PO Box 882, Elkins, West Virginia 26241
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Page updated 11-13-2020
Please Visit our Home Page for links to our guitars, fiddles, mandolins, and more.
Smakula Fretted instruments is on its way back to regular business. As you know, we have been shipping instruments and parts throughout the pandemic. Starting We are again accepting banjo, guitar, mandolin and minor fiddle repairs. For the safety of our staff, we can not invite people into the shop, but we do have a covered porch to use for repair drop off and pickup, as well as a place to test instruments we have for sale.
Thank you for your understanding and patience as we all work through the details of the new normal.
Please stay safe.
FIVE STRING BANJOS
1984 Gibson Earl Scruggs Mastertone Excelent condition; $3,000, Description below. Photos
2968 Gibson RB-170. openback, description below. $1,000. On Hold. Photos
2005 Sullivan Festival 20-Hole Flathead bluegrass banjo. Nearly new condition. Description below. $1,500. Photos
2008 Enoch Dobson, 12" rim, walnut neck, $1,800. Details below. Sorry, Sold.. Photos
1900 A.C. Fairbanks Special Electric NO 5. Details below. Sorry, Sold. Photos
1894 A.C. Fairbanks Curtis Electric. Details below. Sorry, Sold. Photos
New; As-Is Banjo Projects. We can't fix them all. Scroll to bottom of the page.
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 do have resonator Bluegrass banjos for sale from time to time and currently have a nice Gibson bowtie RB-250 in stock. Please scroll down the page for more information.
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. Left Handed models in stock too!
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. $1,310
New Left Handed Enoch Tradesman. The same precision attention to detail that is found in their standard right hand models present in these left-hand banjos. Currently we have 2 on stock. One with a cherry neck Photos and one with a walnut neck Photos Both have a 12" rim. are fretted and have a scooped fretboard. $1,395 including an enoch branded gigbag.
Click here for a list of new and used Enoch Tradesman banjos in stock and ready to ship today.
2008 Enoch Dobson model banjo. Yet another impressive build by the Mad Engraver of Beltsville, aka, our friend, Kevin Enoch. Mad Engraver you say? It's sort of a running joke in the SFI instrument description canon, which may or may not mean anything to you. Here you are, potential buyer, just needing the scoop on the specs, but you have to read a little lyric essay first. That must be infuriating! Too bad. This 2008 Dobson model has a walnut neck with a scooped 25-1/2" scale fretboard. The peghead is inlaid with a lovely, simple, pinwheel star - a great example of the tasteful and precise engraving work Kevin is known for. The 12" walnut rim is outfitted with a Dobson tone ring, Fiberskyn head, and a no-knot tailpiece. Tone is warm and on the plunky side, but it has more than enough volume and clarity to carry you through any jam situation, if we ever have jams again. In excellent condition and it plays beautifully. Yours for $1,800, with a tweed TKL hard case. Sorry, Sold. Photos
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
1900 A.C. Fairbanks Special Electric NO 5. What's special about this Special Electric No. 5? I don't know everything? And hey, for the amount of work we put into it, you could at least give it a second look. We lavished attention on this banjo because we believe in it. Think of it like our first round draft pick, or our gifted child we sent to all the best schools because we can't bear to see one of our own not achieve their full potential. Now, let us crack into this coconut and see what nectar there is to be had. The first thing you'll probably notice are the fancy inlays up and down the 27" scale fingerboard, three of which were replaced here at SFI. These inlays are all typical of the Fairbanks NO 5. The atypical rosewood neck features a back-strap with gryphon inlay on the back of the peghead, as well as a carved heel in a flower design. The rim is black-finished maple and measures 10-13/16" in diameter, and is outfitted with upside down Fairbanks Electric tone ring. The original long two-point shoes and square ball end nuts with cobra hooks are all intact. Extensive restorations done in-house: neck reset, neck refinish (it came to us with a thick polyurethane finish), new binding, new frets, new beaded bone friction tuners, new tailpiece, and a fresh Stern tanning calf skin head. Strung with nylon strings, it's perfect for classic style playing. And the sound of this instrument is absolutely arresting - deep, and articulate, it offers that perfect balance of volume, brightness, and warmth. Yours for $4500 with hard case. Sorry, Sold. Photos
1894 A.C. Fairbanks Curtis Electric. There's nothing like a father's love for his son, especially when it's been filtered through the retail market. Curtis Fairbanks, son of A.C., is said to have been a child banjo prodigy, and that's all anyone seems to know about him. He was almost certainly a classic-style banjoist, but we think this banjo bearing his name is fit for almost any banjo-related task you can come up with. It has a mahogany neck with a new 24-7/8" scale ebony fretboard, installed right here at SFI. We also took care to reinstall the original inlays. It's outfitted with ABM planetary tuners, a Schaller geared 5th, plus a new armrest, No-Knot tailpiece, and Renaissance head. It has a 10-15/16" diameter spunover rim, and a Curtis Electric tone ring. Said tone ring is comprised of a brass hoop which sits atop a series of 3/16" rods, which sit inside of a steel hoop. All original hooks and nuts. With the bright, distinctive tone you expect from a spunover banjo rim, this banjo is classy yet understated. Yours for $1,800, includes hard case. Sorry, Sold. Photos
1902 A.C. Fairbanks Imperial Electric #0. Amazingly we have had 4 similar original Fairbanks Imperial Electric banjos through our shop in the last couple of years. The last one we had for sale was purchased within hours of it being available. So what are you waiting for? A description? Fair enough. The blond maple neck is very similar to a Whyte Laydie N.O. 2 of the time period. The original Consalvi engraved mother of pearl gryphon was re-inlaid in the new peghead overlay with the other familiar corresponding Consalvi engraved mother-of-pearl inlay. Antique small shaft planets have been added for tuning ease. The original dyed maple 26" scale has been replaced here at SFI with an ebony board. The original inlays are still present and attractively engraved. The banjo's10-3/4" rim has the internationally known Electric Tonering, early two point shoes, and barrel style nuts. Not offensive at all. Tone is full with a good volume. Played clawhammer style over the neck you can get a good pop on the strings. The price with an original case is $4,000. Photos
1908 A.C. Fairbanks Imperial Electric NO 0. In ancient Greek mythology, Prometheus stole fire from Zeus and gave it to the mortals. In her 1818 world classic, Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus, Mary Shelley's ill-fated title character brought the spark of life to his famously grotesque but well-spoken monster. In 2018, SFI's Andy FitzGibbon resurrected this Electric NO 0. The second life of this beautiful instrument brings with it an invisible repair of a broken peghead ear, new peghead overlay and backstrap, new ebony fretboard with the original engraved inlays, and new cobra hooks with ball end nuts. It has also been outfitted with new ABM tuners, and a Schaller 5th, with the banjo's original grained ivoroid knobs installed. Full, powerful, tone that doesn't break up when played hard. 27" string length, 10-15/16" rim. Why pay extra to have something relic'd when you can just go right to the source? We're not saying Mr. FitzGibbon likes to play God or anything, but sometimes he gets this look in his eyes . . . The instrument is in good plus condition and includes a TKL Tweed hard case. $1,950. Sorry, Sold. Photos
1923 Vega Tubaphone NO 3. As I sit here, writing this blurb, a heavy winter rain is falling on the shop. Soon, it will be Christmas, then New Year's, and then a long, muddy, misty, West Virginia winter to follow. It's the season for introspection, sipping hot tea, and who are we kidding - this isn't "Silent Night." At SFI, it's Tubaphone season all year round, an instrument that's about as introspective as the Super Bowl half-time show. Not to say this charming 1923 No. 3 doesn't have depth - quite the opposite. This original 5 string banjo has a mahogany neck with carved heel, 27" scale ebony fretboard, Vega vine peghead inlay, and a 10-15/16" diameter rim with Tubaphone tonering. In-house repairs include: neck reset, new fretboard binding, refret, new ABM planet tuners, and a Schaller 5th, still outfitted with the original grained ivoroid knobs. The playing is smooth and precise, and the calf skin head helps balance the brightness of the tone ring - snappy and articulate, with just the right amount of warmth. Comes in the original hard case with neat-o cloth Vega badge on the inside. $3,000. Photos
1893 Cole's Eclipse rim with 1990's Cole 4000 style neck by Doug Unger. Every now and then, do you get a little bit lonely? Well then perhaps you need to step back from your Total Eclipse of the Heart and try instead a Cole's Eclipse. We are extremely certain with this one small step things will begin to turn around for you. With a vintage Cole rim and Doug Unger neck, this banjo seamlessly brings together two epochs of master craftsmanship. And as a side note, the neck is not marked Unger, but after nearly 50 years of studying his work, we can safely identify it as such. It has a 26-7/8" scale mahogany neck, ebony fretboard, carved heel, and style 4000 engraved inlays. The vintage 10-15/16" rim is outfitted with a calf skin head, ball end nuts, long shoes, and Cole neck adjuster. Other hardware includes ABM planet tuners, and a 5-star geared 5th tuner. Tone is warm and well-balanced and it plays precisely. Bring your heart back into the light today for $2500, including Superior hard case. On Hold. Photos
1881 Fairbanks and Cole. Why do we even bother with descriptions anymore? Allow us to show our hand, for a moment - as of late, banjos have been flying out the door. Parts, too. Maybe it's because people can't hardly go anywhere these days, save for the occasional nerve-racking run to the grocery store, or maybe it's because during this uncertain time, folks now more than ever need the salve of music. We think it's likely a little from column A, a little from column B. How's this for a description - banjo is beautiful and old, has strings. Get out your wallet. Really though, this 1881 Fairbanks & Cole is a pleasing artifact that speaks for itself. The neck is walnut with a 26-1/4" scale ebony fretboard, and elegant boat heel. It's outfitted with the original, well-fitting, ivory friction tuners, and the 11-1/4" maple rim has a Brazilian rosewood veneer and rope marquetry decoration. Said rim is held together by some unusual hardware, including the long 2-point shoes with truncated top, early square nuts with ball ends, and washers marked with a patent notification. Unusual positions for the inlaid fret markers at well, located at frets 3, 6, 8, 11, 13, and 17. Set up for classic playing with nylon strings, it has a 1/2" bridge, and 3/16" string height at the 12th fret. A fine companion for the summer of staying-at-home. $1,400 and comes with new Boulder Alpine gigbag. 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. Sorry, Sold. 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 $2,500 plus shipping. 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
1969 Gibson RB-170. It's like they say: "Only a Gibson RB-170 is Good Enough for Steve Martin." OK, no one says that. But it is a known fact that Steve Martin is a longtime owner of an RB-170. And though this particular RB-170 we are offering has nothing to do with Mr. Wild & Crazy Guy himself, we like to think it's imbued with star power just by association. This excellent condition open back has a mahogany neck with Brazilian rosewood fretboard, pearloid dot inlays, and "fly swatter" shaped peghead with gold Gibson decal. It's outfitted with non-original Grover planetary tuners, and a geared Gotoh 5th. Rim is 11 ply maple with thick black finish, which means this 11" diameter rim actually requires an 11-1/16" head. It's got a brass hoop tone ring, and all chrome plated hardware. In-house repairs include fretboard dressing and refret. Volume-wise, it's loud. But tonally, it's surprisingly mellow, and well-balanced. Yours for $1,000, including a 1970s Harptone hard case. Sorry, Sold. Photos
1984 Gibson Earl Scruggs. David Bowie once sang, "Beware the savage jaw / of 1984." What was he talking about? Encroaching totalitarianism? The work of George Orwell? It is actually our theory that Bowie was forecasting, 10 years in advance, the creation of this ridiculously awesome banjo. Which leads me to my next point - the choice you have at this juncture is really quite simple. Sit around and unpack the symbolism of Bowie's early song-craft, or sit around and unpack this banjo. You are a mere phone call away from having this excellent condition 5-string sent straight to your door. An instrument so forceful and precise, you'd swear it was irradiated. The first year of the Scruggs model, it has a vivid flame and amber finish curly maple neck, with matching resonator, and a radiused ebony fretboard. The peghead overlay and fretboard feature heart & flower inlays, and it's outfitted with Schaller D-tuners on the 2nd and 3rd strings. 1st and 4th strings are Gibson branded Schaller tuners, and the 5th is a Schaller as well. It's also got the engraved Earl Scruggs truss rod cover. Rim is 3-ply maple, with 3.4 lb 20 hole 11" flathead tonering, one-piece die-cast flange, Presto tailpiece, and it's even got the original Remo frosted top head. Gold and black Gibson Mastertone label signed by Earl Scruggs is the cherry on top. You can guess what it sounds like. $3,000, includes the original Gibson branded Ess & Ess 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 interior 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 the original 3-1/4 lb, 20 hole Mastertone tone ring by Jim Faulkner. 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
2005 Sullivan Festival 5-string Bluegrass banjo. This banjo is heavy metal, literally. So much metal. Yngwie Malmsteen should give us a call. If he's really the metal god everyone holds him up to be, let's see him stand on stage for three hours with this beast slung over his shoulder. The challenge stands, Malmsteen. Come at us. Or anyone, really. We'd love to sell this banjo, because quite frankly, we don't feel safe having it in the shop. Too much power. Our insurance has gone through the roof. This formidable flamethrower of a banjo has a mahogany neck with dot inlays, and Indian rosewood fretboard. Peghead is inlaid with the Sullivan Festival logo and a large fleur-de-lis. It's outfitted with Schaller planetary tuners, a Gotoh 5th, Ludwig frosted head, and 2 hump clamshell tailpiece. Rim is traditional Mastertone construction: 3-ply maple, with 20 hole flat head tonering, one-piece flange, and 24 brackets. Tortoise shell celluloid bound mahogany resonator matches the neck. All metal parts are nickel plated, and quite simply, this banjo is a cannon. Powerful, precise, and well-balanced. For $1,500, it's a steal, and it includes the original TKL hard case. The sooner you or any Nordic rock legend buys it, the sooner we can get back to business as usual around here. Photos
1896 S.S. Stewart Orchestra Grade Number 3. Wave hello to the horn of plenty. We're not kidding when we say this banjo is a lot. A lot of rim, a lot of hardware, a lot of inlay, and a lot of case, specifically, a high quality tweed Cedar Creek hard case. Part time capsule and part fashion statement, it is the very definition of "they don't make 'em like this anymore." The cherry neck has a 27-5/8" scale fretboard, with a 1-1/4" spline on the back at the first fret area. The 12" spun over rim is outfitted with a calf skin head, held together by 30 brackets. Fancy marquetry on the inside of the rim, elaborate pale abalone inlays, original Common Sense tailpiece with ivory rosette, and red nylgut strings all come together to make this banjo a distinctive item suited to collector & player alike. Tone is warm and round but not lacking power in the least. $2,600 with modern tweed hard case. Sorry, Sold. 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 $3,500. Photos
1890's L.B. Gatcomb Fretless. L.B. Gatcomb of Boston was not only a talented banjo builder, but a publisher as well. Gatcomb's Musical Gazette is very much what one might expect of a late-Victorian era banjo newsletter, full of oddly unpalatable bits of purple prose such as this: "No man ever attended a banjo contest in the right spirit without going away a better man. Nothing softens my stony and obdurate heart like the low, sad and yet mellow plunk of the flat-chested banjo." OK big guy. If you say so. But his banjos are certainly worth being remembered. This particular fretless build is among the more distinctive yet affordable banjos we have in the shop right now. It has a mahogany neck with ebony fretboard, attractive mother of pearl and abalone inlay, and Brazilian rosewood interior veneer. Work done at SFI includes new peghead overlay, neck reset, fingerboard leveling, new calf skin head, new hooks with Bacon style nuts, and Pegheds geared tuners. Yours today for $1,200 with a lightweight hard-case. Sorry, Sold. Photos
1917 Lyon & Healy's Own Make, Style A. The Wunderkammer (German for "cabinet of curiosities") was, in essence, a roomful of weird stuff - relics, antiquities, works of art, and even preserved pieces of human & animal anatomy. And just like Lyon & Healy banjos, you don't hear about them too much in popular culture these days. Questions of cultural relevance aside, this L&H "Own Make" Style A is a Wunderkammer unto itself, and well worth a second look. Interesting specs of this instrument go on and on. The unusual tonering design (patented in 1908) is essentially a Little Wonder tonering on stilts, and the rim is held together by a generous 30 brackets. Furthermore, the underside of the rim is studded with five small pieces of bone - presumably to protect the rim when laid on a flat surface? It's difficult to say. Then there's the vaguely tulip shaped peghead, with decorative spaces in the overlay that allow the maple to show through (quite attractive, actually). Speaking of, the all maple neck has a 27" scale ebony fretboard and fancy abalone inlays. The 10-13/16" diameter maple rim has been outfitted with a new Renaissance head, and it also comes with the original Kershner tailpiece. In-house repairs also include a neck reset, refret, new French polish on the neck, and installation of ABM planet tuners and a Schaller 5th. Tone is crisp and twangy. A most curious instrument indeed, and it can be yours today for just $1,400, including a hard case. Photos
2004 Vega Senator by Deering. Given the chaos and uncertainty of this particular moment in the United States, we can say, unequivocally, that this Vega Senator banjo is the only senator we can stomach listening to right now. We might also extend that to the Davis & Elkins College Senator, mascot of our local institution of higher learning. Yes, it's a man in a man suit, yes, it's strange. For someone looking for a sturdy, American built, all-purpose player's banjo, this Vega by Deering is a fantastic option. It has a curly maple neck with a 26" scale, scooped ebony fingerboard. The rim is 5/8" thick, 11" diameter, multi-ply maple. Both the neck and rim are dyed a dark brown color. It's outfitted with a Deering logo stamped Fiberskyn head, 24 brackets, and a no-knot tailpiece. Neck is attached with coordinator rods. A nice, bright-sounding banjo, plenty loud, and with a strong low end. Yours for $1300, including the original Deering branded TKL hardshell case. Photos
2007 Chuck Lee, Rose Hill Model. This Chuck Lee banjo is like a pot of chili on a cold day, or an extra deep, secret swimming hole on a hot one. It would also probably work in a pinch to fend off a rabid dog or a home invader, but we're pretty sure you'd lose your nerve at the last minute - it's just too darn nice! Yes, this instrument is a tad on the burly side, but still pretty lightly built given its specs - a cherry neck with 25-1/2" scale ebony fretboard, and a 14 bracket, 3-3/16" deep, 12" diameter rim. The neck also features some nice-looking decorative veneers down the center. And though there are no inlays on the fretboard, side dots are present in their standard positions - (3rd, 7th, 10th, 12th, 15th, and 17th frets). Other aesthetically pleasing features include the small, asymmetrical star on the peghead, s-scoop in the fretboard, and black and brown finish on the rim. Tonally, it is exactly what one would expect - plunky, woody, and deep. And worry not - that formidable low end doesn't come at the expense of clarity. An all around nicely balanced banjo. Snag it today for $1500, including a superior hard case. Sorry, Sold. Photos
New Recording King RKOH-05. Do you hear that? It's the weary and worrisome staff of SFI, breathing a collective sigh of relief for beginning banjo players everywhere. Why, you ask? Five words: Recording King Open Back Banjos. In recent memory, we've been consistently impressed by the quality of Recording King's budget priced guitars, and now we are happy to offer a similarly priced banjo of the same caliber. The RKOH-05 has a mahogany neck with 26-1/4" scale rosewood fretboard, and an 11" cross ply mahogany rim. Both neck and rim are attractively finished in dark red mahogany. It's outfitted with geared guitar-style tuners, and a frosted head. 5th string railroad spike and SFI wire armrest installed at no additional charge. Tone is balanced and full bodied, and it plays great. A fine choice for anyone on the hunt for their first banjo, or anyone in need of a solid playable instrument that can handle overhead storage bins, festival mudslides, etc. Yours for $300 Comes with Superior gig bag. 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...
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 major musical instrument wholesaler. As a tenor banjo, the restoration work is significantly more costly 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
1926 Bacon Style C Rim. 11" diameter, curly mahogany veneers inside and out. No tonering model. $350. Photos
1920 Vega Style K Rim. 10-1/8" diameter maple rim with steel hoop tonering. Burnt orange finish with some flaking. New hooks and nuts. $250. Photos
1925 Vega Little Wonder Banjo Rim. 10-15/16" maple rim with a pro natural refinish. No dowelstick. $450. Photos
FOUR STRING & MANDOLIN BANJOS
1950's Bacon Symphonie Silver Bell Tenor Banjo. Behold - the beguiling and potentially lethal spawn of a slot machine and a Christmas tree (and maybe a wedding cake). We like to think of instruments like this 1950s Silver Bell as more of a dare than a product for sale, though it is most certainly for sale. With all gold plated metal parts, clover leaf flange, engraved, pearloid covered resonator, engraved, rhinestone encrusted pearloid peghead, and painted, engraved, celluloid position markers, if you melted down the estate of Liberace and reconstituted it in banjo form, you might end up with something like this instrument. Furthermore, the 11" archtop rim is outfitted with a Ludwig cloudy head, Symphonie Silverbell tonering, and a reproduction Richelieu Oettenger tailpiece. The neck is maple with a 23" scale ebony fretboard. Tone is snappy, bright, and powerful, and it plays beautifully. Perfect for those who need to be heard in band situations, overcrowded jams, or nuclear wars. Yours for $1,500, including the original case. Photos
1930's Gibson TB-00. A popular candidate for 5-string conversions, this 1930s TB-00 is a surefire powerhouse regardless of how many strings are on it. We here at SFI are quite pleased with it in its current state of 4, and were we a little more sadistic, we might take it to the Thursday night local old-time jam and see who we can frighten. The maple neck has a 22-7/8" scale Brazilian rosewood fretboard, and an 11" diameter maple rim that is 5/8" thick at the top and 7/16" at the bottom. It is outfitted with a Waverly tailpiece, Grover two-tab tuners, and an otherwise good condition resonator minus some warping. Furthermore, one piece, pot metal flanges such as the one found on this instrument tend to curl up over time from the constant pressure exerted on them by the hooks and nuts. This particular flange has curled very little in its nearly 100 hundred years on planet Earth, so, party time, bonus. Bright and powerful sound. Yours for $1,600, comes in the original hard case with purple velvet lining. Photos
1922 Gibson TB. Though this blurber can't play more than a few paltry licks and chords on a tenor banjo, he is enamored all the same of this 1922 Gibson. With a 19" scale ebony fretboard, it's on the short side for a tenor banjo. The 10-1/2" rim is outfitted with a Renaissance head, but missing is the original trap door resonator. The maple neck has a snakehead style headstock (too cool!), outfitted with guitar style tuners. Missing trap doors? Snakeheads? What is this, a Vincent Price movie? And yes, the signature tenor brightness and volume is there, but it's tempered with just a bit of welcome roundness and warmth. All in all, it's a slightly out-of-the-ordinary instrument that's not flashy in the slightest but has a ton of personality where it counts. Yours for $700, comes in the original hard case. Photos
1926 Bacon Peerless Tenor Banjo. You know what they say - don't count your chickens before they hatch, a rolling stone gathers no moss, and, most importantly, it's lonely at the top! Fortunately for this "Peerless" tenor, it and thousands of its peers have a cozy little home toward the lower-middle end of things. That's not a dig, though the name is a little bit silly. Bacon in its heyday turned out piles upon piles of affordable, durable instruments that are still on the market and in the hands of players today. This particular specimen has a maple neck with 22" scale ebonized hardwood fretboard, an 11" maple rim with Little Wonder style tonering, and a bird's eye maple resonator with tulip flange. In-house adjustments include new Gotoh tuners, new Renaissance head, and a new No-Knot tailpiece. Set up in Irish tuning. Yours today for $600 including a hard case. Sorry, Sold. Photos
Alvarez Model 4291 tenor banjo. Like a Miyazaki film or a Murakami novel, this banjo was made in Japan and has a certain transportive quality to it. Indeed, when you play it, the rest of the world seems to fall away, probably because it's so unbelievably loud. Truthfully though, it's a lot of power for very little money, and any discerning tenor player would be wise to give it a second look. This high quality Mastertone style tenor has a mahogany neck with 23" scale rosewood fretboard, adorned with bow tie inlays. The 11" multi-ply rim is made up of a (likely) die-cast flat head Mastertone tone ring, one piece flange, single coordinator rod, Remo frosted head, and a rosewood resonator. It's also outfitted with modern 5-Star tuners. A great sounding banjo for a great price, take it home today for $550, in a 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.
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 $750 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. The low G string just plain growels. 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 discount 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
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 Slingerland Banjo Uke. Like other Slingerland banjo ukes we've had in the shop, this one offers a nice all-around vintage flavor that won't drain your bank account like a vampire. Just think of all the money you'll have leftover for iced coffees or whatever. It has a maple neck, ebonized hardwood fretboard, 13-7/8" string length, and 7" birdseye maple rim, outfitted with a calf skin head. Dowel stick is stamped S.S. Stewart Collegian, so you can walk around everywhere saying "check out my new Stewart!" if being sort of a liar is your thing. After a cleaning and a new set of strings, this little guy came out swinging. Good and loud, it does exactly what it was built to do - chugga-chugga-chugga-chugga. An ideal instrument to have on hand for those over-caffeinated Sunday mornings. $300, with gig bag. 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
As Is Banjo Projects
1940 Bacon Recording King Original 5-string by Gretsch. If Nintendo, bread baking, yoga, Zoom calls, reading, gardening, online shopping, and bathing still aren't enough to kill all the time you have to kill, might we suggest this as-is project Bacon Recording King. Think of it like rescuing a banjo from the pound. It may be a little rough around the edges, but it's got a big heart and will love you unconditionally, sort of. Yes it may need more than a little bit of TLC, but nevertheless it's a striking vintage artifact with a ton of potential. It's also playable as is, which we think definitely sweetens the deal. The mahogany neck has a 26" scale ebony fretboard, with fancy mother of pearl inlays. The width of the neck is rather narrow; 1-1/6" at the nut. Peghead overlay and heel cap are engraved pearloid celluloid. The maple rim is 11" in diameter and is outfitted with what we think is a very large Little Wonder style tonering. It's outfitted with a Rogers 3-Star calfskin head, Paramount style flip tailpiece, and it has a mahogany resonator with clover flange. For those equipped to perform them, we recommend the following repairs: new frets, replace missing fretboard binding, install new head, reglue heel cap, a full and thorough cleaning, re-solder the armrest, and possibly a neck reset. And since we here at SFI know all too well about the realities of mission creep, other work may still be necessary. Whew. Anyway, if this sounds like your style of rabbit hole, do give us a shout. $700, comes with a solid condition hard case. As is, no returns. 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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