1960s Japanese-made Melody 5-String Resonator Banjo

This oddball 5-string isn't like the usual Japanese fare from the 60s and 70s in that its aluminum rim, "tonering" top edge, and "flange" are all one piece and it has a deeper resonator, too. I'm guessing it was built on the earlier side of the 60s as it has all sorts of odd features compared with later, more-usual import banjos.

The most striking difference, aside from the rim, is in the big, deep, U-shaped neck that's made from a ton of laminations of poplar and/or maple along the lines of a Framus banjo. That keeps the neck nice and straight and with a more "vintage" feel. It also has a bit of a longer scale length, clocking in at 27 1/4" -- right around the length for a Kay from the times.

Tonewise, what do these differences add up to? Well -- it sounds a bit fuller and poppier and with a bit more sustain, but still has that sort of "hollow/woody-ish" aluminum rim thing going on -- in a good way. I have to admit that, while I've played a lot of good bluegrass banjos (American and imported), one of my favorites was an all-aluminum-rim Iida. The weight savings and that "hollow pop" sound are addicting.

Downsides are, of course, the bigger neck profile and general wear and tear. While the 1 1/8" nut width is pretty normal, the neck is deep and has a U-shape to it that makes it handle more like a 1930s instrument. The resonator also has a bit of warp to its upper-edge, but nothing serious.

Work in it included a fret level/dress, small reglue of a portion of the fretboard, reglues to the side/back seam on the resonator, a replacement 5th peg (swapped to a geared one), new bridge, and a good setup. It plays on-the-dot with 1/16" action at the 12th fret, a straight neck, and strung with lights (9s). I'm sure 10s would be fine on it, though.

The glossy-top Remo head is in good spec and was on it when it came in.

The moon-shaped tuner buttons are pretty neat. The nut is new and bone.

I added a new 5th peg tuner but used a vintage button to keep it looking "stock." Now all the tuners are 14:1 ratio or better.

It has a 5/8" bridge and I've compensated it to some extent.

Two drywall screws hold the resonator to the rim.

The finish is like "sunburst Antigua" -- with a pale, creamy "natural" color fading to olive-black-brown.

How about that for a strap hook?

Inside the rim there's the "usual Asian coordinator rod" setup with a big hex bolt that allows for action adjustment on-the-fly.

The tailpiece looks adjustable but isn't. I've used a wad of foam under its long "cover" to damp the string afterlength overtones.


Unknown said…
I found the same banjo on Ebay not too long ago and picked it up for a more than reasonable price. I haven't yet swapped out the 5th string tuner, but it's coming. Mine needed a little gluing in the laminations on the resonator, and a piece of binding needed glued down. The fingerboard and frets are in great shape, and the thumb screws for resonator, and adjuster screw for the tailpiece were included with mine (tailpiece does adjust with the screw in it). Yours is the only other 5-string I have come across from this brand in my research. I've seen several 4-strings but no other 5's. I like it, the bottle-cap pot has a nice sound and is light. Love your blog, just thought I would share.