Crawls Backward (When Alarmed)

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ca. 1935 'Princess' Banjo Mandolin Restoration

Who woulda thunk it?  Two mandolins in two weeks?

And this is not just any mandolin - it's royalty! 

Not only that, it's a banjo mandolin.  As if a mandolin wasn't loud enough to start with.

This is a sort of mystery-make banjo mandolin.  I'd guess it dates from the late 1920s maybe up to 1940 or so.

Told you it was royalty!

It's a 'Princess.'  Very nicely made - 5-ply maple rim, three piece maple and rosewood neck, and what appears to be a rosewood headstock inlay.

I suspect this was made by Regal or one of the other Chicago makers - there is a plate covering the rear of the tuners that sure looks Regal-esque.  Plus, the name could be a play on 'Regal' as well.

At any rate, it belongs to a friend of mine and I'm going to do a little fix-up and get it going again.

There are a couple of cracks to fix, I'm going to put a new head and possibly a bridge on it as well.

First order of business is to take the head off.  I'm using my new 'MyBanjo' tuning head wrench.  Pretty neat and handy - three common sizes on one wrench.

The lugs were pretty loose - virtually no tension on the head.

I need to take the neck off in order to remove the head.  There is a lug at the strap end that attaches to the coordinator rod.

The rod isn't adjustable, but it's not made of wood, so I think the proper term is coordinator rather than 'dowel.'

OMG.  I am speaking banjo language.  We're in trouble now.

You can see how I just used the lug itself to turn the nut that attaches to the rod.

Here's the lug detached from the pot and the rod.

I'm leaving the other lugs on for now.  I'll polish them, and I think it will be easier if they stay on the banjo pot.

Closeup of the MyBanjo tool.  I believe it's an English design.  This should fit 95% of the banjos in existence I would think, since there are three nut sizes - 1/4, 9/32 and 5/16.  Imperial measurement still lives!

If you have one of these, you will be able to tune the head on virtually any banjo on earth.  That, my friend, is power.  Use it carefully.

I bought this and the new head from Elderly Instruments. And ironically, my friend, whose banjo mandolin this is, worked at Elderly in the early 1980s.  Small world.


So now we can just pull the neck away from the pot.

When I did this, I thought of another good friend who says "Banjos are easy to work on.  They're just a bunch of parts."  And so they are.  And it's pretty logical as to which part goes where.

The internal rod just slides out from the bigger coordinator (or is it just a rim?) rod.  There's a thread that goes into the neck heel.

With all of the tension lugs undone, it's a simple matter to pull the tension hoop up off the head.

And the head just comes up off the rim.

There was a spot at the heel end of the neck where the fingerboard was pulling up off the neck.  So I just gently tugged on it, and the whole board came off.  Better now than when my friend is in the middle of some fingerboard-burning solo.

The frets are really sticking out from the fingerboard, so it will actually be easier to dress them back with the board off the neck, I think.

Check out the beautiful black and white pearl "moon" inlays.  Very nice.

Next, I'll work on those cracks I mentioned.


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