I answered an add on craigslist listing "four old banjos- $150 each."
I called very early to leave a message and get my name in the mix. Well it's true that the early bird catches the worm, and he called me a couple of minutes later.
I met with him and this is what I got...
Stewart and Bauer "Monogram" Grade 2. At first sight it looked in remarkably good condition. A couple of days later when I had a chance to mess with it I noticed one issue.
I suppose that stringing it with telegraph wire was to blame for the missing chip at the fifth string pip. The fun part is how someone "repaired" it... wood-putty. I as I was investigating a crack at the small screw for the pip, I chanced to rub off some of what they used to blacken the putty.
Well, I strung it up anyway and it seems to hold so I don't think I will mess with it now.
It has a Ludwig skin head, kinda thick and very clean, and came with what I think is a prewar Grover "Presto" with wire strings attached (that will likely get sold for more banjo reserves).
I've got a no-good tailpiece on it for now (anyone making the common sense pieces?).
The scale is 27"
It is better made than I expected them to be. The fingerboard veneer is thin, but looks to be ebony. Frets look original, with little wear.
I'd be surprised if this was not made my Rettburg & Lang.
My theory is that someone took it to a store to turn it into a folk banjo, strung it with iron, and caused the fifth string issue. I don't think it was played much with the wire on.
The interesting find comes next, a genuine Buckbee (I guess) George Dobson.
This one was in pretty poor shape. It is missing most of its finish and has had all kind of repairs done to it.
The frets look like they were put in over inlaid frets. The peg holes have been sleeved with what looks like maple. Pegs are a mix of two old "Champion" and two new. Chrome fifth button. Brackets and hooks are a mix. Very little, if any, finish left on the neck. Peg-head was a chew toy at one point. Plastic head.
On the up side, the rim is in good shape, double wired spun, painted black on the inside. The tuners are in good shape. No wear to the "new" frets, even if they are not perfectly level. Original tailpiece. I really did not expect this one to be serviceable.
I pulled it apart to check for cracks, gently wiped some of the grime off of it with a damp rag, and strung her up.
I'll be dammed if she don't play just fine!
I left the plastic on for now.
I can't tell with this class of banjo but she looks like an early entry level, late 70s- early 80s. Wel,l we always like to think that we have something special. I can pretend anyway. For all I know it could be very late.
Here is the interesting part.
Eleven of the nuts are square with closed or "protection" ends. The neck is a base-ball bat with the fingerboard 1 1/2" at the nut and 2 1/2" at the heel. Fingerboard veneer is very thin. 11" rim. Neck and dowel look like one piece. The scale is short at 25 3/8".
I'll see if I can post a video soon with a Geo. Dobson march.
The seller bought a large collection of antique guitars and to get them had to take to whole collection. I gave him the whole long Stewart history. The partnership etc.. And all I knew about the the Dobsons... how they plagiarized music, bounced checks, taught the simpleton's method and gave themselves metals for their own playing.
The guy was pretty cool, and liked that I was going to string them up and play them. He said that he had some Neapolitan mandolins that he would send me pics of.
I paid the asking price.
The other two were later, in very poor shape, and not that interesting.