1910s Oscar Schmidt "Sovereign" Banjo Mandolin

Banjo mando sighting! Yes, this is the first of a batch of 3 to get finished-up before the month is out. It's a customer's instrument and it was fun to do-up as I haven't worked on a lot of banjo-mandos in recent memory (though I used to fix them all the time). This one was made by New Jersey's Oscar Schmidt and has their "Sovereign" branding which tells you it was their "upscale" model.

It has a spunover rim with nickel-plated brass sleeves on the inside and outside of the (maple?) rim, a 10 1/16" diameter rim, and a mahogany neck with fancy pearl inlays on the fretboard. When it came in, there was much to be desired -- the neck angle was terrible, the neck itself was warped, and it desperately needed an overhaul. I leveled the board, refretted it with medium stock, installed a new head, cleaned it up thoroughly, fixed the neck-angle issues, and then made a new adjustable (compensated) bridge to suit it. The result is something perfectly-playable and easy on the ears.

The headstock is bound and has a Brazilian rosewood veneer. The bone nut is original, too.

Because the neck was warped, there was no way this was going to play well without a board plane and refret -- which it got. The board itself is stained maple.

I made an adjustable bridge from scratch for this asyour average banjo-mando really does need a nice long foot to dampen the tone and increase tuning stability. Regular banjo bridges are almost always far too bright in tone to make these sound "right."

I also dampen the string afterlength under the tailpiece cover and mute the head just slightly with a bit of foam under the fretboard extension.

The dowel originally had a nickel-plated sleeve, too, though I had to recut it near the neck joint to solve for a weird factory-cut dowel opening on the rim that didn't allow enough up/down travel of the tension hoop. The old sleeve was too funky, after managing to get it off, to re-use.

The tuners got a lube and work alright but not beautifully -- modern StewMac repro-style units would be a big improvement, though they cost a bit.

This instrument is interesting in that it has an extra "neck brace rod" in addition to the hammered/screwed-in-place neck brace on the dowel. The stiffening rod is quite helpful in keeping this stable.

Note my cheesy way of re-angling the dowel a bit higher. It works fine. I had to keep this on a budget, mind you -- and I'd already filled a lot of that budget with refretting the neck -- which was necessary.

The original head has all sorts of Navy ships and ports-of-call on it, though the only date I found was in 1920.


David Glazier said…
I am the proud owner of this banjo mandolin. Since purchasing, I've transferred the original printing to the new head using a photocopy of the original head and then tracing the printing to the new head using carbon paper and a pencil. I've also researched (thru the internet), each port of call and vessel named on the original head, compiling a notebook of pictures and text. Let's go another step further and I purchased a collection of original WWI sheet music to go with this. This one instrument has become a wealth of information plus it plays beautifully. The dynamic range is quite exquisite and is at home with Bach as well as popular tunes of the era. God Bless you Jake for this great instrument and the fine restoration work you do.
It also resides on my salmon troller with me, home ported in Sitka, Alaska.
David Glazier said…
Forgot to mention I upgraded the tuners to Grover 18:1, and found a hard shell period case to replace the original canvas case. It hardly ever goes out of tune and is a great comfort in rough sea conditions. This instrument survived German U-Boats in the North Atlantic. The original owner is unknown. I'd sure love to investigate who may have owned it. Any suggestions?