Frequently Asked Questions
FAQ's
Last updated 07/14/12.

Note: MIH

The Q&A column (now renamed FAQ to conform to I'net practice) was one of the most enduring and popular features of Mugwumps magazine. Before you email your questions, use our Search Engine to look for information anywhere on the Mugwumps website. With approximately a quarter million visitors each year, the number of information requests, and the time it takes to research each instrument I can no longer offer this as a free service. Email for the fee structure.


Q: Thanks for your website. I remain confused about my old Vega 5 string banjo. It is stamped with "Fairbanks, made by Vega" which suggests 1910, but the serial number is 48487 which suggests 1921ish. The two serial numbers match. It is stamped "Little Wonder" but it has 22 frets, and I thought that the Little Wonder had less then 20. Do you have any ideas about when my banjo was made?
A: By the twenties, banjos were going out of favor compared with their earlier popularity. You could order the neck and rim separately, so the possibility exists to find 17 frets,18 frets -- particularly on the oversized heads, 22 frets, 5 string, mandolin or guitar necks. We believe the rims were assembled (Vega purchased them raw, they didn't make them) in batches. Necks were chosen and stamped with matching numbers as they were ordered and sold. The serial numbers in Mugwumps' chart are an approximation based on catalogs, ads, and sales receipts since, to my knowledge, Vega did not keep the production records -- at least they haven't surfaced yet. My records show that your serial number is within the time frame for the F-V stamp, the last reported one is 52669. There is no apparent anomoly between your banjo and the records. SA

Q: I play guitar and sing with other amateurs. We have no banjo player, Please tell me what a banjo wrench is used for. RH
A: Banjo wrenches are used to tighten (or loosen) the head of the banjo. In the days of skin heads the heads needed a lot of attention depending on the weather, humidity, etc. Now with plastic heads, not so much. The wrenches with names were usually given by the maker when someone bought one of their banjos. Drums have similar issues, after all a banjo is basically a drum with a neck.

Q: I am trying to find out about The Globe Musical Instrument Company in New York; are they the same as Globe Music Co. of Chicago. BB
A: It's probable that they are the same. The Charles Meisel Company was a wholesaler established 1878; they didn't manufacture anything, but claimed "Sole control of the output of the Globe Musical Company."

Q: I am a banjo player from Brittanny (Celtic North West France). I have wandered for a long time why the Dowell sticks were called like that. PA
A: The piece of wood that passes through the rim is made separately from the neck. They are not one continuous piece of wood (generally). To attach the one to the other, a hole is drilled in the base of the neck. Early banjos had round (dowel) attachments. Later banjos have a square one so a round section -- usually about an inch long -- is turned or carved on the end of the other piece, the same diameter as the hole. This end of the dowel stick is glued into the hole in the neck making a much stronger joint than a neck made from a single piece. Besides "dowel stick" it has been called a "dowel rod", a "strut" and a "perch pole" along with other names. "Dowel stick" just describes a piece of wood with a round part on the end.

Q: There is a lovely "Graupner & Meyer" Mandolin that is being sold at auction made, the seller says, at the turn of the century. I live just outside Philadelphia and thus have an interest in it's value not only as an instrument but also as a piece of Philadelphia History. DM
A: Graupner & Meyer, Philadelphia, PA mandolin and guitar manufacturers from 1894-1906+. By 1901 they claimed 40 employees making 3500 instruments per year, most of which were sold in the New England states. They produced a line of high grade instruments under their own name, and circa 1900 introduced a student grade of Shubert mandolins.

Q: Perhaps the readers can help with this one? Anyone have an instrument with a clearer mark? The intertwined letters could be L&H.
A: Although Lyon & Healy advertised a Star brand banjo circa 1890, the ones seen are clearly British. They are not of Lyon & Healy manufacture. The logo remains a mystery.

Q: I have 2 Old Craftsman banjos and a mandolin marked Old Kraftsman ("K" instead of "C"). Do you have any information? JM
A: They were made in the 1940s by the Kay Company, in business in Chicago from 1931 to 1968. All the Kay products (sometimes marked Kay Kraft) are solidly made but low grade, student or entry level instruments. Often not marked at all, their distinctive shaped pegheads are enough to identify them.

Q: Are there certain woods that have a more irritating dust? Is there any information on more/less toxic wood dust? RA
A: Ebony and rosewood are known to be problematical. Rosewood dust and sweat can give you major skin problems and breathing the stuff is awful! Wear a dust mask and long sleeves. Have good ventilation and change your clothes and shower as soon as you can. Hascal Haile, maker of Chet Atkin's personal acoustic guitars and inventor of the thin-bodied electric Gibsons that bear his and Chet's names, had to give up making because of skin ulcers and breathing problems he developed from rosewood dust. Enough of it in your lungs can cause a condition similar to black lung disease. It's not stuff to fool around with! And it's certainly not benign. Visit Health Hazards & Wood for more information.

Q: I have a parlor guitar from around 1890 made of Brazilian rosewood. On the back of the head stock it has an imprint of Henry L. Mason, Boston; this is repeated in the sound hole. Is this the same as Mason & Hamlin from piano fame? RM
A: Circa 1880-1900 he was vice-president of Mason & Hamlin Piano & Organ Co. Guitars bearing his name marked Boston, MA are circa 1890 style and probably made by Haynes (Bay State), although he may have made some himself.

Q: We have an old tremoloa that needs some parts. Can you tell me where they might be found? JPierson
A: They have little value -- the best source for parts would be to buy another damaged one and take what you need for the better one. Or you could try writing to the folks at Ukelin Home. They feature other zither-based instruments, Marx-O-Lin, Hawaiian Art Violin, Guitar-O-Lin, among others.

Q: Do you know where I can get info on a Beltone 8 string banjo. TG
A: The instrument is a banjo mandolin. Beltone was a brand name used from circa 1920 by Perlberg & Halpin, a NYC distributor. C.F. Martin made a few instruments for them in the early 1920s; 15 guitars, 10 mandolins and 12 ukuleles. All other instruments seen have been cheap, student grade models, in particular plywood, "arch-top" guitars typical of the mid-30s and probably made by Regal or Harmony. Some banjos similarly marked have also been seen. They were medium grade student or amateur models.

Q: I am trying to identify the maker of a banjo mandolin with this mark on the inside of the stretcher band. TS
A: It could be an "S" inside an "O" which was a logo used by Oscar Schmidt, but as you can see on the Schmidt mandolin pickguard, they are quite different. Perhaps a reader can help.

Q: I have a Kel Kroydon mandolin in pretty good shape. There are no other markings. JH
A: Kel Kroyden was a budget Gibson line made circa 1930 -1933. In good condition, they make good student and advanced amateur instruments. The KK20 had a wooden fingerboard, the KK 21 a celluloid one. Condition is all important.

Q: What was the name of the company that went on to become Kay? NS
A: Kay Musical Instrument Company was founded in 1931 from Stromberg-Voisinet which itself was formed in 1890 when new management took over the Groehsl Company which had been in business making mostly Tamburitza instruments in Chicago. They used the names KayKraft, KMI, and Kay on their instruments, all of which were student or amateur grade. Kay closed in 1968. New instruments bearing the Kay name are imported from Asia.

Q: Do you have any information about Weymann & Sons? DH
A: H.A. Weymann & Son were in business from 1864, making and distributing a full line of instruments. But it is the banjos made in the 20s & 30s with their unique "Megaphonic Tone Amplifying Rim" and "Pop-off Resonator" that are best regarded. Two Weymann brands were "W & S" and "Keystone State." In 1929 Weymann left the retail business to become the exclusive wholesalers of the RCA Victor line (phonographs, etc) but continued to manufacture Weymann banjos and other stringed instruments until c1949.

Q: I'm looking for information on Elton Banjos? Can you tell me anything about them? CS
A: Elton is an accessories maker & wholesaler, founded in 1920s in NYC, still in business as of this writing. They stamped their name on the items they sold. They didn't make instruments, just parts.

Q: I have a tenor banjo on which I found a small makers stamp "W. H. Dewick" on the head side of the dowel. HH
A: Willian H. Dewick was a teacher, performer and maker in Brooklyn, NY from c1895. His was primarily a small production of interesting stringed instruments, particularly banjos, for professional players. In 1925 he joined with 2 others, claiming to manufacture tenor and ukulele banjos for the trade. Brand names they used were Dewick, Standard, Ideal, Matchless and Duplex. Every one I have seen has looked like a Lange product, and I suspect they were made for them and labeled.

Q: I found an acoustic guitar in my attic and would like to know more about the company. DA
A: The Richter Mfg. Co. was founded at Chicago, IL by Carl H. Richter in 1926 to market instruments under the Sweetheart brand name. They were no longer listed in 1944.

Q: I have a banjo with the initials "RCK" and a tailpiece marked Bookser's Pat. Dec 31, '89. RD
A: RCK was Robert C. Kretschmer, an importer and distributor, not a maker. The banjo appears to be a New York made "trade" banjo, built by one of the large manufacturers for others to label. It is probably by John C. Stratton, who in the 1890s promoted and advertised the Bookser tailpiece and used the type of neck attachment collar shown.

Q: I have a "pocket" mando with no label and gearless tuners, which use a small pully and cam for each. The only markings on the tuners are "Richter Patent". MB
A: It looks German to me. A US patent was issued to a Johannes Richter in Germany in the 1920s, but I don't seem to have a record for what. 2 other Richters were patentees, Paul in Boston, MA in 1916 for the instrument that went on to be manufactured as a Ukelin, and Carl who founded the Richter Mfg. Co in Chicago to make ukuleles in the mid 1920s. Adam Richter made banjos in NYC in the second half of the 19th Century, but no patents. Probably Johannes is the one.

Q: I have an old, wooden guitar, and seems to be '20s or '30s. Inside the soundhole it has a sticker that reads "LIBERTY GUITAR, this guitar is specifcally designed for Hawaian slide playing, Made in USA." SL
A: From 1925 the Schoenhut toy company marketed a line of stringed instruments with a Liberty Bell shaped sticker they called "Liberty Bell" but I have not seen or heard of the one you describe. Photos might help.

Q: Found an old mandolin among grandfather's things. ... "Collegiate Product of P'MICO of New York". SB
A: Collegiate was a registered brand of the Progressive Musical Instrument Company -- P'MICO. They started business in 1920 as wholesalers and distributors. Instruments were made by many companies, and labeled for them. They also distributed brand name instruments, but most of their own label things were student grade.

Q: I have a Mandolin Harp manufactured by the International Music Corporation. Can you provide some info? SK
A: Visit the Ukelin Site for a start. International Music Corporation was another Oscar Schmidt company name.

Q: Any way of telling how old a Ludwig "Bellevue" banjo is without taking it apart? RF
A: Drum maker Ludwig & Ludwig lost a great deal of money on an unsuccessful attempt 1921-1929 to market a line of banjos. They merged with Conn in 1929 and canceled banjo production, to concentrate, once again, on drums.

Q: Who made the Midland mandolin? BL
A: Midland was a Wurlitzer brandname, but who actually made them is unknown. Wurlitzer was a wholesaler and distributor; they didn't manufacture anything.

Q: I am trying to identify this trade mark. It is stamped into an old, leather guitar case. JC
A: It was registered to a company named Maulbetsch & Whittemore, Newark, NJ. They claimed it was in use since October 10, 1891. The application was filed on May 24, 1893. Trade mark #23375 was issued on July 18, 1893. Their initials can be seen on the music staff, on either side of the bull's head.

Q: Have you any info on a parlor guitar marked GOGGAN in an inlaid m.o.p. circle on the headstock? Also has T. Goggan & Bro. in a 5 poe star branded on the back inside the sound hole. RM
A: Thomas Goggan was a Galveston, TX musical instrument dealer established circa 1866. The name was changed in 1898 to Thomas Goggan & Bros. and a trademark issued. They were still in business in 1908. Primarily a retail o eration with several branch stores throughout Texas and the Southwest, they sold Columbia brand banjos, which were made by Buckbee. Other instruments were similarly made for them and labeled.

Q: Would you happen to know where I can get more information about SAMMO Genuuine Koa-Wood guitars? TJ
A: The Osborn Manufacturing Co was established in 1897 at Chicago, IL by Samuel C. Osborn. They built guitars, mandolins, banjos, ukuleles and other small musical instruments. In 1921 they claimed the largest factory of its kind in the country. The instruments were marketed under the Sammo and the Sammos trade marks, some made entirely from koa wood.

Q: I am looking for information regarding a Triumph guitar, made by the Wolfram Guitar Co. of Columbus, OH. The fingerboard is a glued-down, aluminum or tin plate, covering the wood neck which says "Pat. May 23, 93." SR
A: The Wolfram Guitar Co was founded at Columbus, OH by guitar maker Theodore Wolfram. From circa 1892 he used the Triumph brand name. In February, 1901 they celebrated the making of their 10,000th instrument but by December the company was declared insolvent and placed in receivership. He continued as the Wolfram Guitar & Mandolin Co until 1910. In May, 1893 he was issued a patent for a fingerboard design such as you describe.

Q: I recently purchased a guitar made by Antonio Grauso but can't find any info on this company. EG
A: Antonio Grauso was a New York City maker of mandolins, mandolas and guitars from 1891-1913+. He had previously worked with Luigi Ricca, whose instrument making operation employed 200 craftsmen.

Q: Do you know of anywhere that I could get a set of strings for a Ukelin? DW
A: There is a website devoted to Ukelins and other zither based instruments. Visit Bob's Ukelin Home where you will find a link to a string replacement service, along with other information.

Q: Griffith Mandolins: is there any way to date these? PL
A: F.H. Griffith was a Philadelphia, PA mandolin manufacturer from circa 1892-5. His instruments were well made and some had very elaborately inlaid fingerboards and pegheads. From 1895 he published a magazine which primarily extolled his own products. He may have contracted for the instruments with his label.

Q: I'm trying to find out more about two Banjos, both 5 string with backs. One has the word "AIDA" of "JIDA" on the peghead, the other has the word "DALLAS" on the peghead. Any help would be appreciated. It's bloody near impossible to find anyone in New South Wales Australia who knows anything about Banjos. PH
A: The Dallas banjo is British, the other, spelled "Iida" (that's 2 "i's") is Asian. There are links to both British-made and Asian-made banjos listed in the FAQ article.

Q: I have an old banjo with the name "Celebrated Benary" but can't make out all of rest of the letters. DC
Q: My neighbor was going to throw away a banjo. The name in the wood is "Benary New York pat pend." VB
A: Robert H. Benary & Son was a major NYC wholesale & importing company from circa 1880, selling a full range of musical instruments. He claimed to be a manufacturer, but his instruments were imported or made for him and labeled by manufacturers in business to supply instruments to the trade. He was issued a patent in 1886 for a banjo tailpiece. "Celebrated Benary" marked banjos date from the 1890-1898 range and come in a variety of decoration, but they were made by Buckbee and in most respects are identical to their other low to mid-range products. In mid-1890s the company name was changed to "Metropolitan Musical Instrument Co."

Q: 25 years ago I bought a banjo with Vega on the front of the peghead but on the back and inside it has a Martin & Co est. 1833 decal. In looking over Mugwups, I can't see when Martin and Vega were one and the same. BW
A: That oversight is now corrected in the "Fairbanks & Vega" article. The dates are 1970 to 1978.

Q: "The Royal" is the only writing in a turn of the century bowlback mandolin. Are you familiar with it? ES
A: Frederick O. Gutman, a successful publisher and performer, began guitar and mandolin manufacture in 1898 using the "FOG" brand name. Circa 1900 he formed the Royal Music Co of Cleveland, OH which made and sold Royal and Wonder Royal Mandolins, Banjos & Guitars. These were meant to be very inexpensive; the mandolins sold for 80¢ each or $9.50 a dozen. The banjos, which had wooden tops, cost 85¢ and the guitars were 90¢.

Q: I have a mandolin brand name "Osborn" made in Chicago. Any information on the manufacturer? JK
A: The Osborn Manufacturing Co. was established in 1897 at Chicago, IL by Samuel C. Osborn. They built guitars, mandolins, banjos, ukuleles and other small musical instruments, along with a zither variant for which Osborn was issued patents in 1917. In 1921 they claimed the largest factory of its kind in the country. The instruments were marketed under the Sammo and the Sammos trade marks, the latter being made entirely from koa wood. They were still in business in 1921.

Q: I have a very small parlor guitar with an inside label that reads "Eugene Howard, Maker." F
A: Eugene Howard was the Cincinnati, OH maker of Howard brand instruments c1896-1920s. They were distributed by Wurlitzer, a major wholesaler, with branches in Cincinnati and Chicago. Later, Howard became a Wurlitzer brandname.

Q: Do you have any information on W.A. Cole, a 19th and early 20th century Boston instrument maker? JP
A: Check the "W.A. & F.E. Cole" article elsewhere in Mugwumps Online. In addition, 2 books, Ring The Banjar by Webb and America's Instrument, The Banjo In the 19th Century by Gura & Bollman contain about as much information as has been published anywhere.

Q: A friend of mine has a cello banjo with the name Yosco in the peghead. Can you tell me about the name? BK
A: Lawrence L. Yosco was an instrument maker in New York City from circa 1900. Banjos, guitars and round back mandolins bearing his name have been seen. In 1918 he was issued a patent for a banjo rim with internal resonator. The banjos were probably made to order by one of the large manufacturers and labeled. They were distributed by Perlberg and Halpin, a major New York musical merchandise wholesaler and jobber. Yosco was still in business in the 1930s.

Q: I have a Miami Guitar Co, similar to a Martin OM. Approximately a 30's vintage. Any clues? DB
A: Miami was a brandname used by distrubutor Henry Stadlmair c1925. I don't know if this is the same instrument.

Q: Can you point me to any information on REX or REX Professional banjo? Have one that is 5-string, headstock just like your upper left pic of S S Stewart Universal favorite, but shell is thin, spun over with nickel plated brass. Rex name decal back of headstock. FS
A: Rex was a Gretsch brandname starting circa 1902 until the 30's or 40s. Whether they actually made these student grade instruments or contracted for them is unknown. I suspect they didn't actually make the parts, although they may have assembled them.

Q: Who was Kel Kroydon? I have seen some banjos with his name on them. DB
A: During the Depression, Gibson sold a line of toys under this name. It is also found on a Gibson budget line of banjos, mostly, but also guitars & mandolins, circa 1930-1933. I have consulted several Gibson experts, two of whom have come up with different stories. No one seems to know, including Walter Carter who edited the Gibson History, and Curtis McPeake, a Gibson expert who has been around the banjo, almost since Kel Kroydons were new (OK, well not really). Curtis had heard that Kel was a Gibson shop foreman or supervisor, but Walter says no such person worked for Gibson. Walter believes it may have been named for a boat or a Kalamazoo friend of the management at Gibson, but doesn't remember the source of that information. I always thought Kel was an entertainer of the period, based on absolutely no evidence whatsoever. George Gruhn had no idea, suggested I call Walter. Sorry. Anybody have evidence, like an ad or flyer? Anybody in Kalamazoo willing to go look in the City Directories of the 1930s to see if such a person existed? Please let me know and I'll pass on the information.

Q: My Vegaphone "Artist" has an Oettinger tailpiece similar to the one pictured on your tailpiece webpage. It was made in 1927 per the serial number. You show the pat. date for the tailpiece as 1929. Was this tailpiece made and used by Vega prior to the pat. being issued? What gives? OH
A: Many patented items show up before the patent is actually issued. Some are marked Pat Pend, but filing for the patent is strong protection for the patentee, and they are usually anxious to start making money. In this case, the application was filed in March, 1927 but it took until May, 1929 for it to be issued. The other consideration is that often, parts were changed or added later. Banjos have always lent themselves to experimentation and modification. As regards the serial numbers, they are not exact at all, but are only educated approximations based on observation of instruments in the field, bills of sale, news releases, and advertisements. No listing from the factory exists and the best we can do is a reconstruction. Finally, we don't know at what point the serial numbers were stamped. The most likely point is when they were ready to be final assembled and set to be shipped, not when they were under construction, since a banjo could have any of many interchangeable necks, and the wood rims were used on many different models.

Q: A friend has a turn of the century Washburn banjo with a thin wooden metal clad pot. It has a terrific sound, particularly the bass, which he attributes to the thin pot and to a lesser extent, the natural head. There are a number of Lyon and Healy banjos from the same era available here and there with what appears to be the same thin pot, at reasonable prices. The over-all instrument is not the same as my friend's in that his has fancier inlay on the neck. But I understand that L & H and Washburn are/were one and the same back then. Is someone making L&H now? BD
A: Washburn was a brand name of the Lyon & Healy Company - there was no "George Washburn" -- those are Lyon's first and middle names. The Washburn brand was used for their higher grade instruments and all the rims in that line are good. The L&H banjos varied greatly and the rims can be very different. L&H ceased making small instruments in 1928 to concentrate on harps, and several companies have owned the Washburn brand name, J.R. Stewart 1928-1930, Tonk Bros from 1930. Today the name is owned by a company importing a full line of musical instruments from Asia, all labeled Washburn.

Q: Do you know of a maker, Horenstein Co. in New York? It has a decal on the headstock reading Luxor Prince. MC
A: Not makers at all, but dealers and distributors, selling mostly student grade instruments made for the trade and labeled by them, a common practice. Luxor was their brand name in use circa 1926.

Q: I own a Triple X tenor banjo. The tone ring is attached to the rim with 20 1.5-inch metal tubes. EW
A: Triple X was a brand name used by NYC distrubutor Henry Stadlmaier, c1920s, manufactured by Wm. Lange.

Q: I have an American Art Guitar, and the music that goes with it. The label says "Made in Kansas City, Missouri. Three In One." GM Click for picture
A: It is neither a guitar nor made in Kansas. It is a zither variant and its parent company is the Oscar Schmidt Company in New Jersey. They went around the country setting up local sales offices and having labels printed as if it were a local product. There is a website for these "many stringed monsters" as one writer has called them Click here . There are thousands of them, mostly in bad shape since they were poorly made. However, although of little monetary value, they are a wonderful peek at that inventive era in American History.

Q: Can you help me gather some information on my great grandfather's Thomas W. Bree & Co - San Francisco banjo? He probably purchased it in the early 1870s. JC
A: Thomas W. Bree was a banjo maker in NYC c1840. He moved to San Francisco during the 1849 gold rush, where he continued making instruments at least until 1890.

Q: I recently obtained an openback banjo with a label inside the pot that identifies it as a Supertone. LW
Q: I have a small guitar from the 1940's with palmtrees painted on it and the name inside is Supertone. TH
A: Supertone was a Sears brand name of low grade, entry level instruments, probably made by Oscar Schmidt or Harmony.

Q: I have a four string banjo made by Jos Rogers Jr. What can you tell me about him? SK
A: Joseph Rogers, Jr. was the premier manufacturer & dealer of skins for drum and banjo heads from the mid-19th century, succeeded by John Rogers & Bro in January, 1895. In November, 1895 James Rogers, Jr. announced the closing of his head making factory, due to ill health and poor profits. The Rogers name stamped on banjo heads frequently causes people to mistakenly identify the instrument as a Rogers, but the company provided only the heads.

Q: Are you familiar with the company Horenstein, located in New York, which made Luxor banjos? JS
A: Horenstein & Sons were New York City dealers of "Luxor" brand banjos circa 1926. They were not manufacturers but rather sold instruments labeled for them, probably by Lange.

Q: I have an old banjo that my great great grandmother used to play. It is a five string stamped "Mystic." JF
A: The Mystic brand name was used by Lyon & Healy from 1905. They are not high grade instruments.

Q: I have a guitar that is labeled "Harp Guitars" on a circular decal on the back of its headstock. EE
A: John F. Stratton was a New York City musical instrument manufacturer and wholesaler in business 1860-1914 by himself and with partners. His trademark of a Harp and the initials "J F S" was granted in 1879.

Q: I'm trying to date 2 Gibson instruments - a mandobanjo, trapdoor model and a 5 string that may be Charlie Pooles banjo, can you help? RC
A: Here are two sites that will help with the serial numbering questions. Prewar Gibson Serial Numbers and the Gibson Company's information site. Scroll down to "Gibson Serial Number Information." You will need the Adobe Acrobat Reader to open it, but it is free from the Adobe web site. I don't know how you would establish the Charlie Poole provenance; perhaps the Country Music Foundation in Nashville could help.

Q: My banjo-uke tailpiece needs a knot to hold the strings in a keyhole shaped hole. What is the best knot? JD
A: There is a section on "stopper knots" in the Ashley Book Of Knots, one of the Great Books of the Western World. Go to your library and learn 16 beautiful ways to tie your guts in a knot! JS

Q: I have a banjo with 22 cast brackets that hook under the wooden rim & are only held on by the tension of the hooks. Do you know who made it? RS
A: It is a student or amateur grade banjo made by Regal in the 30s. The flange/shoe parts were patented by Albert Hunter, 3/15/1932 and assigned to Regal. Click for picture.

Q: I have had an old 5-string banjo with abalone inlays of a star and crescent moon on the peg head, and various designs on the fretboard including a star, cross, and horse shoe near the pot. On the back of the neck, at the heel it has a silver plate inscribed with "Celebrated Douglas" on it. RS
A: F.H. Douglas, a Newark, NJ dealer and repairman, advertised the "Celebrated Douglas" banjos circa 1890 which he claimed to manufacture. They were Buckbee-made trade banjos, labeled with Douglas' name, like the "Celebrated Benary" models that are more common, but of similar quality and construction.

Q: I have a 20 year old mandolin that has Goya inlaid on the headstock and a matching split back. DK
A: Herman C. Levin returned to his native Sweden from NYC in 1901 and manufactured guitars there until he died in 1948; the company made Goya instruments in the 1950s through 70s. They (along with Harmony, see below) may have supplied some of the bodies for the guitars marketed by Vega during that same time period. The company was purchased by Martin for whom they made the Levin line of guitars. Goyas were pretty good classical guitars; they made student through professional grades. They are not particularly collectible or valuable. Other instruments they made were less successful.

Q: I have a Biehl guitar with a HUGE body. It was a harp guitar; you can see where the extra neck was removed and the bridge has been altered to make this a "normal" 6-string guitar. RF
A: Tony Biehl was a Davenport, IA music publisher and maker of mandolins and guitars from circa 1894 until he went out of business in 1904. He and his family went on to become quite successful as musical performers.

Q: I have a mandolin marked "L. Ricca Company" of NY. It has a script LR and the #8816. What can you tell me about this model mandolin? AB
A: Luigi Ricca was a mandolin and guitar manufacturer in New York City from circa 1886 to 1895 when he moved to Brooklyn. In May, 1898 he moved his factory and most of his 200 employees to New Orange, NJ where he continued in business into the new century.

Q: I have a Hawaiian Tremoloa and this is the only place I have found to even have any info on it. My goal is to sell this if you may know of a person or place that would be interested. RS
A: I'm afraid I have bad news for you. Used Tremoloas are very common, sell for very little money, and are hard to sell if at all. They are still available new from a cache found in the past couple of years when someone entered a warehouse that had been rented and abandoned years ago. Hundreds, if not thousands of never-sold zither-based instruments were found. The Hawaiian Tremoloa was patented in 1929 by Harold Finney, who assigned his patent to the Oscar Schmidt's International Music Company. Schmidt sold the company circa 1935 so the Tremoloas date from that period. There must have been some cross licensing agreement because virtually identical instruments were sold by Marx. Others have been seen with different labels, but they are all pretty much the same. See also Oscar Schmidt, below.

Q: I'm currently playing a Van Eps banjo. It has a removable, internal, metal bowl resonator and a curved dowel rod to accommodate the resonator. A metal plate on the dowel rod says Van Eps Recording Banjo (patented). The pot is 11 1/4" and the original head was a Rogers skin with a sound hole in it. BLB
A: Fred Van Eps was a well-known banjo player in the years before the turn of the century to the depression, he experimented with banjo designs from about 1904 until issued a patent in 1921 for his "Recording Banjo" which was made in the Van Eps-Burr factory, Plainfield, NJ and distributed by Lyon & Healy until circa 1929; Van Eps continued to make banjos on special order until his death in 1960. Click here.

Q: I have recently had a Boyle Bros. banjo show up for restoration. I would appreciate any info. AD
A: They were music dealers in Boston, MA circa 1890s. Several low end banjos have surfaced, apparently New York made, possibly by Stratton.

Q: What was the deal with the Vega guitar effort in the 1960s? GTW
A: They were not commercially successful. Most of the bodies were made for them by Harmony (possibly also by Goya, see above) and the necks and finish work done at Vega. I don't have any more specific information.

Q: My uncle purchased a used Kamico banjo in the 30's and said it was an antique then. Any information? D
A: Your picture looks like a Kay. Kamico may stand for "Kay Musical Instrument Company" which was formed in 1931 from Stromberg-Voisinet (not related to Boston's Stromberg), so it can't be older than that. Kay made many low and medium priced instruments under the "Kay Kraft" name, later just "Kay." The peghead shape is typical, and the screwed on neck attachment was used until they closed in 1968. I have never seen the Kamico logo before. I suspect it was short lived. Today the Kay name appears on imported instruments.

Q: I want to learn more about A.C. Fairbanks. Do you know of any sources that I might consult for information about his life and career. JR
A: Two books, America's Instrument, The Banjo In The 19th Century by Gura & Bollman and Ring The Banjar by Webb, together have the best available historical information about A.C. Fairbanks. Dating information can be found in the Mugwumps Online article Fairbanks & Vega Dating. At the end of that article, there are links to several other sites.

Q: Have you ever heard of "Tremont" banjos? Any hints? LS
A: Tremont was a Bruno brandname circa TOC. Generally they are low grade Buckbee or Schmidt made trade banjos.

Q: A friend recently purchased a banjo that seems to be a fretless converted to a semi-fretted instrument. Some [frets] extend only to the 4th (low D) strings and [two] only to the 3rd string. Is this a common modification, to make a fretless into a fretted instrument? Has anyone seen anything like what I'm describing? DM
A: Yes, it was quite common to fret the earlier fretless banjos. The attached article, courtesy of Bill Palmer, is from the Dobson Victor Banjo Method, published in 1887. It might shed some light. Click here.

Q: Is "ivoroid" just a euphemistic made-up term for ivory-looking man-made plastic material? IG
A: No, it is the official name for ivory-looking, man made, pre-plastic, invented because of the actual shortage of real ivory.

Q: Is the term "Mother Of Toilet Seat" another name for "Ivoroid."
A: No. "Mother Of Toilet Seat" (MOTS) is the humorous nickname given to the plastic like decorations, inlays and overlays found on many high end and some low end instruments from the 20s and later. The name MOTS derives from the substitution of the material for Mother-Of-Pearl and Abalone. Ivoroid and "Mother of toilet seat" are the same chemically (they are both made by dissolving short cotton fibers in nitric acid, and forming the resulting cellulose nitrate into soft sheets that can then be colored or patterned in various methods to resemble tortoise shell, ivory, or mother-of-pearl.) but the manufacturing process beyond the initial chemical engineering differs. MOTS is made by mixing fish scales (yes, fish scales) and previously hardened blocks of fish-scale celluloid into a mass of soft celluloid, forming it into a block, allowing it to harden, and slicing sheets from the block. Ivoroid is made by interleaving thin sheets of white and clear celluloid, allowing the block to harden, and slicing or cutting sheets and chunks at right angles to the laminations. "Tortoise shell" colored celluloid (picks and pickguards) is made by pressing hardened chunks of brown celluloid into a soft mass of clear celluloid, allowing the mass to harden, and slicing sheets from the block. So, yes, they all have the same chemical origins, but the manufacturing process for each differs somewhat. Dupont patented a process and called the resulting product Pyralin. It was used on Vegas and Gibsons as well as other brands of instruments. SB

Q: I have a turn-of-the-century style parlor guitar with the attached logo burned into the brace. Can you tell me anything about it?
A: For years I haven't been able to read the logo, but recently a guitar and catalog were sold on Ebay. It is the P. Benson Musical Merchandise Company, Minneapolis, MN, founded circa 1891. Despite the catalog claims that these were made by Benson, they appear to be trade instruments, made by one of the factories established for that purpose.

Q: Can you help me identify an open back banjo, 11" metal pot with black painted wood inside, 5-string mahogany neck, no separate fingerboard but wood strips inlaid where the frets would be. Where the neck meets the pot is a white plastic plaque with "Columbia Trade Mark" written diagonally across? MC
A: Several companies sold "Columbia" marked instruments in time for the Columbian Exposition of 1893 (a year late, BTW). They were low grade, trade banjos probably made by Buckbee, Stratton, or Schmidt, most likely Buckbee. Lyon & Healy sold a line marked "Columbus" and Fairbanks manufactered banjos called "Columbian," all in the same time period. The "Columbus" banjos had his name inlaid, plus models of the Nina, Pinta & the Santa Maria along with an American flag, the "1492" & "1892" dates and other inlays in the fingerboard and peghead.

Q: What are the tuning and string gauges for a tiple? SM
A: Tiples generally are strung with steel strings, some plain, some wound.

B or 1st .010 - .010
F# or 2nd .012 - .026 - .012
D or 3rd .015 - .034 - .015
A or 4th .010 - .022

Q: I would like to buy some 4-string bearclaw tailpieces. Do you know how I can locate a source? BS
A: The Bearclaws, a brandname, are no longer made, but Renee Karnes manufactures reproductions of the original Oettinger tailpieces. Get her telephone number from the Directory Of Instrument Shops at Mugwumps Online.

Q: I have a parlor guitar labeled L. Ricca, manufacturer, Ny, Ny. It is fairly ornate and has a coffin hard case, Brazilian rosewood back and sides with large herringbone trim on top and sound hole. DB
A: Luigi Ricca Manacturing Co, Mandolin and guitar manufacturer in New York City from circa 1890 to 1895 when he moved to Brooklyn. In May, 1898 he moved his factory and most of his 200 employees to New Orange, NJ where he continued in business into the new century.

Q: I am looking for information on a parlor size guitar in orginal coffin case stamped "William Hall and Son, 239 Broadway, 3 - New-York 4341." SP
A: William Hall was a New York City instrument maker from 1820; in 1821 he joined with John Firth, to form Firth & Hall and with Sylvanus Pond in 1833 as Firth, Hall & Pond. In 1847 he left to form his own company Hall & Son which was sold to Oliver Ditson in 1875. In the early years, Hall may have made flutes and other wind instruments, but most things bearing the various company names were made by others and labeled for them; Hall & Son owned a piano factory but there is no mention of stringed instrument making. Most authoritites now believe the guitars and banjos were made by James Ashborn in Connecticut.

Q: I have a GTR 5-string banjo. Can you tell me its origin, and its qualities? GB
Q: I have a GTR brand mandolin. Was it also made by the Asian company Iida? BW
A: GTR stood for (G)eorge Gruhn, (T)ut Taylor and (R)andy Wood, partners in a music store in Nashville, TN. A name change was forced by a company in New Jersey that already used and had registered the "GTR, Inc." name. First offered in 1974, the banjos, which were reproductions of the 5 string Gibson Mastertone, were sold through approximately 1978. They were made in Asia for GTR by Iida, and there were "a few hundred" of them made, available in dark mahogany finish only, with 2 piece flange, and flat head tone ring. There were 4 inlay patterns, Wreath, Hearts & Flowers, Flying Eagle, and a fancy Florentine pattern. They are excellent values. During the same period, GTR mandolins were made by Moridaria in Matsumoto, Japan. There were two styles, an A similiar to Gibson's A-5L and an F similiar to the F-5L.

Q: What kind of tuners will work on a thick pegheaded banjo? I recently bought some Grover tuners to use on an old 5-string Dobson-looking banjo, but the peghead is too thick for them (about 5/8"). BM
A: If you want friction tuners, an old set of Champions should work -- not the new ones, but a vintage set. They open to a comfortable 13/16". The thin shafted Planets from Schaller won't work, since there needs to be some thread sticking out for the nut to go on, but the thicker shafted Schallers have more "spread" since the nut actually has a protruding part that screws into the peg housing. There is a little over 3/4" between the housing and the nut if you don't use the supplied washer.

Q: My most recent acquisition, while visiting Chicago, is a signed "H.F. Meyers" Model: Ne Plus Ultra, Mandolin and I wondered if you would be so kind and share any background you may have on the maker please. The label also carries the inscriptions: "The greatest power of tone the world has ever heard" & "None genuine without my signature." Address is: "Salesroom Auditorium Building, Room A. Chicago, Illinois. There are also the letters "SJM" inscribed on the bottom plate.
A: H.F. Meyers was a Chicago, IL teacher who advertised as maker of "Ne Plus Ultra" and other brands of guitars, mandolins and harp guitars circa 1910. Meyers was a prominent soloist and probably contracted for instruments of his own design. I don't know what "SJM" stands for.

Q: Is there a place to get HO gauge railroad spikes online [to use as banjo 5th string capos]? JE
A: A kit is available that contains 10 high quality Model RR spikes that are blue steel 5/16 inch long. They are .034 in diameter. The kit also includes a #66 twist wire bit that is several thousandths smaller and makes the correct size lead hole. There are also complete instructions for installing the spikes. The price is $3.50 which includes postage. Send check to Jim Atwater, 174 W. Ridge Circle, Macon, GA. 31210, E-Mail: jra174@bellsouth.net.

Q: What can you tell me about a banjo marked The Monarch by the L.B. Gatcomb Co. of Boston, Mass. CC
A: For a while Lincoln B. Gatcomb was the leading Boston, MA banjo and guitar maker, in business 1875-1895, he also advertised mandolins. He hand made, and later manufactured, some fine instruments, among then Robinson banjos for a few years beginning circa 1891, and the Lansing Banjo. He stopped making instruments in 1895 but continued in business publishing music until 1899 when the company was sold to Oliver Ditson. For more on Gatcomb and the Boston music scene I recommend two books: Ring the Banjar and America's Instrument, the Banjo In the 19th Century.

Q: Can you point me to any referances on Yosco banjo's? TK
A: Lawrence L. Yosco was an instrument maker in New York City from circa 1900. Guitars and round back mandolins bearing his name have been seen. In 1918 he was issued a patent for a banjo rim with internal resonator. These were marketed by the Felix Ferdinando Manufacturing Co. in the 1920s. A 1927 article described Felix Ferdinando as an orchestra leader with interests in several restaurants and resort establishments. The banjos were probably made to order by one of the large manufacturers and labelled. The instruments were distributed by Perlberg and Halpin, a major New York musical merchandise wholesaler and jobber.

Q: I am hoping that you may have some information on a mandolin my Grandmother gave me. It has a paper label, J.F. Stetson & Co. Makers. My grandmothers home was the officers quarters for the Arsenal in Rome, N.Y. during the Civil War and she believed that the mandolin was probably left behind when the Arsenal was closed. TM
A: J.F.Stetson was a brand name used by W.J. Dyer & Bros. in St. Paul, MN. They were a major jobber and distributor who claimed instruments of their "...own manufacture" but in fact they were made for them by others. A small number of banjos were made by Fairbanks, but most seen have been low grade, trade banjos from Stratton, Buckbee, or Schmidt. The Stetson brand was in use from 1883 on guitars and mandolins, but who made them during the early period is not known. Starting in 1894 Dyer ordered guitars and mandolins from the newly formed Harmony, who went into business expressly for the purpose of making instruments for "the trade" to be labeled and sold by others. In 1922, C.F. Martin made 3 Stetson guitars for Dyer.

Q: I have a small, flattop acoustic guitar made by Harwood. Aside from this specific instrument, I've never seen nor heard another Harwood guitar and, despite some digging, I've found nothing about this maker. I've never even seen the name on any used-instrument dealers' inventory lists. Can you enlighten me? BM
A: Harwood was a brand name used by J.W. Jenkins Company, a Kansas City, MO musical instrument dealers and wholesalers. They introduced the Harwood brand in 1885, which they may not have actually manufactured. Circa 1895 they established a factory and produced guitars and mandolins under the Clifford and the Washington brand names. Some guitars marked "Harwood, New York" have been seen. It is not known if these are also by Jenkins.

Q: Where can I get a Fiberskyn head in 10 1/8"? Any information would be a help. KD
A: Fiberskyn heads in unusual sizes are special order items. Bob Smakula carries a large assortment of unusual sizes. Get his telephone number from the Directory Of Instrument Shops at Mugwumps Online. You should also check the dealers who advertise on Mugwumps; some of them offer a wide assortment of heads.

Q: I was wondering if you might be able to provide me with any information on the Lyric Banjo. RB
A: Four different companies used Lyric. One was the Lyric brand name used circa 1914-1920 by William O. Schmick for a line of banjos with very deep resonators; they were probably made for him by the Vega Company and might be the prototype for their own Vega Vox line of instruments. In 1921 Schireson Bros. advertised a Lyric brand Hawaiian guitar which was identical to those made by Weissenborn. There was the Lyric Guitar Co, founded in 1907 at Kansas City, MO by Joseph H. Behee to manufacture and sell a patented lyre-shaped guitar. He seems to have made other fretted instruments from time to time. In 1917, in partnership with his brother Frank, he founded a violin factory at Independence, MO. Finally, circa 1930s Gretsch manufactured a line of banjos so marked, but without their own name attached, probably under contract for a distributor.

Q: Was A.F. Eibel, Malden, MA a concern that made instruments for a time or a music store that contracted (say) Fairbanks to make instruments for them, like Stratton in Lowell? GW
A: Stu Cohen, who has seen several of them, said that he couldn't be sure. All have been a conglomeration of Boston styles. The specific one you asked about seems to have a Gatcomb-like neck. Perhaps a visit to the Malden Public Library and a few hours in the old City Directories will turn up more information. My own opinion is that he labeled instruments made for the trade and that he will turn out to be a teacher or music dealer, not a maker. MIH

Q: A friend asked me about an instrument he has. He thought it is a uke but it has 8 strings. Tuners are open geared guitar, 2 sets of 4. Was it common to double the strings on a uke? How would it have been tuned? CS
A: There are two possibilities for the instrument you describe. One is a "Mandolinetto", the other a "Taro-patch." As a rule the mandolinetto is made with a spruce top and hardwood back & sides and has geared, mechanical tuners for use with steel strings tuned like a mandolin, as the name suggests. The taro-patch, generally made of all mahogany, has wooden, friction tuners & gut or nylon strings tuned like a concert ukulele, to which it is related. Another ukulele lookalike is the tiple, which has 10 steel strings.

Q: Please tell me more about those Howe Orme Mandolinettos. MP
A: Howe Orme was a brand name used by the Elias Howe Company from 1897. The name first appeared on the Mandolinetto, an instrument with a a small guitar-shaped body (we'd call it a ukulele, but ukes weren't popular in 1897 and most people wouldn't have known what one looked like), and a mandolin neck. It was a joint project with G.L. Orme, a major Canadian musical merchandise manufacturer and distributor. Edward F. Howe, treasurer of Elias Howe, and James S. Back--working for Orme, patented the necessary elements in 1897 and the resulting collaboration lasted for many years. The Howe-Orme name appeared on other instruments, including some unusual guitars. To see a collection of these instruments Click here. Bruno also sold a similar instrument using the Mandolinetto name but other companies called their own a "guitar shaped mandolin."

Q: When were ukuleles first developed?
A: According to John H. Felix, in his Ukulele, A Portuguese Gift To Hawaii, the ancestor of the present day ukulele arrived in the Hawaiian Islands in 1879 with a group of Portuguese immigrants and within a few years an active group of makers were turning out a respectable number of instruments. In 1884 Augusto Dias set up as Honolulu's first musical instrument maker and in 1888 both Manuel Nunes and Jose do Espirito Santo opened shops; but their output was small and real manufacturing began circa 1910. In the teens and early twenties ukuleles and their cousins, the banjo ukuleles, took the US by storm.

Q: I recently inherited an Arion Gourd Mandolin, purchased in 1896, give or take a few years. LC
A: The name Arion appears twice in the turn-of-the-century writings. Circa 1888 it was a model name for a line of Washburn (Lyon & Healy) instruments. The Arion Manufacturing Co was incorporated to make fretted instruments in Chicago, IL in 1904 and was in business for about 10 years.

Q: What is the best care and cleaning of an old (50 years) animal skin banjo head? JS
A: Keep the instrument it is on in a place where the humidity is normal and not too dry, away from heat sources and blowing air. Don't let it get too cold, either. If it is really dirty you could remove the strings and wipe it off with a damp rag and mild cleaner, then leave it alone for a day or two while it dries. If you did this, you might loosen the hooks a little to allow it to shrink a bit while drying. Mostly, leave it alone and enjoy it. Basically, an instrument (or a skin banjo head) will be happy in an environment where people are comfortable.

Q: Do you have any info on Schubert bowl back mandolins? No pearl inlay but does have a nice herringbone top and half herringbone sound hole inlay. DS
A: Shubert (or Schubert). Brand name used by Graupner & Meyer, mandolin and guitar manufacturers from 1894-1906+. By 1901 they claimed 40 employees making 3500 instruments per year, most of which were sold in the New England states. They produced a line of high grade instruments under their own name, and circa 1900 introduced a student grade of Shubert mandolins. From circa 1896 they published the Musical Tempo magazine.

Q: I have a tenor banjo with a 17 fret neck. It is marked "Sterling" printed on a gold sheild. Do you know who the maker was? BM
A: The label frequently says "T.B.C. Sterling" leading people to believe that is the name of the maker, but it stands for "Tonk Bros. Company", a major wholesale distributor with operations in NYC and Chicago. Sterling was one of their brand names and has been seen on guitars, banjos and mandolins. It is not known who actually produced the instruments so marked but they are not of a high quality and Tonk Bros. used several different manufacturers over the years.

Q: Do you have any information on an instrument maker, W.A. Cole of Boston, who manufactured banjos in the 19th and early 20th centuries. JP
A: As for Cole, check the W.A. & F.E. Cole article elsewhere in Mugwumps Online. In addition, 2 books, Ring The Banjar by Webb and America's Instrument, The Banjo In the 19th Century by Gura & Bollman contain about as much information as has been published anywhere. Both are available from bookstores on the Web and off.

Q: I have just purchased a banjo mandolin that I would like to find out a little history too. It has stamped in the wood Vega Fairbanks Style K, Made by Vega Co. Boston, MA. TM
A: The style K was an entry level model (styles F,K,L,M,N,R,S, Little Wonder, Special Electric, Whyte Laydie, Tubaphone, and variations) but all Vegas are good instruments. The serial numbers are listed in the article "Dating Fairbanks & Vega Banjos." Style K's are generaly all mahogany with a dyed wood fingerboard and peghead overlay. They have a simple hoop--sometimes brass, more often steel, which is set on the top of the rim, under the head, to act as a tone ring. The tailpiece is generally rivited to the stretcher band, unlike 4 and 5 string banjos where the tailpiece is attached to the endpin with a screw. In addition to the 8 string version, Vega offered 4 string banjo mandolins, 6 string guitars, 4 string tenor and plectrum banjos, and 5 string banjos. All were available in any style.

Q: Over the years [my instrument case] has become a nesting place for loads of mildew. I have realized that everytime I take the thing out to play I have not enjoyed playing it because of my allergies. Simple solution would be to buy a new case, which I am considering. Tho, being a vintage head I like the old case and it is otherwise structurally serviceable. JG
A: I have tried every solution ever conceived of, suggested, or daydreamed. I have used Lysol (replaces musty smell with musty + Lysol smell), baking soda (nothing), skunk smell remover (works on dogs, not so good on cases), leaving in direct sunlight for days at a time (works until you close the case again), sneaker smell absorbers (sometimes works on sneakers, not on cases), and everything else I or anyone else has ever thought of. Final solution is to sell the cases to people who aren't allergic and buy new cases for yourself. Burning in an open fire might work, but the charcoal smell is equally unpleasant, and they aren't much protection afterwards. The mold spores have been around longer than cockroaches, and I doubt that we will ever get them out. You can generally clean the outside of an instrument, but if the spores get inside the instrument, change anti-histamines, allergists, or instruments. I have managed to wash down and clean off banjos - throwing away the skin heads - but no other instrument, once infested, has ever smelled good again. I now travel with large plastic leaf bags in case I come upon an interesting instrument that smells. Prior to that, I once had to tie an old banjo and its case to the roof of my car so I could stop sneezing long enough to be able to drive home. And if anyone out there claims to have a satisfactory solution, I no longer believe.

Q: What are cylinder-back instruments, and the pluses and minuses of this design?
A: Most 'cylinder-backs' were made by Vega. These were originally marketed as 'lute mandolins' when they were introduced in the 'teens, and the nickname was attached later by others. The original idea behind the curved back, as I understand it, was to increase the volume in the air chamber as well as to send sound waves around in multiple directions rather than just bouncing from bottom to top. Judging from the result, it was probably a good idea, or at least as good as any of the other chamber-design ideas being experimented with at the time. The design of the top, however, has at least as much to do with the sound of the instrument as the back. The design of 'flat-back' (which really means non-bowlback) mandolins took a couple of different directions in the early 1900s: Gibson and ultimately Lyon and Healy opted for carved tops and backs, influenced by violin design. Vega, Martin, Weymann, and many other makers implemented some kind of flattened back but chose to stay with the 'bent-top' design of the old Italian mandolins (Vega, Martin, Bacon, and others offered carved top mandolins, but never seemed really committed to them. MIH). The bent tops don't vibrate the same way that carved tops do and so, regardless of the shape of the back, they don't sound the same as carved-top instruments. In my view, Vega did the best job of any of the 'teens-20s makers in producing a bent-top instrument worthy of the concert stage. Vega also produced cylinderback mandolas and mandocellos, and a few 10-stringed mandolin/dolas. Max McCullough

Q: I have an old banjo that I inherited from my grandfather who lived in England. The head is 8 1/2 inches in diameter. It has 6 tuning pegs like a guitar. The short G string is strung through a long "tunnel" from the first tuning peg and out a hole half way up the neck. The nut has slots for 5 strings but the neck is the regular banjo width. In other words, it would be difficult to play as a 6-string banjo because the strings would be too close together. The other end has fasteners for 5 strings. Have you ever heard of a 6-string banjo or did the craftsman get confused? TC
A: It is really a 6 string banjo, 5 long strings and the short drone; however there were many similarly constructed banjos with just 4 strings and a short drone, which runs through the tunnel; in that case the extra tuner is just there because guitar tuners were easier to find. The style was "invented" by Alfred Cammeyer in the US, but never really caught on here; Dobson had patented a similar rim design more than 20 years earlier, but the neck with the tunnel to the peghead seems to be all Cammeyer's idea. Cammeyer moved to England, where they were very popular and he named his invention the "Zither Banjo" but when asked why he had named it that, he could only answer, "...because the sound reminded me of a zither." If the drone is left off, the banjo could be played as a 5 string plectrum banjo.

Q: I am curious about who Oscar Schmidt was & any other info. I tried the internet but didn't get very far.
A: Oscar Schmidt is best known for the Autoharp, the rights to which they obtained from the Phonoharp Company when they merged in 1926. Phonoharp obtained the rights in 1911; Dolge purchased the rights from the Zimmermann Company, in 1892. Charles Zimmermann invented and patented the Autoharp in 1882 and manufactured them until the company was sold to Dolge. At the turn of the century, Oscar Schmidt had 6 domestic and several European factories. They are responsible for most of the weird instruments that were based on the zither -- the Ukelin, the Mandolin-Guitar-Harp, the Pianolin, the Hawaiian Tremoloa, among others, and sold them door-to-door under many different names and labels. Schmidt is also responsible for many of the student and introductory level banjos, guitars, and mandolins. Some of their brandnames were La Scalla, OS, Sovereign, Stella, and many more.

Q: I am interested in finding issues of Cadenza. Do you know of any for reference or for sale? JU
A: The entire run of Cadenza is available on microfilm from the Library Of Congress.

Q: I have come across an old "Thornward" parlor sized guitar. Seems like real ivory binding LOTS of pearl and V shape to the neck. I know they were made for Montgomery Ward but have no idea when. AM
A: M-W was a retailer, they didn't make anything. Probable maker was Harmony who went into business in 1892 to make instruments labeled for others to sell. I have seen some very fancy Thornwards, but generally the pearl work lacks subtlety, large pieces, geometric patterns, wide pieces in the purfling. Vine inlays could be purchased precut and pre-inlayed.

Q: I have an SS Stewart Monogram model. The serial number is 57262. There is also the name Harold painted in gold on the front, at the top of the peg-head, as well as a small circle with a "2" in it. DK
A: The Monogram model is a student grade instrument that post-dates the Stewart & Bauer partnership. Most of them have the S&B logo, but some just had the name Stewart. It is a turn of the century instrument, but Stewart almost assuredly had nothing to do with its manufacture. The quality is not up to his standards, and probably, although I don't know for sure, it is entirely a Bauer creation. "Harold" added his own decoration. The stamped "2" indicates a Grade 2 instrument.

Q: Do you know anything about a mandolin made by Joseph Bohmann for the 1901 Expo in Buffalo?? Any info you can give me would be greatly appreciated. MC
A: Joseph Bohmann was a Chicago, IL instrument builder in business 1876-1930. He advertised himself as "The Worlds Greatest Musical Instrument Manufacturer" and was in fact awarded many medals in international competition. Over the years, he was issued several patents for instruments and design improvements, some with the spelling Bowman.

Q: Can y'all give me any historical info on 5 string banjos made by Henry C. Dobson?
A: The Dobsons were a noted New York family of musicians, at least six of whom gained fame as banjo performers, teachers, composers and makers. Their fame was so great and the number of instruments bearing the Dobson name so large that today, banjoists and collectors refer to the instruments of that period, with no brand or markings on them as, "Dobson style." Common characteristics of these banjos are thin, metal-wrapped rims and short, thick necks. Some of the Dobsons may have actually made a few banjos early in their careers, but the instruments bearing their various brand names were made by Buckbee in New York. Brand names used by the Dobsons include Victor, Matchless, Silver Bell and Echo.

Q: Any idea how many Curtis Electrics were made? I just bought one from a dealer on the net, and it turns out to be the only one listed in Bollman's research. The Curtis Electric was a variation of A C Fairbanks' famed Electric model banjo. This one is tagged as such, and was made in 1892. The serial No is 2409. It seems that these exist in very small numbers.
A: Jim Bollman estimates 50 to 100. He is the world's leading expert on Fairbanks.

Q: My father has a 5 string banjo which has the inscription Alvin D. Keech thereon. it seems quite old and there are some musical scores from 1926...I would appreciate any info you could give me.
A: Alvin Keech was a popular British vaudeville entertainer who came to Los Angeles in 1917 under contract to teach the ukulele to many of the famous artists in the motion picture industry. He is generally credited with inventing the banjo ukulele, but that is unlikely, by his own words. He claimed the use the name "banjulele" from 1922, but he only filed for patent protection in 1925; it was issued 9/15/25 and required other makers to devise different names for their similar offerings. Instruments bearing his name were made by others and labeled.

Q: I have an unusual guitar with "Le Domino Big Boy" stenciled on the slotted peghead. It is a round hole archtop, flat back, Regal oval paper 'crown' labeled, sunburst, with domino decals on fingerboard, rosette, and near tailpiece (largest and they add up to 13). Can you date this or ever heard of one or maybe know who it was built for?
A: Le Domino is a brandname associated with James R. Stewart Co circa 1920s until he went out of business in 1930. His company was acquired by Tonk Brothers, who then sold all his brand names off to Regal. Tonk sold most of his manufacturing equipment to Harmony and the rest to Slingerland. So your guitar probably dates from the 30s, was probably sold by Regal, as the label states, but could have actually been made for them by Harmony or Slingerland with old machinery. Le Domino is really big in ukuleles; they made a ton. The guitars are less common, but not particularly high grade, the most interesting thing being the domino decoration. Most are made of plywood.

Q: Where can I buy hard-to-find recordings like those that the major retailers don't carry?
A: Here is a list of the URLs submitted by Lynn Oliver, with a couple I've added. MIH

Q: Can you direct me to any information about Stradolin mandolins? This summer I purchased a Stradolin (purportedly from the 40s) with a metal bridge and a tail piece that looks like a Vintage Martin tailpiece. I can't seem to round up any info on them (other than an internet article which states that the tops were machine pressed rather than hand-carved). Someone suggested they were a budget-level Gibson brand. GA
A: Stradolin (also spelled Strad-O-Lin) is NOT a Gibson product, although who did make them remains a mystery. Probably several different companies were contracted over time. My best estimates (experts never "guess") is Oscar Schmidt, who at that time had 7 factories turning out cheap instruments for others to label and sell. Other possibles were Harmony and Kay (KayKraft at that time). I once had a student who swore he visited the Strad-O-Lin factory in NYC in the 40s. The tailpieces, however, were a stock Waverly item and most makers used them. They are excellent student or entry level instruments, sturdy and reasonably priced, and at least one that I have seen was carved, not pressed. Recently, several Strad-O-Lin banjos have surfaced. They were standard, student grade, Harmony products labeled for Strad-O-Lin.

Q: I'm sending photos of ... was sold to me as a Lion & Healey "Lakeside"
A: Regarding your "Lakeside" guitar. You don't say if it is marked "Lakeside" or just claimed by the previous owner. Lakeside is a name Lyon & Healey used from 1905. They had factories of their own and may have actually made the guitar, but I doubt it. Around that time, Harmony went into business with the expressed intent to build instruments for others to label with their own brand names. I believe yours was made by Harmony or one of the other manufacturers that built instruments for others to distribute. Yours may be made from laminated wood. Compare the grain in the inside of the back to that of the outside. Further, look in the sound hole for signs of laminated wood on the top. It could be a solid top with laminated back and sides. The light colored woods were frequently interchanged. especially when they were to be stained a darker color, so the oak vs. ash designation doesn't mean much to the ad writers.

Q: I have heard of a small torque wrench that reads in inch/ounces. Who makes it and what is the torque specification, or other method of achieving proper banjo head tension?
A: The Neary DrumTorque tool is distributed by Colato Inc., 4501 Hyde Park Blvd. Niagara Falls, NY 14305, about $40. Also, you can buy a screwdriver-type torque wrench from Snap-On, Mac, Proto or other similar higher-quality automotive tool jobber. I don't know if Sears sells them. W.W. Grainger 800-323-0620 has a Proto # 6C486 torque screwdriver for $189.00 in in-lb or ft-lb. The Snap-on or Mac may be cheaper. Correct in-lb or ft-lb specs will probably be obtained through trial-and-error, depending if you want the head tuned to A# or F, or whatever. A place to start is 6 1/2 inch pounds - or 104 oz in. if you prefer. Cooper Power Tools sells the Utica brand of torque screwdrivers. Model TS-100 goes up to 100 in-oz and Model TS-35 goes upt to 36 in-lb. using 1/4 inch hex bits. Try the Jensen tool catalog.

Q: What size and style of neck would be expected on a 1920's Vega Whyte Laydie 5 string banjo with a 11 3/4 rim? Did Vega even make 5-strings with that rim size, or is such a banjo more likely to be a tenor with a converted neck? I have a catalog reprint that shows rim sizes of 10 3/4, 11, and 11 1/2, with neck lengths of 19, 19 3/4, and 20 1/2 respectively. This leads me to believe that a 19" neck wouldn't be original to this instrument. D.B.
A: Bill Nelson told me that in the 20s, Vega made any combination requested so you can't go strictly by the catalog descriptions. Also, the sizes listed were not exact--their 11 inch rim was really 10 15/16ths, etc. I would need a picture of the banjo, with some detail of the neck to help you with your question.

Q: I recently was given a "vintage" banjo made by Thompson and Odell of Boston, MA. BB
A: Thompson & Odell were Boston instrument manufacturers and music dealers in business 1872-1905. Founded by I.H. Odell in 1872 who took in C.W. Thompson as a partner the following year, they made a diverse line of instruments using the "Artist" and "Crescent" brand names, and were an important part of the Boston musical scene for many years. They incorporated in 1891 and Odell left the business the next year; Thompson died in 1903 and the company was forced into bankruptcy in 1905.

Q: I have an open-back 5-string with a plate on the dowel stick that says, "Cress Unger 26 Mont. St. S.F. Cal." It appears to have a brushed aluminum pot. Or rather, the hoop is rather thin wood with dull-finish aluminum wrapped around it. The neck and peg head are plain, with an ebony fretboard and what I'm told are rather old-fashioned thick frets. The peghead tapers from bottom to top, and it is so thick at the bottom that the eyes in the new Schallers I had put on it barely peek above the surface. Actually, the banjo is probably not a 5-string, although the current nut has four notches, as the neck is quite wide and there is a hole in the geographical center of the peg head. DT
A: Cress Unger is listed in SF city directories from 1892-1895. He apparently succeeded his brother, Charles W. Unger Jr who is listed in SF city directories from 1890. It is unlikely that your banjo is wrapped with aluminum, but more likely to be nickel-silver, or most likely, plated brass. A picture of the instrument might help, but I don't have much more information about the Unger Brothers.

Q: Has anyone seen a long-scale necked (joining the body at the 15th fret) Gibson mandolin with an oval soundhole? Did they ever make one? KW.
A: My understanding is that the move to f-holes was to strengthen the top because the extra pressure caused the neck to collapse into the soundhole. Anybody know anything more?

Q: I bought I banjo in the early 70's called a Bradly. I have never seen one before, nor since. It is a fine ax and I have played it for years, but I know nothing of the makers. Have you any insight into its origin? B.M.
A: I assume you are talking about a newish banjo. Bradly (Bradley?) was a brandname sold by Venemann Music in Rockville, Maryland in the 70s and early 80s. They were Asian imports, and some models were pretty good copies of Gibson Mastertones, probably made in the Iida factory, where many of the imports are built.

Q: Can you help me locate some information about the Regal Company? They made the Octophone, an 8 string instrument. They also published an instruction book, tunings etc. If you can lead me to a copy or Xerox copy or something I would really appreciate it. D.W.
A: That's two questions in one. There were several Regal companies and trademarks; the first was Emil Wulschner & Son, Indianapolis, IN brand name in use c.1884-1901. New owners changed name to The Regal Manufacturing Company, 1901-1904. Lyon & Healy bought the rights to the Regal name and used it on instruments from 1905-1908. The next is in Chicago, IL 1908-1954 as the Regal Musical Instrument Company; this is the one that most people know, and the one that made your Octophone.

The Regal Octophone was a mandocello more than anything else. Anyone I have seen playing one was using it that way. Regal built it to the specifications of the 1931 patent issued to Frank Kordick. We do not have a copy of the instruction book, but if anyone has one and will send it, we'll forward it to you.

Q: My father came across a roundback mandolin and would like some information on it. Inside it reads ARTIST made by Thompson Modell Co. or Thompson & Odell Co, Boston. On the tip of the neck is a number carved into the wood, 690 or 069 depending on how you hold the mandolin. The fretboard has inlaid mother of pearl, possibly. Could you possibly give me any information or lead me to where I can get some information on the model of madolin and time period it was made? I saw a picture on the internet of a girl holding one that looks like it and the picture looked very old. LLJ
A: Thompson & Odell were pre-turn of the century manufacturers and dealers in Boston, MA, founded in 1872. They also published lots of sheet music and tutors for various instruments. They went bankrupt and closed in 1905. ARTIST was one of their brand names dating from about 1888. Unless it is a particularly fancy model, it wouldn't have a great deal of value. Regarding the picture you mention, except for ornamentation and the woods used, all bowl back mandolins look pretty much alike in pictures and drawings.

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