1/20/2016

1893 Lyon & Healy Washburn Style 411 5-String Banjo




This gorgeous old 5-string matches the description for a style 411 Washburn to a T. It's got a 26 1/4" scale length, 1 1/4" nut width, 11" rim, and the understated and elegant looks that were typical of the 1890s Washburn line. Lyon & Healy sold these instruments and they were considered the cream of their crop -- with fancy, thoughtful parts and fittings and a comfortable, quick, and sturdy neck.

This is a consignor's instrument and he'd bought it from someone who'd done some work to it recently. It was in good shape when it came in, but did need a bit of extra setup love from me: the frets got a light level/dress, the nut slots were adjusted down properly, and the neck angle was brought back forward just a hair so the 5/8" minstrel-style bridge gave correct nylon/gut-string setup of hair-under 3/32" action at the 12th fret.

The strings appear to be Aquila nylguts and the replacement parts on this include 4x 1920s tuners at the headstock, 1x modern 5th peg tuner (which I re-buttoned to match the headstock pegs), the bridge, and the Remo Fiberskyn head. The Fiberskyn is actually a good choice on this banjo (I tend to prefer Renaissance heads) as the Washburns tend to have a sort of loud, dry, sparkly, reverb-ish tone that generally needs a slight mute for modern ears.



Oops -- the bone nut is a replacement, too.


The neck has a hair above 1/64" relief to it throughout -- which poses zero playability issues. This is pretty common on old 5-strings.


The fretboard and headstock veneer are ebony and the inlay is pearl. All the frets appear original as well and are in good health.



The tailpiece, miraculously, survived on this banjo. It's the patent one and uses a bolt to attach it to the tension hoop. The set-screw on the rear, apparently, serves to adjust its angle.

Note the good-quality repro "minstrel-style" maple bridge. These sound great with gut/nylgut/nylon strings.

The rim hardware is all-original and everything is nickel-plated brass.




The neck looks like good quality mahogany to me.

These tuners are 1920s friction pegs that were installed beforehand -- and I matched the button on the 5th peg with another of the same type from my parts-bins.




353 is the serial number. L&H made roughly 200 a year from 1892 (their introduction of this style) until 1896 (when the production was in the 900 for serials) and so I'd say it's pretty likely that this was made in 1893.


The rim itself is maple with nickel-plated brass cladding rolled-over on both edges with brass hoops inside them. This makes for an integral "tonering" on the top of the rim and a reliable, stable build.

Washburns, like Fairbanks/Vegas or SS Stewart instruments, feel sturdy, well-built and hold-up beautifully over time.


Nothing to complain about with all those "imperial" brackets and hooks, huh?



Note the elegant trim under the fretboard's edge.




The neck brace and its ebony shims are in good order. Note that the last fellow to work on this made a nice little ebony "tongue" to keep the neck in the dowel-hole nice and pat and level. He also made an elegant glued-on ebony shim at the top of the neck's heel.

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