Mikes Style S / X Tubaphone

Mike's Notes
Fairbanks-Vega Style S Mandolin Banjo #42401 ca. 1921 is an extremely rare example of a factory custom Style S MB that was built during the last year of David Day’s tenure at FV. It sports Style X ornamentation such as the finely carved heel and inlay patterns associated with that model.  It also has the S style’s engraved backplate on the headstock. It has the personalized initials N.A.T. engraved in the 12th fret inlay. What makes this instrument even rarer is the fact that it is a 9” tu-ba-phone rim, with 24 brackets, as opposed to the more usual 10 ½” – 10 7/8”, 28 bracket rims found on most Style S and L (Whyte Laydie) instruments of this species.  #42401 also has a 9” Wilmot tone chamber resonator.
Wilmot - Wood Co. was a Boston area aftermarket supplier of resonators and the like. The banjo also has an original wire armrest and support.

The original neck is in need of restoration at some point as it has split along the center laminate, is missing some of its center ebony strip, and some of its neck binding, etc. Some of the inlays are also missing. Would also require a refret. The neck will be left in its original configuration, untouched to preserve its historic intent & value.

The rim is showing signs of delamination, with some of the binding having come loose, and will need re-glued. Plating is in fair condition and will benefit from a replate. Half of the hooks are in an extremely degraded/rusty state and will likely require replacement. TBD. The rest of the rim hardware all seem to be in good order. The Wilmot resonator will also benefit from a replate.

Banjo will converted into a melody banjo, with the replacement neck following the traditional FV pattern (peghead shape, extended fingerboard, etc), with as much of the original flavor of the instrument being maintained as possible. The Melody Banjo neck’s scale will be extended 3” beyond the usual 13” to 16”, to allow the instrument’s tone to open up further. The neck’s heel will also be carved as identically as possible to that found on the original neck, with Style X inlay adorning the neck, again in keeping with the original’s factory custom Style X appointments. The Wilmot will be engraved, likely with a large 5 or 6 pointed Vega Star, with the intricate details surrounding it such as was the custom of the day.  Possibly added will be the manufacturer’s details around the star eg: The Fairbanks Vega (or just Vega?) Company 155 Columbus Avenue Boston. Also being considered is engraving the tension hoop and other rim hardware. Desired Tailpiece will be a vintage short Kershner, that has been deplated, engraved and replated. Orig Ludwig Planet tuners are also desired.  A  two-tone plating scheme is under consideration.



Mike got this baby and I hope to see it soon

Great Little "S", with original Wilmot accessory

And it has the lower leg rest, another rare accessory

You just never see a 9" Tubaphone this will be a fun build

The original Banjolin neck is damaged but I intend to save it as well, so that t could be used if desired.

It will be tasking but do-able and worth it


Up against a 10-3/4 Whyte Laydie

I was warming hide glue for another project so I started on this as well, gluing the t-shell strip that was loose

This head has an issue, I will reskin it with vintage hide

I will get on this neck first, while the glue is still hot

The little 9" rim  is just too cool

Exploded view

Fingerboard pulled, I have worked in hide glue and squished all thru the heel and center laminates, and am clamping off
Center laminates were added where missing in the heel

Wiped clean and drying

After 8 hours, clearing the debris from tenon hole and slightly changing the angle.....

Which now gives us something to work with..
Glued in and ready for new heel cap and inlay

Prepping rim for Abalone bottom trim

Flattened the bottom, and I have sealed all the small delaminations

Random shapes that match up is all they did, and I will mimic this

rough cutting the edges off with my pearl saw then I will profile sand the edges and seal the joints

All sealed and profiled, I just leveled the tops

Now for another section
When the finish hits it, it will POP!

Other side, outside pared down

All smoothed, color off, bindings sealed, black areas dyed
Tint is standard this time, Vintage Golden Maple

Sealer  and 1 tint coat on, now the colors come on out

second seal coat

First clear coat


Pulled all the graved inlay for board leveling purposes

Installed the missing 7 inlay and the treble side dot at 15
All frets were falling from the slots, i picked them out with my fingernails, dried slots to the max but in good shape to seal in new wire, no worries

Sparse glue left from original, I will clean that up

Graved inlays back in.
I flipped the named inlay for a look and will now flip it back, we will go with its original owner facing outward in its honor, its not glued at this time

Rebinding with vintage binding from another 20s vega, that's as good as it gets for matching.
Heating the bend to get around the front

All scraped to profile and ready to 0000 wool, then install

Checking its fit

Bottom prepped, glue hot

Lets get after it... all is hot under lamps, this extends the glues viscous period greatly

Bound down to the Ground, round and round until it hollers "UNCLE"!

Working on Wilmot Resonator
The wood is severely delaminated so I took a pipette and worked thin and medium cyano into the laminations (some are cardboard) and pushed, poked and prodded while pressing and I got a really decent recovery and the inside is now stable and looks good.

All stain removed and holes cleaned up

Using aggressive compound on the machine buffer  to remove the tarnish and the remainder of the nickel

Not a single dent in it, how odd is that!

Second grade of compound, this thing will engrave nicely
We have won this battle

Pulled front overlay, pearwood was shrunken and barely attached, now I can do my final sealing of the upper neck
Its best to move in sections when one was so delaminated to start with, so everything doesn't just come apart and warp even more

All glued up in the upper back and peghead

Shrunken wood wants to go to one side, Ill have to cheat it back to the middle and feather in the sides

Roughed in heel cap

First tints and sealer, looks good so far

Added some side markers

First clear coat

Board ready to fret after it comes back from Ron

That looks good, but there is a problem with the dowel.......coming in next pics
Here is where it takes some thinking when you miss one thing!

Dowel Repair
Remove  sideways curve

Obviously the dowel took a hit when it was under water but how I didn't see the curve is beyond me....chalk it up to age!
The pics tell the tale...


It's set straight its just headed to "Port side"

Neck set in the rim just fine but was way off angle, that set me to looking as to what happened
Now my brain has to go sit on the porch till dark and think on it...

OK, we will Cam it then heat it.

I have it in a bind at the heel and have cut a cam for the tip

Forcing it over with the second cam
Now its almost straight I'll heat on it so it will stay when I release it

First I'll  DRIVE me a wedge in on that side of the heel to kick it right at the juncture (barely tapped in) :)

Thats pretty obvious on what we are after here.

Well I got about half of it back but not enough to suit me so I pulled it
I see a little binding got smacked in the clamps so...repair a repaired repair. thats my style!

I have it hard clamped on the back, and braced up in the front pulling it back past flat

Now Im bearing down hard in the center of its arc using the forward shims to allow me to push past center

And a little 1500F heat for about 10 min, and cool.then again, about ten times, we will see if it is still pesky then

I shot a coat on the neck and will think on inlays while this stick gets straight
The one I made for the melody neck is being used for a paintstick right now :)

I think that I have a good enough neck plane to continue wben tho the dowel still has a concavity in its center area
I had to get a centerline wire to see that it should string up straight enough

OK, next to Big Brother 11-13/16 Guitar Banjo and ready for a skin head

I have all sizes, this one is a little large for the job :)
I will get one off the top shelf

A nice old vbintage hde with the Red "Crown" imprint, I will flip the onutside inward and have a fresh look

Pulled the old flesh ring and got to it.
That's all the tuck I had to work with but if it holds, it will be one fine hide.
It's a thicker hide and would be great for Banjolin pressure

Not much of a trim eh? hehe

OK, now to dry it on out and she if she holds

Removed dye from peghead to show original patina before setting Star inlay.
Done with dentist drill so minimal inlay filler was used

Inlay set and sealed
Neck is ready to fret

Frets installed and sealed in with cyano.
Ends filed and ready for leveling

Mike dediced he wanted an inlay change at 3 and the Star is the choice, a smaller size than peghead
When you do this it is best to leave the MOP dot in place, scribe only where tips of star will be and cut these with a dentist burr before removing the dot, it is just easiest this way.
And when adding an inlay with fret wire installed you need to take care to get the depth as perfect as you can so that you have little or no leveling to do on the pearl as well as it not dipping too deep into the board.
This ain't Pearwood, it's old dried Ebony so its a slow go so you do not take out too much.

A little filler powder and some thin super glue and we will have it

After a tiny bit of flattening, 0000 steel wool , it will be ready to head on to final finish now

Glamour shots with Big Brother


I will sand this head now that it is fully cured to make it look nice and be smooth again


Sanding and then burnishing the head with wax paper to revitalize the mositure barrier

Recovering the Wilmot Stanchions with clear air tubing

Ztuners lubed and ready to install

Ready to test string, I still see a cant in the neck, Iwant to see how much, under full tension

Now I know I need one 050 side shim on the treble side of heel and one 030 in and under the area where the tension hoop meets the neck.
That is always an area that under Mandolin sting pressure, the neck wants to pull forward and this prohibits that

That is the thickness, I will paint that to match

Now I have a decent centering and action


Mando is playing well on low action, I'll need to let it settle in and maybe level a couple frets but it seems real responsive

The tone is nice and clean, not brash, not muddy, a playable instrument that is not bad to the ear

I think it will only be a few days before it heads to NM for a wringing out.
I will miss seeing it around here, I call it the "Tinyphone"....:)
Thanks for watching

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