1923 Vega Style X No. 9 Tubaphone Tenor Banjo

Oh, decadent, gold-plated bliss! This was the gigging instrument of a pro "folk-dance musician" for decades (he was playing at the Newport Folk Festival when Dylan went electric) and it just has that feel when you play it.

Anyhow, the owner had good taste in banjos. He had two Orpheum No. 3 tenors, a down-on-its-luck Ludwig Ambassador, and a 1921 Vega Style X in addition to this one in his collection. These were all pretty deluxe for the time they were built and are full of fancy-pants carving and engraving. This appears to be the one he favored and it's decked-out with all the trim.

Features include a Tubaphone tonering, plenty of engraved pearl on the neck and headstock, an intensely-carved heel, geared pegs, and gold plating everywhere. It sounds like you'd expect a professional instrument to sound, too -- with lots of pop, cut, and power. These Vegas peak in the upper mids and have a very hefty attack and carry to their notes. When you play them hard, they compress only slightly into a more-punchy version of themselves, but they have excellent dynamics.

These make great banjos for trad styles including trad-jazz and popular-song backing, but the short scale and slightly-larger pot (11 1/2") mean that these make good "Celtic" GDAE-tuned tenors, too.

Work included: a fret level/dress, binding reglue and one tiny 1/8" replacement bit of binding on the treble side, general cleaning & tightening, and a good setup. It has a straight neck, good fret height, and plays with spot-on 1/16" action at the 12th fret. String gauges are 32w, 20w, 13, 9 for standard CGDA tuning. One could step them up a couple gauges for a thicker feel as the neck is nice and sturdy.

Scale length: 20 5/8"
Nut width: 1 1/8"
String spacing at nut: 7/8"
String spacing at bridge: 1 3/16"
Head diameter: 11 1/2" with older hazy Remo head
Side depth: 2 5/8"
Rim wood: ply maple with mahogany veneer
Neck wood: two-piece maple
Fretboard: ebony
Neck shape: flat board with medium-depth soft-V shape rear
Bridge: maple/ebony 5/8" custom w/pearl inserts
Nut: original bone
Tonering type: Tubaphone

Condition notes: big chip-out on the back of the headstock's veneer but not a structural worry, replacement head, replacement bridge, minor wear/divots to fretboard, replacement frets (probably 1990s?) but in good shape, possibly missing original flat/pie-plate resonator, minor finish touch-ups/overspray to neck/headstock.

It comes with: an aftermarket hard case.

The inlay on these old Vegas is just lovely stuff.

The banjo even has its original Kerschner tailpiece cover! I barely ever see these. They slide on/off.

The bridge is fancy-pants with its pearl inserts.

There's a big chip-out in the ebonized-maple veneer on the back of the headstock.

It's stable, however.

The heel carving is a delight.

The rim's bottom-foot purfling/edging is a delight, too!

The serial number places it at 1923.

It has a nice, Richlieu pick-holder, too.

Here's a snapshot of those original pegs. These are actual pearl buttons!