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Thread: Banjolin Identification and Help

  1. #1

    Default Banjolin Identification and Help

    Hey,

    So I am looking for some information on another one of my grandfathers mandolins.

    This time its an old rough banjolin.

    Story goes that it was from his grandmother and she called it a taterbug.

    Obviously its not a taterbug style mandolin, so just some weird uneducated southern thing they likely came up with?

    Also it doesnt look old enough to be my grandfathers grandmothers. So likely some confusion on the story there.

    Nonetheless I am at a loss, I cannot find any branding or makers marks other than a penciled in 18 inside the body. Could be a kit?

    Also it has non of the hardware to attach the banjo head. It, even though it is scratched to hell, does not have any tool marks to indicate anything that was on the outside of the body either.

    There are the 4 wood pegs in the case.

    It is also missing a bridge and one of the covers on a key, but that should be easy to figure out.

    Any ideas? What is this thing? What/Where do i find the proper parts to fit a banjo head and where do i find those parts?

    I appreciate it guys.Click image for larger version. 

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  2. #2
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Banjolin Identification and Help

    I'm pretty sure this wasn't made in the US.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

  3. #3

    Default Re: Banjolin Identification and Help

    Whats the thought process to get to this conclusion.

    I litterally know nothing about it, but the proported owners were heavy into bluegrass and such and filtered around Alabama and Tennessee.

    Farmers and such.

  4. #4
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Banjolin Identification and Help

    A weird one all right. As Mike E opines, the slotted headstock and the very unusual -- and possibly just marginally functional -- tailpiece seem to argue against US manufacture.

    What's really odd is the absence of any brackets or tension hoop for installing and tightening the head. I'm spitballing here, but there may have been a whole other "pot" that fitted inside the body. What this looks like is a mandolin-banjo resonator with a neck attached, but without the actual banjo body.

    Some of the British-made mandolin banjos had a "pot" with the tension adjustment nuts "on top," next to the head, rather than having the hooks around the head, and the bracket nuts on the other side of the shell (if you get what I mean). That arrangement would allow for a "pot" with its head to be installed and adjusted on this instrument, even though you couldn't remove the resonator to access bracket nuts -- since the resonator and neck were attached.

    I'd be pessimistic as to whether, in its present form, it could be made into a playable mandolin-banjo. One could install some sort of non-adjustable head, like the old "tack-head" minstrel banjos, I guess. The photo of the nut, neck and headstock, with the distance from the nut to the current first fret, make me wonder whether it once had a "zero fret," which would be another indicator of possible European manufacture.

    A neat family heirloom, but perhaps not restorable as a playable instrument. Let us know what steps you take.
    Allen Hopkins
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  5. #5

    Default Re: Banjolin Identification and Help

    hmmm, I am still going to get it playable some way. It is just odd. I do not see any tool marks, just belt marks to indicate any cage on the outside. so you may be right.

    The hole does look a little rough, could it be possible this was a round bodied mandolin and it was cut out and some weird deal done with a banjo head? I am unsure.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Banjolin Identification and Help

    I would hazard a guess and say that originally it was a complete timber top without any head at all and looks, to me, as though someone has cut out the timber with a thought to some possible project. Only guessing though.
    Cheers

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  8. #7
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    Default Re: Banjolin Identification and Help

    Your grandfather’s mandolin banjo shares many of the design features of the Lyric banjo which was patented by William Schmick in 1916. The patent describes a deep well wooden resonator (such as yours) surrounding a banjo rim. The banjo uses the typical skin head. I owned a five-string model at one time and recall that the entire assembly that included the banjo pot and head was removable from the wooden resonator cavity. I think you will have great difficulty in locating the missing part but never say never. Other brands such as Vega survived in much larger numbers and parts are readily available. I hope this information is helpful

    Mike Holmes, now deceased, penned a great article about Lyric Banjos in 2002. Here is the link.

    http://www.mugwumps.com/Schmick.html

    The patent is attached.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Last edited by MarkELynch; Jul-06-2019 at 5:12am.
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  10. #8
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Banjolin Identification and Help

    Except it's not the same as the Lyric.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

  11. #9
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    Default Re: Banjolin Identification and Help

    Mike, you are exactly correct! My posting was not meant to identify the OP’s mandolin banjo but only to point out that it shares design features with the Schmick model. As a moderator I’m sure you’ll understand my motivation that postings are intended to encourage research and conversation. It is much easier to ignore questions like this than to do some research and post information. I agree with your earlier comment that the instrument may be of European origin.
    Mark Lynch

  12. #10

    Default Re: Banjolin Identification and Help

    I have no idea who made it or where it was made. There is probably zero chance of restoring it with the correct parts, unless you find another identical donor instrument, but if it were mine and I wanted to get it "playable" I would try to find an old banjo uke and use the pot and head from that to set into your opening, which would allow you string it up.

    Ebay would be the source for finding a banjo uke. They don't usually sell for much money. The challenge would be trying to find right size for the opening, they came in a variety of head sizes from 6, 7.5, to 8 inches. The other challenge would be the "retro-engineering" required to get some kind of playable action -- I'm thinking the pot would need to be cut down from the bottom side, at the very least. I'm thinking with an age-appropriate banjo uke pot, you could probably get close to what it looked like originally and have a playable instrument.

    Good luck!

  13. #11

    Default Re: Banjolin Identification and Help

    For sure some.interesting stuff. I definitely just want it playable. Slowly been getting ahold of his old instruments and just want them to keep, play, and pass down after I take a bit more care of them than he did.

    I'll look into the banjo uke and the lyric banjo style stuff. All I gotta do is find one broken something someone has.

    Might take years but I have nothing but time.

  14. #12
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    Default Re: Banjolin Identification and Help

    The problem as I see it is that, before you can get it playable again, you have to decide what it was like in the first place.

    At first sight, it looks like the “sit-in guts” are missing - i.e. the ring and brackets which originally held the banjo head, but the only evidence of it having a head is that there is a round hole to put them in. There is no evidence of anything having been fixed in that hole - removal of the “guts” of the typical British/European mandolin banjos would leave a ring of holes in the top.

    I’m with David Kennedy on this one. Going by the binding and quality of wood used, it looks to me that the top was a solid piece of wood; although I’ll freely admit that I’ve never seen one like it and the perch pole suggests otherwise.

    I suppose somebody could have started out with a mandolin banjo, put a solid head on it, changed their mind, started to re-fit the head assembly but never finished it. Judging by the quality of what you have left, I suspect that it is worth significantly less than the case but whether you should spend time and effort on it is entirely for you to decide.

  15. #13

    Default Re: Banjolin Identification and Help

    So I have no doubt that at some point it had a banjo head in it at some point. I have living family members that have seen it.

    My family was hillbilly as hell.

    The hole looks hand cut, and kinda sloppy so I wouldn't put it past them to "make one" if they couldn't find or afford a banjolin.

    I know nothing about banjolins though. So if the perch whole is any indication? v0v

    Again if I could figure it out I would slowly spend the money for sentimental reasons. This was already passed down a bunch.

    Don't sell instruments. Fix em up and play em.

  16. #14
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    Default Re: Banjolin Identification and Help

    Unless I am missing something in the pictures, I see no evidence of any holes to accommodate shoes for a head-tightening mechanism. I suggest that it originally was made with a wooden top.

    The purfling reminds me of instruments built for New York area companies, such as Oscar Schmidt.

    Or another possibility: perhaps this was a originally a resonator or "pseudo-resonator" mandolin, very loosely based on the Dobro round-bodied "Tenortrope" design. That would explain the presence of the dowel stick and the lack of provisions for securing and tightening a head.

    Or perhaps the dowel stick was added later . . .

    If it came to my shop for evaluation, I might suggest making a new wood top for the instrument. The purfling could be reproduced.
    Last edited by rcc56; Jul-06-2019 at 2:12pm.

  17. #15
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Banjolin Identification and Help

    There were actually banjos made that had an inserts that was a ring with a skin head and I have no idea how they were held in place. Again, they weren't made in the US.
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    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

  18. #16
    Registered User Roger Adams's Avatar
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    Default Re: Banjolin Identification and Help

    Just a WAG, but it looks like it may have been a resonator mandolin. In any case, depending on the size of the opening, it might be possible to fit resonator ukulele parts to make it playable.
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  19. #17
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Banjolin Identification and Help

    Duplicate post.
    Last edited by allenhopkins; Jul-06-2019 at 10:59pm. Reason: Accidentally duplicated post.
    Allen Hopkins
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  20. #18
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Banjolin Identification and Help

    Well: the look of the "cut-out" in the top, rough-edged as it is, suggests that the instrument may have originally had a solid wooden top which was cut out to install a skin head. The head may have been stretched over a metal or wooden hoop sized to fit in the aperture made by cutting the top.

    My idea that there was an interior full banjo-style "pot" with tension adjustment brackets, is countered by the existence of a dowel stick running from the "neck side" of the body to the "tailpiece side." The dowel stick is very large as such structures go, and shows little finish work. There are also small braces between the remaining rim of the original top, and the back of the body, which also are fairly unfinished.

    So, hypothetically, someone took a round-bodied wooden-topped mandolin, cut out the center of the top, installed bracing to support what was left of the body, and installed a head stretched over a "flesh hoop," but not tension-adjustable. In the ensuing years, the head and hoop have gone missing.

    One could obtain or fabricate a properly sized hoop, have a skin head mounted on it, and reinstall it in the circular opening in the instrument's top; it could be force-fit or glued in. Head tension wouldn't be adjustable, similar to the old "tack-head" minstrel banjos that had heads permanently attached to their "pots." With a mandolin-banjo bridge, and strings "double-looped" through the holes in that somewhat weird tailpiece, one might have a (marginally) playable instrument. (By the way, why aren't the holes in the tailpiece, through which eight mandolin strings would have to be looped, evenly spaced? The tailpiece really looks home-made, and the alterations made to accommodate the hypothetical head assembly also look like amateur luthiery.)

    OP seems determined to resurrect this instrument to playability, which is, I guess, admirable. I'd find the prospect daunting, and almost certainly more costly than the value of the mandolin -- except as a family heirloom.

    I'm looking forward with anticipation, to see what finally becomes of this critter. Danile666, don'tcha dare disappear without telling us how it comes out.

    Later: also intrigued by Roger A's "WAG" in Post #16. Could be a resonator assembly that was either an original part, or retrofitted. This does clash with OP's remembrance or family tradition, that it had a banjo head.
    Allen Hopkins
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  21. #19
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    Default Re: Banjolin Identification and Help

    Here are some photos of the Schmick banjo that support my theory that the OP’s banjo was built along these lines. Note the removable banjo pot assembly with tension hoop and also the presence on the neck dowel stick in the lower part of the resonator body.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    More photos here: https://acousticbox.com/banjo-restoration/
    Last edited by MarkELynch; Jul-07-2019 at 9:38am.
    Mark Lynch

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  23. #20

    Default Re: Banjolin Identification and Help

    I think regardless what the actual form was a drop in resonator pot or custom stretched skin is my best choice.

    It's Gunna take me a while to find the parts and afford them but I'm going to get it done. Thanks for the thoughts.

  24. #21
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Banjolin Identification and Help

    Yeah, finding an "insertable" banjo "pot" of the Schmick variety is pretty unlikely. Construction of the Schmick, as shown in Mark's pics, is really similar to what you've got.
    Allen Hopkins
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  25. #22
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    Default Re: Banjolin Identification and Help

    Danilee, may I suggest that you post an ad on this banjo centric website? They have an active classified section and you never know what parts might turn up. To aid the search it would be helpful to post a picture of your mandolin-banjo and list the dimensions of the pot assembly that might fit inside.

    https://www.banjohangout.org/

    Good luck with your project and keep us all posted.

    Best Regards,
    Mark
    Mark Lynch

  26. #23
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    Default Re: Banjolin Identification and Help

    The more I look at this instrument the more convinced I am that it was a wooden topped round mandolin and someone has tried to convert it to some sort of skin headed instrument. The rough cut "dowel rod" looks to me like an afterthought and just glued in to give the structure some strength after the top was cut out. There is an old thread on the Café about round mandolins. http://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/th...ound-mandolins
    Cheers.

  27. #24

    Default Re: Banjolin Identification and Help

    I'll make a post on banjo hangout later when I have a better idea what I'm looking for. I'm sure it's Gunna cost an arm and a leg to make this thing functional Soni gotta be careful.

    I agree the rough cut makes me think it was a retrofit. These family members were poor as hell. Like plywood hovels for homes is what my aunt describes. And their instruments were their prizes possessions. So I assume there was a series of events that led to a few damaged instruments turned into one.

    This specifc instrument had the family name taterbug remember. It's clearly not a reference to an actual taterbug mandolin. I believe rather since it's a bunch of parts that don't belong and ugly as hell they refered to it like that. Whatever they did to it it apparantely sounded amazing.

    I'll keep up the hunt. Thanks guys.

  28. #25

    Default Re: Banjolin Identification and Help

    Quote Originally Posted by Danile666 View Post
    .....the rough cut makes me think it was a retrofit.
    I don't think it looks that rough.....I've seen much worse, especially on a cheaper laminated instrument where the cut would be hidden by some kind of pot/flange. Certainly could be original, IMHO.

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