Restoration #2 - Spencer short-scale

This banjo was restored to playing condition in July 2021. 

It was originally made by Richard Spencer, probably around the turn of the 20th Century - there's more info on Spencer as a banjo maker here. It bears his makers mark at the heel and on the dowel stick. The skin also bears a stamp on the inside but it's too faded to read, so aging that is more difficult, but it could possibly be original. 

The banjo was probably fretless at first, with frets added at a later date. It was also built with a tunnelled fifth string and all five tuners situated on the headstock. At some point it had lost the fifth tuner from the headstock and gained a fifth string tuner on the neck, though when it got to me it had lost both - most probably having spent some time strung up with steel strings like an Irish tenor banjo. It also had an old cake tin lid wedged on the back of the pot as a make-shift resonator. 

The owner was keen to get it back to playing condition, preferring a minimally-invasive set-up to a complete overhaul. It was all structurally sound, but needed a bit of work here and there: 
 

  • As it had lost its fifth tuner I sourced and installed an appropriate new one

  • The remaining original tuners were fine, but needed a clean to make sure they were neither sticking nor slipping

  • It had lost a couple of brackets so I put in new ones and brought the skin back to tension

  • The fretboard had dried and shrunk over the years, so I oiled it and filed down a few protruding fret ends

  • The dowel stick holding the neck to the pot had lost its bracing, so I made a couple of cherry blocks to hold it tight

  • I sourced a new bridge and resized it so that the string action and playing height are comfortable

  • Finally, I put on a set of nylgut strings