1896 A.C. Fairbanks "Special No. 1" 5-String Banjo

The Fairbanks/Vega company of Boston was (and is) still renown for their excellent products. This is an early-on A.C. Fairbanks-labeled model (after Cole split from the Fairbanks-Cole merger) and the serial places it around 1896. It's a full-size banjo ("standard size" for the day) with an 11" rim and 26" scale length. This model is very, very plain but does have a comfortable, straight cherry neck, and spunover ("integral tonering" on the top-side) rim. It's lightweight and responsive and has a crisp, elegant voice. These instruments were intended for gut and I've strung it up with a custom set of nylon/fluorocarbon to simulate that.

A customer of mine bought this from Gruhn's and had it shipped here. He, alarmingly, got a bargain. My work was to clean it up, give it a fret level/dress, replacement pegs, and general setup.

The banjo has most of its original hardware, though the head is what appears to be an 80s FiberSkyn replacement and the bridge is unoriginal, too (but older -- 60s?).

The headstock veneer is very thin ebony but the board is stained maple or pearwood. I've replaced the broken original nut with an ebony one. The tuners are also new -- cobbled from uke-pegs. This came with a mixed set of violin-style friction pegs (ew) that weren't fit well at all.

The 5th peg is also from my parts-bins.

Don't you love that tie-on tail? So simple.

The action is setup perfectly for classic-style banjo at 3/32" overall at the 12th fret. I used fairly light-gauge strings so they work for standard open G tuning (or C).

Originally this banjo would've had an ingenious little "shoe" neck adjuster that dropped into a slot, but it was missing on this one and replaced with a 20s shim-style adjuster, instead. I got rid of that (impractical and not rugged enough for the average player) and used an old-fashioned "bolt-her-up" attachment, since there was a hole and slot for the original unit anyhow. I used old hardware to keep it looking in-spec.


Unknown said…
I was very interested to read this and see the great photos. I have a Fairbanks Special No 1 coming in to my workshop next week but not in such good condition unfortunately. Good thing is I can see from your photos that I have in my parts box a set of hooks and nuts exactly like those in your picture. The ones that are on it are modern replacements and out of character.
Best Regards
Dave Stacey UK
staceybanjos@hotmail.com is best