1890s/1932 SS Stewart/Weymann 5-String Resonator Pony Banjo

Now this is an odd and lovely project!

The rim is a 1932 Weymann banjo-mandolin unit and has their "Megaphonic" construction which means a molded/press-wood rim with an attached resonator and flush flange. The tonering is like a Vega Little Wonder, hoop-in-sleeve type, though because it's connected to a wide resonator and such a rugged design, I find that the sound generated by this sort of rim is much more direct, powerful, and deeper in tone.

The neck is an old 1890/1891 SS Stewart "pony banjo" (short scale) 5-string neck that my buddy Tom found for me locally. It has a split heel with an old repair, but after reinforcing that, the damage is a non-issue. I'd been looking for something to mate the cool neck with, but didn't have any good rim choices until this nice old Weymann rim came in with is associated, wrecked, banjo-mandolin neck.

As you can hear in the clip, this is a match that's well-suited! The short scale gives the instrument a mellow, warm, plunky sound that the resonator/tonering design dresses-up into a loud, clean, deeper-sounding old-time vibe. It certainly has cut and punch, that's for sure -- I don't have to play hard on it at all to make a racket, and the short neck is just as comfortable to play as a tenor banjo in the lap. I kept the tuning "standard G" by using 10s rather than the 9s I might use on a normal 5-string neck, though someone who wants a true "pony banjo" or "banjeaurine" experience could use lighter strings and tune up somewhere between A and C if they wanted to.

Usually, I wouldn't string an SS Stewart neck with steel, but judging by the fretwear this came with, it was probably strung-up its whole life with steel. It hadn't warped, so I figured that was the go-ahead to keep with steel for this "build."

Repairs included: mating neck to rim, heel repair reinforcement, a fret level/dress, side dots install, new geared tuners for the neck (with vintage buttons), a new Remo Renaissance Elite head, replacement 1940s-era bridge (w/compensation), cleaning, and setup.

Setup notes: action is perfect with 1/16" height at the 12th fret and strung with 10s for gDGBD tuning. The neck is straight.

Scale length: 22 1/2"
Nut width: 1 3/16"
String spacing at nut: 1"
String spacing at bridge: 1 5/8"
Head diameter: 11"
Resonator diameter: 14"
Rim depth: 2 5/8"
Rim material: pressed wood/composite, Little Wonder-style tonering
Neck wood: cherry(?), maybe, with dark stain
Fretboard: ebony, thick slab
Bridge: unknown hardwood, 1920s-era
Neck feel: medium C/soft V shape, flat board

Condition notes: old heel repair (now reinforced with internal bolts), general use-wear throughout. Overall the finish on the rim and resonator looks great but there are plenty of nicks and scratches on the armrest. The back has a cool decal graphic. The neck's finish is more aged and satin but in good order overall.

I've always thought the Weymann Megaphonic rims had the coolest mount for the hooks' nuts with these recessed ferrules on the back of the resonator.

The new 4:1 geared pegs are not the best in the world, but they do work just fine. I used older '50s-era buttons on them to maintain a more-vintage look.

While the banjo-mandolin neck looks ok in this shot, it has splits at the heel, a very-separated center seam, no binding on the fretboard edge, needs replacement tuners, and needs a lot of work to make it healthy. Its serial number dates it to 1932.

Here's the original SS Stewart dowel. The serial number places it around 1890/1891.