1920s Ludwig Kenmore Resonator Plectrum Banjo

Yup, I'm a plectrum banjo fan. To me they just sound so intrinsic to that early-'20s small group jazz sound. It's a sound stuck in my head -- the long, springy scale length combined with a "chord melody" or sliding-chord backup approach. This Ludwig Kenmore fits right into it. It's got a bit of a woody, airy quality to it but it also has the pop, clarity, and volume you want as well. There's a lot a banjo like this can do that you can't get out of something like a tenor banjo, though it will never have that same chirp and snare-drum cut like a tenor.

Strong qualities aside, this consignment piece does have its woes, too. Overall it's a beaut and plays great but the pot-metal tension hoop and flange are definitely the weak points on Ludwig instruments as they age. The metal is often falling apart. In this case the tension hoop is broken in two places and has a hairline crack in a third. It's still working as-intended, though, and applying pressure via those top-tension "hooks" just fine. The flange itself also has a little warp to it and doesn't sit flat in the resonator's recessed area anymore.

Design-wise, though, these instruments are fascinating in that they depart from typical banjo construction at the time and that makes them a little lighter-weight and gives them their own sound. The rim and flange are one piece of metal and shallow. The tension hoop tightens via top-tension bolts screwed directly into the flange. The resonator is attached to the flange with 4 screws and serves as an "extension rim" as it provides more rigidity to the whole instrument. The neck's attached the usual way -- with a dowel running through the rim -- but the neck brace is a ratcheting gizmo that actually works to keep the neck stable. A lot of neck braces are insufficient gimmicks, but this style just works.

Post-repairs, it plays great and is ready to go. I strung it a little lighter than "standard" plectrum strings, but that's in an effort to respect the neck. It's basically a 5-string banjo set minus the drone and I've compensated the bridge to suit this stringing. The factory-original "Planet" pegs (geared tuners) are also nice to have.

Repairs included: new Remo Renaissance head install, fret level/dress, bridge mod/adjustment, setup.

Made by: Ludwig

Model: Kenmore plectrum

Made in: Chicago, IL, USA

Rim material: steel/pot metal?

Tonering: integral "hoop"

Bridge: maple/ebony

Fretboard: ebony

Neck wood: 2-piece mahogany

Tone: clean, clear, sustained, woody, airy/open, punchy

Suitable for: trad jazz, Western swing, vintage popular, blues, folk

Action height at 12th fret: 1/16" overall (fast, spot-on)
String gauges: 20w, 14, 12, 10 for CGBD (or DGBE), comp'd for unwound G

Neck shape: medium C/V

Board radius: flat

Truss rod: n/a

Neck relief: almost dead straight: ~1/64" relief tuned to pitch

Fret style: small

Scale length: 27"

Nut width: 1 1/8"

String spacing at nut: 7/8"

String spacing at bridge: 1 5/16"

Head diameter: 10 7/8"

Resonator diameter: 13 1/4"

Depth overall at rim: 3"

Weight: 6 lb 5 oz

Condition notes: as noted, the pot-metal tension hoop has a hairline crack in it near the heel on the bass side and it also has two through-cracks at the heel and tailpiece. All rim hardware is original but the head and bridge are not. There's tarnish and wear and tear (but not horrid) to all the metal parts. Everything on the banjo is original save the head and bridge. The back of the neck shows a lot of playwear -- the first layer of finish has clearly been played-through. The neck has a tiny bit of relief (read: up-bow) when tuned to pitch, but it's so little as to be irrelevant and is stable. The finish on the headstock veneer is a little flakey. It shows average usewear throughout with small scratches and tiny dings here and there along the resonator. 

It comes with: its original hard case in dilapidated state -- it needs a bit of work but the "guts" are good. There's some old string packs, string mutes, and instruction ephemera in the case as well.


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