c.1890 Buckbee-made 5-string Banjo

This is a fun old 5-string setup with Aquila Nylgut (Red Series) strings as it would've originally been strung with gut (steel is not safe for this era of banjo, despite how most folks tend to try to string these old guys). It's got a simple spunover pot and the top edge has the "curled over a hoop" construction as well as the bottom which means this has a "tonering" built in.

At 25 7/8" it's almost at the 26-ish" scale which became fairly standard for 5-strings by the early 1900s. The pot is 10 3/4" diameter and I've installed a new Remo Renaissance head to replace the lost/torn original skin. Though the hardware is a mixup of vintage (and a few new) parts, the whole thing came together looking pretty authentic. The sound is direct, snappy, and pretty darn loud and it plays great.

This banjo came to me with a lightly warped neck, missing frets, and a chewed-up paper-thin fretboard. I've pulled all the original frets, leveled the board, and refretted it entirely. The two-tone, rustic-looking board comes out of the remains of the underside of the old board sanded level into the core neck wood. I thought it looked too cool to bother covering up with a new fretboard so I simply cleaned out the old fret slots and refretted it right on top of that and then sealed the board up with a couple layers of satin finish.

The headstock got a set of parts-bin vintage friction pegs and I reused a bone nut from a different same-period banjo.

The 5th string ebony "pip" is original. All but two of the pearl dots are also the original face dots.

Note the shim added for extra back-angle at the end of the fretboard. Typical for a banjo of this age...

This bridge is cut down from a parts-bin old 30s tenor banjo bridge. It's lightweight and thin. The action is 3/32" at the 12th fret and when tuned to pitch he neck gets slight relief in the 1-5 fret area (also typical for banjos from this time). 3/32" is exactly where I like to dial my gut/nylon-strung banjos in as it provides a good clean tone for fingerpicking, "classic" style picking, and clawhammer styles. This banjo also has a shorter all-maple bridge for 1/16" string height for the extremely light-touch picker.

The tailpiece is a modern No-Knot style unit but I always tie the strings with knots, anyhow, as these tend to cut Nylgut strings if you install them in the fashion No-Knots are supposed to be used (wrapped around and then secured via the notch).

Here you can see the thin wood rim with the brass-sleeve construction wrapped around its outside. The brass sleeve is nickel-silvered and came with a ton of grunge and tarnish. It's cleaned up to a nice "vintage" patina look.

The neck brace is really interesting and uses 3 bolts to adjust tension. Its little "clip" that held he unit in place was bent out of shape so I replaced it with a couple of old tiny friction tuner shafts (I have at least 100 of these shafts hanging out in the parts bin divorced forever from broken Bakelite buttons) which do the job.

Most of the "shoes" are original but a few are replaced with 1920s "hex" shaped shoes rather than the L-shaped original shoes. There are 3 or 4 different types of hook/nuts on here but most are the original 1890s types. One or two are new and the remaining replacements are older ones from my dwindling supply of vintage hooks.

Here's that 2nd bridge.


Anonymous said…
Really cool! I've got a very similar banjo I'm working on. Really impressed by your work and your site here. Thanks for sharing.