Thanks to all for allowing tenor banjo discussions here. I don't know where
else to ask, which is part of my inquiry here.
I have acquired a May Bell Queen tenor banjo, apparently from the 1920's, a pretty nice one in very good condition and with a removable resonator back. I've searched the web a bit and found some pix of these. Most of them were dark-colored, and this one is a nice blonde, on the neck and the resonator back. I've also found pix of some that have fancy gold-colored metalwork and these are clearly a cut above most of them and of the one I have.
My situation with this one is that it has it's original tuners, which are friction, not geared. They're simple and pretty, all the metal parts are in great shape. I have two problems with them, tho: One is that I haven't the patience to achieve true tuning with them, I'm accustomed to modern geared tuners; Second, the G tuner slips a bit and won't hold tune at all.
I've tried a washer, and then small rubber O-rings on the G tuner shaft to hold the shaft more tightly against the face of the headstock, and that pretty much stabilized this tuner, so the second problem is solved, but not the first.
I have a set of modern replacement tuners from StewMac, but they would require enlarging the holes in the headstock. I would love to find some geared, modern, tuners with a shaft size such that I wouldn't have to drill
the headstock, but I haven't been able to find much information on alternative tuning machines.
Finally, I'm pretty certain of the value of this instrument, but I'm not certain, and I haven't been able to get good info on how enlarging the tuner holes
might affect the value. The value question is becoming less and less of a consideration, but I'd still like more information about it...
I've spoken with 1.5 people at Elderly (one directly, another indirectly, thru the first one) and they didn't really want to continue the conversation, just let it drop. (I have no hard feelings about that, it's fine.) And I've spoken with
a shop in the Carolinas which carried some fancy May Bell Queen banjos.
It seemed pretty clear to me that their advice was colored because they were
somewhat interested in buying my banjo, so I don't think I got completely straight answers.
So... I'd like to find other expert advice about this one. About the value, the history and most importantly about modern tuning machine alternatives that might let me install them without headstock surgery.
Failing all that, I'll either go ahead and do the surgery, or simply try to pass this one on to someone who has the patience (and experience) to keep it in
tune with the original friction tuners.