Greeting lads and ladies! Dow here...years ago I started a quest to find/piece to-gether the right gut-string banjo to replicate that old Ossman twang. Work and life distracted me and I never pursued it. I Bought a no-name antique 11 1/2" archtop pot with a "homemade" neck and I pieced it to-gether and called it a banjo. Well, I'm ready to step it up a little and get the "right" banjo for proper classic picking! I've played bluegrass style for around 15 years, and have several banjos from the genre. I do favor a brighter, twangyer 5 string with plenty of volume, and not the more mellow dull sound. That doesnt necessarily mean I favor steel strings though. A man once told me if I wanted that sort of bright sound with gut strings...to go after a smaller pot banjo, and one that has a metal ring between the head and wood. I prefer a smaller scale neck also, just so I can really reach those hard to get chords...and....my Baldwin nylon string guitar is short scale and I'm used to a short neck. With that, I've been looking at various pony banjos by different makers, and a few different Stewart banjos, specifically the "Amateur", "Stewart Lady" and or "American Princess".  I've talked with Marc about these significantly, and was wondering if anybody else had any input as to how these Stewart banjos play and sound, and if anybody has any recommendations as to where to find beauties like this that are looking for a new home. Maybe one of you kind gentlemen or ladies have an old pony banjo or Stewart short-scale that's not being played quite as much as it ought to be? Well, I have got the gut-string banjo ich again and the flame has been re-kindled. Looking forward to some respectable speculation and discussion here. I am definately not up to par with my classic banjo knowledge, but I'm learning and enjoying every minute of it.  Thanks,

Dow

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Hey thanks for all the valuable feedback and information fellas, I treasure it all. I have been taking into consideration many of the points presented me about sound and playability of different style banjos of the late 19th century...other than the smaller rimmed instruments I previously created this thread about. Not that said instruments are inferior in any way, I am just noticing so much more out there. What has got my undivided attention now is the Stewart "Special Thoroughbred" model. I listened to a couple videos of folks playing them and WOW! That is the sound I'm craving! They seem mighty powerful, and plenty of tone to boost, plenty of twang with some uuummmph! Is there a difference between simply a "Thoroughbred" and a "Special Thoroughbred", besides appearance, any differences in playability or sound? Is there any difference in sound between any of the Stewart models, for example a "Champion" up against a "Thoroughbred"? I'm speculating on whether or not they all have the same guts, only different appearance on the exterior, one being a little more appealing to the eye rather than the ear? My main concern is sound, with any instrument, of course I would prefer my instument to have a respectable apperance aswell, but sometimes the two cannot go together. Most of my instruments are very used and well loved, lots of wear, but they sound killer! So with that being said, I do not desire a high end model Stewart, unless its required to achieve a certain sound....along with my own talents and techniques. I know how I play a banjo really impacts significantly how it will sound, but I do know that there are good, better, and not-so-great instruments all made by the same manufacterer aswell. What say ye banjo connoisseurs?

There is a video of Joel playing an old Stewart I think, on YouTube. The song is the FUNERAL MARCH. His playing and that instrument sound spot-on for what I am looking for.

 

I've also found an old Morrison, that looks like a higher end model, with ornate inlay. How did they measure up to Stewarts? Was Morrison made by Buckbee at one point?

 

Thanks everybody,

 

Dow

Hi Dow 

The Stewarts all share a common full spun rim design, but vary in rim diameter and scale length.The Special Thoroughbred typically has 10 1/2" rim diam, 26" scale and 22 frets. Stewart marketed it as  the best instrument he could make for the money. The Thoroughbred is a somewhat lesser quality instrument with same rim diam but 19 or 20 frets.

The Champion has an 11 1/2" rim and about a 27 1/2" scale. Bigger rim size gives greater projection, deeper bass. Bigger rims can be a little more challenging to set up well and sound their best.

There are several variables on any banjo that can be tweaked to dramatically alter its sound. Tautness of head, bridge design including material, number of feet, weight and height are probably the most important.

Greetings friends! I wanted to share with the group that I have found a banjo I believe suitable for my wants and needs as a beginning classic fingerstyle player. It is an early Morrison 5 string with patent date of Sept 26 '92. I am unsure of the true year the instument was crafted, I do not see any serial numbers or know enough about them yet to say for sure the year of manufacter. It is dirty, tarnished, rusted, chipped, cracked and missing a few pieces of inlay and fretboard...oh and it is in 2 pieces.

The neck heel is cracked and not attatched to the dowel rod. However, the neck is very straight, with no bow or up curve. I know, this may be deemed a lost cause to some, but I am going to try my darndest to get this old girl singing again. I am suprised at how tiny this thing is, yet how heavy the pot is. The head is 11 1/2". I would imagine that wood shrinkage may have played a part in that, or maybe folks were just a little smaller 120 years ago? It is shorter than all my bluegrass banjo, right at 36". The fretboard is 19 1/2" long with 20 frets.

I disassembled it to-day and began the chore of polishing the brightwork on the pot and hooks...SON! What a chore. It is however, cleaning up nicely with a little polish that Marc Smith recommended. It came with a plastic head which I will not be re-using, I need a thin calfskin for the sound I want, and still an old 2 footed maple bridge, and alas a tailpiece. I have seen Joel's and they appear mighty fine.

Once I get her all cleaned up, then it's off to my luthier to get that neck attatched to the dowel and pot. I have much work to do on this yet fellows...but I am having a lot of fun with it so far, which is the way to go I think. I will appreciate this instrument much more than if I just ordered one off of ebay from somebody else ready to go. I will keep everybody updated with my progress. I have included photos, hopefully they come out ok. Happy New Year to all!

 

Dow

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Some more photos.

 

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Hi Dow

Interesting find. Looks to be a twin to the Morrison held by Ossman in the pic with Brooks & Denton.  Same imlays, same number of shoes. Good luck with the restoration, especially the heel and fbd.

With practice, you'll be sounding just like "Old Plunks" himself.

Who is to say this isn't the very banjo Vess played? It is likely to be *somewhere*, why not in Washington?

Hi Jody

Certainly it's possible.

Ha! Thats very entertaining, claiming this could have possibly belonged to Vess. Thanks for the smile fellas. Back to reality though, after all this joshing around about who might have played this instrument, I discovered some number markings, some initials, and a name. And it quite possibly could be of historical significance. While cleaning, I noticed the initials "J.S." follwed by the numbers "19 1/2 x 11" on the upper side of the dowel rod. No idea who the initials could have belonged to, and I figured out the numbers are the length of the fretboard and the head diameter. Well, the name is written in what appears to be some sort of old dip pen perhaps, and it is the name Sam Devere. I'd never heard of him before, and searched him on the computer. It came back with all sorts of minstrel banjo stuff, photos, songs, poems, books, he appears to have been quite a name back then in the late 19th century. A little more study and I found that he played and sold Morrison banjos at one time also. I was a little hesitant about posting this, but I wanted to share with the group this find. I have no idea how authentic this signature is, but I have included photos for everybody's viewing.

Check it out and let me know what you all think.

 

Dow

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Well, the JS initials are not mine!

I remember a while back a Stewart banjo that was conjectured to have belonged to Paul Eno showed up in Pennsylvania and was up for auction on eBay. If I recall correctly the vellum had his signature on it. But that could have been a genuine signature done by Eno on the banjo head of a fan or a student. Or it could have a been an sam swaiM stuNt, selling vellums signed by Eno …..this week only!!  Or even whole banjos with Eno's signature on the vellum.

I had an Clifford Essex Imperial banjo with the vellum signed by Clifford Essex himself.  The vellum burst but I kept a bit that had the signature. But a signature on the inside of the pot looks more like something the owner of a banjo would do to establish ownership. I think you've got the genuine article there.  

here is the signature:

WOW Thats a fancy looking autograph there Jody! Thats also very impressive. I'd hang on to that sucker too! As I'm slowly cleaning this old banjo up, I'm trying to source the pieces and parts for it that I do not have. I think I have a lead on a thin 2 foot maple bridge, I still need a thin vellum and a period correct tailpiece. Does anybody happen to know what style tailepice these old morrisons were equipped with originally? Thanks very much!

 

Dow

Dow : From a quick look at my pics of over a dozen Morrisons sold in the past several years, only two had what appeared to be original tailpieces. See pics left and middle below. The most common replacement was a No-Knot tailpiece, either original or repro. This was one of the best tailpieces of the classic era, so would function well and look period correct on your banjo. Pic below, right.

The repro is almost identical to the original and is available at Elderly Instruments for $8.25. Elderly also sells skin heads. Their goatskin heads offer very good value for the money. Avoid the very thin, translucent  heads.

Hey thanks Shawn that's good to know! I guess I'll be searching for an original tailpiece...going to be tough I think. The "no knot" would work I suppose, but I bet everybody has one. Not everybody has an original Morrison...or what-ever it is on those banjos. I've seen similar pieces on other banjos....so I'll keep on a' searchin'! Unless a friendly member has one that they might consider selling to an ambitious young fellow such as myself? This old girl will come to-gether eventually. Thanks again.

 

Dow

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