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Thread: Help a Newbie identify a banjo!

  1. #1

    Default Help a Newbie identify a banjo!

    I’m a new poster here and would like help in identifying my recent find. This instrument was found while cleaning out my grandparents house. My grandfather and his brother were both in bands from the 1920’s and forward, (maybe even earlier) playing banjos and mandolins. Attached are photos of the instrument. This is not one of the banjos in the first photo. I’m not sure of the maker or even what is would be properly called. Banjo? Mandolin? Banjo Mandolin? Banjolin? My questions are: Can anyone help me identify the make and model? This has a 11” head, are replacements available? Would a new bridge come with the head or is that separately available? What sort of strings does this use? I could just use this as is and hang it on the wall as a decoration in remembrance of my grandfather and the joy in hearing him play. I would however like to return this to playable condition. Although I have hands of stone, I do have siblings and nephews who have the skills necessary to play. I’m the technician in the family. This look to be a beginners/learners instrument as some of the materials seem basic so it’s value is primarily sentimental. Thanks in advance for any information on this, especially for directions to any repair parts.
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  2. #2
    coprolite mandroid's Avatar
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    Question Re: Help a Newbie identify a banjo!

    Rema makes synthetic banjo heads .. Or you can buy more of the calfskin..

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  3. #3
    Registered User Jill McAuley's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help a Newbie identify a banjo!

    I count 17 frets so my guess is that this is a short scale tenor banjo, sometimes referred to as "tango banjos" back in the day. 11" banjo heads are still available to purchase. You would buy the bridge separately - try here for both: https://tradbanjo.com/collections/banjo-parts Short scale tenor banjos do better with heavier strings, usually 40w/30w/20w/12plain is a good start point if tuning it in GDAE. Could be an old Slingerland maybe going by the headstock shape? Just a wild guess.
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    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help a Newbie identify a banjo!

    My first suspicion is it's a Lyon and Healy, American Conservatory tenor banjo. The construction looks like it, and there is just a bit of decal visible on the head stock with the letters: ...ory...
    I cannot find an image of a similar peghead anywhere online, but it's a starting place for a potential ID. If anyone has a similar banjo with those peghead decals they will probably recognize it right off.

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  6. #5

    Default Re: Help a Newbie identify a banjo!

    Actually, Dentino, you may be right: it’s more than one thing. The end with pegs wants four strings, the other end, eight. Could have been made that way, or could be made from two different devices, and even different neck lengths. Banjo-like instruments come apart!
    Anyway, if you call it a tenor, as Jill writes, and take it to anyone who sets up banjos, you should be ok.

  7. #6
    Professional Dreamer journeybear's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help a Newbie identify a banjo!

    I'm thinking much the same - a bit of homespun luthiery. A tenor neck put on a banjolin body. A replacement bridge shouldn't be too hard to find online. That, a head, and strings, and you're in business. And as long as the neck is true, it's a pretty small buy-in to have a working instrument. Not necessarily a beginner's instrument, low-rent though it may seem. One with a bit of history. And mystery.
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    Registered User Pappyrich's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help a Newbie identify a banjo!

    I have a very similar banjo that I reconditioned and converted to a 5-string. It is branded "State" but I suspect it was built in the 1920's by one of the large banjo makers and sold to a retailer with his brand. In the case of the OP's banjo, I think that somewhere along the line someone replaced the tailpiece with one from a banjolin. This banjo looks like a standard short neck tenor.
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    Richard

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  9. #8

    Default Re: Help a Newbie identify a banjo!

    Thanks for all these responses! It’s quite likely that this is a “bitsa” banjo. My Great Uncle was a turn of the century Mcgiver. I’ll start assembling parts and hope to have this back in working order shortly. I have truly found a deep pool of experience and knowledge! Thanks again!

  10. #9
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    Default Re: Help a Newbie identify a banjo!

    Another good place for parts is http://smakula.com/Partslist.html

  11. #10
    coprolite mandroid's Avatar
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    Question Re: Help a Newbie identify a banjo!

    FWIW a 5 pin 'no knot' tailpiece can even trap ball end guitar strings in the 4 gaps between pins , or put 4 loop ends over 4 of the 5..

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  12. #11
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help a Newbie identify a banjo!

    Somewhat simliar American Conservatory tenor at Jake Wildwood's site.

    An 11" head would be really large for a mandolin-banjo. Perhaps the "MacGyver" modification was the other way 'round -- an eight-string tailpiece used to replace a broken or missing four-string tenor tailpiece. In any case, heads are available, either Mylar or skin, as are tenor banjo bridges of varying heights. I'd obtain a four-string tailpiece, but the eight-string's usable if you want to preserve evidence of your grandfather's inventiveness.

    Not an expensive instrument originally, but seems fairly well-made. Non-geared friction pegs are no fun to adjust, especially with the fairly high tension of tenor banjo strings (somewhat lower tension on a 17-fret model), so if you're thinking of upgrading I'd get some "planetary" geared pegs. Reduces the originality, but improves the playability, IMHO.
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