PO Box 882, Elkins, West Virginia 26241
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Page updated 3-15-2019
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FIVE STRING BANJOS
Openback 5 string banjos are a specialty here at Smakula Fretted Instruments. Everyone who works here plays clawhammer banjo, a style well suited to the open back five string. We rarely have resonator Bluegrass banjos for sale, but from time to time we will have one or 2 in stock. Please inquire, as those instruments might not make it to the web page.
Fifth String Railroad Spike Capos; Installed free on request when you buy one of our banjos.
1986 First Batch Goose Acres Electric. 1986 would prove to be a prophetic year for the American entertainment industry. It saw the births of Lady Gaga, Robert Pattinson, The Olsen Twins, Lindsay Lohan, Shia LaBeouf, and Drake, to name a few. And what cheesy, egomaniacal, overproduced hellfire hath been wrought in those brief 32 years. Meanwhile, in Cleveland, Ohio, the Goose Acres banjo company was catering to an entirely different sector of the "entertainment" "industry." Calling back to an earlier America when the five string banjo actually *was* a leading symbol of popular entertainment, these rare Goose Acres Electric banjos day represent a benchmark in modern banjo construction. Personnel on file at this time include Kevin Enoch, Bob Smakula, and Peter H. Smakula, to give you an idea of the quality of this instrument. It has an 11" spun over rim with scalloped tone ring, mahogany neck, 26 1/4" ebony fretboard, and engraved mother of pearl inlays. With the exception of new, SFI-installed frets, and a fresh bridge and Fiberskyn head, this instrument is all original. Tone is clear and snappy and projects like an opera singer, or, perhaps, Lady Gaga? We'll let you be the judge. Sent straight to your domicile in a hard case, plus shipping. (P.S. - Goose Acres banjos never hang around for too awful long, so if you want it, move quickly!) Sorry, Sold. Photos
New Enoch Tradesman by Enoch Instruments. 11" or 12" rim with black finish, 25 1/2" scale, natural finish walnut or cherry neck with a Dobson-style profile and round heel, Richlite fretboard with dot inlays and an adjustable trussrod. Geared Gotoh planet & 5th tuners and cool octagonal dowel stick. Available fretted or fretless. In our opinion, the best new utility banjo on the market. GB; $1,335 fretted, $1,265 fretless. All our Enoch Tradesman Banjos are made with the optional fretboard scoop.
Enoch Tradesman Flush Fret. A great place to start your fretless career. Instead of raised frets, this instrument has inlaid white lines where the frets normally go. You can get the fretless sound and have the accuracy as long as you are looking. New with a gigbag, with Scooped fingerboard; Walnut neck with 12" rim and neck scoop is on order, with delivery in October. $1,310
2009 Enoch Tradesman 1/2 Fretless. So you like playing fretless banjo but are afraid of hitting a wrong note up the neck? Then this is your banjo. It's fretless to the 6th and fretted from #6 to 17. 12" rim with a cherry or walnut neck. It's 9 years old but looks nearly new. With a gig bag. $1,000. Sorry, Sold. Photos
Click here for a list of new Enoch Tradesman banjos in stock and ready to ship today.
1903 Fairbanks Whyte Laydie NO. 7. Our next guest needs no introduction - you may remember it from such pictures as "Exquisite Classic Era Banjos," "Exquisite Classic Era Banjos II," and "How Whyte was My Banjo." Please make welcome, this Consalvi inlaid No. 7! Really, though, if you are in the market for an instrument such as this, you may already know as much about it as we do. Here's the scoop, anyway. This banjo has seen a handful of modifications and repairs in its 115 years on this Earth. 3/4" of the ivoroid binding has been replaced, and there is a visible old repair on the back of the peghead. A string notch has been cut in the tension hoop, the left side of the 7th fret inlay has also been replaced and the tuners have been upgraded to prewar Ludwig planets. That said, the Consalvi inlays are in otherwise great condition, and beautifully showcase his peerless workmanship. The neck is curly maple with a carved heel, and the rim is 10-15/16" in diameter. It's outfitted cobra hooks with closed ball end nuts, a cammed no-knot tailpiece, and a vintage Clifford Essex calf skin head. It's fair to guess this may not be one's first choice for a daily player banjo, but if you do decide to have a tune or two on it, you'll find the tone is warm and balanced, and just a bit on the mellow side. Its tenure in the Smakula personal collection means it's been set up to play like a dream. We are offering it today for a pittance at $12,000. It's cool if you have to move some things around and call us back. We'll be here all day. Comes with a protective 1980's Ess and Ess hard case. Photos
1882 Fairbanks and Cole. Audrey Hepburn. Bugatti automobiles. The Biltmore estate. Sure they might seem like unquestionable icons of classic elegance, but in comparison to this instrument, they have the sophistication of getting arrested in the parking lot of a Tudor's Biscuit World for selling pirated DVDs. The 11 9/16" spunover rim has a gorgeous new Stern Calf skin head installed, a bone tailpiece, a two foot bridge similar to what it would have had originally, and a surprisingly comfortable original Walker's Arm Rest. The mahogany neck has an ebony backstrap, peghead overlay, and new 26 3/16" fingerboard installed here at SFI. All inlays are original save for a few on the fretboard. While the ebony violin style friction pegs aren't the most ideal in terms of modern functionality, they are what this instrument would have had originally so given its age and originality, we opted to install new reproductions. It's stung with Nylgut strings, and paired with the fresh set of frets it has, it plays effortlessly and sounds mellow with just a little bit of snap, as required by many black tied classic banjos players. Be the classiest person you know and get this. It embodies the best of 1882, in contrast with The Chinese Exclusion act and the death of Mary Todd Lincoln. $2,200 With TKL Hardshell case. Photos
1910 Vega-Fairbanks Tubaphone rim with Bob Anderson "Bee and Thistle" neck. Easily the fanciest bee- themed banjo in the shop. The Cocobolo neck has a 23 3/8" scale fingerboard festooned with inlays of honey bees, honey combs, thistles, and possibly the most elaborate bee hive ever inlayed on a banjo. The peghead overlay has a rather large thistle with bee on top presumably pollinating it, and the peghead's back strap is adorned with the rear view of that image. The neck also features extensive thistle themed heel carving that extends all the way up to the seventh fret, as well as Five Star Planetary tuners that have elegant amber knobs. The 10 3/4" rim's hardware is all gold plated minus the original cammed No-Knot tailpiece, and has the typical Vega blonde finish. Oh yeah and there are some more bees on the dowel stick. Overwhelmed? Yep, me too. But if you need a bee-lated Christmas gift for your favorite old-time banjo/apiary enthusiast, I humbly submit a suggestion. With TKL hard case, $6,500 Photos
1971 Vega PS-1, Pete Seeger Longneck. Pete Seeger - singer, banjo player, activist, and face of the American folk revival, thanks in no small part to his classic show, Rainbow Connection, which featured the likes of Elizabeth Cotten, Roscoe Holcomb, and . . . wait... Quest! The show was Rainbow Quest. Sorry. But I have to admit - a Seeger/Kermit co-hosted talk show would be nothing short of heavenly balm for the troubled world we live in today. But alas. Let us turn our attention to this dashing 1971 Vega Longneck. Built shortly after Martin Guitar acquired Vega, the parts of this banjo were made in Needham, MA and assembled in Nazareth, PA. It has a 32" scale, 10-15/16" diameter, Tubaphone tone ring with late period "dogbone" holes, maple neck, ebony fretboard, and Grover Rotomatic tuners. With the exception of an SFI fret job and new Remo frosted head, all parts are original. It also comes with the original Lifton "Built Like a Fortress" hard case. This instrument is in excellent condition and sounds fantastic, balanced perfectly from the rich low end to the clear, shimmery high end. Sent straight to your door for $2,850 plus shipping. Photos
1978 Vega Tubaphone No 2-5. From 1970 to 1979 the Martin Guitar Company owned the Vega name and produced just under 2,000 Vega branded instruments in their Nazareth PA shop. In 1979, the Vega name was sold to Galaxy Trading of Korea beginning a 10-year run of embarrassingly mediocre Asian made banjos with an iconic brand name attached. With the serial number of 1943, this banjo is one of the last made in Pennsylvania. The bound rosewood fretboard has a 26-1/4" scale and a 1-1/8" nut width. The 24-bracket rim has an 11" Tubaphone tonering and is fitted with a Fiberskyn head. The parts appear all original with the exception of the previously mentioned head. Rosewood armrest cover, and floral pierced tailpiece. Tone is full, meaty, and precise. A great sounding and playing banjo from the end of the 10 year Pennsylvania Vega era. $1,200 with original hard case. Photos
1897 Cole's Eclipse Man In The Moon. At a recent banjo conference we had the pleasure of a presentation of historic Boston banjo shop locations. The presenter went into great detail on architecture and the need for good natural light back in the days before electric lights were common. The most amazing find in that presentation started with photo of a gas main explosion on Tremont Street. Big hole in the ground and injuries. Far in the distance there was a small dot that when enlarged you could read the sign; W.A. Cole Banjos. Our treat of the day from that era of Tremont Street is this Cole's Eclipse Man In The Moon banjo. It has the stunning Icilio Consalvi engraved inlays on the 27" scale ebony fretboard. SFI's master banjo technician has reset the neck and refretted the fretboard. The other small, but welcome, modernization is the addition of ABM planet tuners on the peghead and a geared Schaller fifth tuner. All five tuners have the banjo's original grained ivoroid tuner knobs installed. The rim diameter of this banjo is 10-1/2". with, if not the original calf skin head, one nearly as old. The shoes are long two point and all 24 original brackets are present. The tone has a full warmth and the playing is precise. The price is $2,600 and we include hard case. Photos
1920 Cole's Eclipse Professional. Though this is one of the banjos made late in this firms history, it is still a high quality instrument. With it's 27" scale and the 10 7/8" head it has a bright and precise sound. The ebony fretboard is inlaid with dots, the peghead features an engraved floral design. Modern ABM geared tuners have been installed, the frets replaced, and a proper neck reset done here in our shop. Condition is in the very good range. With a modern hard case this banjo is $1,900. Photos
1900 Cole's Eclipse Professional upgraded to Man In The Moon by John Gough. Starting it's life as a mid grade W.A. Cole Professional, this banjo was upgraded to Man In The Moon Eclipse by John Gough in about 2002. As many vintage instrument fans know, John's work is inspired by the Iccilio Consalvi and it shows. Mr. Gough also added a 26-14" scale fretboard on top of the original 27" board. The shorter scale brings out more mellow overtones and is a little easier to play. Recent work here in the SFI shop includes new frets and a proper neck set. A great slightly modernized banjo with a big vintage vibe. With a hard case, this banjo is only $1,650. Photos
1912 Fairbanks-Vega Little Wonder with Fancy John Gough conversion 5-string neck. We dare you to try and make this instrument sound bad. Clawhammer style with rubber gloves on? Still sounds good. Slapping the thumb string over and over with a flat pick while underwater? Even better. It is our utmost pleasure, and quite frankly, our dang patriotic duty, to send an instrument as excellent as this one out into the world, especially after it's gone through the SFI spa treatment. It has a 1912 Fairbanks-Vega 11-13/16" diameter Little Wonder rim, refinished black and upgraded with ivoroid binding and attractive marquetry. The circa 2009 curly oak neck by John Gough is graced with a Fairbanks #7 style peghead inlay, and Fairbanks #2 style fretboard inlay. Scale is 26-1/4", and it's been outfitted with ABM tuners and a Schaller 5th, with ivoroid knobs. Tone is bright, sparkly, and extremely articulate, so, yeah, we dare you - play slide with a rusty pair of gardening shears. Actually, that sounds pretty cool. Yours for $2,500 in a Harptone hard case. Photos
1968 Gibson RB-250 Bow Tie Mastertone. Every instrument tells a story, and in the case of this 1960s Mastertone, that story is a confusing one. The original, yellow lined, Lifton case comes with three stickers: two are from an outdoor theater in Beckley, WV, from their productions of the Hatfields & McCoys and Honey in the Rock. The other is a San Quentin prison inventory sticker. Between these, the massive Kluson Firebird tuners, and sliding 5th string capo, there is an element of intrigue surrounding this banjo. If you'd rather be spared the detective work, not to worry - because one pluck of one single string is all it takes for this instrument to instantly give up any mystery or subtlety it might've possessed. We know that sounds unkind, but we don't mean it like that. All we're saying is, this banjo does exactly what it was designed to do: saw your brain in half, in a good way. It has an 11" black multi-ply rim, chrome plated, one piece flange, and a 3-1/4 lb, 19 hole, Mastertone tone ring. The neck is mahogany, with a bound ebony fretboard, 26-1/4" scale, bound peghead with inlaid Gibson logo, and crown inlays up and down the fretboard. The plating does have some checking, and there's also a dent in the binding at the 5th tuner, as well as the treble side of the 5th fret. The maple resonator sports an attractive sunburst finish, as well as marquetry around the sides, similar to a resonator from an RB-800. Not that there's much question as to what this thing sounds like, but let us say it again: for exceptionally articulate, precise, and hard-driving banjo playing, there is simply no substitute for a Mastertone. Mystery solved. Take it home today for $2,200 Photos
1991 Gibson RB-250. 1991 was a simpler time in the Nashville-Davidson County Metropolitan Government Balance. No one could have fathomed that one day the Gulch would be overrun with drunken bachelorette parties bellowing "Remix to Ignition" off of pedal taverns, or that tapas would be available for purchase within walking distance of the "Murder Kroger" on the east side. But its probably safe to say that when this banjo left Nashville twentyseven years ago, Greg Rich and his crew in the Gibson banjo department figured this banjo would still be making rakes, forward rolls, and tenth fret b string bends sound great today. The aforementioned Mr. Rich was responsible for early 90's Gibson banjos being held in high regard, and this is proof why they are. The workmanship is really nice and while it sounds just a little mellower than some Gibson banjos, it will still bring the drive and volume to let your neighbors know you can play "Lonesome Road Blues." Plus this is in great shape. The 11" three ply maple rim with a 3.3 pound flathead tonering has a frosted plastic head, nickel hardware, mahogany neck, and 26-3/8" scale ebony fingerboard and peghead overlay are all very clean save for some mild tarnish on some of the hardware and mild finish checking on the peghead overlay and resonator. Whether you're a masher or someone who likes playing Cherokee Shuffle in A without a capo, you'll find something to like here for only slightly more money than it took to bail out Jessica after she tried to fight the bouncer outside of Tootsies Orchid Lounge. $2400 With original hardshell case. Photos
1963 Epiphone EB-88 Minstrel Mastertone. Behold, a banjo so bright and crisp and loud it seems to suggest a natural happening of sorts; blizzard, eclipse, stampede, whatever. Either way, we advise caution when playing this around the uninitiated (for full security, you may want to have a waiver drawn up). All that said, it is a shame that this excellent resonator banjo was not played for over half a century, because this thing is a heartbreaker, a veritable powder keg of tone and attack. A shame for everyone but you, o loyal customer. Made in Kalamazoo, MI, it has a mahogany neck, 26-1/4" scale, Brazilian rosewood fretboard, and a 3 ply maple rim with brown finish. Parts are nickel plated, including the good n' heavy, 19 hole, one piece flange. It has a flathead Mastertone tone ring, and a maple resonator with sunburst finish. The new Gotoh tuners are a welcome upgrade from the original Eltons, and new frets installed here at SFI means this thing cooks. In excellent condition with hard case, this formidable five-string is yours for $2000. Sorry, Sold. Photos
1969 Gibson RB-170. Charming and just a tad strange (as is our perennial specialty here at SFI), this Gibson openback comes with the original retail tags, telling you everything you need to know about care for your instrument, and, maybe, a forgotten musing from the journals of Darwin? "Mother Nature always plays favorites with certain of her offspring . . ." (They are, in fact, talking about tone woods, but it still seems a funny way to put it). We all know the teaching of evolution in schools has provoked controversy for generations, but there's nothing controversial about the clear tone and low, low price of this instrument. It has a 26-1/4" scale, mahogany neck, Brazilian rosewood fretboard recently refretted here at SFI, and an 11" black finished, multi-ply rim, with brass tone hoop. Chrome plated hardware and a new renaissance head give this old (but not ancient) axe just a touch of sleekness. Sparkly and articulate, but not excessively bright, don't be surprised if you find yourself oddly swept off your feet by this banjo. In excellent condition with a featherweight case, this banjo is for sale at a mere $1000, and is no doubt a better icebreaker than asking someone's opinion on the Origin of Species. Sorry, Sold. Photos
1890's Thompson & Odell Artist Banjo. We estimate this banjo was in its late teens to early 20s when it heard news of the RMS Titanic sinking into the icy Atlantic waters. It was a witness to the great depression, both World Wars, the birth of television, disco, and American Idol, and now, sitting majestically by my desk as I write this, it is no doubt wondering why I purchased a smartphone the size of a toaster oven. Instruments as old as this one have a certain kind of knowing quality to them, and at SFI we're proud to call them our specialty. This banjo has an 11" spun over rim, mahogany neck, 26-3/8" scale ebony fretboard, and fancy inlays from top to bottom. It also features a most unusual tonering, where the hoop is suspended on posts visible through small cutouts in the wood. It's outfitted with ABM small shaft peghead tuners, a Schaller 5th, steel strings, and a calf skin head. Tone is brassy and bright, and has been expertly set up for smooth, responsive playing. Sent to straight to your door with a Superior II gig bag for $1,000, plus shipping. Photos
1890 SS Stewart American Princess. We recommend banjo lovers being as specific as possible when Googling "American Princess." Otherwise, you may end up knowing more than you ever wanted to about a Lifetime TV series revolving around an Upper East Side socialite who flees her own wedding to join a Renaissance Faire. Fortunately, if you're reading this description, that means you're safe (for now). Quite simply, this banjo is more than deserving of its royal namesake. It has a 24-1/4" scale, 10" spun over maple rim with faux rosewood grain finish on the inside, and a cherry neck. It's been outfitted with ABM planet tuners and a Gotoh 5th, and the peghead and fingerboard were graced back in 1890 with stylish mother of pearl & pale abalone inlays. Immaculately restored by SFI's stable of expert banjologists, this banjo looks, plays, and sounds fantastic. Tone is tight and sparkly, equally suited to delicate solo playing, or broadcasting in a jam setting. Comes with Superior gig bag. $1,200 Photos
1890 SS Stewart Little Wonder Piccolo Banjo. Remember the noisy cricket from Men In Black? Here it is in banjo form. In case the analogy is lost on you, we mean this is a tiny instrument that packs a startling punch. We'll spare you any more Men In Black references, though it's likely people will look at you like you're a space alien with this instrument in your hands. Regardless, this 1890 Piccolo 5 string is yet another fascinating Stewart oddity, with a vulcanized rubber fretboard, cherry neck, 14-7/8" string length, and 7" spun over maple rim with faux rosewood finish. It's outfitted with era-appropriate Champion friction tuners, a new calf skin head, and nylon strings. Tuned well above standard pitch, tone is tight and focused - think, aggressive ukulele, or tuneful Pomeranian. Yes, this banjo is elegant and strange and terribly fun to play, just don't be surprised if folks give you a wide berth when you uncase it at the weekly jam. Yours for $1,300 with Superior hard case. Photos
Circa 1895 SS. Stewart rim with modern Jim White fretless neck. Much like DJ Jazzy Jeff, the name S.S. Stewart is synonymous with '90s music of various centuries from Philadelphia. Similar to the many of the sweet jams DJ Jazzy Jeff is involved with, this instrument is something of a collaboration. While the 12-3/8" spunover rim is an S.S. Stewart creation, the stained maple neck and rim interior marquetry is the handiwork of Seattle based craftsman Jim White. Using original Stewart style decoration Mr. White has created an appropriate presentation grade fretless that's as attention grabbing as the jacket Mr. Jazzy Jeff wore on the cover of Things That You Do. The peghead is covered in engraved mother-or-pearl. The ebony fingerboard has less decoration, but is quite complementary of the peghead. Turn the banjo over and get a dose of the large carved lion on the heel and the floral carving on the back of the peghead. The 5-star planetary geared tuners and Schaller 5th are upgraded with carved bone knobs that are beaded around their exterior perimeter. For a sound somehow deeper than the lyrics to DJ Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince's 1991 hit "Summertime" we set it up with Nylgut strings and tuned low to an open E. We can't resist a banjo that booms like that sick Kenwood system you installed in your Impala after DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince dropped there aforementioned smash hit. Bottom line: this banjo is really fun and inspiring to play. With a Lifton hard case from the 1960's, this banjo is $4,000. Photos
2005 Cedar Mountain L2R. Brevard, North Carolina is known for its natural beauty, thriving small town culture, and of course, its white squirrels. (See: the annual White Squirrel Festival held in Brevard in May). Legend has it these snowy wonders fell off of a carnival truck years ago, and the rest is history. This Cedar Mountain L2R almost certainly did not fall off the back of a truck, though it too is part of a proud Brevard tradition. Over the past 25 years, Lo Gordon and Tim Gardner's craftsmanship has earned Cedar Mountain Banjos a strong reputation in the old-time music community - elegant, creative, and a ton of fun to play. This particular model features a maple neck, 25-1/2" string length, ebony fingerboard, and an 11" granadillo block rim. Attractive marquetry around the rim, plus the classic moon & stars peghead inlay, brings a bit of extra refinement to the whole package. And, lest we forget, this banjo comes with a resonator! With just one screw going into the dowel stick, it's exceptionally easy to mount or remove, so you can adjust your attack as needed. Resonator off, the tone is warm and clear and just a tad on the mellow side. Resonator on, it'll cut through just about anything. Sent to your door for $1,750 plus shipping, this banjo is tuned up and ready to journey with you into the heart of white squirrel country and beyond. Photos
2003 Sagmoen Fretless. Fall is here, which means it's time to get cozy - break out the apple cider, your 15 year old slippers, and snuggle up on the couch with a made-for-TV-movie based on a book. What's that? Tired of the same autumnal rigmarole year after year? Us too. This season, why not forgo the fuzzy hats and shaved nutmeg and try something a little more active? What we mean to say is, for our money, there's nothing cozier than the sound of a fretless banjo, strung up with a fresh set of nylguts. This Wayne Sagmoen build most certainly fits the bill, with a 12" maple block Ashborn style rim, maple neck, and an attractive ebony & brass fingerboard with scoop. It's also been outfitted with geared tuners, amber buttons, and a new Fiberskyn head. The sound is warm and deep with the right amount of clarity, lacking the "mushiness" that instruments similar to this one sometimes have. Sent to your door for $1,000 plus shipping and you can even wear your ancient slippers while you play it. Photos
2016 Gold Tone WL-250. The addition of the Whyte Laydie style tonering makes this imported banjo a little brighter and clearer that the other Gold Tone banjos we sell. The comfortable, slim, maple neck is finished in a walnut color and features cloud inlays on the fretboard. 11" rim and a 26-1/4"" scale. The list price is $1,219. Our selling price for ths lghtly used example with a blue Boulder Alpine gigbag included is $600. Sorry, Sold. Photos
1972 Harmony Resotone. At SFI, we prefer to celebrate the wholesome aspects of the 70s - roller skates, Coca-Cola salad, "More Than a Feeling," and fine Harmony banjos such as this one. And just to cover all our bases, let us formally state that we neither endorse nor condemn arranging the classic Boston song for 5-string banjo. Anyhow, this particular Resotone is open-backed with more or less all the standard features: 26-3/4"scale poplar neck, 10-7/8" black-finished Bakelite rim, and integral flange instead of shoes. It's been outfitted with replacement Gold Tone guitar style tuners (in keeping with the originals), and a geared Gotoh 5th string tuner. Like most Resotone banjos, this thing sounds way better than it should. Lively and bright and surprisingly balanced, it is a celebration of everything that's compelling about cheap instruments. And that statement is definitely more than a feeling. $200 with a gigbag included. Sorry, Sold.
1960 Harmony Resotone. When Leo Baekeland invented the first synthetic plastic in 1907, it's difficult to say whether or not he would've approved of his invention later being used to further the cause of banjo players and banjo sympathizers. But, it's not our job to speculate - it's to get the very best of yesterday's weird & wonderful instruments into your hands. Bakelite was originally used to make automobile distributor caps and parts for radios and telephones, but that doesn't mean this 1960 five-string isn't a practical implement. On the contrary, it is more than loud enough to make sure band practice never goes on longer than it has to. This banjo has a 26-3/4" scale poplar neck, the original guitar style peghead tuners, and of course, the aforementioned, 10-7/8" dark brown-finished Bakelite rim, with integral flange instead of shoes. It's been outfitted with a new Remo cloudy head, as well as a geared Gotoh 5th tuner. It also comes with the original Bakelite resonator, easily mounted or removed based on what the situation calls for. This instrument is ideal for student players who want something with just a touch more character than current factory made offerings, or for those who simply revel in all things funky, cheap, and fun. Yours for $200 with faux alligator cardboard case. Photos
J. French Cleve'd O. banjos. J. Lafayette French made banjos in Cleveland Ohio from the 1870's to about 1900. We are currently researching J.L. French and his banjos. If you have any information on J. Lafayette French the banjo maker, or his family we would love to hear from you. We are also documenting any banjos made by his company. Please click the contact button and let us know what you know. We will also gladly answer any questions about J. French banjos to the best of our ability. Check out the in progress web site www.jfrenchbanjos.com
J. French Banjos, Contact us...
1890's Unmarked Spun-Over Banjo Rim. This particular rim is very similar to an S.S. Stewart, but enough subtle differences that I would do not think it was made by that Philadelphia firm. The diameter is about 10-15/16". Depth is 2-1/4". We decided not to clean it for those of you that prefer
1915 Cole Tenor Banjo marked S.S. Stewart. In this late period in Cole's manufacturing timeline they were making instruments for other companies. We have had some Cole banjos marked Washburn and now this one Marked S.S. Stewart. After Samuel Swaim Stewart passed away, his company passed through several hands. At the time this instrument was made the Stewart trademark was owned by Buegeleisen and Jacobson (B&J) a musical instrument wholesaler. As a tenor banjo the restoration work is significantly more than the value of the banjo. But the 10-15/16" diameter rim will make a great conversion. All the parts are there and the rim has a great Rogers calf skin head. Price is $500 in as is condition. Photos
1923 Vega Whyte Laydie Style R Rim. These hard to find 11-13/16" Whyte Laydie rims sound great when a conversion 5-string neck is installed. This one is in very good condition and has all it's hooks & nuts as well as all the original 2 point shoes. It does not include the dowelstick, but we will be happy to dig up the neck attachment hardware you need. All original finish with the exception of the bottom of the rim where we had to fill a few screw holes where a previous owner attached a plate resonator. Price is $800 and we can get it in tomorrow's mail. Photos
FOUR STRING & MANDOLIN BANJOS
1927 Bacon B&D Silver Bell #1 Tenor Banjo. Here's a snapshot of modern life you may recognize. Someone has just sat down by a roaring fire, in the deep dark hours of a deep dark winter night, to at last turn their attention away from Facebook and Netflix, toward the business of the soul. What diversion awaits them at this curious hour? You guessed it. They're going to sit a while and play some depression era jazz. But what, you ask, will they do, if someone breaks into their house while they're playing and they must quickly cease all noise so as not to be found? If they're smart, the answer is already in their lap - a 1927 Silver Bell #1 with built in knee-mute. Like many of the Bacon banjos that come through SFI (yes, the Bacon Company, despite the misleading B&D logo on the peghead), this instrument is quirky, yet refined, and a little bit over-the-top. It has an 11" rim, F-Hole flange, patented Silver Bell tonering, Oettinger tailpiece, and is set up in jazz tuning. Louder than heck, it snaps, sparkles, and barks just like it should, and, of course, should you find yourself in a tight spot, you're one bend of the knee away from disappearing into the night. It may also be helpful in keeping folks at the Tuesday night jam from pouring beer on your head. Know your crowd, folks, that's what we always say. Yours for $1,100, including a Harptone hard case. Sorry, Sold. Photos
1930 Bacon Senorita Plectrum, As Is. For some time, this banjo was moping around the shop, directionless. Our first suggestion was that it join the circus, given the neck's flare for contortion - not only is it forward bowed and twisted, but bent to the side, too! Holy cow! Our next solution was to give it a good cleaning, stick it back together, and make it available as is. This turned out to be the more reasonable of the two options. This 1930 plectrum is a more than worthy project just waiting for a home or at least a good conversion neck. The aforementioned neck is mahogany with pearloid fretboard and peghead overlay. Scale is 26", and it still has the original tuners, which have been outfitted with new pearloid knobs. The 11" maple rim has no tonering, and like the resonator, is wrapped in pearloid. All hardware is nickel plated, including the 24 brackets and tulip flange. Resonator sports an attractive greenish-grey sunburst, and a few spots of pearloid on the resonator are in need of regluing. It's an altogether pleasing and unusual package, one that belongs on your workbench, not under the big top. Sent to your door in a wimpy guitar gig bag for $250 plus shipping. Photos
1928 Paramount Style A Tenor Banjo. William Lange's banjos had come a long way from the 1890's when he and his partner purchased the remains of New York City's Buckbee Company. From the Buckbee "replicas" to the Orpheum, to the Paramount line, they went from somewhat primitive to a well engineered instrument. I have personally liked the style A banjos the best of all the Paramount models. Hard maple neck with a rosewood fretboard and just enough mother-of-pearl inlay to look fancy, but not get you lost on the upper reaches of the fretboard. This instrument is comfortably worn, but important things like new frets and new ABM small shaft tuners are on board to make it play like a champ. With the Jazz tuning, this banjo has snap and punch that will get you heard, just like Paramount banjo endorser Harry Reser and his Clicquot Club Eskimos. With a Harptone hard case, this banjo is $900. Sorry, Sold. Photos
1925 Bacon Style C Tenor Banjo. Looks old, is old! For those wanting that wizened aesthetic without draining their savings account, this tenor, set up for Irish playing, is as fine a starting point as any. Indeed, it's tough to beat the lived-in character and sound of an instrument that is nearly 100 years old. The tricky part is when "well-made vintage" becomes a code word for "must pawn at least one vital organ to afford down payment." Not today, black market organ dealers! This snappy, no frills, Bacon style C is here to your financial and sonic rescue, with a mahogany neck, 17 fret, ebonized hardwood fretboard, 22" scale, and an 11" maple rim with Mahogany veneer. It's also been outfitted with a new Renaissance head, Gotoh tuners, and a 5-string no-knot tailpiece. Tone is loud and shimmery and crunchy all at once. Yours today for $600, with gigbag. Photos
1920's Maybell by Slingerland Tenor Banjo. I like Pearloid Do you like pearloid? That is what I usually say to telemarketers when my day is interrupted by their annoying calls. Since they really can't answer that question they shut up, give up, and hang up. But I really do like pearloid, especially the engraved champagne colored overlay that decorates the peghead. This banjo's spec list includes a maple neck with a 22-5/8" scale fretboard. The 10-3/4" rim has a simple steel hoop for a tonering and a 13-12" resonator. The only significant new parts are the set of Gotoh planetary tuners we recently installed. We set it up in Irish tuning, but if you are committed to jazz tuning, no worries. One set of strings and a new bridge will have you on your way to a Harry Reiser tribute band. Hmmm, something new for the telemarketers; "I like Harry Reiser, do you like..." Nah, I'll stick with pearloid. This prewar banjo is only $400 and a case is included. Photos
1920s Slingerland Tenor Banjo; The great 18th century Zen monk Matsuo Basho once wrote "Seek not the path of the ancients; seek that which the ancients sought." Though it is not exactly fair to call this banjo 'ancient,' we think this quote is still (sort of) relevant to the life of this instrument. To put it gently, there is an appreciable difference in the economy instruments of now, and the economy instruments of 100 years ago. This pleasingly unadorned four-string banjo features a 17 fret maple neck, 10 3/4" maple rim, and a 21-1/4" scale. It's also been outfitted with Gotoh planet tuners, and has been set up for Irish tuning. Tone is warm, with plenty of bass, and just the right amount of growl. Built simple and built to last, we have no doubt this banjo will help you find your Zen. In worn yet sold condition the price is $350 with gigbag. Photos
1920s Washburn Banjo-Mandolin. Yes, it's loud. But there is a surprising warmth and nuance to this banjo mandolin that is rare in any eight stringed, banjo head equipped instrument. The 10 3/4" maple rim has a donut style tonering, which would be responsible for any trace of tonal subtlety this instrument has. The well-worn neck has a 13 1/16" scale fingerboard and a 1 3/16" nut width. This would probably make a really nice five-string conversion with some help from your favorite neck craftsman, but if you want your neighbors to "enjoy" your version of "Daybreak in Dixie" too, its perfect as it is. $600 with original hardshell case. Pictures coming Soon.
1920's Weymann Style 40 Mandolin-Banjo. Like Will Smith's character in "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," this banjo mandolin was West Philadelphia born and raised. While significantly older than Mr. Smith, this well preserved instrument has retained it's freshness through the decades just as he has. Anyway, the 10 1/2" rim and neck are both maple, and all hardware is original. The nut width is 1 1/4", and the scale length of the original refretted ebony fretboard is 14 3/16". And yes, it's loud, but it's a banjo mandolin so you knew that. $700 with original hardshell case. Photos
1925 Weymann Style 35 Mandolin-Banjo. This is a clean and interesting piece of Weyman's ingenuity. A 9" maple rim, with it's likely original calf skin head and the Weyman patented neck adjuster coupled with a one piece hard maple neck with a 13-7/8" scale fretboard. The big bonus with this instrument is the slip on resonator. Sure it's louder, but you also don't have to feel the neck adjuster dig into your belly when you stand up to play. The straight neck and recently dressed frets make this instrument play like a dream. We also made a custom compensated bridge so it plays in tune. Hmm The best of both worlds? Probably not, but this puppy has the punch to be heard in any jam session. From Jug band to alt rock this one will fit. In excelent condition and the price of $950 includes a boulder alpine gigbag. Photos
1915 Fairbanks by Vega Tubaphone style M Tenor Banjo. Manufactured only a few years after Vega first started producing tenor banjos. This one, like most style M's, has a maple neck. The scale length is 21" and has a freshly refretted ebony fretboard. The rim diameter is 11-13/16" and has all the original hardware with the exception of the reproduction No-Knot tailpiece. Set up for Irish playing, with low tuning and the Remo Fiberskyn head, this banjo has a full tone that is sure to please. 2 minor alterations worth mentioning; a filled hole on the back of the peghead & refinished headstock (good work) and new Gotoh tuners. In very good to excelent condition with an original hard case, this banjo is $1,200. Photos
1940 Wards by Gibson Tenor Banjo. A simple tenor banjo made by Gibson for the famed d iscount mail order and department store; Montgomery Wards. This banjo has a mahogany neck with a 22-3/4" scale dyed maple fretboard. The 11" diameter 2 ply maple rim is 5/8" thick and has 16 brackets. There was once a resonator, but is long gone. This one sounds great as a tenor and has great potential for a 5-string openback conversion. In better than good condition with a well worn soft (stiff cardboard) case. Price is $450. Photos
1920's Weymann 150 tenor banjo. From the city of Brotherly Love (and Mummers!), here is a pretty clean example of the work of the storied Weyman Company. This banjo, which is clad in its original sort of green/brown hued finish, has a moderately figured curly maple neck with a 22" scale length ebony fretboard with 18 frets. The 11" maple rim, which also has some nice though subtle figuring, features a Little Wonder style tonering. A bulky, yet functional, "Weyman Patented Neck Adjuster" is attached to the heel and dowel stick, and its recent setup by SFI gave the instrument new Gotoh tuners, a modern no-knot tailpiece, and a fresh set of frets. $650 can take this one home in its new Superior gigbag. Sorry, Sold. Photos
1923 Weymann Model 135 Tenor Banjo. This super clean instrument from the early jazz age is in mostly original condition. The blond maple neck has a 22" scale ebony fretboard with dot inlays with new Gotoh planetary geared tuners installed. Unfortunately the Weyman Keystone State decal on the back of the peghead has deteriorated. The 10-1/2" 6 ply maple rim has no tonering. The Remo Fiberskyn head sits directly on the wood. With the exception of the tailpiece, this banjo retains all it's original nickel plated hardware and includes Weyman's patented neck angle adjuster. Set up for Irish style playing, the tone is clear and precise. But all you early jazz fans take note that jazz tuning is as easy as a new set of strings and a bridge. An excelent condition instrument priced at $500, including a good gigbag. Photos
1926 Gibson UB-1. This is your chance to own a pre-war Gibson flat head banjo for about one tenth of the current market price of your coveted TB-3 conversion. Well, OK this instrument is not a Mastertone 20 hole flat head. Actually has no metal tonering at all. But it sure is loud! UB-1 were Gibson's least expensive banjo ever produced but with a maple neck and 2 ply 6" maple rim it does have the features of a high grade banjo. The resonator is a flat plate suspended with 4 spacers. I love the stenciled "The Gibson" peghead logo. In very good/excelent condition. At the price of $550 it comes with gig bag. Photos
1920's Lyon & Healy "American Conservatory" Concert Banjo Uke. Submitted for your approval, the weird and wonderful Lyon & Healy "American Conservatory" banjo uke (because nothing conjures up the rarefied air of the conservatory like a banjo uke). First item requiring immediate attention is the swirly, stucco/enameled/embossed situation on the resonator. Initial research hasn't yielded any hard answers as to the material or process present here, but this much we do know - the resonator is brass and the what-have-you is relatively stable but peeling. Furthermore, this instrument has a mahogany neck with a 15-3/4" scale ebonized fretboard, and an 8" maple rim. Tone is full and punchy, and the resonator gives it a nice bit of extra volume and chutzpah. Quirky, yet straightforward, this is a fine player's instrument at an even finer price - take it home today for $350 in a gigbag. Photos
1925 Epiphone Banjo Uke. For the practical strummer with an ear and eye for the antique and the archaic (we guess)! One of two fairly similar Epiphone banjo ukes in stock right now, this 4+ lb mini-beast has an 8-3/8" diameter rim, high grade calf skin head, and a maple neck with a knot on the heel. Low precision action plus a new 13-7/8" inch scale ebony fretboard installed right here at SFI means it plays great. The natural maple finish, unique bracket band instead of shoes for hooks & nuts, and the original vintage Epiphone decal on the back of the peghead, means it looks cool, to boot. Snappy and articulate and plenty loud, it's yours for $550 with a gigbag. Photos
New Banjo Uke Case For Vintage Gibson UB-2 and UB-3's. Several years ago noted banjo builder and inlay artist Kevin Enoch designed and had manufactured the nicest hard case for his banjo ukuleles (see below). They fit most any banjo uke with an 8" rim, with a notable exception; vintage Gibson UB-2's and Gibson UB-3's. The plate resonator of these instruments made them taller than the Enoch case could accommodate. Partnering with Enoch Instruments, Smakula Fretted Instruments has released a modified version of that case to fit those 8" diameter vintage Gibson banjo ukes. This case is attractive, sturdy and affordable. The introductory price is only $95 plus shipping. Photos
Banjo Uke Hard Case. Designed to the specifications of Kevin Enoch, this banjo case is certainly the nicest one on the market. It fits openback banjo ukes and 5 string piccolo banjos with an 8" diameter rim, 23-1/2" total length and a maximum depth of 3" (from the bottom of the rim to the top of the bridge). The simulated leather covering is brown, and the lid is arched for extra strength. Very nice. Retail price is $120, our discount price is $95. Photos
New Wire Armrest for Openback Banjo. One of the most important accessories we sell is this reproduction Vega and Fairbanks style wire armrest. Adding comfort to holding the banjo allows you to concentrate more on playing. Any banjo we sell that did not come with an armrest has one of these installed before the sale. And if you need one for your other banjo, they are only $18 for nickel plated and $15 for the raw brass. Photos
Guide to Physical Condition;
New; An instrument that came to us from the manufacturer. It has never been owned by a consumer and has it's full warrantee.
Mint; As the instrument came from the factory. No blemishes at all
Near mint; Almost as it came from the factory
Excellent condition, a very clean instrument that has a few minor blemishes
Very Good Condition, reasonable wear for its age.
Good Condition; plenty of player wear.
Plus or minus indicates the condition is half a grade better or worse.
We ship most of our instruments via UPS. Cost to ship a mandolin is $20 to $40. Cost to ship a guitar or banjo is $25 to $60. The cost of insurance is extra. We will be happy to quote before shipping.
Small goods like banjo heads and other parts cost $8 per order for Priority Mail shipping in the continental US no matter what the order size. The cost of orders headed out of the continental US will be quoted before they are shipped.
We are legally obligated to charge 6% West Virginia sales tax on anything purchased here at the shop or shipped within the state of West Virginia. We do not charge sales tax on orders sent out of state.
Call us at 304-636-6710. For payment we accept checks, wire transfers and MasterCard & Visa. If you prefer Paypal, please send us an email requesting a Paypal invoice.
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