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Thread: Information on Vega "Little Wonder"

  1. #1

    Default Information on Vega "Little Wonder"

    I have a Fairbanks Banjo made by Vega SN 43308.
    This is a mandolin on a banjo frame (0pen back)
    I would like historical information and value estimate.

  2. #2
    Registered User Steve Roberts's Avatar
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    Default Re: Information on Vega "Little Wonder"

    Michael Holmes, RIP, was one of the best resources for old banjos. You can spend days perusing his webpage, www.mugwumps.com

    Here is a like to the Fairbanks and Vega page-

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

  3. #3
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Information on Vega "Little Wonder"

    I have a Little Wonder mandolin-banjo; I believe it was Vega's least or second-least expensive model with a tone ring. Little Wonders did not, I believe, have resonators, but were open-back. Mine is Ser. #46966. so it would be slightly later than yours; it has the original case.

    I see a wide range, $250-$750, of asking prices for these instruments, after a Google search. I'd come down somewhere in the middle, maybe $400-$550 or so. They're nicely made, no-frills little instruments, and Vega's a well-known banjo brand. And I concur with the recommendations to look at the Mugwumps page; it'll give you some of the company's history, back when our instruments were made.
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  4. #4
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    Default Re: Information on Vega "Little Wonder"

    Vega made five levels of Mandolin Banjos, as pointed out above your Little Wonder was the second level and the first with a metal tonering. Here they are are in ascending order. Each of these styles could be ordered with either 8 or 4 strings. The 4-string variety have a shorter scale like a violin at 13” and were intended for playing the lead or melody because the single strings cut through the mix better, the literature describes them being intended for violinists or cornettists when playing banjo lead. The 8-string style has a traditional mandolin 13-7/8” scale and were intended for mandolinists.

    These days mandolin banjos are considered novelty instruments because they don’t fit will with mainstream mandolin music which is to say bluegrass music. They are generally accepted and highly regarded in the ragtime circles and somewhat in the old time world. If played well they can add definition to the rhythm of a large group of fiddles in an oldtime jam where rhythm often gets muddy.

    The Tubaphone and Whyte Laydie Vegas are fine instruments when set up properly and played with finesse and skill. The Little Wonder is slightly down in terms of tone. Beware of the many terrible mandolin banjos that many of you are familiar with, that is one reason mandolin banjos have a bad reputation in music circles. But listen to a good one by a good player and you may be convinced they aren’t so bad after all...��

    Style K
    Style Little Wonder (metal hoop tonering)
    Style L (Whyte Laydie)
    Style S (Tubaphone)
    Style X (Tubaphone)

    Thanks to our friends at Acoustic Music here is a page from th e1923 Vega catalog that features your instrument.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Mark Lynch

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  6. #5
    Registered User Ranald's Avatar
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    Default Re: Information on Vega "Little Wonder"

    I play one too. It's great for ragtime and really old blues, but generally not so good for more modern music. I describe it as "All the volume of a banjo with none of the sweetness of a mandolin." These instruments were made in the days before microphones, and allowed the mandolin to hold its own among louder instruments, as well as allowing mandolin players to play a banjo, of sorts, without having to learn a new instrument. Mine was in the price range Allen talks about (post #3). I bought it, in good shape, for $325USD + shipping from Mandolin Cafe in 2017, which I consider a fair price. I really like it by the way.

    Added: There is an internet site that tells you the years of manufacture according to serial numbers. Perhaps someone can guide you to it.
    Robert Johnson's mother, describing blues musicians:
    "I never did have no trouble with him until he got big enough to be round with bigger boys and off from home. Then he used to follow all these harp blowers, mandoleen (sic) and guitar players."
    Lomax, Alan, The Land where The Blues Began, NY: Pantheon, 1993, p.14.

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    Default Re: Information on Vega "Little Wonder"

    According to this table published on Banjohangout.org your Vega serial number dates to 1919. I’m sorry I no longer know the author as the link I saved does not seem to be valid. Maybe someone can help. I saved these three screenshots.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Mark Lynch

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    Default Re: Information on Vega "Little Wonder"

    It is fairly common for todayís mandolin banjo player to install only four strings on their eight string instrument because the four string variety are so very hard to find. The results are about the same. Hey, who needs the extra volume from double courses when the thing is so incredibly loud already? It also sweetenes the tone a bit and removes the constant problem of tuning the unisons. Just be sure the unused tuners are not allowed to vibrate and rattle. A correctly compensated bridge is very important to keep the intonation at bay. Many MBís have aftermarket straight banjo bridges which cause nothing but intonation problems. Elderly sells special compensated MB bridges in several sizes, they work pretty well.

    Here is a favorite example of an eight string MB with four strings installed. It doesnít look like a Vega but sounds pretty good.

    https://youtu.be/8LZeB8cMLEo

    Mark
    Mark Lynch

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    Default Re: Information on Vega "Little Wonder"

    I have found that if you use mandolin strings on these you are using too heavy of a string. I use two sets of tenor banjo strings. G.-28. Look at any 5 string banjo and you will not see a string heavier than that, and they get plenty of depth. This is most of all a banjo, and not a mandolin. Treat it like a banjo with the strings and it will sound better, last longer, like you for it, and will still be plenty loud. It will not be nearly as obnoxious tho.
    THE WORLD IS A BETTER PLACE JUST FOR YOUR SMILE!

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  14. #9
    Registered User Ranald's Avatar
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    Default Re: Information on Vega "Little Wonder"

    Quote Originally Posted by MarkELynch View Post
    It is fairly common for today’s mandolin banjo player to install only four strings on their eight string instrument because the four string variety are so very hard to find. The results are about the same. Hey, who needs the extra volume from double courses when the thing is so incredibly loud already? It also sweetenes the tone a bit and removes the constant problem of tuning the unisons. Just be sure the unused tuners are not allowed to vibrate and rattle. A correctly compensated bridge is very important to keep the intonation at bay. Many MB’s have aftermarket straight banjo bridges which cause nothing but intonation problems. Elderly sells special compensated MB bridges in several sizes, they work pretty well.

    Here is a favorite example of an eight string MB with four strings installed. It doesn’t look like a Vega but sounds pretty good.

    https://youtu.be/8LZeB8cMLEo

    Mark
    Thanks, Mark. That's the first group I've seen with two mandolin-banjos. Is this the wave of the future? Perhaps there's hope for we MB players after all.
    Robert Johnson's mother, describing blues musicians:
    "I never did have no trouble with him until he got big enough to be round with bigger boys and off from home. Then he used to follow all these harp blowers, mandoleen (sic) and guitar players."
    Lomax, Alan, The Land where The Blues Began, NY: Pantheon, 1993, p.14.

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    Registered User Frankdolin's Avatar
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    Default Re: Information on Vega "Little Wonder"

    When I was a kid my upstairs neighbor had one of these, and didn't play, and I loved it! I thought it was the Caddilac of banjo-mandolins and is one that got away.

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  17. #11
    Registered User Ranald's Avatar
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    Default Re: Information on Vega "Little Wonder"

    Here's a mandolin banjo stay-at-home concert, and I'm wondering if that's a Little Wonder she's playing -- it looks like mine.

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/t...njolin-concert
    Robert Johnson's mother, describing blues musicians:
    "I never did have no trouble with him until he got big enough to be round with bigger boys and off from home. Then he used to follow all these harp blowers, mandoleen (sic) and guitar players."
    Lomax, Alan, The Land where The Blues Began, NY: Pantheon, 1993, p.14.

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