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Welcome to The Vintage Banjo Maker: a comprehensive reference of antique banjo makers for your banjo addiction.


Find out more about this archive on our about page and you can read about our latest additions and interesting facts right here on the blog. Have a look at the menu to search for banjo makers alphabetically, and please get in touch to share your own banjo knowledge at [email protected]

By nguiver, Nov 19 2020 04:09PM

... except Samuel S Stewart was not a well man. He had led the progress of the 5 string banjo to its peak, both as a piece of well-developed engineering and a work of art, which was also accepted across the social spectrum as a versatile instrument.

He had replaced the paddle peg head with a design that was to be copied by all the best makers from Washburn and Luscomb in the US to Dallas and Essex in the UK.

The art of heel carving had reached its peak reflecting the developing art nouveau style of the period without being superfluous, and the quality of inlay work perhaps bettered in Boston, but marginally, were his legacy .. as after he died the quality could not be maintained and the business faltered.

The Stewart Clan of 1898 included the 20th Century, Special Thoroughbred and Banjeaurine.

By nguiver, Nov 19 2020 04:01PM

The Engravers Art .. "dueling banjos"

A blatant bit of flag waiving on an early fretless by Dick Spencer. Check out the other end of the neck .... make a good pub sign eh?The Engravers Art .. "dueling banjos"

A blatant bit of flag waiving on an early fretless by Dick Spencer. Check out the other end of the neck .... make a good pub sign eh?

The Engravers Art .. "dueling banjos"

A blatant bit of flag waiving on an early fretless by Dick Spencer. Check out the other end of the neck .... make a good pub sign eh?

By nguiver, Nov 19 2020 03:58PM

The advent of sheet music, the American Civil war and the subsequent prosperity and growth of the USA created an environment in the last quarter of the 19thC when American music started to come of age.

Composers like Stephen Foster (born on 4th July 1826, the day both Jefferson and Adams died) were documenting American culture in music and what longevity his music has, ironically all becoming famous in the English speaking world long after his death, with songs like “Jeanie with the light brown hair” being a hit in the 1930’s.

When looking at the main banjo makers of the period in the US it is possible to date the development of particular styles and models from serial number records, but in the UK that is much harder as the Blitz wiped out a lot of manufacturing and the salvaging of 19th c banjo production records from the rubble of Birmingham or London was not high on the list of war time priorities.

The recent boom in the popularity of the 5 string banjo has led to the plethora of collectors digging up all sorts of attic residents from this bygone age and having them restored. Equally there are good restorers out there, sensitive to the instrument’s history, ready to bring them back to life.

Likewise at the time there were numerous small town makers, converted carpenters or metal workers who made maybe a few banjos a year, copying the popular local styles of the time. Some put their names on the instrument, and very few, the date it was made.

A recent restoration in Bob Smakula’s shop turned up a very pleasant surprise, the makers name and date, written on the neck, under the fret board! It was there, waiting to be discovered, almost 150 years later.

Research has failed to find out anything more about this individual, but what he did for us was to provide a categorical statement of a popular style of banjo, in NY, on that exact date. Thanks to Jacob T Noelsch, anyone know anymore about him? Another clue is in this well engineered hardware.

By nguiver, Nov 19 2020 03:55PM

The end of the Victorian era heralded the ten years during which the five string banjo peaked in its development, before it met its nemesis that was to become the 4 string or tenor banjo, which itself peaked another twenty years later.

It was not alone in the pre 1st World War period when technology of all sorts was being developed from the 1st real telephone, aviation, motor vehicles; and massive projects in construction such as the Panama Canal and the fateful Titanic were being undertaken.

Tailpieces had been the butt of many a fancy claim in a patent application and many did nothing to enhance the instrument, often the opposite.

That was until it was discovered that volume and response could be significantly enhanced if the strings could impart more down pressure on the bridge.

This Paramount tailpiece from the '20s embodies eactly that as well as an adjustable quick release catch surely copied from some 1st WW piece of armament.

By nguiver, Nov 19 2020 03:53PM

1873 two Johns, Dallas & Brewster, were making banjos in Oxford Street, London but after a few years they split and Dallas went out on his own. Brewster was noted in 1883 by SS Stewart as the sole distributor of the latter’s banjos following a spat with RJ Ward of Liverpool who Stewart appeared to accuse of copying his banjos.

About 1885 Lyon and Healy started making the Washburn range of banjos and one writer quipped that they allowed Stewart to do all the work and then just copied his banjos.

Also about the same time John Dallas, now working out of The Strand, London started making his own “Universal Favorite” model with the name spelt the American way without the “U” in favourite. For all we know Dallas was buying in necks?

Check out the six peg heads here, two each by Stewart, Dallas and Washburn (Lyon & Healy) .. Who really was copying who?

For tailpieces: Michael Holmes article on Mugwumps


Antique/Vintage Banjos at auction Collectors Weekly


Banjoleles on David Sims Ukulele Corner


Hank Schwartz site on the history of Fairbanks


Banjo Hangout


Smakulas Fretted


National instruments