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Author Topic: Tenor Banjo questions  (Read 7463 times)

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Offline Polecat

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Tenor Banjo questions
« on: Jan 25, 2005, 02:38:22 AM »
I recently bought a tenor banjo, In need of some restoration, I was wondering if anyone has had experience with these instruments, and could offer any advice. It is a Nu-Way, I did a search on the web and the best I could determine they were made as early as the 1860's (Civil War era, SWEEEEEET!!!!)

Not a whole lot of info beyond that though, Anybody ever tooled around with one of these things, and can clue me in to what I might expect to encounter?

Thanks!

Pole

Offline fidla

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Re: Tenor Banjo questions
« Reply #1 on: Jan 25, 2005, 02:04:33 PM »
sure I've fooled around with a few.  what kinds of questions do you have?

Offline Titch

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Re: Tenor Banjo questions
« Reply #2 on: Jan 25, 2005, 03:54:34 PM »
The best tool for any banjo is a Bryant & May Extra Long.  >:D
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Offline fiddlemaker65

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Re: Tenor Banjo questions
« Reply #3 on: Jan 31, 2005, 09:42:25 AM »
A banjo tuned in fifths, with a short neck, was patented by John B. Schall, of Chicago, in 1907.  We call it a tenor banjo.  Tinker, shim, and play.......
Only the mediocre are always at their best.  Jean Giradoux

Offline bryan

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Re: Tenor Banjo questions
« Reply #4 on: Feb 02, 2005, 05:11:37 PM »
I had one for a while, traded it for fiddle money.
Mine was an old LaScala, beautiful birds eye wood, shaky sound.

does your still have a skin head or synthetic.

One of the first things you need to decide is which style / tuning you want to play.
traditional tenor is tuned CGDA and traditionally used for dixieland jazz, mummers, stuff, chord melody playing, really hard but its way cool if you can nail it.
 

Or Irish tenor style which used GDAE, one octave lower than violin, for Irish type playing.
My tenor sounded deep and growly with Irish tuning, and clearer and bright with the CGDA tuning.   There are lots of other less common tunings too.  You need different tension strings etc... for different tunings.

Tenors sound nice with some mandolin style crosspicking too. 

what is the scale length?  The Irish style tenors tend to have a shorter scale length I think.





Offline Anthony

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Re: Tenor Banjo questions
« Reply #5 on: Feb 02, 2005, 09:44:19 PM »
Basic set up,

Bridge placement; the 12th fret should be the half way point between the nut and the bridge.

Measure from the nut to the center of the 12th fret, measure the same distance from the center of the 12th fret to the head and made a light pecil mark, this is the starting point for setting the bridge.

Tune the banjo, play the c string open and then at the 12th fret, if the fretted note is sharp the bridge needs to move towards the tailpiece, if the fretted note is flat the bridge needs to move towards the neck. Move the bridge a little at a time and test again.

Do the same with the g, d, & a strings.

The bridge may or may not be perpendicular to the strings.

Without seeing your banjo its hard to say what needs work.

Some things that may need replacing are the, tuners or pegs, banjo head, strings, bridge, nut, fingerboard and/or frets (providing it's fretted) possibly the tailpiece.

The head may need to be tensioned as well.

Does this banjo have truss rods?

Does the neck pass through the hoop under the head and get wedged in place at the bottom?

Anthony

Offline Polecat

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Re: Tenor Banjo questions
« Reply #6 on: Feb 06, 2005, 01:33:56 AM »
This banjo still has a skin head, is missing one tuner, tailpiece, bridge strings, one bracket and hook. It has 17 frets, which I am led to believe is "short scale". It is a Nu-Way, which through research I have determined to be made between 1860-1900. The immediate plans I have are to replace the head, tuning pegs, buy a new tailpiece, bridge and strings.
I have not yet received the instrument (as it is being sent from B.C. Canada) I will know more when it arrives. I just want to make it playable, not necessarily restore it.

pole

Offline Anthony

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Re: Tenor Banjo questions
« Reply #7 on: Feb 06, 2005, 01:55:56 AM »
Hey Pole,

I'de add a bracket and hook to that list. Natural skin heads are a pain, they go slack when it's damp and can burst when it's dry. I like Remo banjo heads myself. I'd like to hear more once you get it and make it playable.

Anthony

Offline peakfiddler

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Re: Tenor Banjo questions
« Reply #8 on: Feb 06, 2005, 10:23:45 AM »
Polecat, I used to play an Ozark 5 string which I bought in a junk shop. It had a broken neck and I repaired it and used it for nearly ten years.
Then I bought a Goodtime banjo and the old one never got used until a friend of mine, who has been making banjos for some time, offered to convert it to a 4 string tenor banjo.

He made a superb job and tuned it to GDAE, same as the fiddle. This means that it is easy to play all of the fiddle tunes I know anyway. It is quite a long stretch to reach the notes, but the tone is good.

He fitted a plastic 5 star skin and a neck which he made himself. The neck has nineteen frets and measures 15-1/4 inches from nut to the last fret.

12th fret is a smidgeon under 11-1/2 inches and is half way between the nut and the bridge, just like '5-string' said it would be.

I did a recording on my website in the mp3 section, if you want to hear what it sounds like.

Offline peakfiddler

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Re: Tenor Banjo questions
« Reply #9 on: Feb 06, 2005, 10:29:06 AM »
The best tool for any banjo is a Bryant & May Extra Long. >:D
Good job that the Bryant and May factory has closed down 8)


Offline Polecat

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Re: Tenor Banjo questions
« Reply #10 on: Feb 07, 2005, 01:19:42 AM »
5-String, the skin is out for sure, Stewart-MacDonald sells a plastic head that looks like skin, without the pain. I plan on replacing all the brackets hooks and nuts (There are only 16 ) As for the neck question from earlier, it appears to have the dowell rod attachment through the hoop. So I doubt if it has a truss rod. Any advice on refinishing, i.e. varnish or what would an instrument of this age have typically been finished with? Like I said I don't have the thing yet, but it should arrive shortly, I will know more about its condition then.

Thank You all for your advice!

Pole

Offline Polecat

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Re: Tenor Banjo questions
« Reply #11 on: Feb 15, 2005, 03:34:23 AM »
I recieved it on Saturday, and it does need some work, the hardware side is no problem, the finish however was severely crazed and I had to sand it off. the rim is maple, the neck is of a lighter, very white wood, not sure what type. the fingerboard is rosewood, and is cracked toward the lower, hoop end and will probabally need replaced, and is very thin, about 3/32 missing a few frets. The head is calf skin 10 5/8", I found a replacement in plastic from elderly that looks like a skin head. The neck is good and straight, and the square dowel is firm.

Immediate plans are to refinish it, clear on the rim, and a medium brown on the neck, any suggestions, keeping in mind this is an oldie, and I want to keep it looking so! I have very little experience with varnish, in a musical instrument application (have used it on furniture I have built )

Any help here would be GREATLY appreciated!!


Thanks

Pole

Offline Anthony

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Re: Tenor Banjo questions
« Reply #12 on: Feb 15, 2005, 11:19:55 AM »
Hey sounds good,

as for the fingerboard, you should be able to find a new one on line, http://www.janetdavismusic.com

Varnishing a banjo shouldn't be that different then furniture.

Myself, I'd use tung or linseed oil on the neck. After it polymerized, couple coats of carnuba wax mixed with pure spirit turpentine then buff it out.

Steve at Gianna violins is who I'de ask for advice.

Anthony

Offline Polecat

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Re: Tenor Banjo questions
« Reply #13 on: Feb 21, 2005, 02:29:40 AM »
I started refinishing today! I stained the neck with a red mahogany oil stain, and will top coat it with first a spit coat of shellac, then a finish of Tried and True Original wood finish ( A mixture of linseed oil and beeswax ) I am leaving the existing fingerboard on for the time being, as the missing frets are well beyond where playing occurs. I will replace it later on, maybe.

For the rim I am planning to use a blonde shellac, hand rubbed after the final coat, using rottenstone and paraffin oil.

I am going to a local bluegrass shop tomorrow to check out the hardware aspect. Immediate plans are to buy all new brackets, hooks, and nuts. I have found a 10 5/8" fyberskin head ( looks like real skin ) at elderly instruments, however it is backordered. I am still not sure what kind of tailpiece I want. I found a set of 9/32" tuners at elderly as well. I don't want to enlarge the existing peg holes too much ( they are 1/4" now and most tuners require a 3/8" hole )

Anyway the ball is rolling now!!

Thanks again all for your help!

Pole

Offline Polecat

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Re: Tenor Banjo questions
« Reply #14 on: Feb 22, 2005, 03:19:39 AM »
5-String, The oil on the neck feels great, put a couple of coats on so far, and will buff it out tomorrow, but it has a slick feel! I put three coats of a 2# cut shellac on it, lightly sanded between coats with 400 grit sandpaper, and will rub it out tomorrow. It has a semi gloss sheen to it now, but it still looks old, which is what I was going for.

the bluegrass shop did not have the brackets I needed so I put in my order for them through Elderly today as well, the hooks and nuts also.

I also sanded the rust off of the tension hoop using the paraffin oil on some 400 grit sandpaper, followed up with  #0000 steel wool.

I am having a lot of fun doing this so far, even if the banjo turns out to be a piece of rubbish!!

Pole


Offline Anthony

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Re: Tenor Banjo questions
« Reply #15 on: Feb 22, 2005, 05:06:23 AM »
Sounds great so far Pole,

Which oil are you using on the neck? and how long are you letting it cure before applying the next coat? Your using shellac on what, the body, the neck or both?

Offline Polecat

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Re: Tenor Banjo questions
« Reply #16 on: Feb 23, 2005, 01:59:00 AM »
5-String,

The finish I'm using on the neck is a linseed oil and beeswax mixture, made by Tried and True ( enviromentally safe wood finishes, non toxic ) I put one coat on, let it penetrate for 45 minutes, wiped off the excess, let that cure for 24 hours, applied the second coat, let it penetrate for 45 minutes, wiped off the excess, let it cure for 24 hours. When I got home from work tonight, I buffed it first #0000 steel wool, and then with a cotton rag. Very nice semi-gloss sheen, nice grain depth, and a nice slick feel.

On the rim, I put a spit coat of shellac ( 1/2 pound cut ) let it dry for 1 hour, lightly sanded with 400 grit sandpaper, then applied three coats of a 2 pound cut shellac, lightly sanded between with 400 grit sandpaper, let all that dry overnight, came home from work, sanded lightly with 600 grit sandpaper, wiped off the dust with a cotton rag dampened with denatured alcohol, then began rubbing out the finish with paraffin oil and rottenstone, after 6 passes, it already has a beautiful glossy sheen to it, I'm taking a break right now to post. I will keep going until I get the exact sheen I want. The great part about the shellac is even though the finish is VERY glossy it still lets the age of the wood show through, I still want this banjo to look old! I treated the rim just like a furniture piece. I am VERY pleased with the results so far!!

Thank You again for the advice on the oil finish on the neck, I can see why it would be better.

Pole

Offline Polecat

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Re: Tenor Banjo questions
« Reply #17 on: Feb 26, 2005, 05:31:34 PM »
I received the first of many hardware orders on Thursday, all the brackets, hooks and nuts arrived in from Elderly. I put the new brackets on the hoop, and my oh my, do they look great, all that shiny nickel against the shiny maple rim. The 10 5/8" Fyberskin head is backordered, as are the 9/32" small shaft tuning pegs, but as soon as they are in, I can begin working on replacing the nut, and finding a tailpiece I like. This has been a relly fun project so far, a great way to curb the winter blahs!!

Pole

Offline Polecat

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Re: Tenor Banjo questions
« Reply #18 on: Mar 07, 2005, 02:19:33 AM »
Update:

  I made a new fingerboard this weekend,1/8" Bolivian rosewood scraped to 3/32", just waiting on the fretwire and abalone marking dots to come in. I am wondering the best glue to use to attatch it, I assume hide glue would be best. any suggestions?

I put a new bone nut on it yesterday.

I ordered a new head and vintage tension hoop in the size I need, 10 5/8" from Andybanjo in the UK. a new tailpiece from Janet Davis music (thanks 5-String) All that is left are the  small shaft tuning pegs ( Should be available 3/8/05 ) a bridge and strings. Then its time to play the darned thing!!

Pole

Offline Anthony

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Re: Tenor Banjo questions
« Reply #19 on: Mar 07, 2005, 02:43:47 AM »
Hide glue is what you want to use, that way the fretboard can be removed.

Anthony

Offline Polecat

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Re: Tenor Banjo questions
« Reply #20 on: Mar 24, 2005, 02:47:35 AM »
I am coming close to finishing, tailpiece is in the mail, strings and bridge are already here. I was wondering however, does anyone know where I can get some rosewood buttons for my tuners? I think the plastic pearloid ones are just too bright! I have thought of two possible solutions;

#1: Buying rosewood violin pegs, cutting them down, drilling them and fitting them to the tuner shaft.

#2: Turning a set from scratch.

.....Violin pegs, however, are much larger than the buttons on my tuners, and require a 5/32" square hole to fit correctly. Short of finding, or making a 1/8" chisel, I don't know if I could, accurately, cut the hole.
 
Most suppliers carry the plastics ( i.e. pearloid, ivoroid, amber ), ebony, and even mother of pearl, at $25.00 a piece!! I have yet to find anyone that carries rosewood, maybe I'm just not looking in the right place.

Any help!?

Pole

Offline Anthony

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Re: Tenor Banjo questions
« Reply #21 on: Mar 24, 2005, 11:15:44 AM »
I myself have never seen wood used for this. seems to me the stress put on the button by the square shaft would split a wooden button. Never know until you try. I believe dark colored horn would be a better choice, have you looked on ebay.

Anthony

Offline Polecat

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Re: Tenor Banjo questions
« Reply #22 on: Mar 24, 2005, 12:51:08 PM »
5-String, I saw a company that used all sorts of wood for their guitar tuners( snakewood, ebony, rosewood etc. etc. ), they will even make buttons out of the same wood used to make the instrument, to ensure an exact match. They do not sell just the button, however, They will only attach them to their tuners. My step dad has offered me some deer antler to try to make some, I would try it with wood first, as I wouldn't want  to mess up a bunch of nice antler.

I will look on e-bay too, I guess I could get lucky.

Thanks

 




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