MacNeil
Vega Tubaphone Workpage
1-14
Partial resto, no plating
Refret - Refinish -Setup
Replace Friction Tuners -Install Planet tuners




Banjo in VG condition, with original parts and a modern head/bridge
Grover "Window" tailpiece is weak, and lifting.
Recommend replacement with downforce adjustable tailpiece.


1:1 tuners to be replaced by 4:1 vintage "Planets", VGC.


Finish will be removed and brought to plain maple and sealed to see what its color will be.
The owner will decide if he wants plain or colored.

Matching # banjo
 


Neck is dead level, but has a very high action on the 5/8 bridge it came in with
 It would be high even on 1/2..which is 4/8ths
I'll explain why


Old Tubaphones most times, have too low a neckset for modern player setups.
On this one , fingerboard is actually BELOW plane of tone ring.
This must be altered to play with a low action and still have normal bridge capability.
It is banjos like this where you see people shave bridges to 3/8, and lose downforce and tone.
If I raised it 1/16 to 3/32" upwards then take as much from the top of the heel so head can still have room to adjust, the instrument will come to life, play well up and down and not slap it the top register.
Many Luthiers agree with these principles but it does require changes that make the banjo no longer in its original configuration.
You can either live with this fact that it cannot be achieved any other way or continue to wish for more from them.
Pro players that have allowed me to do this heartily agree and I end up looking better in the end.
All vintage banjos have something that can make them better, its called bringing old technology forward with all the new thinking.
 


You can clearly see, plenty of neck angle, that's not the issue, dowel is at perfect angle, its the plane of the neck, the fingerboard needs eleVATION!


Orig thin wire is worn, we will give it #147 Stew Mac, much more comfortable.


All tabs are there, you do not DARE try and bend them straight, you'll be sorry.
Cover long gone as usual
Not the best tailpiece even when perfect.
All other hdwe VGC, will clean very well.


Lets get to it


Now we can see what the actual maple looks like


The dowel is white, and tinted lacquer over sprayed
The neck I can see, is a darker maple
 


Same on the rim, I see white maple


This is where we stand without sanding at all.
The neck has a little stain on it and is a more yellow maple by "Nature", with some straight and cross grain look about it.
That's a gouge by the heel, that had some factory filler in it., no biggie.


Getting ready to pull fret wire while I seal the rim and blacken the bottom edge.
 


Compressing in the new fret wire, slots in VGC
 


Reducing the fret tang, to fret over original binding
 


Trimming ends


All ends sealed with cyano


Smoothing sides...
 


I could see this inlay was loose, so I pulled it on out nd will glue it right back down
 
 
 
 


After leveling / recrowning, dressing the ends
 


Final fine wool all over
 
 


Oiling the board several times
 


Dye on bottom edge
 


After acetone wash and sealer applied
That's the natural color for this neck
Minimal flame, this is not like the presentation grade maple in the Style X or Deluxe but in my opinion, better tonewood.



DOWEL RE-POSITIONING


Heel cap heated and removed to get to center laminate over the tenon.


Sawing out the pearwood to get down to where water can touch the tenon


Wetting and wiggling, you have to show caution , no sideways tugging, heel can be split right off


About an hour of going back and forth wetting it, and then POP
It had a glue snag on backside where the void caused it to hydraulic making it a pesky pull but AOK now.


Cleaning the cavity for new pearwood insert
 
 


 


Heel cap front lip reduced, it cannot stay and the neck rise, it hangs under the shoe band


I'll cut a hardwood plug off this new dowel


5/8 forstner to clean the hole out for insertion


Plugged and glued, Ill move the center down 1/16"


Checking everything, dowel tenon cleaned for gluing


This is the height I want


 

That's where I need to be, now to check everything and get angle right before gluing
 
 


Good elevation and angle will seal it in now
 
 


Drilled for Planets with locating pins
 


Going back with sealer on the heel before gluing
 

This catches the actual color better on this pic, its all ready for a final decision on color tint
A little golden maple maybe?



Tint phase


The rim has a light coat of golden maple tint applied here


Now just the dowel on the neck so you can see the contrast
Colors will pop when the clearcoats hit, I think what you saw in the lighter phases was shadowing and the way any figured wood appears in photos.
It is akin to looking at a Tiger Eye stone, the figuring moves as you turn the angles
This has all the grains...Striaght, Flamed , Burled and a little Birdseye.
This is the typical wood for the plain Style M.
Every now and then you will see a plain M have Deluxe wood on it, my 20 fret was this fashion.


All tint applied


First clear coat
As I said, the clear brings up the grain and now it will get deeper from here.
If it needs to be darkened, it is just another tint wash away from this color


Going with this color, and now its time to add side markers and get this crazed binding painted over
I will trim that side marker down so its easy to play over :)


Now to tape off with "Fineline" masking tape, what you use when you pinstripe automobiles to get a clean bottom line


Instead of powering up my airbrush I will use use a bone acrylic laid on in many watered down coats so it doesn't have stroke lines


Heat curing


Pulled tape, cleaning off the markers
 


And the over run on the top...


I cut out hat last section of dark filler, deciding I could not stand it there, so I will have to dam up and add cyano as a drop fill, its optically correct when it dries and will look better
 


Tint washing the cut with the honey lacquer
Also I am working on the end of the binding, its going to get a little cyano over that spot I have back white now


First coat of clear over the new work, and now to add one wispy coat of honey lacquer over the bone acrylic and then back to clear coats until final.
 


Bone color in the Lid, honey on tip of Q
This shows accurately the more vintage appeal of the binding and a more natural Ivoroid look.


The shoes are all on nice and tight on shoeband so there will be no removal and chance breaking the brass screws
I compounded it and waxed it by hand
 


Ready to assemble

Going with a NOS pre EPA non frosted Remo head, High crown, Translucent
This is known as the snappiest sounding mylar out there and had it been a top coated head 5 stringers would have paid 100 or more for this one.
Easily as bright or brighter than today's clear head.


 


Cleaning fingerboard from overspray, wetsanding to 1200 grit
Next Tubaphone is flirting with your rim.
 


2 final coats of oil after 0000 steel wool


Buffing with compound



FINAL ASSEMBLY


I have heated and rebent the original tailpiece and then "Quenched" it to re-harden the brass and its holding at normal downforce
These are Medium downforce so really a better place to be on this setup.
Everything waxed 3 times


Nice super tight fit of all hardware on the new dowel reset, Im pleased
Neck is straight plane now
 


I tried a 40 on the G, didn't like it
I think it could go from here on up to 44 easily, sounds normal on 42
D could go to 32 but is nice and easy at 30
A at 17 steel or 18 wound is normal but it may could handle up to 22 wound or 18 steel
Wound has a warmer tone, all this is for you to experiment with, just stay within these levels and you wont hurt neck
The E, 13 is fine, 14 may give it more pop but 13 seems comfortable
We are at 5/8 Farquhar bridge and still only medium high action so low action now is 9/16, all efforts have achieved the desired effect.
 
 


Now to settle it in and tune it up, cut the nut and bridge slots to the gauges and see how she dials in


Prepping for nut / bridge slots


After some playtime on it I have opted got go up to 18 and go wound on the A and up to 32 on the D
The tone is better and even more full... and still easy (for me) to play at 5/8 bridge height.


Bridge and head marked after setting the intonation digitally
Here is where you want to be, always look for shifts in the bridge before playing any banjo.
Small bumps and jolts can move them
 
 


A note sheet of normal things to keep an eye on.
 


A spare bridge to tinker with, the No Knot, your old tuners...pick


Packing to go out