1890s A.C. Fairbanks Fretless Conversion 5-String Openback Banjo

I bought this from a lady down in Mass cleaning out various antiques. It arrived with no head, remains of a fretboard (and no frets), and lacking tuners and a tailpiece. The rim hardware was all extant, though, which was great to see. The reason the fretboard was missing is that a lot of period banjos used very thin, veneer-style fretboards and if they dry-out enough they fall off (as in this case) and the frets go with them.

Because of that, I figured I'd convert this into a fretless like I've done in the past on others. As you plane the neck's surface down to level it for the fretless aspect, you can backfill the old fret slots with sanding-dust and glue, and it becomes a naturally "lined-fretless." If you're like me, you leave just enough of the cool old refuse and glue discoloration from the old board and that's how you get an "antiqued-looking" fingerboard like this one has. It buffs-up nicely and gives a lot of character.

So, aside from that, I've modernized it for the player just a bit. I've used aged Gotoh geared pegs at the headstock and 5th string, added a "railroad spike" so you can capo into A, fit a modern Remo Renaissance head and 5/8" Grover bridge, replacement No-Knot tailpiece, and tightened-up the whole instrument so it's sturdy and functional. The neck brace was changed to a simple bolt-tightened system.

It's now playing nice and easy and it sounds terrific. Because the instrument was built for gut/nylon strings, I'm using Aquila Nylguts with a plain D. The scale is a little shorter than some period banjos at 26" and so it's a little more comfortable on the left hand than some of the 27" to 28" or so "classic banjos" of the period.

Repairs included: board plane/buff-up/conversion, new tuners, side dots added, new synthetic head, new tailpiece, new bridge, neck brace modification, cleaning, setup.

Rim wood: not sure (possibly poplar) w/nickel-plated brass cladding

Tonering: shaped rim-top

Bridge: 3-foot 5/8" maple/ebony

Fretboard: none, surface of neck

Neck wood: mahogany

Action height at 12th fret: 3/32" overall (spot-on for nylon/Nylgut)
String gauges: Aquila Nylgut light/normal (plain low D)

Neck shape: medium C/soft V

Board radius: flat

Neck relief: mild relief (does not hurt playability)

Fret style: fretless

Scale length: 26"

Nut width: 1 1/4"

Head diameter: 11”

Depth overall at rim: 2 3/8"

Weight: 3 lbs 1 oz

Condition notes: the rim hardware is all original save head, tailpiece, and bridge. The neck is missing its fretboard as... I've converted it to lined fretless! The tuners are all new, high-quality, relic'd Gotoh geared pegs. There's general wear and tear and plenty of scuffs and scratches on the back of the neck and discoloration to the brass/nickel of the rim and its hardware. It all looks good, though! I also swapped the original neck brace setup for a simple bolted-style joint that's sturdier and more rugged.