Initial Pics


Early 1890's 1900s basic instrument, probably mail order, possibly Lyon-Healy

Original price was probably around 10.00
Thin Single ply rim with spun over brass rim shell
Rim slightly out of centric but flat
Original flesh ring for head
All 24 shoe brackets and hooks, some are replacement nuts. fair condition.
Orig Tailpiece and hangar hardware
2 original tuning pegs
Orig lag end bolt

Thin rim,  All brass hardware, all meant for

Oak neck, one piece, cross grained, with bow warp and twist issues

Dowel was loose, no glue left to hold it


A very good view of some of the problems, its neck is all over the place.
What could be attempted.......would be a planing of the neck (it has no fingerboard) and trying to take out some of the warp and bow and see if it can be brought around to become a player.

Neck is very curvy in many places and directions
Bow Warp and twist as well as curvature

Someone tried to file the top frets to make it play but that was futile with the condition I see in the wood
You can see it , it is a cross-grained wood, with no truss or laminate to offset that from happening over time

One bent wire here, no big deal since it would have to be planed anyway, it would need new frets
Brass is special order, most wire is nickel silver content

After speaking with the owner and finding out a little of the history, I will take a little extra time to see if I can make this heirloom into a player by changing it to a "Flush fret" configuration.
I will cut down the existing wire after adding the missing one and fixing the bent one.
This will allow a player to play the instrument as a "fretless" yet have position markers to help them stay in pitch.
All instruments were fretless in the beginning and this one will still be "Period" after undergoing the change.

After reducing the wire with my fret leveler, I will take them on down with my sanders

This will leave only a thin strip of wire in the fingerboard.
You can see the highs and lows and finger divots  as I reduce

That's near full reduction.
No wood has been removed yet , only the varnish someone applied on the fingerboard

First coat of oil soaking in while I get ready to take a little off the top

That is where the warp was the worst, I think with a little more creative leveling it will be in the parameters of a playable flush fretter.

More oil applied,  and more to follow
Its a nut oil, and it hardens and will be buffed to a warm satin, as it should be in these years

Now to see if Oil over orig finish is good enough or will there be a finish applied to the neck

Dowel reglued

It does have some curve in it, I think I can make it function OK though for a low tension banjo

Some of the shoe screws are were stuck, I applied heat and only one broke, Ill tap it out and replace with period screws and then polish the lugs

Rim assembly Tung oiled inside and waxed on the brass

Ready to mount a new calfskin head

Wetting the hide for installation
This is an 11-1/8" head, Ill use the original flesh ring

Planning for the crown height
You have to have mounted many skins to understand what type will pull fast or slow  after it dries, and what type of head for what tone, etc.,
This is not an exact science so repetition makes all the difference.

I am using my own setup hooksets, the original brass are too weak and fragile to reuse so the banjo will get new hooksets after i take off my setups

After trimming, still very loose and damp

You can see I  have left a large amount to stretch, and this is because of the  nature of construction of this banjo
Many older 5 strings from this period leave little room for error and you have to know how far this hide will stretch and be at full tension when it is dry.

After some drying and pulling, you can see the tension hoop is near level  with fingerboard as it should be and there is still clearance in the neck joint, I think this will be a good head for this banjo.

I will let it dry more and tweak it later


I'll go with early 1900s Friction tuners so as to stay in the era as well as give it a real  ability to be tuned easier than wooden pegs,
Using brass collets on the front will save peghead from wear and help in the friction process

Also a friction fifth peg will fill out the tuners

Ill need to ream the 5th peg hole a bit and get that sealed in, and a Pip made for it and then a new bone nut, to replace the ebony one

It can settle in while I await the strings for it


I will make a bone nut and install the 5th sting pip screw now that the strings are here

Also, the setup hooks are off and new gold plated hooks installed.
There are no modern hooksets that are as short as these and all are now made of steel which is a good thing.
But they all have to be shortened a bit so I will cut them off.

I will be going with the LaBella Classical set, Nylons, with silk wound 4th string

This is a very LOW TENSION Banjo and the bridge is only lightly seated into the head.
I will mark the head where the bridge will always set so when it gets moved it can be recentered.
I will add glue to the feet if Ken wishes, to hold it in place all of the time

On this style tailpiece a brass bar is suported by the fingers and that piece was missing
This always needs to be inserted  after a string change.

Side marker dots installed at 3,7,10,12

Hooks  shortened

The banjo plays up and down the neck with a nice warm old timey sound, it is not dull but it is mellow as it should  be
It is a banjo that can be played easily in the first position as it had been all the years Kens great Grandfather played it and is good up into the second position, thats about as high as frettless players play anyway unless they are very accomplished.
I deem it better than a wallhanger and in the right hands, it could surprise you.
I like trying to save what seems hopeless and when I strum a melody on this, it makes me smile knowing I have been the Steward of  another banjo that many would write off as junk.
Now onward fror another 120 years!
Thanks for watching



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