1882 Fairbanks & Cole 12" Rim 5-String Openback Banjo

Not only is this big old 5-string rare due to its rim size and long scale, it's also high-quality, of a coveted make, and it looks gorgeous. I also finished it up only a few weeks after working on an 1883 F&C with an 11" rim and similar appointments. This one is more original (save pegs and head), and more interesting, though.

It has a nice, ivory tailpiece (with a "Patent Approved" hand-written sticker on the back of it) and a lightweight build that reminds one of earlier minstrel-style banjos, though the craftsmanship is far better than most banjos of only 10 years prior. This is a real instrument and has a gazillion hooks and a fast, slim, comfortable neck that allows you to really move around unconstrained.

It's quirky, though, per its early-on-the-banjo-radar build date -- the extra-long 28 5/8" scale and large rim seem to suggest it would handle lower-pitch tunings better (D or E, anyone?), though strung-up as-is in standard G-tuning with all-plain Aquila Nylgut strings, it's quite loud and forward and precise in tone.

The rim is simple and thin and has no tonering, though it does have nice veneer on the outside that gives it a folksy look. That's put-off by the beautifully-carved heel and neck shape, though. The dot inlay in the board is entirely off, however, which is confusing -- inlays are on the first fret and then the sixth fret. I don't really understand this reasoning unless folks were slapping a capo on the first fret a lot.

When this came in, there were screws hiding under six of the pearl dot inlays -- and the inlays themselves were half-missing. These seem to have been original equipment but were a problem as they were chipping-out and not letting me reglue sections of the fretboard that'd come unglued. I took them out and replaced those with new, slightly-larger, pearl dots.

Other work included a fret level/dress, new Remo Renaissance head (the original skin had torn), fitting a bridge, regluing the dowel (it was totally loose), and fitting a bridge and setup. It plays great with spot-on (for Nylgut) 3/32" action at the 12th fret.

Specs are: 28 5/8" scale, 12" diameter head, 2 1/4" side depth, 1 5/16" nut width, 1 1/16" string spacing at the nut, and 1 3/4" spacing at the bridge.

Woods are: walnut(?) neck, stained-cherry(?) rim, ebony fretboard, and two-piece rosewood headstock veneer. Originally this probably had ivory, bone, or wood pegs -- but it currently has 1890s-era Grover Champion pegs.

The frets are low and smallish but still serve.

The F&C neck brace is simple, adjustable, and one of the better units I've seen on old banjos from this period.

The 2600 serial number suggests 1882 manufacture.