1917 Edward Bardsley "Mascot" 12-String Banjo-Guitar

It's a 12-string banjo-guitar... from 1917. Just let that settle in. Imagine tuning this thing with its original skin head. Imagine playing it with an uncompensated bridge. Imagine... ow-ow-ow... no more, please!

My buddy Steve bought this ages ago and sent it up here to get sorted-out. It arrived with a mucked-up original head, a split heel, its fretboard falling-off and splintering, a set of awful original tuners on it, and need for... hope.

I got around to messaging the wonderful Bob Smakula, who I've been ordering banjo parts from more and more, and he ordered a custom Remo head to fit its 14 1/4" rim. That took forever to get here but faster than I expected if you're at all used to Remo's speed at processing custom heads (they only do it once or twice a year). It also cost a bunch.

With head in hand and now installed on the rim, I was able to finish-off the rest of the work and get this thing up and running. I'd already fit a new 25 1/2" scale rosewood fretboard to the neck (with a radius) and fretted it with medium-gauge wire. I also repaired the damaged heel area (split from the original neck brace design), replaced some headstock binding, made a new fully-compensated adjustable bridge for it, rehung the '50s tailpiece, double-bolted the neck joint, and set it up. Because I had the convenience of a new fretboard, I gave it a zero fret nut, too.

What's the resulting instrument, though? Well, it's glorious and odd. It's fairly loud out front but kind-of quiet from behind. The ginormous neck takes some getting used to and the rim's large size makes it awkward until you bond with it a bit. It's not just "plug and play" for an average 12-string guitarist. 

Tonewise, it sounds a bit like a cumbus (of the steel-string, banjo-bodied oud sort) but also mostly like a Leadbelly-style 12-string guitar. It's got thump, twang, and jingle-jangle all in one. It likes very-thin flatpicks or less-aggressive fingerpicking, though a "deft hand" with metal fingerpicks can get it to shine as well. It doesn't sound good at all if you're the "assaulting" kind of player.

I've got it strung with gauges like an electric 12-string guitar would have -- 20w/46w, 15/36w, 11/26w, 8/16, 12/12, 9/9 low to high. That also gives it more of a "banjo-style" tension on each string. Steve specified step-below tuning (DGCFAD low to high) but it also sounds great in open D and open Eb. The lowered tension is key, by the way, because banjo heads don't sound best with a ton of tension on them. If they're over-strung they're actually "apparently" quieter and less responsive than otherwise.

What else? It's got a birdseye maple neck and the original fretboard was ebonized maple. The new one (and its compatriot bridge) are rosewood. I didn't add any reinforcement to the neck because it's massive. The rim appears to be ply maple with a birdseye veneer on the outside and it's very deep and topped with a larger brass hoop tonering. The dowel is a big hunk of birdseye maple as well. The rim hardware, save the tailpiece, is mostly original save a few period replacements.

I removed the original neck brace device because it would only split the heel again if used, though I pictured it down the post and it was the key to identifying the maker of the instrument -- Edward Bardsley of Westville, New Jersey, whose patents for his neck hardware can be found online.


Aaron S said…
It occurs to me that if the screws on the heel piece bracket had been oriented 90 degrees from 'stock', it might have held up. That way, you wouldn't have two screws lined up on the same grain line. On the other hand, its a bit of cumbersome hardware to do something that can be accomplished much more simply. The whole instrument is a bit of a cautionary tale to us frustrated inventor types: more and different are not necessarily better. Big kudos for getting this thing working; truly a labor of love,or...something! Sounds great, I can hear this in a group with a theremin and some electric percussion gizmo yet to be invented in a swampy dive on Dagobah.