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Thread: Any banjo experts out there?

  1. #1

    Default Any banjo experts out there?

    Need help to identify a banjo I was given to refurb. Its my 1st experience with banjo's

  2. #2
    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Any banjo experts out there?

    I am sure that there are folks here that know banjos. Posting photo's is a must. Also you can post photos at https://www.banjohangout.org/

    Good luck!
    Charley

    A bunch of stuff with four strings

  3. #3

    Default Re: Any banjo experts out there?

    Binwood, how can anyone help you without any information whatsoever ?

    Dave H
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    coprolite mandroid's Avatar
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    Question Re: Any banjo experts out there?

    writing about music
    is like dancing,
    about architecture

  5. #5

    Default Re: Any banjo experts out there?

    Quote Originally Posted by Dave Hanson View Post
    Binwood, how can anyone help you without any information whatsoever ?

    Dave H
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  6. #6

    Default Re: Any banjo experts out there?

    Quote Originally Posted by Charles E. View Post
    I am sure that there are folks here that know banjos. Posting photo's is a must. Also you can post photos at https://www.banjohangout.org/

    Good luck!
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  8. #7
    Confused... or?
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    Default Re: Any banjo experts out there?

    No banjo guy here, but ...

    While general photos of the sides and top are good, the most telling and often overlooked (across all instruments) are the tailpiece, that holds the strings to the body, and the BACK of the headstock, showing the tuner mechanisms. Just the shape of those guys can sometimes narrow the choice down to a specific company and/or spread of specific years.

    For banjo, a side close-up of the tailpiece might also be helpful, plus any structure on the inside of the body as seen from the back.

    If there's a loose bridge hanging around (delicate 2" wood thingy with notches for the strings - normally held on by string tension only), it would be good to show that as well.
    - Ed

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  9. #8
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    Default Re: Any banjo experts out there?

    All I can tell from those pictures is that this is a lower end instrument, most likely made before 1960, probably quite a bit earlier.

    To tell more, we need full pictures of the front and back of the neck, a straight-on shot of the back of the rim, one of the inside of the rim taken from a 45 degree angle, and a side shot of the banjo where the neck meets the rim. A measurement of the outside diameter of the back of the rim would also be useful.

  10. #9

    Default Re: Any banjo experts out there?

    Great advice, I will add those pictures.
    Thanks,

  11. #10
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Any banjo experts out there?

    What info's available from the pics you posted (IMHO anyway):

    1. It's a 4-string, tenor banjo, rather than a 5-string, which would be the type used in bluegrass. You can determine this by the number of slots in the nut.

    2. As rcc56 states, it's apparently a student-grade instrument; evidence is the fact that it has only about a dozen brackets around the edges of the shell, and it doesn't have either a "tone ring" (a metal ring inside the shell, that makes the instrument louder), or a resonator (a dish-shaped attachment to the back of the shell, that projects sound forward, also increasing volume).

    3. From the front, the tuning pegs look like non-geared "friction" pegs, another evidence of a lower-end instrument. Friction pegs on a tenor banjo would be pretty hard to manage, in my experience. It's possible that the pegs may be "planetary" geared pegs -- which would be another reason that their knobs wouldn't project beyond the edges of the headstock -- but I'm skeptical that's the case.

    4. The tailpiece, which is missing its cover, is also a simple one, not the tension-adjustable type found on more expensive banjos.

    5. The instrument's missing its bridge, as you probably know, and the head's not in great shape either, and will need replacement.

    You could get a new head, a bridge, and a set of strings, string it up and try playing it. Installing a new head of the proper size is definitely do-able by the average person, but you need to get the proper diameter and whether it's high- or low-crowned. You'd be putting less than $100 into it, assuming the neck/body angle is OK, and that there are no other problems with frets etc. You will also need a bracket wrench to loosen the brackets to take off the tension hoop and the old head, and to regulate the head's tension once it's brought up to tune.

    More pics would lead to a more knowledgeable analysis, but this is what's apparent from the info you provide.
    Allen Hopkins
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  12. #11
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Any banjo experts out there?

    Most likely made by the Gretsch Company of Brooklyn, NY (from this Mugwumps page):

    This shape is sometimes seen with the Rex or Clarophone name, both Gretsch company brands, on student grade banjos, but most often with no maker or brand designation.. They were the likely maker, but it is possible that in the 30s they farmed the work out and simply labeled the instruments. A similar peghead design is found on Gretsch's all metal rim sold variously as the Orchestrella and the American.
    Here's the photo he used for ID and has the same headstock shape and inlay as the OP.

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    Jim

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  14. #12
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    Default Re: Any banjo experts out there?

    Allen, nothing personal here, but a couple of your statements are not accurate:

    5 string banjos have only 4 slots in the nut. The 5th string does not extend to the peghead of the banjo, but has its own tuner and nut or "pip", which are located behind the 5th fret.

    Simpler tone rings consisting only of a metal hoop very often do not have a skirt visible from the outside of the rim, and therefore the presence of a tone ring cannot be determined without a picture of the inside of the rim.

    Many fine banjos have been built without resonators, including but not limited to Whyte Laydies and many of the Tubaphones built by Fairbanks/Vega.

    While I do not consider myself a banjo "expert," I do play the instrument a bit, and repair them from time to time. I do know a little, but banjos are a complicated subject. A good place to find out more about the instruments is www.banjohangout.org. There are even a few folks there who know the details and "in's and out's" of the Gretsch banjos, which are not particularly common instruments.

    Binwood, if you do end up needing to replace the head on the banjo, I recommend that you contact Smakula Fretted Instruments in Elkins, W. Va. They keep perhaps the largest stock of banjo heads in many sizes, and all of their people are knowledgeable enough to guide you through selecting the correct size and "crown height." It's easy to buy the wrong size head if you are new to servicing the instrument, and at $20+ plus shipping for a head, you don't want to order something that won't work.
    Last edited by rcc56; Nov-22-2020 at 7:40pm.

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  16. #13
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Any banjo experts out there?

    A full-length photo would help us to ID whether it is a tenor or a five-string. Also include photos of the inside of the pot showing the dowel stick.

    Here's a Clarophone banjo and it looks very similar with the exception of those portholes on the banjo pot.

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  17. #14
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Any banjo experts out there?

    Quote Originally Posted by rcc56 View Post
    ...5 string banjos have only 4 slots in the nut. The 5th string does not extend to the peghead of the banjo, but has its own tuner and nut or "pip", which are located behind the 5th fret.
    Yeah, my bad; as a banjoist I shoulda known better.

    Simpler tone rings consisting only of a metal hoop very often do not have a skirt visible from the outside of the rim, and therefore the presence of a tone ring cannot be determined without a picture of the inside of the rim.
    Usually you can infer the presence or absence of a tone ring, by noting how the head folds over the edge of the rim. A tone ring typically produces a less abrupt bend in the head fabric than what I see here. Combined with the low number of brackets, I thought it unlikely that this banjo came with a tone ring

    Many fine banjos have been built without resonators, including but not limited to Whyte Laydies and many of the Tubaphones built by Fairbanks/Vega.
    Very true; banjos built before the first decade of the 20th century didn't have resonators, and many of the better models from early 20th-century builders didn't have them. (Nor do banjos from current builders for the "clawhammer/old-timey" market.) However, coupled with the low number of brackets, simple tailpiece and minimal headstock inlay, I thought the absence of a resonator was another sign of a less expensive instrument. This one's not a Whyte Laydie, Cole Eclipse, or Stewart Thoroughbred, top-quality resonator-less instruments; I think that Jim G's likely hit on the ID with Gretsch.

    While I do not consider myself a banjo "expert," I do play the instrument a bit, and repair them from time to time. I do know a little, but banjos are a complicated subject. A good place to find out more about the instruments is www.banjohangout.org. There are even a few folks there who know the details and "in's and out's" of the Gretsch banjos, which are not particularly common instruments.

    Binwood, if you do end up needing to replace the head on the banjo, I recommend that you contact Smakula Fretted Instruments in Elkins, W. Va. They keep perhaps the largest stock of banjo heads in many sizes, and all of their people are knowledgeable enough to guide you through selecting the correct size and "crown height." It's easy to buy the wrong size head if you are new to servicing the instrument, and at $20+ plus shipping for a head, you don't want to order something that won't work.
    Excellent advice overall.
    Allen Hopkins
    Gibsn: '54 F5 3pt F2 A-N Custm K1 m'cello
    Natl Triolian Dobro mando
    Victoria b-back Merrill alumnm b-back
    H-O mandolinetto
    Stradolin Vega banjolin
    Sobell'dola Washburn b-back'dola
    Eastmn: 615'dola 805 m'cello
    Flatiron 3K OM

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