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Restoration complete - Geo P Matthew fretless

This banjo was brought to me for repair in November last year, but other things kept me from looking at it until mid January - it's now completed and ready to return to its owner.

It bears no makers mark, but was almost certainly made by Geo P Matthew around the turn of the 20th century. His headstock and heel shapes are fairly distinctive, as is the striking metal leaf-design inlay.

There's a nice biography of him available here: he was born in London in the 1850s, but for most of his banjo-making career was based in Birmingham, operating a couple of factories towards the end of the 19th Century. There's another example of his banjo making here - and I actually have a second Matthew banjo in for repair at the moment...

This one was in need of a clean and set-up, and some further attention:

The neck had suffered some damage and had been previously repaired. However, the wood used was relatively soft and unsuitable as fingerboard surface, so the fifth string pip had been torn out. Around the 12th fret position there was a new piece of metal installed - presumably where an old piece of inlay fell out - but it was not lying flush to the fingerboard.

The vellum was torn and in need of replacement, with a couple of bracket shoes and most of the tension hooks missing. Those hooks that remained were bent out of shape by a too-wide flesh hoop, which had meant they strained to reach the tension hoop.

​There was no tailpiece, and the existing steel strings were simply looped around the tailpiece bracket instead. Similarly, the original bridge was missing, with an acoustic guitar saddle serving as a make-shift replacement.

​My repair work addressed each of these in turn, alongside a strip-down and clean.

  • A piece of rosewood was ebonised to match the existing fingerboard and installed where the chip was missing

  • A new fifth string pip was then added, and the previous (unfinished) repair wood smoothed and oiled

  • The fingerboard and headstock veneer were cleaned and re-oiled, and the friction tuners were adjusted

  • A new calfskin vellum was installed, on an appropriately sized flesh hoop

  • New bracket shoes and tension hooks were sourced and installed

  • A new bridge and tailpiece were sourced and installed

  • The old steel strings were replaced with a new nylgut set

Some additional work would also have been possible - replacing the fiddle peg that was in use as a fifth string tuner with something that matches the headstock tuners, or sourcing additional replacement tension hooks and bracket shoes so each was a matching set. However, in both cases the current mis-matched sets are working fine, and it seems a shame to deny the history of the instrument by smoothing over these accumulated marks of its previous owners. Especially with that previous neck repair still visible! There's a summary of this work over in the gallery. If you have an old banjo you'd like me to take a look at, please get in touch.

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