Luxor Tenor Banjo Part 1

Repairs Needed

I acquired this banjo at a local estate sale (in York County, south-central PA) in the spring of 2003. It was not in the best of condition – more like a loose formation of parts in a case.  However, this “find” was mostly complete, including things that are typically missing like the nut, bridge, tailpiece, and tuners.  It was, however, missing an important part – the tension hoop.

peghead & pot

The “Luxor” label on the headstock was used by the Horenstein Company of New York. They were not instrument makers, 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. They were active in the 1920s and probably folded after the crash of the economy in 1929. The banjo was actually made by the Stromberg-Voisinet Company of Chicago for Horenstein.   Stromberg-Voisinet later became The Kay Musical Instrument Company, maker of many “economy” banjos and a major supplier to Sears and Roebuck and others.

Lets go over the things needing fixed.

1. Flange.

This part, which anchors the hooks to the rim, is cast of “pot metal,” a zinc alloy.  Some of the borders of the holes for the hooks were broken out (probably by rough handling before the auction).  The flange was heavily nickel plated at one time.  The plating had flaked off in quite a few places. 

flange composite

The former owner had modified the flange extensively.  Originally, it looked like the example in Photo A (note: Photos A and B are of different banjos altogether).  It had very probably broken like the one pictured in Photo B.  His solution was to grind the broken edge down until he had a smooth margin.  This left a very thin margin (inside of the larger diamonds) around the hook holes that would later cause some of them to break out.  I’ll try soldering the broken margins.

flange breaks

 

hoop frag 2. Tension hoop.

This part, too, was cast of pot metal and had disintegrated completely.  Only one segment about 1.5” long was left.  The banjo has 20 hooks and therefore the hoop has 20 notches.  The replacement notched hoops available today all have 24 notches, which obviously wouldn’t work.  A grooved hoop has been used on many of these banjos but it just wouldn’t be an authentic replacement.  I decided to make a new one out of brass.

3. Rim/Tone Ring.

The wooden rim was fine.  It is about ½” thick and laminated with what appears to be mahogany (or possibly walnut) veneer and a tastefully understated, single strip of inlay.  The main wood of the rim is 5 laminations of hard, dense wood that I think is maple but I am not positive.  The tone ring is a simple steel hoop.  It is rusty.

head & flesh hoop

4. Head and Flesh Hoop.

The original 11” skin head was torn and badly stained.  This photo was taken after soaking the head in water.  Over the years, rust from the tone ring had eaten through the head at one edge.  I will replace it.  The flesh hoop was made of brass with a square cross section.  It is a bit corroded but otherwise OK.

 

 

 

 

5. Hooks.  

Some of the nickel-plated steel hooks were quite rusted but all 20 were there.  I’ll remove the rust and replate them.

example reso

6. Resonator.

This is about the strangest resonator I’ve ever seen.  The original was almost surely like the one shown in Photo C (this pic is of a different banjo).  Since the flange was ground down, the original resonator didn’t fit very well and was replaced with this aluminum, hubcap-like one.  The original resonator mounting holes in the dowel stick were plugged by the former owner.  The original resonator sat with the edge at the upper level of the flange, like in Picture C.

resonator top

The replacement resonator rests on at the bottom of the flange/rim and is held on securely by four adjustable spring-loaded clips.  The former owner ground notches in the flange for the clips to fit.The clips only need cleaning. The aluminum resonator was dull and dented. I’ll hammer out the dents and polish it.

 

 

 

 

divots7. Neck/Fingerboard.

The laminated maple neck was fine: Straight and true. There was some fret wear that is easily corrected. The fingerboard has some shallow wear divots but they were not deep enough, in my opinion, to require filling. They do not hamper playability. I don’t even notice them when playing the banjo. The heel plate was missing.

 

fingerboard & neck

8. Headstock.

It is in good shape, needing mostly cleaning (see first photo is this section).

tuners

9. Tuning machines. 

These original, old Grovers were fine.  One mounting screw and one bushing were missing,

10. Tailpiece. 

This may or may not be the original tailpiece.  It is a good, heavy brass one.  The adjustment screw was missing and the plating was worn off in spots.

 

11. Bridge.

It has a cool, old maple bridge with an ivory insert. Unfortunately, it was chipped at the 1st string notch.

12. Nut.

It has the cool, original ivory nut.  The grooves look too deep, but I won’t know until I put strings on the finished instrument.

case  

The case is the most dilapidated thing I have seen but it had been carefully stitched with shoe string.  It is way beyond saving but is interesting enough to include some photos here.

case closed

So, a lot of work to do.  It is not a very valuable banjo, so I won’t make any money on it.  So far, it is the only one that I have acquired that came from my home of York County.  The challenges are interesting and, hopefully, will be a valuable learning experience. 

On to PART II, Repairs!! Part 2 Repairs