11/13/2017

2000s Antonio Tsai 6-String Guitar-Banjo





Antonio Tsai is an eBay seller (for American audiences) with a workshop in Vietnam (though he lives in Taiwan) that produces insanely-inlaid, bling-tastic instruments of questionable musical value. That last bit is because by the time they get over here and sit for a few months, the high-humidity-exposed wood begins to dry out and the instruments sustain all sorts of suffering because of it. The acoustic guitars tend to get hairline cracks and every one of these I've seen has had problems with frets popping out unevenly and the ends becoming razorwire for the hands. 

That said, they can often be remedied and turned into decent instruments. That's certainly true of this one -- it had the aforementioned fret problems in spades and was badly in need of a proper setup and adjustments. It's now playing great, the neck is stable, it has a healthy, nice sound and "electric guitar" playability. Action is 3/32" EA and 1/16" DGBE at the 12th fret, strung with gauges similar to electric guitar --46w, 36w, 26w, 17, 14, 10 -- which I find ideal on a 6-string banjo as they're closer to "banjo-ish" gauges than a typical acoustic guitar set.

Work included reseating (and gluing-in) all the frets, a fret level/dress, replacement synthetic head (this originally had a drum-style skin one which is too fussy with 6-string tension), extra compensation and adjustment at the bridge, and a full setup and cleaning. It's ready to go and (now) plays as well or better than other mid-to-upscale 6-string import banjos that've had a setup.

To boot, because of the thin-shell brass rim, it also has a tonality that reminds me of 1900-1920s guitar-banjos I've played. It's curious!


The rim is 11" in diameter but the parts were made to use an oversize head -- this one is about 11 1/8" -- which then furls-over a bit as it's snugged down. I was lucky enough to have a correct-sized head on-hand in my parts-bins.


The pearl inlay work is profuse and well-executed. The headstock veneer and fretboard appear to be Indian rosewood. This has a 1 5/8" nut width and short, 24 1/2" scale length along with a fast,  slim, electric-guitar-style C-shaped neck profile.


The frets are medium-big and after work have tons of height left. The neck itself retains much of its narrow size as it gets towards the pot and this makes it quick as heck.




The hand-cut brass tailpiece is pretty neat and accepts both loop and ball-end strings.


How about that armrest?


There's the kicker -- an absurdly-intense pearl dragon and a carved heel. Despite myself, I love it.




The heel carving is way too fun and recalls 1890s instruments from the US.


Right?!



The brass "star" in the middle of the resonator serves to secure it. At the same time it can be used to micro-adjust the action. Because this instrument has a single, somewhat flexible coordinator rod setup and the bolt for this nut is secured to it, by tightening this a little more than necessary to hold the resonator the action is pushed up and by loosening it the action goes down. That's pretty useful as this can let you adjust setup on-the-fly without removing the resonator.

To compensate for this problem-solution, I overadjusted the coordinator rod setup to adjust the action too low with the resonator off. There are many Asian-import banjos with a similar rod/resonator connection setup from the '70s and '80s and one has to adjust them in just the same way.


Even the side of the resonator has fancy floral inlay.




Here you can see the thin-walled, all-brass construction of the rim and the hand-made hardware. These are all nice, folksy touches to my eyes and, as I've mentioned, remind me of late-1800s instruments. It's like a time warp as most of the hardware and design elements found on this instrument are closer to 1870s-1880s minstrel banjos than a modern banjo.


The coordinator rod setup is just like on many Asian-import banjos. The big nut on the rim tightens the neck to the rim and the big "barrel" nut allows for minor adjustments. My process to "fix" this system is to tighten-up the big nut and then add a "keeper" screw below it (the nickel-plated one) to make sure the neck is aligned in the same plane all the time. I then secure the "barrel" nut nice and tight and move over to the other side of the rim...


...where I use the endbolt and hex nut as rough "coordinator rod" modifiers to set the neck angle.



Here's the keeper for the resonator.

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