c.1929/1940/2014 Franken-Gibson Electric Tenor Banjo

Update: I'm building another one of these as this one is such fun! So -- this one's available essentially "at cost" for the parts right now.

If this instrument looks odd, it should! I put it together from all sorts of parts hanging around the workshop plus a 1929 Gibson TB-1 neck that was hocked on eBay. Otherwise, it's modeled after the elusive electric tenor banjos that can be found from the late 30s and early 40s (most seem to be Gibson or Vega makes). These are essentially electric tenor guitars in a different body format. For what it's worth... I've always lusted after one, but with the prices they demand... I haven't lusted that badly. So I made my own!

Yes, I promise you all to return to "real" vintage instruments next week. I've taken a bit of detour lately to get some side-projects finished up in-between a lot of local customer setup and minor repair work.

So, as noted, the neck is off of a 1929 Gibson TB-1 tenor banjo. I was dead-set on getting a vintage Gibson neck for my project as I just love the feel of the old Gibs. This one happens to be a 22 7/8" scale length so it fit my "long scale" requirement, too.

The rim is an old Kay-made deal and I painted it black and added some vintage binding on its top edge. It was originally cut for a flange and big tonering so it worked out with a little "ridge" in the middle that's pearloid-covered and gives the instrument a cool look. The top is simply some plywood that I've stained black and the pickguard is some repro tortoise-looking stuff that I installed before coloring the rest of the top. This lets it stand out against the instrument like the (often wild) pickguards of the "real" electric tenors of the prewar period.

The big advantage of an "electric tenor banjo" compared to an electric tenor guitar from the 30s or 40s is the surreal fret access and light weight.

Bone nut, bound rosewood board, and a truss-rod. Not bad!

Pearl dots. The frets got a leveling and dressing, too.

The Gibson P-13 pickup and wiring harness (with original knobs) was something I took off a guitar it had been slap-dashedly installed on. I had it for sale for a bit but when I cooked up this half-baked idea of an electric tenor banjo I stowed it away.

Not surprisingly, this instrument sounds tone-wise a lot like a tenor version of that Gibson ES-150 I had last year (with the same pickup and general mounting area), though not as refined and maybe a little bit more growly.

Note the adjustable bridge: it's salvage from an old Hofner archtop guitar. I cut it down and compensated it for my tuning (GDAE low to high with an unwound A -- gauges 42, 28, 17, 11).

The armrest was a broken old 30s type (the mounting brackets were broken) that repurposed nicely in this role. It's brass and has an integral pick-holder.

This rather ugly-looking install will be covered up by some sort of back in the near future. I installed the ply top "floating" in the middle of the rim. I was hoping to evoke a sense of banjo-ness to the way the instrument responds. It sort of comes through and I'm actually surprised how much acoustic volume I still get (sort of like a semi-hollow electric guitar) despite all that hardware hanging down. It's tempting to think about installing a K&K acoustic pickup, too.

I've used a set of those Gotoh UPT pegs on this instrument and I'm quite happy with them. I'll get around to filling those old screw holes at some point.

The tailpiece is an old Weymann unit.


Unknown said…
This is So Cool !
Unknown said…
Great handiwork - I want one - but I'll have to stay content with my big ol' tenor guitbox
rslammy said…
Wow! I am VERY interested in this little beast but I am hesitant to push the Buy Now button without "feeling" how comfortable the instrument is to play. I am also concerned as I tune all my tenors, and tenor banjo to low to high as I am self taught and originally started out on Bari Uke. Would this little wonder work in that tuning?
rslammy said…
That tuning was/is -DGBE- Low to high by the way, sorry