1937 Vega De Luxe Electric Tenor Banjo

My pal Paul up in Burlington bought this from Retrofret recently. Last weekend he came down and we got it all setup for him per the way he wanted to go with it (Celtic/GDAE octave mando tuning, etc.) and my gosh, it's dang-good.

There are very few 1930s electric banjos in existence and most are tenor models while the rest are plectrums. I'm not sure if I've ever seen a 5-string electric from that time but I do know of several 5-string electric models popular in the '50s and '60s and it might as well be an electric banjo renaissance we're going through these days.

That said, this style of electric tenor banjo is in the Gibson ETB mold -- a "rim" with screwed-on backplate and plywood top, plus cool pickguard and bridge-located pickup. This Vega De Luxe has absurdly-cool celluloid veneer all over, though, plus gold hardware and "all the fixins."

Under the hood is a normal volume control plus a tone control that's a 3-way cycling between a capacitor, resistor, and bypass. Paul wanted to move the jack from the side (where the original is still located) and to at the tailpiece with an endpin jack -- so we did that, but left the original jack intact and functional. The pickup itself seems to be a couple of single coils wired together as a bright-sounding humbucker and it has thumbwheel height adjustment on its mounting plate.

Setup-wise, we changed a few things. This came-in tuned to standard CGDA but Paul plays a Bacon tuned that and wanted something different for his plug-in. We moved it over to octave mandolin GDAE using some Pyramid flatwounds for that "old jazz" feel (gauges 40w, 30w, 20w, 11 as I recall) and the scale length is 23" so that feels slick and fast on this guy. The wound A and plain E balance nicely with the two lower strings, too, at the pickup, now. Hearing him play some old trad-jazz leads and melody lines on it to test it out was way too fun.

Oh, and yes, we also replaced the bridge with a repro-style one I made-up in ebony to suit the compensation for the new tuning and we knocked the neck-angle back a bit to get the strings higher off the top of the instrument.

The last photo is of the "boy" and his dog...!


daverepair said…
I’m not, generally, one who likes much bling on my guitars…but jeez, I have a soft spot for ornate celluloid! This Vega is too cool!
TAC Blog said…
I look at this and think: add a string and have a lap slide guitar! Ach, but it’s beautiful as it is —