1960s Harmony Reso-Tone 5-String Banjo

I've worked on a lot of these and they trickle into the shop now and then. As far as cheap, American-made, vintage banjos go, I think these are a superb choice. For some reason, even though Harmony blew static truss rod design on many of their guitars (H162 and H165 models in particularly are almost always warped in irritating ways as they age), their Reso-Tone banjos seem to almost always have straight or nearly-straight necks despite decades of abuse and neglect.

Want to hear one? Check out this other blog post on one (click here) for a video.

They do tend to play like absolute garbage before they get service, though. Luckily, they often don't need a lot of service to play well. This one was brought in "for a steup," but for me that means going through my usual checklist on these at bare minimum.

First I double-bolt the neck's heel to the rim as the factory "neck brace" gizmo will not keep the neck from rotating and doesn't tighten-enough to keep the neck/rim joint stable... especially since Harmony made the completely-dumb decision to use a round dowel stick. I hide these extra bolts under the neck brace's mounting plate so you can't see the modification. I have some photos below. Better yet is to simply remove the neck brace and leave its pointless hardware off, but why split hairs?

I shim the neck angle back at the top of the heel's joint as well until I can comfortably get a 5/8" bridge on it. I like to shoot for 5/8" in case the banjo changes its setup over time as it's easy-enough to swap-in a lower 1/2" on the fly to get action down but fitting a lower bridge while starting from 1/2" height can be irritating for the player.

I added a couple of railroad spike capos (for "2" and "4"), compensated the bridge top (I do this with a round small file for each string slot), tightened-up the head, and set it all up. The frets were good-enough as-is so I left them.

Specs are the usual -- a resin-y molded rim, poplar neck, ebonized-maple fretboard, non-adjustable steel truss rod, guitar-style tuners at the headstock (two replacements on this), and a friction-style 5th peg just to drive the owner crazy.