8/08/2016

1930s Kay-made Beltone 5-String Banjo





Beltone-branded instruments seem to mostly be lower-end affairs and this one is no exception -- though compared to today's entry-level instruments, it's definitely got some edge. After work it's turned-out to be quite a "sleeper" and has a full, old-time-lush, round tone and a neck that's beautifully playable. Considering the bolted neck joint design and long, 26 1/2" scale length, I'm also pretty sure that this was built by Kay.

Its owner brought it in to see if it could be spruced-up for a family member who wanted to start playing banjo. As-is, its neck was warped beyond the ability of a fret level/dress to solve, the friction pegs on it were tired and worn-out, and it really needed a synthetic head mounted to keep it stable enough for a new player to learn on. In the end, I suggested that it might be better to put money into this rather than into a low-end modern banjo. It was the right suggestion, because this is a far better instrument than your average clunky new import banjo.


Work included a board plane and refret, new Elite-branded Renaissance head, new compensated bridge, new 4:1 geared tuners, a coordinator rod install, and general cleaning and setup. There are two hooks missing in the pictures but I have some replacements of the right spec on order for it.


Note my weird nut modification -- after the board was leveled I replaced the nut with a zero fret and decided I'd make a spacer-nut out of fret stock, too. It worked-out well. The strings are light 9s as the long 26 1/2" scale and poplar neck build make me suspicious of neck warp if it were strung with 10s.

The owner of this lucked-out, too, as I was able to score a set of new taken-off geared pegs on eBay for about $25 or so. That beats paying $130+ for a set of Waverly pegs -- which are my first choice for replacement 4:1 machines outside of Gotohs.


The neck is poplar and the board is actually maple. Of course, after planing it, the original "ebonization" was gone and the board was bright, creamy, and natural. I use india ink to "re-ebonize" the board and a light coat of finish to seal it. It then gets polished-up and a bit of "aging" with steel wool on the edges to give it more of an original look.



I try to get a 5/8" compensated bridge on most steel-strung 5-strings, these days.



Originally this banjo didn't have a coordinator rod installed and only had a neck bolt. I figured that, for practicality's sake, a rod for adjustment and stabilization would be nice... so I installed one.


The buttons could be replaced with more period-appropriate stock, but I'm not going to complain for $25ish.




The original big neck-bolt arrangement makes me think this was a Kay build. The rim design is also a lot like 40s Kay banjos I've worked on. You can see that my new coordinator rod install runs to a hanger bolt installed just below the original, big, neck-bolt.

Because there's now an over-under bolting, the neck won't shift side-to-side, too, if the big bolt loosens-up at all.




With twelve hooks on a simple, non-tonering rim, this is about as basic as it gets for a steel-strung 5-string banjo. The no-frills build means it has an authentic and sweet sound, however, that's easy on the ears.

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