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Lange History Addendum


Ca 1915 Lange 5-string banjo










Lange [unlabeled]

5-String Banjo

ca 1915   

Exc & Orig   


Figured maple neck & rim, floral fingerboard inlays, modern planetary pegs


Text Box: William L. Lange ca. 1939


by Bill Reese


In about 1897, two New York instrument makers, Lange and Rettberg, bought the J. H. Buckbee banjo factory. Buckbee of New York had been the banjo maker for many famous players, among them Farland, Foote, Converse, Bruno, Mather, H. Dobson and G.C. Dobson and produced banjos with the names of these performers as the manufacturer. Indeed, Buckbee had been the largest of the post-war banjo manufacturers and produced both handmade and mass produced instruments. Why they sold out to Rettberg and Lange remains a mystery. No banjos with the Buckbee name on the instrument seem to have been made, or if so, none have survived. (nb: "JHB" stamped on the dowel stick is one of the known markings of Buckbee -WJB) R & L continued to make banjos for these performers, as well as a line of their own.

Exactly when R & L began to make the Orpheum is not known, but in 1903, W. B. Farmer was granted a patent, # 724833, for a tone ring which sits on brackets which are attached to the rim. This is the tone ring that was used on all Orpheum banjos by R & L and which gives the Orpheums their distinctive sound. Orpheums were made in Styles 1, 2, 3, 3 Special, Brass Band and the rare #4. They were made as Tenors, 5-strings and Mandolin Banjos. There were also many custom models such as the "Duchess". Most Orpheum 5-strings have Serial numbers from #1-#3000. Tenors have #3000 and higher. The highest serial number seen is around #17,300.R& L did not keep records on the dates for their Orpheums. That is why most vintage instrument catalogues list R & L Orpheums as "ca. 1915".

Many more Tenors were made because Lange continued to make the Orpheum after he left R & L. in 1921. Many of the earlier features that were in the R & L Orpheums were incorporated by Lange in his top-of-the-line Paramount Banjos which continued in production until about 1935. The Lange Orpheum 3 and the Orpheum 3 Special were among Lange's most popular Tenor banjo models during the "Jazz Age".

I have not been able to locate a price list for the R & L Orpheums. In 1929, the Lange Orpheums' selling prices were: #1-$70: #2-$90; #3- $110;-#3 special-$135.

The R&L Orpheums are not noted for their volume but do have a very distinct and pleasant ring. The 2 recent banjo CDs by Walt Koken are fine examples of the sound of the Orpheum. Walt uses an Orpheum #4 on these recordings.



The Lange Banjo Ukulele


William H. Lange was a banjo maker from 1897 until 1939. He bought out an earlier maker and for a while was in business with Rettberg until 1922, thus Rettberg & Lange. He is most famous for his "Paramount" line of banjos, most of which were professional grade Tenors, highly inlaid and decorated, and are highly collectible in the US.

In 1897, Messrs. Rettberg & Lange took over the factory and banjo-making plant of J.H. Buckbee and established a factory at 383 Second Ave., New York City.By 1903, they had moved to 115/121 East 13th Street and from this address announced the production of the "Orpheum" range of banjos.Years later, they were able to announce that increasing business had made them seek even more commodious premises at 225-227 East 24th Street.

In January 1915, they advertised their "Brass Band Orpheum" - a new banjo with 29 frets (to high G). The neck of this instrument was joined to the hoop at the 20th fret, with a fingerboard extension over the vellum carrying the extra nine frets.

July 1918 saw the debut of their "Orpheum Plectrum Banjo", and a new five-string banjo with a long fifth string tuned an octave below the 3rd string. It was in August 1920 that the company was granted a U.S. Patent for its new "Paramount" banjo, and this instrument, (designed by William L. Lange) made its first appearance in 1921.

In April 1922, William L. Lange took over sole control of the company and changed the title to Wm. L. Lange.  In September of that year he announced (as " Successor to Rettberg & Lange") six styles of "Paramount" banjos.

Paramount banjos became world famous and were much sought after by all the leading dance-band players. The five spacious floors at East 24th Street accommodated over 250 workmen making banjos and included its own plating shop.  It was during this period that Wm. D Bowen tested all Paramount banjos before leaving the factory.

(In November 1922 Lange made what is said to be the worlds largest banjo. It was for the Paul Whiteman Orchestra and is said to have cost $500. The instrument weighed 35 pounds and was 5 feet long. The hoop was 24 inches in diameter and the neck 3 feet in length. It could be played!)

In the early part of 1925, the Lange factory brought out a cheaper model instrument with the name of "Langestile", and this incorporated a resonator made of metal and mahogany. Such was the demand for this cheaper instrument that it was produced at a second factory located in Brooklyn where instruments (notably " The Challenger" and "Artcraft" range) were also made for other manufacturers and retailers to sell.

All manufacturing ceased in 1939.

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