Crawls Backward (When Alarmed)

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1924 Weymann Model 180 Tenor Banjo

Holy ploink-ploink!  What the heck is that?

That, dear reader, is my latest musical acquistion.  It's a 1924 Weymann Model 180 tenor banjo.

In case you're wondering, I have not totally lost my mind.  I have found that lately I've developed a taste for slightly eccentric instruments.

Especially ones that are high quality.

I have a few friends who play banjo, and it has whetted my interest in them.  Banjos have always seemed like something from a way-off planet to me, what with all that hardware, a skin head, and a tuner in the middle of the neck.

Anyways.  I have acquired a couple of tenor guitars and it turns out that tenor guitars and tenor banjos (generally) use the same tuning.  So I said to myself, "Self, you could buy a neato tenor banjo and actually learn to play it and put your new skills to use on both banjo AND tenor guitar!"

Erase all that.  It's partially true, but the main thing is I needed an excuse to get another fine old instrument.

The tenor banjo was primarily a rhythm instrument in early jazz - New Orleans/dixieland bands.  When guitars started to become more prevalent in jazz in the 1930s, the tenor banjo faded in popularity.  And the tenor guitar was developed as a way for tenor banjo players to transistion to guitar.

The tenor banjo has 4 strings and is played with a pick, unlike the traditional banjo you hear in bluegrass.  That would be a 5-string banjo - longer scale, played with the fingers, and having, well, 5 strings.  And scads of tunings.

Weymann was based in Philadelphia and made instruments from the early 1900s though about 1960.  Their stuff was high quality, and used by a lot of professionals. 

Check out this headstock inlay!  That is art.

I admit I'm a sucker for this stuff.

More really beautiful inlays on the fretboard as well.

I snagged this from the famous Jake Wildwood at Antebellum Instruments.  First-class guy, great player and restorer of way cool stringed instruments.

Jake had put a new synthetic head on, and done a fret level and crown and general set up.  The action is super low and it sounds wonderful.

Because I'm an idiot a novice to tenor banjo, I broke the A string when I first sat down to play it.  Since I needed to restring it, I used that as an excuse to clean and polish it up a bit more.  Mainly I wanted to polish all that hardware and clean and oil the fingerboard - to get a little more familiar with this beast.

Here's the Weymann decal on the back of the headstock.  Perfectly preserved after all these years.

Notice the neck lamination - it seems this is a hallmark of Weymann instruments.

The neck is maple - check out that flame! 

More detail with the resonator removed.

The rim is laminated.  The outermost layer is clearly flame maple.  I'm not sure about the other layers.  There is also a slight 'megaphone' angle to the inside of the rim - to enable more volume and projection.

The center post is adjustable to raise or lower the string action.

This is a whole new world to me, I'm still pretty gaga over the whole thing.

The neck also has a lamination running along its width which extends to the headstock.

This is a just a beautiful, quality instrument.

The resonator is laminated maple.  It's fairly scratched up from use, but you can see the beautiful figure from certain angles.

The toning on the rim, resonator and neck are all very violin-ish colors.  Simply gorgeous.


Post a Comment 2 comments:

  • Louise said...
    April 8, 2013 at 8:51 PM
  • buddeshepherd said...
    April 11, 2013 at 10:20 AM
    I love fine craftsmanship. Doesn't really matter what it is. If it is well made I admire it.
    Of course now you have to learn some "old-time" music to play with it. I suggest "Bonaparte's Retreat."
    Some years ago, when I published my photocopied journal of silly farm life, I would have a birthday party. My friends from Iowa would come out and we would set around a fire in the backyard and they would play old-time music and I would pretend to play a washtub bass (which I made from a hoe handle and piano wire (D" string).
    Sometimes 15 out of 40 subscribers would be there!
    I have no idea what the point of my comments was supposed to be. I'm just avoiding going to work.
    Have a nice day...

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