3/26/2011

c.1950 Italian? Tenor Banjo


This tenor banjo is short scale (19 3/4") with a smallish head, set into a wooden shell rim in "zither-banjo" fashion. It also has a slotted headstock with geared tuners... and all of this is typical of French and Italian (as well as some German) banjos of the c.1920s-30s. I'd guess that this banjo is later, however, probably at earliest 1940s and more than likely built around the 1950s-60s or so, which makes it (more than likely) Italian.


Fun headstock, plastic nut. These geared pegs make tuning a cinch compared to the usual friction pegs found on most American tenor banjos.


I dressed the frets and the neck is quite straight. Rosewood fretboard.


Gotta love the top-tension rim. Keeps the rim nice and comfy against your lap and belly (no hooks to gouge you). Also, that resonator-style rim means the sound comes forward as opposed to splish-splashed everywhere. The tone on this banjo is sweet, warm, and very woody. It's not at all like a more brash and bright "regular" style banjo. This kind of tonality is typical of this pot design, though, as I've heard the same thing out of a banjo mandolin of the same type as well as an earlier zither banjo of the same style.


Bridge is lower than a typical 1/2" style, and I've repurposed an old 1920s mandolin bridge, which sounds just dandy.




Resonator back has a big crack that's been glued up, and I had to glue up a couple major seam separations. There's one minor seam separation left that I didn't address, though, that's stable and not an issue at all.



Cool brass-plate tuners. In good order, as well. This banjo originally had a "zero fret" but like most European zero frets, it was taller than all the rest of the frets, which meant playability suffered. I removed it and moved the nut up. Now the action's nice and low and the playability is spot-on.


Not sure what the wood is on this instrument, but it's stained a deep red mahogany color.


The tailpiece is really grungy and the brackets are pitted and rusty on their tops as well, but everything functions well. The skin head's in great shape. A lot of these show up with torn heads and are quite frustrating to re-head.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi, I am from germany, and I found exactly the same old banjo in my grandfather's old room a couple of years ago. Unfortunately I cannot ask him anymore where he got it from, but since he lived in germany his whole life it is quite likely that it comes from here. Do you have any tips for me how to restore it? Although it's still in a pretty good shape as far as I can tell, the head is quite old, and it has no bridge anymore. I have no experience with banjos or restoring instruments, but would like to learn how to play it. Thanks in advance! Kat

Willis said...

I have a 6 string banjo that looks very similar. It has the same cloud tailpiece,headstock,and everything else the trim around the body is even the same. It has no name on it or model number, or anything of the sort unless its in the body. I've been looking for what its called or worth or anything about it for a while, I'd appreciate it if you could help me. :D

cindi said...

I just picked up one of these - almost a dead ringer except mine doesn't have the purfuling on the back edge, and sadly, no tailpiece. Also, the tuners are individual instead of a bar. If you ever get more info, I'd appreciate the sharing.