1970s Tokai/Frankenstein 5-String Openback Banjo

Well, I might as well admit that I just don't get along with long-scale banjos -- hence why this one has resurfaced for sale. I cut my teeth on 24" scale 1890s Buckbee 5-strings and that's what my hand and arm wants, so I'm not going to fight it anymore, despite the fact that I love the sustain, ring, and pop one gets from 26" and above.

I mentioned the modifications to this banjo in an earlier blog post, but the simple explanation is that this is a nice, Masterclone-style, Japanese-made Tokai banjo neck from the '70s mated to a 1930s Kay banjo-mandolin rim. I kept the flathead tonering and rim hardware from the original (damaged) rim but mounted the hooks with a new set of shoes all-around. It retains, of course, the standard 11" rim size.

So -- it's a Frankenstein, for sure, but it's a nice Frankenstein. It has a fast, slim-C, Mastertone-style neck that begs for rocketing around the fretboard. The flathead tonering on an openback rim also gives a great, not-often-heard tone. It's poppy, loud and precise but also has excellent sustain and so it's really easy to play this clawhammer-style and have the result sound clean. If you're playing a bunch of notes that you want to have heard, that's ideal.

Under the hood, it borrows the dual coordinator-rod setup from the original rim, so action adjustments are easy-peasy and the instrument itself is tough as nails and stable.

Work included: mating the neck to this rim, hardware installation, a fret level/dress, addition of a 5th string capo, general cleaning, and setup. The neck is straight, has a perfectly-functional truss rod, and action is spot-on at 1/16" at the 12th fret, strung with lights (9-9 gauges).

Scale length: 26 3/8"
Nut width: 1 7/32"
String spacing at nut: 15/16"
String spacing at bridge: 1 11/16"
Head diameter: 11" with older frosted-top Remo head
Side depth: 3 1/4"
Rim wood: ply maple(?) with pearloid+mahogany veneer
Neck wood: three-piece maple
Fretboard: rosewood
Neck shape: flat board with slim-C rear shape
Bridge: maple/ebony 5/8" compensated
Nut: original bone
Tonering type: '70s flathead Tokai

Condition notes: rim is old so has a few blemishes and while the shoes are installed equally around the rim, a few of the hooks lean a little to match the notches on the tension hoop. The rim also has a recessed-edge "foot" because it used to have a pot-metal flange installed when it was new.

I ordered a 5th-string capo for this but when it came it turned-out they'd sent me a gold-plated one rather than nickel. Oh well! This guy now has "one gold tooth."

There's a bunch of playwear on the fretboard but it's mostly just discoloration from having had a lot of use.

The bridge is compensated.

The planetary geared tuners are nice all-around.