Sunday, May 25, 2014

Little Bear Banjo Hospital: Rescuing Vintage Banjos from Modernity

Little Bear Banjo Hospital finished a long project for a British client, a Lennox banjo from the late 1800s.

I ended up bending a modern No Knot tailpiece to fit, not the most perfect solution but better than trying to excavate five string holes in the pot. I believe the five hole approach in Lennox's patent was the way Farris strung up some of his thin metal clad pots. I didn’t want to do too much permanent to the banjo at this stage.

I used Nylagut minstrel strings. They are a bit thicker and are not intended to be tuned to scale. They tune down to that growly minstrel voicing.

Lennox's patented way of getting around the need for a dowel stick does not win any awards from me. It’s partially the three screws, and partially string tension that hole the thing in place, and I’m not necessarily confident that this is a real advance – it didn’t really catch on, of course. But it is holding decently for what one might want and expect from a banjo like this.

I would have preferred using old stock hooks and nuts, if only because the new ones are long enough to actually protrude through the bottom of the rim. The pot might have been made a touch deeper to account for that possibility. The tension hoop was as mangled and ovalized as any of them from the 1890s are, and that proved a challenge for getting the calfskin fitted decently. I didn’t want to braze the tension hoop because I was concerned about losing any material at the joint and then not quite being able to get it around the skin.

This was a long project. It arrived at a life changing moment, got caught up in a lot of issues involving health, kept getting shelved, and then got mangled up in our preparations to relocate and my retirement plans.

But it's done now, and it closes out Little Bear Banjo Hospital accounts from the Arlington, VA days.

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