Vega Electric Tenor Banjo

Full restoration

Initial Pics

Instrument is in Good condition, with some older restoration present.
Some playing wear, some personal upgrades,a good candidate for restoration.

If Vega did this coloration, it was on their worst day.

Neck and  Top finish is an over spray of the original by the Vega Co.
I have seen this many times ..

50-60s  Elton Tuners, I think it would have had  30's Grovers on it.

Hardware correct, no break in tailpiece

refinish will take care of all chip outs

Plating is degraded, and could use a re-plate
 I am searching for a new plater at this time, mine retired.
I have 2 jobs ahead of this awaiting plating

Serial number in top of peghead like my Vega Lute

Electrics complete and original as far as I can tell

All corrosion will be dealt with and then a check of the system ran.
I will try to maintain originality but if there is a problem with the electrics they will be upgraded


That is how light it was originally.

Thick finish, typical of an over spray

I will use  "Deoxit" on the pot and switch to see if that will get them to good performance

I have had to seal the windings, there were some that had come loose over time and were contacting the poles.

Removing the finish.
No stripper, only scraping and acetone
It is that gummy varnish Vega used in the 50s

Frets removed, slots had little retention-normal for celluloid

Removing the heel finish, starting to see the detail again with the overburden gone
neck binding is cracked along the fret slots - normal shrinkage
I will replace it with new correct ivoroid like is on it.

Picking out the leftovers

Finish removal completed

Stripping with some other Vega parts

Fiebig's dye for the lip

Starting the tint coat (Honey Amber) , and 1 coat of sealer for the inside

With other pieces getting the same tint while I have it in the gun.

Second shade- (Reddish Brown)
These are the standard colors I use for this era Vega, and this is the pattern my guns will spray the burst.
All gun tips have different patterns and this is as close as I can get it with mine.
Now for the clear coats.


It has taken 2 hours and the lightest of polishing compounds to remove the acrylic, a tenacious bond , the leftovers had.
This is with no sanding whatsoever, the wear lines on the ivoroid pattern celluloid shows the most in the 1-5 position

Bindings are degraded so I will pull them while I remove the rest of the grime and finish from peghead

Peghead is not celluloid, it is Boltoron.
This will make for problems removing this unsightly finish.
If that is factory, it is on someone's worst day.
The G in Vega is messed up, I want to point that out before the hard work begins.

This time the polish has no effect, the paint is married to the boltoron so this is a rag with acetone.
What you do is whisk it over the surface, turning the rag on every swipe. You cannot let it set still at all.
This allows the fast evaporating solvent to flash off each wipe.
The gravings are super shallow, another big issue and I will lose some of them.
Right now is usually when the faint of heart go pale, I already know what is going to happen

As you wipe, no matter the care, the degraded surface of the Boltoron gives way and you lose some lines.
We are talking lines that are less than .003" deep
This is what happens when you go for a full restoration
If this does not work, then a new overlay has to be created so you have to be prepared when you go all the way on something.

That is about normal for the attempt.
These lines, if the Boltoron will co-operate, have to be cut back into the surface.
They also have to be dressed in the fingerboard and re-blackened
Worst case scenario will be a new overlay and my engraver will be able to tell me if he can repair the original.
I can outsource for the Boltoron, or possibly get it in pure white celluloid id the right thickness is not readily available..

After a wet sanding of 2000 ultra fine, it is ready for binding

All the fret slots must be deepened to accept the modern  #147 banjo wire

Adding some clear
Tape-off each time, you must pull tape within 2 min to inhibit sealing to celluloid edges.

Deepening the slots, prep for binding - white celluloid.

Ready to profile

Marker dots

Dye for the faded overlay and heel cap

Ready for 1st tint

After both tints, and 1 clearcoat


New acryl and brushes, will do a Vox 3 neck at the same time
Tint is already on Vox neck

The color pattern has been left to my choice so here we go.

Laying the acrylic in the heavy brushstroke way of the orig., with "not enough" paint on the brush

Shown next to the orig in the pic.
The clear coats will make it all "pop"
First I will tint in because I want to hide some of the old war marks as well as get a brighter and more multilevel outcome.

Tint shot, same as the 56 Vox.
Pulled the border back to white
First clear coat to seal it down
On to the fingerboard while that cures.

After 2 coats clear lacquer on the detail work, the gravings are starting to brighten.
One to go.


147 Stew Mac banjo wire

All in and sealed, ends dressed, ready to level and re-crown and polish
Plating should be done soon.

Plating will return in the next few days so I am getting everything ready.

Final lacquer completed, will buff and get ready for the new Gotoh gold plated tuners
 The awful Eltons will be a thing of the past.

 Those words are "Use this for..."----still trying to see it

All final buffing completed


I will pull the neck and do all of the final fret work

A look at the back, and now we will await the plating and tuner arrival

Plating - Assembly

Electric in- test- OK, sound VG, no hums other than the normal vintage sounds.

Plating just in from Reliable Plating, and it looks great.
Our first time together and I could not be more pleased.
"Wedding ring gold", is the color. Ready to string up

Setup on DR tenor banjo strings, Nickel wound
Furnished by

New Gotoh Gold plated tuners from Smakula Banjos.

Ivoroid buttons.
Smooth and nice.

The factory holes are not symmetrical so the back will only go on this way.
Bad choice from the factory, slanted grain?
No, my mind cannot handle that.
Will fill holes and line up grain, re-drill

That will be its look, Vertical grain.
You can see holes like up to be on both sides of tailpiece and at the neck, this is the way the driller of the back intended.
Now to for final wetsand and buffing, tweak the setup 

Action now down to 4/32, nut slots dressed, plays great

The posts for the bridge are still high so I will adjust them downwards from the inside.

The boss wants a custom back made in the fashion of  a celluloid back Vegavox 4 Deluxe so I am taking a scrap of acrylic and doing a tight scribed line for O.D., and drill-outs matching the original screw holes

That should do the trick.
Now for a couple final shots and a plan for the trip.

OK, I have worried over this baby enough, now it needs to go home.
She will be packed well, and sent to the Great White North.

I doubt I will ever get to work on another one, so thanks to Dana for giving me the opportunity.
I hope it has a safe journey and a Happy camper at the terminus.

New Back
After much deliberation, I decided it was best that the instrument be returned to me for a fitting and final finish.
When I had Ron make the back, we sent examples and for some reason my mind did not tell him to match what colors I had on the instrument, not the pics we sent.
Even when he sent an example I did not register the fault, which I would like to blame on getting older, too much work, etc, but it is still "My bad"
Dana understood my anxiety so back it came and here we go.

My template was correct and the screws aligned perfectly but the tip of the star is not centered in the heel.
Ron got it as close as he could by eye, and all I will need to do is pull it, fill the old holes, and move it clockwise a bit, re-drill, thats all.

Remove Color -Re-Drill holes

Filled and dyed.

2000 grit, to just remove the acrylic on the top

ready for new colors
I will just put a sequence without words.

That is a better match for the existing color theme.
Now, I will get the Yellow tint coat on it after the acrylic cures overnight, and this will make the colors "pop"
Then clear coats will follow.


Ok, now we will get a custom case made for it, and get it once again, back to the Great White North.
Thanks for watching,Vinnie