2/08/2018

1920s Oscar Schmidt-made Tenor Banjo




This type of Oscar Schmidt-made tenor banjo was often branded Sovereign at the headstock. It probably dates to the late teens or early '20s and it's a riff on a period Vega Little Wonder in design with its 10 3/4" rim, hoop-in-skirt (Little Wonder-style) tonering, and short 21" scale length. Aside from the tonering and thicker rim, it's pretty average on the fancy-trim spectrum with just plain dots in the fretboard and the usual OS-style inlaid striping on the side of the rim.

A customer's grandfather (I believe?) owned this banjo and so she wanted to get it up-to-snuff and playing. Work included a new head install, replacing half of the rim's hook/nut/shoe sets with vintage, parts-bin hardware, a dowel reglue, fret level/dress, 4:1 banjo pegs install at the headstock, new nut,  new 5/8" bridge, and setup. It's playing spot-on with 1/16" action at the 12th fret and strung standard CGDA with gauges 30w, 20w, 13, 9.

Tonally, the smaller tenor banjos like this with their simple, Little Wonder tonering designs tend to sound a bit "woodier" with a mellow, sweet "ring" to them. They're not as focused or crisp as an archtop Lange or Bacon-style ring, however, so they tend to suit folksy/bluesy/mellower playing styles more.




The fretboard is some sort of ebonized hardwood and has hairline dryness cracks in it. I added side dots during work on it.





I forgot to take a picture, but aside from the normal neck brace reinforcement, I also added two screws securing the bottom of the heel through the rim. I did not like the wonky dowel joint when I was regluing it, so I didn't trust it with just the brace.


These are cheap, Chinese-made 4:1 tuners with replacement black buttons. They get the job done and work just fine -- but definitely don't have the user satisfaction that Gotoh or Waverly pegs would provide.


The heel cap is missing on the back of the neck, but since the rim cap is black, it's not obvious.



The above shot shows replacement hardware from another '20s Oscar Schmidt banjo that I had in my parts-bin.


This shot shows the original hardware on the other side of the rim.

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