4/25/2017

1960s Japanese-made Melody 5-String Resonator Banjo





This oddball 5-string isn't like the usual Japanese fare from the 60s and 70s in that its aluminum rim, "tonering" top edge, and "flange" are all one piece and it has a deeper resonator, too. I'm guessing it was built on the earlier side of the 60s as it has all sorts of odd features compared with later, more-usual import banjos.

The most striking difference, aside from the rim, is in the big, deep, U-shaped neck that's made from a ton of laminations of poplar and/or maple along the lines of a Framus banjo. That keeps the neck nice and straight and with a more "vintage" feel. It also has a bit of a longer scale length, clocking in at 27 1/4" -- right around the length for a Kay from the times.

Tonewise, what do these differences add up to? Well -- it sounds a bit fuller and poppier and with a bit more sustain, but still has that sort of "hollow/woody-ish" aluminum rim thing going on -- in a good way. I have to admit that, while I've played a lot of good bluegrass banjos (American and imported), one of my favorites was an all-aluminum-rim Iida. The weight savings and that "hollow pop" sound are addicting.

Downsides are, of course, the bigger neck profile and general wear and tear. While the 1 1/8" nut width is pretty normal, the neck is deep and has a U-shape to it that makes it handle more like a 1930s instrument. The resonator also has a bit of warp to its upper-edge, but nothing serious.

Work in it included a fret level/dress, small reglue of a portion of the fretboard, reglues to the side/back seam on the resonator, a replacement 5th peg (swapped to a geared one), new bridge, and a good setup. It plays on-the-dot with 1/16" action at the 12th fret, a straight neck, and strung with lights (9s). I'm sure 10s would be fine on it, though.


The glossy-top Remo head is in good spec and was on it when it came in.


The moon-shaped tuner buttons are pretty neat. The nut is new and bone.


I added a new 5th peg tuner but used a vintage button to keep it looking "stock." Now all the tuners are 14:1 ratio or better.



It has a 5/8" bridge and I've compensated it to some extent.


Two drywall screws hold the resonator to the rim.


The finish is like "sunburst Antigua" -- with a pale, creamy "natural" color fading to olive-black-brown.





How about that for a strap hook?

Inside the rim there's the "usual Asian coordinator rod" setup with a big hex bolt that allows for action adjustment on-the-fly.







The tailpiece looks adjustable but isn't. I've used a wad of foam under its long "cover" to damp the string afterlength overtones.

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