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Thread: Vega style k mandolin banjo

  1. #1
    Registered User Chris "Bucket" Thomas's Avatar
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    I just purchased a Vega Style K Mandolin banjo for what seemed like a reasonable price. #It arrived and I am impressed with it's condition considering it's age. The frets are unmarred/scarred and appear to be original. I would like to get some information from those more in-the-know.

    1. #What is it really reasonably worth?

    2. #It is in need of a string change? #What is recommended for mandolin-banjos?

    3. #It is missing a couple of the brackets around the rim. #Is this something Stew-Mac would stock?

    4. #For the luthiers. #Please look at the pictures of the nut and bridge. #The action is low, but the strings are DEEPLY imbedded in both. #You can tell the nut was crudely filed. #Your thoughts?

    Thanks,



    Chris

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  2. #2
    Registered User Chris "Bucket" Thomas's Avatar
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    A front shot
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    Chris

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  3. #3
    Registered User Chris "Bucket" Thomas's Avatar
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    The back
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  4. #4
    Registered User Chris "Bucket" Thomas's Avatar
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    the rim
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  5. #5
    Registered User Chris "Bucket" Thomas's Avatar
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    the nut
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  6. #6
    Registered User Chris "Bucket" Thomas's Avatar
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    the neck
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  7. #7
    Registered User Chris "Bucket" Thomas's Avatar
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    the head
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    Chris

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  8. #8
    Registered User Chris "Bucket" Thomas's Avatar
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    last one:
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    Chris

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  9. #9
    Registered User Bob DeVellis's Avatar
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    Chris -- I'm not a luthier but I've had a few of these. First, price is a tough call. Demand is pretty low for these but if you find an interested buyer, they can sell. I'd guess maybe $350 to $500, with the latter assuming that you fix up all the issues you've described. I wouldn't be surprised to find one for less, say $150, or at a dealer, for closer to the $350 price.

    If you are concerned about value, it would be good to replace the brackets and hooks with period pieces. You might call John Bernunzio to see what he has laying around. He well might have what you need. S-M probably has something that will work, but I say that without having checked their catalog.

    Personally, I'd replace the nut and bridge. Both are cheap and fairly easy to do. If you're uncomfortable doing it yourself, any repair shop should be able to handle the job and not charge too much. Of course, you could shave down both the nut and bridge so that their top edges weren't so far above the strings. This might work for the nut but might weaken the bridge significantly. I'd get new ones. If the string height is good now, shoot for a similar final height. On bridges, this may mean removing a significant amount of wood from the bottom of the legs. I have a professionally set up tenor banjo that has a bridge with the "feet" essentially gone and just the smaller "ankles" of the bridge supporting it. It works and sounds great and stability hasn't been an issue. Removing from the top of a banjo bridge as a way to lower it is fine if the amount removed is minor but take off too much and the bridge may start to sag. Better to work from the bottom to avoid that.

    For strings, you can use whatever mandolin strings you like. You may want to experiment to see what works best on this particular instrument.

    By the way, is it an optical illusion or is that a very large pot? It almost looks like a full-size banjo pot with a mando-banjo neck. If it's full-sized, that may increase the value because someone might be interested in just the pot to refit with a 5-string neck and use as a frailer. A model with a more elaborate tone ring, of course, would be considerably more valuable for a conversion to a 5-string.

    Other may have better informed opinions but I thought I'd give my observations just to get the discussion rolling.



    Bob DeVellis

  10. #10
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    The Style K was Vega's least expensive banjo-mandolin, not having a "tone ring" installed, unlike the pricier Tu-Ba-Phone and Whyte Laydie models. Here's a bit of description on the various models:

    This was also the case for their mandolin banjo lines. They were available in various grades including the least expensive “Style K, ” and somewhat higher-quality “Little Wonder, ” neither of which had true tone rings (although the Little Wonder had a simple hoop between rim and head), and top-of-the-line “Style L” (Whyte Laydie) and “Style S” (Tu-ba-phone) models, both of which did. The last two differed in the type of tone ring but both were regarded as top-grade models differing in type of tone but not in quality or value. Whyte Laydie and Tubaphone mandolin banjos typically feature a pot bearing 28 brackets. This contrasts with the sometimes-smaller pots and sometimes-fewer brackets of less expensive lines. The Style K mandolin banjo, for example, typically has only 18 brackets on a pot that is smaller than that of the Style L Whyte Laydie or the Style S Tubaphone . The Little Wonder is in between the Style K and the better, tone-ring-equipped, models. It has the extended fingerboard and 28-bracket pot of the better models, for example. The Styles L, S, and some Ks also feature the extended fingerboard, allowing the peghead-end of the neck to extend beyond the pot a shorter distance while maintaining standard scale length. Whereas Whyte Laydie and Tubaphone models of other instruments in the banjo family varied in ornamentation (and had a numbering system representing progressively more ornate designs), the mandolin banjos appear to be generally of a uniform, relatively unadorned style. (The exception is the elaborate Style X ornamentation found on a few Tubaphone mandolin banjos. Also, custom orders could include any level of ornamentation desired.) Decorative trim on the rim, an engraved tailpiece cover, attractive peghead veneer, a bright metal plate covering the tuning machine mechanisms, and a decorative cutout in the peghead are the chief ornamental features found on the majority of high-end mandolin banjos such as the Whyte Laydie and Tubaphone. Of course, the coloration characteristic of the Whyte Laydie is also a distinctive and attractive cosmetic feature.

    That quote is part of a very informative and more extensive article on the development of the banjo-mandolin, and especially Vega's history. here's a link if you're interested.

    Bernunzio has two of the higher Vega models, To-Ba-Phone and Whyte Laydie, on sale in the $800 range. The high-end Vegas often get converted to 5-string banjos, with new necks, so they command higher prices. I would guess that the price ranges quoted above for a Style K sound reasonable.
    Allen Hopkins
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  11. #11
    Registered User johnwalser's Avatar
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    I have a birdseye intrument of similar design from about 1920. I replaced all the hooks from Stew Mac, they looked identical to the ones I replaced, but with a little less rust and wear. I made a bridge out of ebony very much like what you would put on a flattop mandolin and replaced the head with a clear mylar. Since I'm not running a museum and wanted it to be a real player, I put on some of Ted's JazzMando flat wound strings. They "calmed down" the sound a bit and everyone who played my old friend at LoarFest last year agreed that it was the nicest sounding mando banjo they had ever heard. Now, that's kind of like having someone tell you that you're the nicest "Geek" they've ever met.
    I love my mando banjo for playing chord accompanyment when singing old hymns.
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  12. #12
    wannabe mandolin wizzard bluesmandolinman's Avatar
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    Chris ,
    as long as it plays without buzz why do you want to change the nut and bridge ?

    I would put light strings on it... because MBs are VERY LOUD so there is no need to use heavy strings.... just my 2 cents

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  13. #13
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    try stringing it with just four strings. IMHO, banjo-mandos sound better that way. joel

  14. #14
    coprolite mandroid's Avatar
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    .009 >.036" a good BM string range.

    looks like e strings slots are too wide and deep,
    width of the string is the slot size goal, it seems.

    I do wonder about the sound advances of the more complicated tone ring setups
    little wonders are going for 6, tubaphones for 12, last check
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    Registered User Bob DeVellis's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by
    That quote is part of a very informative and more extensive article on the development of the banjo-mandolin, and especially Vega's history. here's a link if you're interested.
    Allenhopkins -- thanks for the kind words about the mandolin banjo article.
    Bob DeVellis

  16. #16
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by (bobd @ Nov. 29 2007, 21:27)
    Thanks for the kind words about the mandolin banjo article.
    Bob -- didn't realize it was yours! An extremely well-researched and interestingly presented article. I've heard a lot of "information" thrown around about banjo-mandolins (someone claimed they were played during the Civil War, "because they were louder and could be more easily heard in the army camps"). It was enlightening to find so many facts above the development of these instruments.

    Plus the picture of the "Gibson Melody Maids" in itself was enough to make the reading enjoyable. I'm going to re-post the link, and recommend anyone interested in those annoying little banjo-mandolins, take a look at it.
    Allen Hopkins
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  17. #17
    Registered User 8ch(pl)'s Avatar
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    The original bridge for these was more like a mandolin bridge than a Banjo bridge. Paul Hosteter posted a photo of one about a year ago. Last week I made one up from a piece of Beech. I am so far happy with it. It has muted out the sound quite nicely. Previously I had a converted 5 string bridge.

    Check out Red Henry's website, he sells a Mahogany Mandolin-banjo bridge for a reasonable price.

    Another thing I recommend is to find an old wool sock, or scarf and stuff it under, between the head and the dowel stick. This will mute the sound. I use an Army sock that is about a foot long, rolled up and set in place. Put it right under the bridge.

    Hope this helps you, I love my Style K bought it from ebay from a lady in Ohio for just over $200. I have about $300 in it all told. Half what the local vintage store in Halifax is asking.

  18. #18

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    Bucket.
    All the experts have logged in, now a non-expert. Very cool and a great opportunity to both amaze and annoy your friends. I love the cool stampings on the neck stick! I second the motion to try to find some period hangers and hooks, they won't be hard to find. A new nut and bridge will be nice too.

  19. #19
    Registered User 8ch(pl)'s Avatar
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    I decided to shim the neck at the tonering to get a better neck angle. I put a set of GHS Silk and Steel strings on that range from .011 to .040. I believe they are too heavy and I think I will go to 2 sets of Tenor banjo strings with a .0095 E string and about .032 for the G.

    Mandolins at this time were mostly Bowlbacks and I think the mandolin-banjos of that day were meant to mount the same light strings as the day's mandolins.I will say that the Silk and Steels sounded more responsive than the light Phosphor Bronze ones that I had on before.

  20. #20
    Registered User Ken Berner's Avatar
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    After all is said and done, if you don't like the sound, convert the instrument to a 5-string banjo or maybe a tenor. I converted my 1922 Fairbanks-Vega Style S mandolin banjo to a 5-string and the results are most rewarding.

  21. #21
    Daniel Atkins dan@kins's Avatar
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    Try slapping some silk and steel strings on that bad boy.

    I've got an old SS Stewart I keep saying I'm going to fix up and get a good set up on it and get it playing. . . however I keep reaching for one of my three functional mandolins but perhaps in time I'll get to it...

    Enjoy!
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  22. #22
    Registered User 8ch(pl)'s Avatar
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    I won't be converting mine, I play it as a mandolin. I did have Silk and Steel on it, but I think they are too heavy. I am going to put 2 sets of Tenor Banjo strings which are much lighter. This should be one more step to bring the tone to a more pleasing sound.

  23. #23
    Registered User John L's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by (mandroid @ Nov. 29 2007, 19:41)
    .009 >.036" a good BM string range.

    What size for the other two strings?

    Any different if strung with 4 strings?
    What size for the other two strings?

    Any different if strung with 4 strings?
    Johneeaaddgg

  24. #24
    coprolite mandroid's Avatar
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    009-036 would be a light set, .014 for the
    A and .024 For the D, commonly packaged in light sets

    My 4 string has a brass wound G 036, the others came from tenor banjo set an ..022nickle wound, and an .014 and an .009
    i think they were.
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  25. #25
    Registered User 8ch(pl)'s Avatar
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    The tenor banjo strings that I am putting on are guage:.009, .013, .022 and .030.

    They will be very light. I may have to make another bridge to get new slots for the strings, since the Silk and steel are quite a bit heavier.

    I needed to get a new Dowel Stick End Bolt from Stewart McDonald. I ordered 4 Sets of their Tenor Banjo strings as well and am waiting for them to arrive by post.

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