9/04/2016

1900s Bruno 5-String Openback Banjo





This is an old Lange-made instrument (I think) in the vein of old Supertones and, when it was made, it was squarely "middle-of-the-road" but dressed-up. In its original configuration it would've sported 38 hooks (!) but I've cut that down to 20. It has a long 26 1/4" scale length but a smaller 10 5/8" pot which makes it light and comfortable in the lap but not as squished as an A-scale instrument in terms of arm reach.

This is one of those banjos that arrived to me in the bedraggled condition I associate with "well-intentioned but totally uninformed" repairs. It was mangled a bit near the 5th peg to install a replacement peg, the neck was warped and the fretboard was loose, replacement tuners at the headstock were installed with a bit of funk, and a replacement head was installed but tightened so much that it was split around the edges.

My work was a good, full-on mix -- a new head, new bridge, new geared tuners all around, board reglue, fretboard plane and refret, lots of cleaning, replacement hardware for the locations where I pulled out excess hook/nut/shoe sets, and general setup. It plays perfectly (straight neck and 3/32" action at the 12th fret -- strung with nylons) and feels just as good as a new instrument. It, however, is funky in the aesthetics department -- it's obviously been well-used and has missing pearl and whatnot.


While FiberSkyns aren't often my first choice (I love Renaissance heads), it was a good one on this instrument as its tone up-front is crisp, bright, and poppy. I've got it dialed-in to a nice, balanced, accurate sort of sound -- with enough volume to bang along with others on.


New bone nut, too... and the replacement (inexpensive geared) pegs have a believable look via the replacement black buttons I've used (these pegs usually come with ghastly pearlescent buttons).


A bunch of the paper-thin inlay was damaged and half-missing before work and then damaged further by leveling the fretboard. In the exchange, however, it got fresh frets and a straight neck -- so I won't complain.

I've been using LaBella nylon strings for a while, now, too. I used to use Aquilas exclusively (they sound great), but find that their intonation can be finicky and often get cut on the metal hardware that old banjos have in spades. The LaBellas are quite light tension but have a good, simple, dry, and snappy tone that works well with these old guys.



And all-maple, minstrel-style bridge gives good volume and attack.


After removing 18 of the hex-shoes (there's still 20 hooks!), I replaced the missing bits with nickel-plated cap nuts.





The maple neck has a rounded, medium feel.


The neck stabilizer rod has replacement screws but appears original. These are nice to have.



I replaced the old friction-set neck brace with a screwed "bolt." Simple and easy.





The original, old, Elite tailpiece is nice to have -- especially with the ability to micro-adjust bridge placement with the spacers on the top via string side-to-side tension.

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