c.1900 Stewart-made Sears Acme Professional 5-String Banjo

Update: After much embarrassment on the Banjo Hangout forum, I've decided to agree with my critics that this certainly is an SS Stewart-made banjo. I had thought it was a Lange to begin with since there are close similarities to some distributor-rebranded Lange builds I was familiar with, but the devil's in the details, isn't it? Sorry for confusion!

It's got an 11" rim which made re-heading this easy since I carry 11" heads on hand all the time. The frets are in perfect shape because this doesn't look like it was ever played very much. The neck itself has a small backbow in the 1-5 fret area, which means that after the 10th-12th fret area the action starts feeling higher, though it's more or less "spot on" at around 1/16" to 3/32" at the 12th fret.

Since many old banjos from the time have this sort of backbow I'm starting to wonder if it was a bit intentional to keep action lower in the "general playing area" (1st through 10th frets) while giving good picking height farther up the neck (for stroke, clawhammer, and other heavy-handed styles) -- but I'm probably just thinking too much.

At any rate, the neck takes light steel just fine (just as I'd expect a turn of the century through 1930s Lange would) and sounds big, warm, and sweet.

So, my work on it included the new Remo Renaissance head, new 5/8" Grover bridge, new friction pegs with ivoroid buttons all around (this only had 3 old Champion pegs on it when I got it), and of course a full setup and whatnot.

The headstock is of course inspired by the same-period SS Stewart headstock shape. The pearl inlay is real nice on this one -- simple but classy. Both the headstock veneer and fretboard are ebony.

The 5th string "pip" is original though I did cut it to match the profile of the 5th fret. I also installed a "railroad spike" 5th string "capo" at the 7th fret to easily capo this into the key of A.

Cool star inlay, here.

The tailpiece is great! Note that I've added a leather bit woven through the strings to mute overtones at the tailpiece.

Only 3 of the hook/nuts are replacements and they're off of a 1920s parts banjo so they fit in more or less. The "German silver" rim outside is, of course, pretty and in this case in great condition. This banjo didn't need much cleaning overall. This is a 30-hook rim.

Here you can see the inner maple interior of the rim itself and also the Stewart-style neck-reinforcement brace with its adjustable tension. This is a "double spun" rim which means the metal cladding curls over at both the top and bottom edges and on the top this creates an integral tonering with a sound similar to the Vega Little Wonder type.

Note the typical "ebony shim" neck brace below and then the adjustable-tension steel bar brace which also helps hold the neck tight to the pot and stable.

The dowel says "The Acme Professional, Sears Roebuck & Co."

Here's the back of the headstock with its cool celluloid-inlaid disc. The neck material looks like cherry to me, which is not uncommon on older Langes which seem to waver between maple, cherry, and also poplar on lower-end models.

Nice 5th-string peg neck cut. The neck itself is a quick v-shape, similar to the type found on earlier Martin guitars. It's actually quite a bit different from slightly later (1905 and onward) Lange-made "catalog" banjos which tend to have a more D/U-shaped round-back neck.

Here you can see those nicer-quality new friction pegs a little better. With the ivoroid buttons these fit in nicely with the old hardware. The original tuners had ivoroid buttons as well.

Tailpiece area.

Overall? A winner! The long scale gives the even very light gauge strings nice tension and a slick feel with great volume and punch as well as nice sustain.


Anonymous said…
I own and play SS Stewart Banjos. This one is very similar in appearance. You have done an outstanding job.

Bill Graham, III