1950s Harmony Reso-Tone 5-String Resonator Banjo

The classic "Reso-Tone" Harmony banjos are a production-oriented instrument with plastic/Bakelite rims and resonators, a round-doweled no-frills neck, and the minimum extra appointments (the necks have binding). This one is somewhat original but has replacement tuners, tailpiece, head, and bridge. The owner (not me!) also "scooped" the fretboard extension as he was using it for nylon strings and wanted an "old time" sound from it.

My work was to give it a light fret level/dress, new headstock tuners (the ones on it were falling apart), a new (old) button and set-screw for the 5th peg, a new compensated bridge, a new adjustable tailpiece, and a setup with steel strings. This thing has a non-adjustable steel truss rod in the neck and even with its long, 26 3/4" scale length, it's strung-up with a set of 10s and has a dead-straight neck. That's progress! It plays with spot-on 1/16" action at the 12th fret.

The head is a hazy, semi-transparent Remo of indeterminate age. It's going strong so I left it.

Don't you love the headstock shape? This bigger-sized shape is rarer on Harmony Reso-Tones. I think the rosewood nut  (1 1/8") is something I knocked out for the owner years ago on the quick.

The replacement 5th string tuner (geared) lacked a set-screw and had a terribly gussied-up knob -- so I put on one of those "keystone" buttons that I'm used to seeing on old Kays. That's why I used the same up at the headstock (Kluson-style) when replacing the trashed old tuners.

The scoop is... simple... but works.

This has a new adjustable tailpiece and compensated, 5/8" bridge.

Forgive the fingerprints on the resonator rear. Its mounting-screw was missing so I attached it with one drywall screw instead.

 The rim hardware is original.


Unknown said…
So how did it sound with the nylon strings, that the previous owner had on it ?
Jake Wildwood said…
It was interesting and had a good tone, but the neck spacing is a bit tight for nylon -- I think nyl is best-suited to the older jos that were made for it (read: 1890s).
Hazel said…

Great article!

I recently inherited one of these from a family member who used to play it around MN/WI in a polka band in the '60s.

I'm trying to get it set up to play again after many years of sitting in storage, but unsure how to adjust the coordinating rod dowel. Any tips? It's very different from modern banjos I've worked on. Neck is straight, sounds nice, but the action is currently about 1/4" at 22nd fret, and I'd like to get that down to 1/8" or lower.

Thanks in advance!