjo





This is a customer's extra-nice old Tubaphone 5-string and it was in for a new head, light fret level/dress, some drop-fill/finish buffing/etc. to some potholes in the finish on the back of the neck, and a good general setup.

Vega banjos, of course, were made in Boston and are among the best vintage banjos made. They command pretty high prices in the market and instruments like this one -- for when they were made: the early 20s -- are quite rare. Most folks were playing tenor banjo by that time so 5-strings are seldom seen. What's even wilder about this one is its very long 28" scale length and big 11 7/8" rim. The Tubaphone tonering is just icing on the cake, there.


The new Remo Renaissance head replaces a snapped original skin head. I also swapped-out the bridge for an older Grover 3-foot one, too. The banjo itself is mostly original though the neck is refretted, the tailpiece is a newer No-Knot, and the pegs have been swapped-out for 5-Star planet pegs.


The big bone nut is also unoriginal but somewhat interesting!

Due to a light backbow in the neck, this is strung 10, 22w, 14, 12, 10 even on that long scale to pull it "straight." The action is perfect at 1/16" at the 12th fret and it has a glorious tone right off the bat without even having to mute the head a bit to cut down on overtones.


There are two railroad spikes installed in the ebony board -- but I had to flip them around to work with the fret shapes (they were installed hugging the edge too much). The bone 5th pip looks original but I've given it an extra slot for "over the fret" mounting of the 5th string -- this means that when using the spikes that string will stay in tune rather than having to tune up and down a little to match it with the others.


There's a small shim to get better back-angle (and a 5/8" bridge).


I've compensated that old bridge as much as it will go.


The neck is standard Vega specs: two piece hard maple. The rim is similar with multi-laminate layers of maple. It has some nice tortoise binding on the inside of the rim and the exterior "foot" of the rim as well.



I used some late-20s buttons from my parts-bin to "vintage-ize" these 5-Star pegs. These had some weird, oversize, translucent coffee-colored bluegrass-style buttons before. I'd planned to swap to StewMac ivoroid buttons but those had too loose a feel so I put these on instead (for free).


Someone shot the back of the neck with a layer of amber finish in the past and it'd chipped out here and there. I drop-filled the chip-outs and then fine-sanded and polished until smooth and then added a layer of finish and then buffed that out as well. There are a few lighter-colored areas where the finish was worn from finger-wear, but the feel of the neck is much improved -- it's not sticky anymore and now doesn't have a weird amber tint over the binding.






Vegas are so classy, aren't they?



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