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Thread: Mandolin Banjo Help

  1. #1
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    Default Mandolin Banjo Help

    Ok Folks, here’s the story. I think I know for sure why Lloyd Loar left Gibson.
    It was late 1923 and Gibson decided to come out with a cheaper line of instruments called the “Junior” series. They came out with this Mandolin Banjo Junior in 1924 (mine, the one in the attached pictures). They wanted Lloyd to put his signature on it as he did the other mandolins, He refused to do it as it had a “God Awful Sound” (and it does). They insisted he do it for the good of the company, but he sternly refused and quit Gibson. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it! Anyway, per a Gibson letter I received after questioning them when I first got this instrument years ago, they said it was a 1924 based on the head design and the serial number and that they only made this style one year (that should tell you something) It’s either a rare instrument or didn’t go over with the public too well. At any event, I have a problem with it that I hope someone out there can help me with. The original head was in bad shape and it had no bridge when I got it. I installed a new head and a banjo style bridge was made. The bridge seemed to sink into the head too far, so little by little I tightened up the head with out much luck and within a week the head split. I later installed another head (and of course I put the bad side out by mistake as once it was wet it was hard to tell the better side). I put the same bridge back on, but this time used the lightest strings I could find. It did make it sound better, but the bridge still sinks into the head too far it seems. I’m not a banjo builder, so I may be doing something wrong with this bridge and adjustment. I think the original bridge must be wider in length and width to support the eight string pull. Does anyone out there have a picture of a “real” Gibson original bridge that was used on these so I have some idea when I make a new one? Any rough measurement would also be appreciated. Sorry for being so long winded. Help me out and make Lloyd Loar proud to have signed this 1924 Mandolin Banjo. I’m sure it will still sound “God Awful” though even fixed, but at least I could play it.
    Thanks, Bill
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    I am a nobody, and nobody is perfect; therefore I am perfect.

  2. #2
    Registered User resophonic's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin Banjo Help

    Yes, you need a wider bridge footprint. You may have better luck finding a picture of an original bridge over at he the Banjo Hangout.
    Sucker for a hard luck case

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    Café habitué Paul Hostetter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin Banjo Help

    This is the only image I have handy of an original Gibson banjo mandolin bridge. It's compensated like the mandolin bridges.



    Banjo-mandolins sound much better with real skin heads, but the ones that work best are thicker than you'd prefer on 5-strings and so on, and are cranked pretty tight, to keep the bridge from sinking in.
    .
    ph

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    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin Banjo Help

    All the pics I can find of Gibson mandolin-banjos show them with a fairly small bridge, similar to the one Paul's showing above. Here's a PDF of a 1930-31 Gibson catalog; if you scroll down to p. 28-29 you can see mandolin-banjos depicted with smaller bridges. I've seen Vega instruments with a much larger banjo "footprint" (here's an example), so there were mandolin-banjos with larger bridges, which presumably didn't sink into the head as much.

    If you want to reduce bridge sinkage, and simultaneously make your instrument more raucous and obstreperous, you could consider a plastic head...
    Allen Hopkins
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  5. #5
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    Default Re: Mandolin Banjo Help

    Over at the Banjo Hangout there has been a long discussion about a new material for banjo heads called Yellowstone. It is a Nomex material and from what I read there it works well and will take a lot of tension. You have to mount it like a skin head with the flesh hoop, and it is a bit of a tussle to get it fitted but is supposed to be worth the effort. I have yet to try it myself but have a good prospect in the shop to test it on, a Wurlitzer Vega Whyte Laydie with a 12" pot that I made a 5 string neck for.

  6. #6
    Café habitué Paul Hostetter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin Banjo Help

    Quote Originally Posted by allenhopkins View Post
    I've seen Vega instruments with a much larger banjo "footprint"...so there were mandolin-banjos with larger bridges, which presumably didn't sink into the head as much.
    The Vega bridges (I have a collection) were much daintier than the original Gibson bridges. They were narrower front to back, and were no longer end to end. The old catalog illustrations were neither photographic nor representative.
    .
    ph

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  7. #7
    Registered User 8ch(pl)'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin Banjo Help

    I agree with what Paul says about a thicker Calfskin (or Goat) head having a better sound. I had a problem with my Vega Style K. I ordered a thick head, when I came to install it, it would not work. It was too thick to make the second journey up under the tension ring. I found a thinner head locally and it almost fell on.

  8. #8

    Default Re: Mandolin Banjo Help

    Thanks Allen for the copy of the Gibson catalog. I noticed that all Gibsons were expensive for their time, some were probably equal to six months salary for the average person.

  9. #9
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin Banjo Help

    Quote Originally Posted by allenhopkins View Post
    If you want to ... make your instrument more raucous and obstreperous, ...

    And who wouldn't?
    Life is short, play hard. Life is really really short, play really really hard.

    The entire staff
    funny....

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Mandolin Banjo Help

    Your 1924 Jr. is the brother/sister of mine which I bought at a pawn shop realizing that it would likely be the only Gibson instrument that I would be able to afford in this lifetime. It needed attention/repair--which was given by Ken Cartwright in Stayton, Oregon. It takes the ear of a cognoscenti to appreciate the subtle tone and unique qualities of this instrument. Unfortunately I do not possess that acquired taste and am not likely to do so with the time I have remaining on this earth. Consequently, my advice is to invest no more money into it, appreciate it for the wall hanger that it is. It would (in all probability) give you the same tone wether you had a new skin or not or new bridge or not. Take my wife---please.

  11. #11
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    Default Re: Mandolin Banjo Help

    Thanks all for your wonderful answers. I'll have to think more about what I want to use it for. It does play now and like most of you think, I doubt it will sound any different no matter what I changed. It's a wonder it's still here after all these years. You would have thought someone would have burned it by now! I guess I could use it for a paddle on my newly aquired used bass boat.
    I am a nobody, and nobody is perfect; therefore I am perfect.

  12. #12
    Registered User Steve Cantrell's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin Banjo Help

    Easy fellas. I own one of these and actually attempt to play it.

    It actually isn't a bad instrument, but like you would imagine has a...prodigious...tone. I really haven't quite gotten the hang of it yet, but I'll probably keep trying. I believe this is an original bridge on the pic of mine below.


    Also here's a sample. Apologies.

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    Steven E. Cantrell
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  13. #13
    Michael Culliton mculliton123's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin Banjo Help

    http://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/al...chmentid=66293Hey. Gibby, I think resophonic has the answer in the bigger bridge footprint. My banjo-mandolin is no Gibson, it's a Sovereign, but the same Physics apply. This photo is a little fuzzy but you can see that the bridge is almost 3 times wider than the string width. Strings are 1 1/2 inch span, the bridge is 4 1/2 inches. Hope that helps.
    All the Best
    Michael

  14. #14
    Registered User resophonic's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin Banjo Help

    Here is a link to Bill's Banjos with a picture of a small pot Cole banjolin with a wide bridge.
    http://www.billsbanjos.com/Colebanjomando.htm

    Bernunzio's had one with an original bridge that I copied for a Cole banjolin project that is no longer listed there but Bill's Cole has an original looking bridge for the piece.

    I wouldn't be concerned about volume or brightness loss using the wider bridge, the small pot banjolins have a surplus of both.
    Sucker for a hard luck case

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    Default Re: Mandolin Banjo Help

    Resophonic, That one looks good to me. I think I'll make a similar one and try it first chance I get. I may do an ebony top on the maple though. I'll post a picture here. Thanks again all. You all had good ideas which gave me a lot of choises.
    Bill
    I am a nobody, and nobody is perfect; therefore I am perfect.

  16. #16
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    Default Re: Mandolin Banjo Help

    Allen, I forgot to thank you for the Gibson catalog. I loved it. I have never seen a picture of a bass banjo before. I would think if someone had one of those it would be a show piece and worth a lot, of course most of the others would be worth a lot now also. I'm guessing the price in the catalog was high for the time. Thanks again for it, Bill
    I am a nobody, and nobody is perfect; therefore I am perfect.

  17. #17

    Default Re: Mandolin Banjo Help

    Yeah, I just looked it up. The weekly wage for a production worker was $16.89 (doctor: 61.11, cook: 15.00, accountant: 45.00). At that rate, a production worker would need to work for almost 12 weeks to buy a $200 banjo while a doctor would have to work just over three weeks. Two hundred bucks was serious money in 1930!

  18. #18
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin Banjo Help

    Quote Originally Posted by Gibson A5 View Post
    Allen, I forgot to thank you for the Gibson catalog. I loved it. I have never seen a picture of a bass banjo before. I would think if someone had one of those it would be a show piece and worth a lot, of course most of the others would be worth a lot now also. I'm guessing the price in the catalog was high for the time. Thanks again for it, Bill
    You're welcome, Bill. I was just Googling around looking for Gibson MB pics, to see if they all featured smaller bridges, when I ran across the catalog. I bought a Gold Tone cello banjo last year -- one of the Marcy Marxer models -- and I guess a bass banjo would be the next step -- but try and find one!* And, of course, it may well have been sort of an acoustic "dead end," the way the Gibson K-series mando-basses were.

    Here's a "no name" bass banjo, 16-inch head, from local collector Bill Destler, president of Rochester Institute of Technology.

    *Wouldn't you know it -- those crazy folks at Gold Tone are now making a "banjo bass"! Only has a 14-inch head, though, whereas the Gibson supposedly had a 32-inch head!
    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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