c.1890 Bay State 5-String Banjo

Another customer's banjo: this one is a Boston-made (by Haynes) Bay State 5er from the gut-string days. I've installed a new Elite (Remo Renaissance-style) head, given it a fret level/dress, and set it all up properly. It's also sporting a new set of those Aquila Red Nylgut strings (unwound low D!) that sound/feel great. They're a little snappier like true gut compared to something like nylon which is so-so as a replacement. They're also loud as heck. I often see a bit of shock on players' faces when their own steel-string openbacks get somewhat drowned-out by a nylon-strung one. Har har.

She plays spot-on for gut/nlyon (3/32" at the 12th fret) and has "that tone." I think its owner will be very happy getting this one back. There's nothing quite like playing an old gut-strung banjo setup as it was intended to be... they're just... different.

The 25 1/2" scale puts the bridge towards the outer edge of the 11" rim which makes it actually more stable if this were a skin-headed jo but less full-sounding on the bass side. The bridge placement does, however, make this perfect tone-wise if you play right at the end of the fretboard.

Thick ebony board and veneer... and please excuse that dying old rubber washer escaping from the original Champion pegs.

The pear looks tidy and slick. The 5th peg is one of those 60s Grovers... and I tried to find a matching button for the headstock ones but these particular tuners use a weird button-shaft size that made that a useless task.

Most of the hardware is original and I love the tail. There are a few replaced hook/nuts.

All those hooks and nuts! Back in the day this was more useful with a skin head but it does make a small difference in equalized tension with this new synthetic one.

Mahogany neck in a fairly hard V shape...

The craftsmanship is quite clear: this is a well-made banjo. Even the original neck brace shims were useful.

Yeap -- it's just about a perfectly-attractive old 5-string.


Nick R said…
I've got an 1890s Matthews banjo- made in Birmingham,England that is so similar to this instrument. I wonder if it's a copy or these instruments follow very similar templates. My great grandfather who owned it added a few embellishments. He had worked in the silver engraving business before becoming an adman. The heel plate has been replaced by an engraved silver piece that depicts a swallow skimming over a lake. Of course, it's not seen when the instrument is played!