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Restoration #3 - tenor banjo


This banjo was gifted to me as part of my payment for restoring the Spencer banjo - as I didn't previously own a tenor banjo I was keen to get it up and playing. Inevitably, this took a little longer than I'd hoped as commissions jumped the queue, but it's now complete, and in an Irish tuning.


I'm uncertain of the provenance of this one. Talking to the previous owner, we thought that perhaps it looked like it could be 1950s - certainly the headstock shape and the large metal resonator suggested that to me, though that was mostly just a hunch.


On taking it apart, the back of the skin (sadly broken) bears a Jos Rogers Jnr stamp. A little research into the brand online turns up mostly banjos from the 1920s and 30s, so perhaps the banjo (or at least the skin) is a little older.


Whatever its age, this banjo had seen some scrapes over the years - and at some point a previous owner had decided to add a fifth string. Rather than adding a tuner halfway down the neck (or even on the headstock with a clip at the fifth fret) to turn this into a short-scale five string banjo, the intention here seemed to have been to double up the fourth string - maybe to add an octave?


In any case, when it arrived with me there was a hole drilled in the headstock and a fifth tuner installed, and an extra slot carved into the nut. It looks as though whoever made that amendment prised a round disc off the headstock to make room for it - perhaps that would have given us a clue about the banjo's maker, were it still there.



As well as those adjustments, the headstock had suffered a significant chip, while the neck was worn with playing and bearing its own scrapes and gouges.


So, a few things to sort out. I began by sorting out the headstock. The extra tuner was removed and the hole plugged at the back with a small piece of cherry, and at the front with a disc of beech, to contrast with the dark headstock wood. I removed the wood around the chip (incredibly dry and crumbly with age) and put in a piece of walnut, as a subtly visible repair. I also removed and replaced the nut, cutting just four slots in the new one.


As the whole neck was quite worn and scraped I sanded back the old finish and applied a new French polish, and cleaned and re-oiled the fingerboard at the same time.


I removed the old skin and replaced it was a new Remo Renaissance head, and replaced all the mismatched tension hooks with a new uniform set - the previous ones will go in my box of spares for when I get older banjos in, looking for a tension hook match.


All the metalwork was cleaned up - especially the machine head plates, which had completely lost their shine.


Finally, new bridge and tailpiece were sourced and fitted, and a new set of strings were put on.


Now I just need to work on my flatpicking! There's more photos of this repair job here.

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