6/29/2017

1920s Gibson-made Wolf Openback Tenor banjo





I've worked on three or four of these Gibson-made, off-brand tenor banjos from the late '20s, now, and they're all variations on the base-model Gibson TB-0 tenor of the time -- a no-frills, well-made, functional instrument. This one is probably slightly later than the Clark and Oriole-branded versions I've blogged about in the past, as it has an 11" rim (vs. smaller 10 1/2" or so) and thicker brass tonering (vs. none or thin).

Like the Gibson-branded TB-0, the instrument has a heavy-duty multi-ply maple rim, good-quality hardware, a slim/fast maple neck, stained-maple and bound fretboard, and simple looks. It's also rugged, practical, easily-adjusted via its single coordinator rod design, and sounds "tops." Whenever I sell one of these I think to myself, "why did I bother?" -- as their sale value is far under their level of quality/intrinsic value. I've also had people who've bought them from me, time after time, bring up the possibility of trading their instrument in for something else, but never actually doing it.

So -- I saw this out there on the web and leapt on it as soon as I saw it. I know they're good, and because they're a Gibson, I know there's no hassle by way of warped necks, dodgy fretwork, bad tolerances -- stuff like that. My work was thus simple -- a fret level/dress, new Remo Renaissance (Elite-branded) head, new 5/8" bridge, replacement (mandolin-style) tailpiece install, new 4:1 geared peg install (using old knobs), and a good setup. It's playing with spot-on 1/16" action at the 12th fret, strung for standard CGDA tuning with 32w, 20w, 13, 9 gauges, and feels superb. This has a 1 1/8" nut width, shorter 20 3/4" scale length, and fast and slim C/V hybrid neck shape.

The only downside of this particular instrument is that someone "topcoated" or "oversprayed" the rim and neck with a clearcoat, though they (thankfully) spared the board. It doesn't feel or look bad as it's over the original finish, however, and other wear and tear (some pitted/rusted hardware) distracts.



Paul Fox, the author of "The Other Brands of Gibson," does not include this Wolf brand in his excellent write-ups on off-brand Gibson products, but it's clearly just a rename of their 1925-1929 line of Oriole-branded Gibsons.


The stained-maple board has pearl dot inlay. The frets are the same, small, narrow wire that Gibson used on banjos and mandolins straight into the late '30s.



Because of the coordinator rod construction, neck-angle adjustment is super-easy which has allowed me to get a nice, tall, 5/8" bridge on this rather than a more-typical (for the time) 1/2" bridge.


The rim hardware and hook/nuts are all original save the tailpiece and 3 of the hook/nuts -- those 3 being same-period but different.




Three of the buttons on the freshly-installed 4:1 geared pegs are original to the banjo (but modified to fit the new shafts) and from the remaining original friction pegs, but the 4th is the same type and from my bins.









Most of these lower-end Gibson banjos use Waverly "cloud" mandolin tailpieces, but this one was missing a tail. I used this non-Waverly mandolin tailpiece from around 1910 instead. The foam under the strings is to mute overtones from the string afterlength behind the bridge.


That little pad of foam under the second neck bolt (the rod acts as the first "neck bolt") mutes the head just slightly to kill overtone ring. If it's removed, the instrument is slightly louder but more ringy. Because the rim is so solidly-made and the tonering is a generous 1/4" bit of round brass, there's plenty of volume considering its openback design, however, even with a tiny bit of muting.

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