View Full Version : any banjo-mandolin (banjolin) fans out there?

Sep-21-2006, 11:09am
Is anyone here a fan of the banjo-mandolin (aka banjolin)?

I have an old Kay Master banjo-mandolin from the 1930s that is currently out for repairs (so I can't post pics) but I have been thinking of getting a Gibson for some time now (as the price of a vintage Gibson banjo-mandolin is quite reasonable). I can't explain my affection for the banjo-mandolin - it's just there.

Just wondering if anyone else loves this mandolin variation and if so what do you like about it. Pics are also nice #http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif

Sep-21-2006, 11:46am
I don't have one but I want one (when I get $$$$). Search it... there were some nice discussions with photos in the past, I believe.


Sep-21-2006, 1:16pm
I own a couple. a Vega Little Wonder and a no-name. I've used them in Celtic and klezmer bands, when a percussive sound that cut through the music was needed, or when the tune had a ragtimey emphasis. I presently work in a Celtic quartet (Innisfree) where the instrumentation is banjolin, hammered dulcimer, accordion, and guitar/mandola/octave mandolin for rhythm. If you'd like to hear what that sounds like, there are a couple MP3's on the Innisfree page of my website:

Innisfree (http://www.allenhopkins.org/innisfree.html)

That's Mark Deprez on banjolin, one he built himself.

I think the banjo-mandolin is a "niche" instrument that has to be used judiciously. Its piercing tone and lack of sustain make it unsuitable for many styles and ensembles. The adjective that often springs to mind when I think of it is "raucous." That's a quality that works in some situations, and totally doesn't work in others. If you're interested in getting further into the instrument, there are many good used ones, from the early 20th century, available at reasonable prices, since it's out of favor with most pickers now and there isn't a great demand. Gibsons, Vegas, Bacons etc. can be obtained for less than $1K. Used with taste, a banjolin can give you an additional voice -- and you can be just as loud as the banjo player. Hell, you can BE the banjo player!

Sep-21-2006, 1:50pm
Another Vega lil' wonder #owner here, #a Remo head.
+ An ex 8 now #4 string #with a thinner hoop. [melody banjolin?]

And rebuild of #a slingerland-may bell banjo-uke to have a spruce, rather than a skin head, [was just a hoop, fretboardless neck, and some rusty hardware, then.
after not being happy with metal strings on it , I set it up with a baritone uke string set, [martin] tuned in 5ths,[fcgd, or gdae] needed only swapping out the treble string - from a soprano uke lightest ones.

turning off the computer to #go play it now... http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/mandosmiley.gif

Jim Garber
Sep-21-2006, 3:38pm
I have Weymann with a small (7") head. One of the few of which I can take the percussive sound. Great for ragtime.


John Flynn
Sep-21-2006, 9:53pm
I am not a fan of playing one myself, but I have heard some great performances on them. Curtis Buckhannon plays one on the cut "Echoes of the Ozarks" on the Ill-Mo Boys CD, "Laugh and Grown Fat." It is as good an application of the instrument as I have ever heard. Also, I got to hear a ragtime mando player, Dennis Pash of Kansas City, play one for a whole concert as the lead instrument. He is with the Etcetera String Band. He blew me away! Even if you really aren't into ragtime, don't pass up the chance to hear this guy.

Finally, I took a blues mandolin workshop with "Lil Rev." He played a mando banjo. He said that was probably the first kind of mando that was widely used for performance in blues and old time, for two reasons. First, in the 1800's they were cheaper than wooden mandolins and therefore more people could afford them. Second, they were louder and could stand up, volume wise, to a full ragtime, blues or old-time band. Lil Rev could also make it sound great.

Sep-22-2006, 1:24am
Boy oh boy can these little beasts stand up volume wise! I've got a 20's Wurlitzter,who knows who made it but what a work of craftsmanship and woods. I've tried palm-muting for a chimey effect as well as muting the head with a bit of a foam rubber block. Another neat thing to try is lap style playing with a slide and bb's on the head! (or maybe thats' my head http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/mandosmiley.gif

Bob DeVellis
Sep-22-2006, 9:37am
I've had three and got rid of them all. Allen's comment about their being niche instruments is right on the money. They have an undeniable appeal and two of the three I had (a Whyte Laydie and a Tubaphone) were really nice instruments. They were also steals at the time (about $500 each, as I recall). But I just didn't have a context in which their main virtue -- devastating volume -- was needed. I'd drag them out, do a tune or two, everyone would want to try it once, and then, everyone would indicate that they'd had more than enough of that for an evening. I bet they are great in ragtime contexts, though. I've hung on to my Regal resophonic mando. It has great volume and a less harsh tone. I don't use it much but even just playing alone, it's very satisfying. I mostly liked looking at the mando banjos rather than actually playing them.

Sep-22-2006, 9:50am
any banjo-mandolin (banjolin) fans out there? ...




Ken Berner
Sep-22-2006, 11:19am
Yep, I have owned a '21 Fairbanks-Vega Style K and a '20s Ditson that closely resembled a Vega Little Wonder; both are gone. I am now the proud owner of a '22 Fairbanks-Vega Style S (Tubaphone tone ring), which is a terrific instrument. I have enjoyed e-mail chats about these with Bob DeVellis (a Vega authority), Allen Hopkins and Jim Garber. Although these instruments do grate on some folks, they do have their place if utilized with taste!

Sep-22-2006, 11:41am
I love it when in the bonus track of the Shady Grove CD, after they finish playing Hesitation Blues, Jerry Garcia says something like "Heck yes! This is old timey! And that is a truly obnoxious instrument!" i assume, referring to Dawg's banjo-mandolin. (From memory, i don't have the CD here with me.)


Sep-22-2006, 11:55am
I've been looking for one particular model called "The Michigan". I think it was made by some company from Toronto. #Maybe even called "Toronto." #I've bid on a couple on ebay but washed out. #I haven't seen any others in awhile.

It would be nice to have in the arsenal.


Martin Jonas
Sep-22-2006, 7:06pm
I've never played one, but there are an awful lot of them coming up on Ebay UK and selling for next-to-nothing. What's interesting about the British made mandolin-banjos is that they tend to have a rather small head mounted on a rather substantial wooden-backed body (here (http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=300024992489) is an example although may have even smaller heads). Does anybody know how this style compares to the large-head resonator or open back varieties?


Sep-22-2006, 7:22pm
Those are zither mandolin banjos. The sound is even more of an acquired taste than a regular mandolin banjo.

This is a zither banjo solo (http://www.zither-banjo.org/pages/Just%20Sublime.mp3) from www.zither-banjo.org. It convinced me not to risk a zither mandolin banjo.

Sep-24-2006, 11:50pm
I have played manjo for a number of years, and have even occaisionally been complemented for it. #Although all of my other instruments are serious vintage, I play a Gold Tone built only a few years ago. #Aside from the fact that I got it in a trade was the more important feature of a modern neck with exact fret placement. #Old finger boards can perhaps add charactor to a wooden soundboard with a round soundhole, but at the synapse shredding volume and frequencies of a banjolin one had best be in tune on each note (which is not possible on many vintage necks). #I also string mine as a four string, as four pairs of strings almost guarantees some at least sleight out-of-tuness, which in turn will make everyone hate you and "your evil little instrument." #All in all, I would usually rather play my (Irish) tenor banjo, but when playing with horns/brass/drum kit and still staying unplugged, the banjolin can be the right tool for the job. #Only one banjo (regardless of the number or pitch of strings) per jam session! #Oh, by the way, this is my first post (thus the novella).

Sep-26-2006, 1:51pm
I've got a '30s Bacon and I love it. They can be great if its a good build and set up nicely. Its great for old-time blues/string band stuff. I love to play it with a real light touch since volume is no issue. They are way cool!

Sep-28-2006, 5:47am
This is a zither banjo solo (http://www.zither-banjo.org/pages/Just%20Sublime.mp3) from www.zither-banjo.org. It convinced me not to risk a zither mandolin banjo.]

http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif Based on that solo, I wouldn't want one either, but the one I have (Beare & Son London England and TORONTO)is pretty nice. It was purchased from e.bay, 7"head, wooden pot; enclosed.

We use it playing mostly Irish tunes, but very judiciously, since it tends to "be heard". Pretty big sound from a little instrument.


Doug Edwards
Sep-28-2006, 6:04am
#What's interesting about the British made mandolin-banjos is that they tend to have a rather small head mounted on a rather substantial wooden-backed body (here (http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=300024992489) is an example although may have even smaller heads). #Does anybody know how this style compares to the large-head resonator or open back varieties?
I have one like that, looks much older than the one shown and has a skin head. Awful sounding thing, extremely percussive. A nice wall hanger/conversation piece.

Sep-28-2006, 8:27am
I have a mid to late 20's Vega Style K that was my grandfathers. Original case and bracket key. I still have the original Jos. B. Rogers skin head though it is torn and has been replaced. Cool little piece.

Tom C
Sep-28-2006, 8:39am
I have a 1932 Slingerland. Original price labels still on the inside.

Gan Ainm
Sep-28-2006, 2:06pm
I find the "little monster" an occasional nice touch for a Klezmer "vaudeville" sound and to hear myself with a trumpet in my ear:) My British style "GH&S", bought in a Bath junk shop for a pittance, has a pretty good tambor (for a Banjolin...) but not so good on intonation. #I was thnking of getting a Gold Tone for that reason and was wondering how the overall sound and playability is. Would appreciate input from Mandobsessive and others who own or have tried them. Plan B is to have someone put a new "in tune" freboard on the old one. Thanks gang

Sep-28-2006, 9:00pm
the gold tone is really not a bad sounding instrument when set up as a single course. Radim has a vintage banjolin with a modern neck--the best of both worlds. He also has his set up as a fourstring. the gold tone is bright and of course loud. it is very playable, after some set-up. for the money, you might be better off changing out your fingerboard--if that is the only source of intonation problems. the gold tone is built a bit weird, or so my banjobsessive friends tell me. the design does seem to take a bit of the downward pressure off of the bridge, which may keep the head more stable and may help keep it in tune. it is important to alter one's style and technique to fit the instrument. my attack and the way i hold the pick, as well as ornaments and rhythmic emphasis, are very much informed by my years of playing irish tenor banjo. it really is more banjo than mando. check out seamus egan (either one of them) to hear what can be done with a tenor banjo!

Gan Ainm
Sep-29-2006, 3:48pm
Thanks for the info. I too dabble with the Tenor, have a nice Vega. Irish was my first love and have been watching Seamus since he was 9 or 10. The raucous sound of the Banjolin playing open chords though is sometimes just the thing to let the trumpet, clarinet tuba etc. know I'm there... I'll probably have Elderly send me a Gold Tone, send it back if it doesn't seem like the thing. #You are right in that there may be more to the intonation than the fret board, I am trying to find the right size tough plastic head for my old one to help with the "sag" issue.

Ken Berner
Oct-01-2006, 1:31pm
Here is a pic of my '22 Fairbanks-Vega Style S (Tubaphone tone ring) mandolin banjo.

fred d
Oct-01-2006, 1:54pm
http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/tounge.gif I also have a gold tone mando banjo about 6 month ago my wife expressed an intrest in playing with a local tener banjo group Sacramento Banjos, after looking for a cheap tener ( no luck ) I took 4 strings off ever other. And tuned it back gdae and she played Now I have gotten Her a suitable tener and I love to set in with the group the 4 strings seem to take the harchness out of it. And I love the expressions on peoples faces with the britness and loudness I get I tell them I'm wait for It to grow up and be a real banjo and thats Its mother is expecting again

Oct-01-2006, 5:34pm
I just got one from ebay at a bit over $200. It is a Style K Vega, 1918. I have owned a no name for about 8 years. It has a really chunky neck and is not fun to play. It has a simple tone ring. I am going to rob the Waverley Tailpiece from it as the Vega is missing the tailpiece cover. I see these selling for about twice that amount, three times in our local store.

Ken Berner
Oct-01-2006, 9:50pm
Glen, if you have any difficulty in removing the existing tailpiece on the Style K, e-mail me at <Mcqber@bellsouth.net>. The Waverly will be a great addition!

Oct-03-2006, 10:45am
I just got one from ebay at a bit over $200. #It is a Style K Vega, 1918. #I have owned a no name for about 8 years. #It has a really chunky neck and is not fun to play. #It has a simple tone ring. #I am going to rob the Waverley Tailpiece from it as the Vega is missing the tailpiece cover. I see these selling for about twice that amount, three times in our local store.
wow - sounds like you got yourself a nice one on ebay. From what I've seen there's no shortage of vintage mandolin related deals on ebay. You take your chances - but when compared to some local store prices it's usually worth the risk (IMHO).

happy pickin' #http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif

Oct-03-2006, 1:44pm
There have been 2 bacon tenor banjos, mostly Model C lately that have gone for a couple of hundred. There is one coming up, but I have flexed the finances as far as I can dare.

There is a Weymann mandolin banjo or 2 as well.

Oct-04-2006, 2:23pm
There's an old Stella (pre-harmony) Banjo-lin at a local antique shop. Not "new condition" but not thrashed either. Origional calf skin head. Played ok and tuners seemed to be ok as well. There seemed to be a potential mod or fix where the neck met the body, as the wood seemed a little rough around there like someone might have hacked at it at some point. Having said that though, it had decent action with zero setup.

They were asking around $250-275 for it I think, but it's been there for months, so I bet they'd budge. I'm walking on thin ice with my girlfriend these days for buying so many instruments, so I think I'll pass personally.

If anyone's in Portland, OR and is interested, let me know.

Oct-04-2006, 9:10pm
Here's a banjo-mandolin carried to the extreme, listed for viewing (but not for sale) by Bernunzio in Rochester. Attributed to the French actor Maurice Chevalier (remember "Gigi"?). Check out all the pictures -- perhaps the ultimate "stage" instrument, at least of this type:

Chevalier's banjolin (http://www.bernunzio.com/item.php?sku=059126)

Wonder what it sounds like -- I may wander over to John B's store and see if he'll let me play it...

Gan Ainm
Oct-06-2006, 8:23am
Oh man I want that thing! Glad its not for sale or I might have been tempted to do something real stupid.

Oct-06-2006, 10:32am
someone recently got a heck of a deal on this beauty:

http://cgi.ebay.ca/ws....IT&rd=1 (http://cgi.ebay.ca/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&ih=013&item=230030698285&rd=1&sspagename=STRK%3AMEWA%3AIT&rd=1)

Oct-20-2006, 4:03pm
My Vega Mandolin-banjo came this afternoon. It was like 22 days from winning the auction to getting the instrument. I am very pleased with it. The only issue is that it seems someone drilled and tapped into the hold-down ring to install a mandolin type tailpiece. It is the one with a clamshell cover that slides up to be removed. I saw one like it on a Martin 2-15.

I have a Bell Brand mandolin banjo tailpiece that I will likely swap. I posted earlier that it was a Waverley, but I was mistaken. I am not sure what the originaaal tailpiece looked like. I am also not sure about the bridge.

My other mandolin banjo has a bridge that I recut from a 5 string bridge.

Oct-22-2006, 7:38am
After posting in the equipment section, I find that others have tailpieces screwed to the tension ring like mine is mounted. It does have the tailpiece cover after all. It looks like this unit is what Vega was putting on their mandolins at the time and they went to a mounting method for the banjo. Perhaps in this era there weren'nt many readily available 8 string banjo tailpieces.

I saw a tailpiece like this on a Martin 2-15 mandolin. The cover has a scalloped front edge and is bent 90 degrees. It slides straight up for removal. Looking at photos of Vegas in Elderly and Mandolin Brothers show a similar scalloped profile, but they never do an end-view photo of the tailpiece.

Dec-25-2006, 4:51pm
Well, being Christmas, it is legal for me to play the Fairbanks-Vega. I have had a new nut installed, and a 4 string bridge cut down for the height. I also put 2 old wool socks together to jam between skin and dowel stick as a mute.

She has been mellowed out by the OAS Mute (old army sock) and plays quite well. I need to adjust the neck angle to escape having to use a bridge height of 3/8 inch. Expect that will entail a shim at the top and carving the back of the neck heel to compensate. The action is still a bit high.

Next string change I am going to drill out the rivets holding the tailpiece to the hold down ring. Then I will install the Bell Brand mandolin banjo tailpiece from my old one.

Frets are OK, generally a good condition for 88+ years.