1890s J.B. Schall Openback 5-String Banjo

Old Schall banjos are high-quality and rather hard to find -- I suppose not a whole ton were made. They were made in Chicago in the late 1800s and most date from the 1890s while a few are from the 1880s. This one is a rather plain model and lacks much of the fancy rim hardware and profuse pearl that the more presentation-minded models have. I would put this on a level with similarly-spec'd-out SS Stewart banjos of the day -- it's well-built, no-frills, and the important part is the sound and feel -- both of which are nice.

It arrived with some new geared pegs installed and a (slightly-wonkily-fit) replacement skin head. The tailpiece looks like a newer, antique-style downpressure unit and we had to modify it a bunch (from the underside) for it to grab the strings like it should. My guy Tim did most of the setup-side work on this fella but I think Ancel did the fretwork. I remember flitting in and out while we strong-armed the neck angle into submission and wrestled the setup.

This was made in an era when gut strings were the normal and I wouldn't suggest going to steel on it. As such, we've got Aquila Nylgut strings fit and they sound great on it. It's an instrument suited to minstrel sounds, old-time, sing-along Seeger-style, and "classic banjo" material.

Repairs included: a fret level/dress, bridge replacement, neck shimming, neck bolts added, cleaning, restring, setup.

  • Weight: 4 lbs 2 oz
  • Scale length: 25 3/4"
  • Nut width: 1 1/4"
  • Neck shape: medium U/soft V
  • Board radius: flat
  • Head diameter: 10 3/4"
  • Depth overall at rim: 2 1/8"
  • Rim wood: maple
  • Tonering: integral (hoop)
  • Bridge: maple minstrel-style
  • Fretboard: ebony veneer
  • Neck wood: maple
  • Action height at 12th fret: 3/32” overall (fast, spot-on)
  • String gauges: Aquila Nylgut
  • Neck relief: straight
  • Fret style: low/small

Condition notes: it's in overall good shape but does have some replacement hook/nuts -- though the shoes are all original. The pegs have all been replaced with modern geared types. The head is a newer skin head and it has a replacement tailpiece and new, minstrel-style bridge. To get the neck angle correct we have a lot of shims at the end of the fretboard/facing of the heel joint. We also added a couple of bolts to reinforce the neck joint (flathead screws) as the original friction-set, knock-in wedge-shim was simply not enough to keep the neck both aligned and tight to the rim.

It comes with: a nice hard case.

Consignor tag: KNRB