1893 SS Stewart "The Amateur" 5-String Openback Banjo

SS Stewart banjos (the ones made in the Stewart factory, anyhow) are good-quality throughout and always a reliably good-sounding instrument if you're in the market for one. The caveat is that they were built with gut strings in mind and so should be only used with gut/nylon/nylgut/fluorocarbon equivalents. The previous owners have had it with steel and the current owner's been playing that way, but we ameliorated the issue via dropping the gauges to a custom steel set that's comparable in tension to moderate nylgut strings.

This honey of a 5-string banjo was in for a glorified setup -- I adjusted the neck angle, compensated and fit the bridge, tightened it all up, and set it up. The instrument had seen some rudimentary/rough adjustment work in the past, but at least it started-out here in the shop with a geared 5th peg and synthetic head. Those help!

After work it's playing as well as it can, with 3/32" action (I could get it down to 1/16" if I level and dress the frets in the future) at the 12th fret and an excellent, springy, feel for old-time/clawhammer use. The strings are gauged 8, 18w, 11, 9, 8 bass to treble and they sound surprisingly-full -- probably because of the long, 27" scale length.

A recent bone nut is a nice addition and it's hard to argue with SSS pearl inlay. The owner's going to have to swap-out those aftermarket friction pegs at some point, however.

The fretboard is ebony.

The 1920s (?) tailpiece has a nice downpressure bar which helps with the lower bridge height.

I quickly cut a couple of rosewood wedges to replace the missing originals at the neck brace. The #9025 serial number at the side of the heel suggests 1893 manufacture -- or close to it. The foam replaces a big washcloth as an overtone mute.


Unknown said…
This banjo was made later than the serial number would indicate. It is a Stewart Bauer banjo as the stampings on the back of the peghead confirm. Stewart and Bauer did not enter into a partnership until 1897.
I wonder if the hex shaped bracket shoes are original.

Jake Wildwood said…
Thanks for that, Joe!