A Site Dedicated to all enthusiasts of Classic Style Banjo
Hi folks...it has been a while, I know, but can you help me?
A new student turned up today with a beautiful Clifford Essex Regal banjo in tip-top condition, which he inherited from his late grandfather. I took the resonator off to see the dowel, and the Clifford Essex badge was there, with the Shaftesbury Avenue address, placing it from 1936-42, I believe.
The student had taken it to a local guitar shop, and they had put steel strings on it...which I quickly detuned. They had been on for fourth months, but no damage seems to have occurred. The tuning pegs seem to slip a bit. I've ordered a medium set of Chris Sand's for him.
He might want to get it looked at by someone who is an expert in restoration (if it needs any) and who won't change the neck angle of put on big modern tuners. So, if we go that route, who do you suggest in the UK?
The student remembers getting the banjo with the fifth string missing, and there is the possibility it was used for plectrum-style playing, though there are no marks of evidence for this on the skin.
I'm really impressed with this banjo! Sorry I didn't have my wits about me to take a photo, but it looks identical (apart from the obvious) to the 4-string version on the John Alvey Turner site: http://www.johnalveyturner.co.uk/Gallery/B012301.html
The student didn't know anything about the Classic Banjo or early Plectrum styles. I did wonder for a second, given the 4-string version from the same period, whether this might have originally had light steel strings on it. What do you know?
Rob, I have had both nylon and steel on my CE Regal and I find that with the right bridge and head, steel brings out the best sound on this banjo. I know a few other people who have had steel on their Regals with no harm done and they've had medium gauge. I prefer somewhat lighter gauge because it brings out the best sound from this instrument. I'm not sure what you mean about big tuners and the neck angle. Longer tuners pushing up on the neck when the banjo is lying horizontal with resonator down and bridge up? Anyway if there's a problem with the tuners, there are modern tuners of the same size available. You can hear the sound with gut strings (and natural vellum) on some videos I put on this website last year (St Louis Tickle and Valley Green Polka) and the sound with nylon string (maybe Savarez?) on some Marc Dalmasso videos here. Although I like the gut/nylon sound on this banjo, it is somehow a bit "congested" sounding. A similar sound happens with medium gauge steel. But when I use lighter strings this banjo has a beautiful round, smooth, sound. The gauge I use is
5th and 1st string: .009
2nd string : .010
3rd string: .014
4th string: 022
Another factor is the head. I have tried natural vellum, Renaissance, and Fiberskyn and the latter is the winner by a big margin. On *this* banjo, I mean.
The best bridge I've found for this banjo is one made by Eric Stefanelli.
To sum up, since the CE Regal was also available as a plectrum banjo I am fairly confident that light gauge steel strings are safe to use. Experience seems to confirm that idea.
By the way, the arm rests on these banjos are fragile. See recent discussion on this forum.
Most modern tuners require widening the peg holes but this has no effect on the neck angle. I have no trouble using steel strings and the original tuners. ( I think these are "Page" tuners. Not to be confused with Page Turners, which are suspense novels.)
There is already some downward pressure on the bridge of a CE Regal because of the "buckle" type tail piece.
Why would any work at all need to be done to this banjo? I have seen only a few problems on the several Regals that have crossed my path. The neck is rather narrow where it meets the peghead and sometimes a fall or a knock causes breakage. If this has not happened and been badly repaired and in need of re-doing, then that's the worst problem checked off the list. (Paragons have this problem too). Sometimes the screws connecting the tuners to the back of the peghead need replacing. I have seen the tailpieces break in half. I saw one Regal that had been re-finished with what appeared to be brown shoe polish. If this banjo has no such problems, then keep it away from bad luthiers. In fact, good luthiers needn't do anything to it either. Find the right bridge and she's ready to play, no?
i would say it 's not exactly the kind of instrument for a student ; a basic clad rim would be better ;
the REGAL is a very powerful instrument , i cannot say in English
au secours Mike
il est dur à maitriser au niveau de la puissance d 'attaque ; sur ma dernière vidéo , je fais des fortés qui sont trop fortés et des pianissimo qui sont trop pianissimo parce que j 'ai peur d 'attaquer ; Il est dur à doser correctement , plus difficile qu 'un CE special ou un XX ; je comparerais ça aux pedales de volume logatythmiques pour pedal steel ; je ne m 'y suis jamais fait et utilise une " goodrich regular " ; C 'est ça , le Regal a une courbe attaque/ volume logarythmique ; le mien en tous cas
Salut Marc, je traduis le passage que tu m'as demandé ci-dessous:
"It's difficult to gauge the attack on this banjo; on my last video, my fortes were too forte and my pianissimos were too pianissimo due to the fact that I hesitated in the attack; it is difficult to dose it correctly, moreso than in a CE Special or an XX. I would compare it to a logarithmic volume control pedal on a pedal steel; I never got used to it and I use a "goodrich regular". My Regal seems to have a logarithmic attack/volume curve."
We'll keep that in mind ;-)
merci Mike for the translation ;
Yet , the CE Regal is a pretty good banjo , especially for free ... lol
the neck is , btw , more narrow than the special series
Your student story reminded me of a "find" a while back -
A couple of years ago a friend brought me her gran's 21st birthday present - probably a 1920s english banjo, I thought. Turned out to be a Temlett Ajax from c1885, all original, including the "coral" tailpiece, and in a strange leather gun-case. I think it was originally a 6 or 7 string, and even with 3 50yr old strings it sounded lovely. I'm hoping she might take it to Bill Kelday in Fintry with a view to a minimal repair / restoration. I'm sure you know him, and his work is superb. The English banjo maker who I would take a banjo to for a complete restoration is Dave Stacey. Played several of his instruments including many "remakes" of classic american models and they are the best I've ever tried.
have been enjoying your banjo youtubes
ps - pretty sure the Regal would have had steel strings as a matter of course from new - never known steel to damage a banjo - they're light gauge and low tension.
fraid i must disagree. I have seen many a 19th century open back banjo ruined by steel strings. Pot out of round and also bowed and rippled, neck seriously warped, tailpiece chewed to pieces, wooden pegs shredded and splintered.
Sure, a steel strung banjo is under far less tension than a guitar, but steel strings come in all gauges. I know banjo pickers who use a .017 '' unwound string for the third string, 14 for the second, 12 for one and five, and a wound .026 for the bass. I don't think a CE Regal would stand up to that.
never known steel to damage a banjo - they're light gauge and low tension.