2/17/2016

1930 Vega Vegaphone Professional Plectrum Banjo




Update 2017: This banjo just came back for consignment. Since it was originally posted, the owner swapped the resonator out for a same-year Vega resonator from a 5-string banjo, so that's the only change since my original blog post. It's ready to go and came back in the same condition it left, otherwise -- straight neck, quick-as-heck action, and brutally loud and proud. I've updated the photos.

Sometimes an idea occurs to you and its answer arrives on your doorstep. I've actually been browsing plectrum banjos and thinking about getting back into playing them (I've had a few for myself over the last three or four years) as I'm trying to lean out of playing electric again. So, when a fellow arrives in the shop only a day or two after I started thinking about this with his Boston-made Vegaphone plectrum in hand and wanting to sell/trade -- hey, I'm on board!

The serial dates this one to 1930 and it's a Vegaphone "Professional" model -- the first rung up the "Vegaphone" ladder which basically means a Tubaphone-ring banjo with fancier trim. It has a nice pearl-inlaid ebony board, neck carving, and a fancier headstock inlay than the average Tubaphone from the same year. Unlike the late-20s Vegaphones, however, the resonator is laminate flamed maple (one piece) rather than the solid-wood "pie plate" resonator Vegas are better-known for.


Work included a fret level/dress, cleaning, new Remo Renaissance head, and new maple (compensated) bridge. I've strung it up DGBE ("Chicago" style) with 20w, 16, 13, 9 strings. It's got a great, very loud, poppy sort of sound and will easily fill-in the drum role (in a pinch) for a band that's lacking a drummer.

Update: Full disclosure, here: a bandmate of mine knocked the banjo over on its stand and split the heel (freak accident). This happens to a lot of banjos as it's the weak spot on the neck and as soon as the session wrapped-up I took it into the workshop and glued it up nice and snug and then reinforced it, additionally, with a countersunk screw. It's been perfectly stable in service and I've been playing it for a little over a month, hard, with it fixed in this manner. Below are three pictures of the heel in detail:



It's really hard to see the split but if you open in full size you can.


The circular "fill" is hidden behind the resonator. Now back to the original post...

It came in the way many of these old Vega plectrums do -- with a tiny hair of warp in the neck and needing a decent setup as well as tweaking to get the neck/rim joint at the proper angle and solid "for the road."


Bone nut, ebony board, and ebony headstock veneer. The geared Grover pegs are a thankful addition as well.


The frets leveled/dressed nicely and have a good amount of height left. Some of the relief dialed-out during the process and so there's 1/64" to 1/32" of relief overall (which might as well be straight when you're talking about a 27" scale length).


The neck shape is a mid-sized C and it plays nice and fast with 1/16" action at the 12th fret. The board is bound in ivoroid.



The tailpiece is period, at least, if maybe not original (a lot of the originals were engraved).


All of the original rim hardware, thankfully, is present.




The tuners are geared and hold pitch beautifully.



Nice, huh? The neck is two-piece mahogany.










An original, hard, brown case comes with it -- and check out the blue lining!


Here's the Vegaphone/soldered-Tubaphone tonering. It's a biggie, isn't it?

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