1920s Lyon & Healy American Conservatory Fretless (Modded) Tenor Banjo

I love it when customers allow me to work on weird projects for them. A back-and-forth over email led to this creation -- a lined-fretless tenor banjo tuned DGBE with nylon/Nylgut strings like a minstrel-era banjo minus its drone string. Yes -- weird! It does sound pretty incredible, though -- you can approach it with a pick and it sounds almost shamisen or oud-like or you can fingerpick it to get that minstrel-era vibe.

The banjo itself is a mid-grade, Chicago-made, good-quality Lyon & Healy product with their "advanced amateur" branding -- American Conservatory -- on the dowel. It's maple throughout and has a non-tonering rim -- though it's very well-made and has heavy-duty hardware all over. It's all-original except for the bridge, strings, lack of frets, and a new set of Gotoh 4:1 geared pegs. The serial number correlates probably to 1921, though also might spell-out 1927. Considering the short scale and general style, I think it's probably more like 1921, though.

Specs are: 20 7/8" scale, 1 1/4" nut width, 15/16" string spacing at the nut, 1 1/2" spacing at the bridge, 10 3/4" head, and 2 5/8" rim depth. Action is 1/16" at the 12th "fret" and the neck has a medium C/V rear profile and flat board.

Work included pulling the frets, installing plastic fret marker lines (just binding material), a board plane, new heavier rosewood bridge (to get a mellower/warmer/thicker tone), the tuner install, and a setup with Aquila Nylgut strings. I used the DGBE strings from their Alabastro guitar set as I wanted to have an unwound G. A cool alternate tuning/stringing for something like this project might be tuning it to dGBD in a uke-like fashion to get a drone going for a clawahammer player.

The headstock veneer has a ton of dryness cracks. I had to glue a bunch of it back together and stabilize it.


Unknown said…
Jake, the binding material as fret space markers is truly brilliant, thank you!I found this just at the right time.
Unknown said…
What would be the value on something like that