This file last updated on 12/18/02
PARAMOUNT * BACON & DAY * FAIRBANKS/COLE/VEGA
S.S. STEWART * BUCKBEE * LUDWIG * WEYMANN
ORPHEUM
How to tune a 7-string banjo

Some illustrations courtesy of Gruhn Guitars, Nashville, Tennessee
Pre-War Gibson Serial Number Listing

Whyte Ladie GryphonWhyte Ladie Gryphon

This is a listing, with serial numbers and dates, of the major Golden Age banjo makers' products. It is reasonably accurate, tho I am always open to more information. NOTE: I CANNOT APPRAISE BANJOS FROM AN E-MAIL DESCRIPTION. Please get your appraisal thru the link to Gruhn at the bottom of this page.

Enjoy!

PARAMOUNT BANJOS

Paramount was made by William L. Lange, of Rettburg & Lange, who purchased J. H. Buckbee's banjo factory in 1897. Most of their banjos were 4-string (tenor and plectrum) but they DID make a VERY few 5-strings. Most Paramount 5-strings are re-necked from 4-strings, however.



Starting Serial Number..................Year

0000............................1921
1000............................1922
1500............................1923
2000............................1924
3000............................1925
4000............................1926
6000............................1927
Starting Serial Number..................Year

8100............................1928
11500...........................1929
13000...........................1930
13500...........................1931
14000...........................1932
14500...........................1933
15000...........................1934
15500...........................1935

Super Paramounts came in three models, with their own serial number sequence:

000.............................1929
100.............................1930
160.............................1931
180.............................1932
230.............................1933
260.............................1934
280.............................1935

More Info


BACON & DAY (B & D) BANJOS



Starting Serial Number..................Year

12000...........................1924
13000...........................1925
13800...........................1926
14700...........................1927
20170...........................1928
21300...........................1929
22600...........................1930
22700...........................1931
22900...........................1932
Starting Serial Number..................Year

23200...........................1933
23440...........................1934
24500...........................1935
25500...........................1936
26800...........................1937
28000...........................1938
29500...........................1939
30000...........................1940
31500...........................1941

"Brittles" offers the following information:

"Bacon serial numbers are CONTINUOUS, from the beginning, in 1906 (2-digit) - to 1940 (5-digit), when the company was sold to Gretsch. (And there were some un-numbered, plain banjos made in the late 'teens.)

The company was hit by the hurricane of Sept '38, and contracted with Gretsch to make banjos for them. They finally "closed" the corporation, and sold out, in 1940. (Day was in his 70's.)

By MY observation, Gretsch started re-numbering about that time (Maybe starting with 1000? I've only seen 4-digit, or lower 5-digit numbers, from then on. )

They stopped making the B&D models, around 1968 - after Baldwin (their parent at the time) bought the ODE company, in 1967. Gretsch (re-purchased by the family) tried to re-introduce the B&D Silver Bell, in 1987 - but failed.

Fred Bacon used a BUNCH of names for his different companies over the years. But, starting in 1920 - with opening of the Groton, CT works - the REAL name of the company was: "The Bacon Banjo Company, Inc." The original partners were Fred, and his wife Cassie; and Oliver Winship, and his wife. It remained under that name until it closed.

Starting in late '23, they became "Makers of The B&D Silver Bell Banjos" (Silver Bell, Super Banjo, Blue Bell, - all co-developed by Fred and David Day). These were USUALLY marked ONLY the shortened "B&D" on the peghead. (I'm racking my brain - 'cause I swear I've seen the full "Bacon and Day" somewhere in their advertising, or catalogs. Though rarely!)

They also continued to make "Bacon" banjos as well. These were the designs (like the Professional, Orchestra, and Blue Ribbon) that Fred had developed, on his own.

There were some later non-SilverBell models, developed in the early thirties, that also caried the "B&D" brand (Seniorita comes to mind). And some of the late Gretsch Silver Bells had only "Bacon" on the peghead.

After almost 40 years of making the world's finest banjos - the "Bacon and Day" banjos were the first to carry David Day's name.

Serial numbers were somewhere around 6000, when Day joined in Sept '22."


FAIRBANKS/COLE/VEGA BANJOS

The Fairbanks/Cole/Vega company was one of the longest lasting banjo makers in the US. Dating their instruments must only be -approximate-, but that approximation should be pretty easy with these lists.

Thanks to Stuart J. Cohen and Jim Bollman for much of the information contained in the Fairbanks and Vega history and serial number charts. Both Stuart and Jim are major exponents and experts on the classic banjo, and have been responsible for much of the information groundwork on the subject. Check out Akira Tsumura's first banjo book - he devotes chapters to each of them. They are owners (along with Eric Schoenberg) of The Music Emporium, 165 Mass. Ave, Lexington, MA 02173 USA. phone: 617-860-0049.

Note that the "Earliest Known Serial Number" for a given year may be higher than the "Latest Known Number" for the previous year.....meaning that the actual 'last number' for any year to 1932 is UNKNOWN.

Fairbanks and Cole entered into partnership in 1880.

Fairbanks and Cole split the partnership in 1890, and Cole began making banjos for himself. this company apparently ended in 1919 or so.

The Fairbanks "Electric" was introduced in 1890.

The metal nameplate was introduced in 1896.

The famous "Whyte Ladye" was begun in 1901.



The "Tube-a-Phone" was introduced in 1909.

The metal nameplate was dropped, and a stamped name on the dowel stick of "Fairbanks-Vega" was begun in 1910.

The stamped name was changed to "Vega" in 1923.

On March 4, 1904, the factory burned, and the Vega company purchased the company on March 21st, making banjos under the direction of David Day, later of "Bacon & Day" fame.


A.C. FAIRBANKS BANJOS



Earliest Known Serial Number....Latest Known Number......Year

243................................................1875-1880
1741............................1988...............1891
2246............................2857...............1892
3707............................8662...............1893
(note: few 4000 thru 8000 numbers were used)
(note: few 10,000 thru 14,000 numbers were used)
9366............................9920...............1894
14000...........................14909..............1895
15021...........................15843..............1896
16029...........................16995..............1897

FAIRBANKS & COLE BANJOS

77..............................691.................1880
983.............................1868................1881
1920............................2666................1882
2854............................3647................1883
4022............................4698................1884
4753............................5503................1885
5735............................6468................1886
6760............................7317................1887
7849............................8460................1888
9041............................9221................1889

A.C. FAIRBANKS/VEGA BANJOS

67..............................992.................1890
1464............................1638................1891
....................................................1892
....................................................1893
....(No information available)......................1894
....................................................1895
....................................................1896
16971.............................?.................1897
17021...........................17963...............1898
18026...........................18939...............1899
19124...........................19993...............1900
20107...........................20957...............1901
21237...........................21961...............1902
22002...........................22897...............1903
23071...........................23203...............1904
23255...........................23548...............1905
23560...........................23969...............1906
24092...........................24195...............1907
24337...........................24973...............1908
25083...........................25986...............1909
26023...........................26999...............1910
27027...........................27991...............1911
28062...........................28930...............1912
29029...........................29993...............1913
30492...........................30891...............1914
31462...........................31711...............1915
32290...........................32850...............1916
33282...........................33822...............1917
34273...........................34759...............1918
35017...........................37162...............1919
37829...........................39942...............1920
40071...........................45235...............1921
45608...........................50773...............1922
51279...........................56313...............1923
56656...........................62248...............1924
62419...........................67436...............1925
67518...........................72204...............1926
73075...........................78371...............1927
79025...........................83827...............1928
84124...........................87896...............1929
89729...........................94716...............1930
95374...........................97962...............1931
98314...........................98149...............1932

From 1933 we have a full sequence of numbers, and thus can date with certainty:

Starting Serial Number ........................ Year

98150...........................1933
98185...........................1934
98220...........................1935
98225...........................1936
98290...........................1937
98325...........................1938
98360...........................1939
98395...........................1940
98430...........................1941
98465...........................1942
98500...........................1943
98535...........................1944
98570...........................1945
98605...........................1946
98640...........................1947
98675...........................1948
98710...........................1949
98745...........................1950
98780...........................1951
98820...........................1952
98896...........................1953
98990...........................1954
99067...........................1955
99213...........................1956
99428...........................1957
99582...........................1958
99717...........................1959
100022..........................1960
100560..........................1961
101999..........................1962

These are the famous printer's error yellow labels, used from October of 1962 to February of 1964:

10300...........................1962
10522...........................1963
12130...........................1964


A new series of numbers was begun in February of 1964.

124001..........................1964
125641..........................1965
126772..........................1966
127682..........................1967
128565..........................1968
129120..........................1969

On 05/17/70, Vega was sold to the C.F. Martin Co. These banjos may have the Martin logo on the -back- of the peg-head, with the Vega logo on the face.

129683..........................1970
130049..........................1971

A new series of numbers was adopted after 1971:

M1..............................1972

The name was then sold to Global Trading, of S. Korea. No serial number information is available after 1972 at this time. Deering banjos recently purchased the name, and is currently making reproduction models of the Pete Seeger Tube-a-phone long-neck.

Fairbanks Info

More Info

More Info (Mugwumps)








S.S. STEWART BANJOS


The banjos of S.S. Stewart are considered to be some of the finest of the "classical" style banjos. Most were made for cat-gut strings, and DO NOT take steel strings well at all, as they tend to warp the necks. A slight twisting of the neck on an SS Stewart is pretty common, and should not be allowed to detract from the value, unless it is so serious as to hurt the instrument's playability.

La Bella makes a set of nylon banjo strings that work quite well on Stewarts.

Note that the serial number list here is only an -approximation,- as the true dates are impossible to find. This listing is pretty accurate, tho.


Serial Number ................... Date


The peg-head shaped trademark was introduced in 1888.

Stewart began producing "Acme" banjos for Sears in 1893, and the steel patented neck-fastener was introduced in 1894.

More Info

More Info (Mugwumps)


WEYMANN BANJOS

Weymann made banjos under the "Keystone" name beginning in early 1900. These were 5-stringed, and are quite interesting. Beginning in late 1924, they began to make the tenor and plectrum models for which they are famous. Weymanns tend to be quite rare.

Starting Serial Number ................ Year

35000...........................1924
37000...........................1925
39000...........................1926
41000...........................1927
43000...........................1928
45000...........................1929
45500...........................1930
46000...........................1931
46800...........................1932
47500...........................1933
48200...........................1934

LUDWIG BANJOS




The cheaper Ludwigs are very evident, and not rare. The top-of-the line models, however, are hard to find.

Starting Serial Number................. Year

3000............................1925
4000............................1926
5000............................1927
6000............................1928
7000............................1929
8000............................1930
9000............................1931
10000..........................1932


NOTES ON ORPHEUM BANJOS
by Bill Reese

In about 1897 two New York instrument makers, Lange and Rettberg bought the J. H. Buckbee banjo factory. Buckbee of New York had been the banjo maker for many famous players, among them Farland, Foote, Converse, Bruno, Mather, H. Dobson and G.C. Dobson and produced banjos with the names of these performers as the manufacturer. Indeed, Buckbee had been the largest of the post-war banjo manufacturers and produced both handmade and mass produced instruments. Why they sold out to Rettberg and Lange remains a mystery. No banjos with the Buckbee name on the instrument seem to have been made, or if so, none have survived. (nb: "JHB" stamped on the dowel stick is one of the known markings of Buckbee -WJB) R & L continued to make banjos for these performers, as well as a line of their own.

Exactly when R & L began to make the Orpheum is not known, but in 1903, W. B. Farmer was granted a patent, # 724833, for a tone ring which sits on brackets which are attached to the rim. This is the tone ring that was used on all Orpheum banjos by R & L and which gives the Orpheums their distinctive sound. It is not known who W. B. Farmer was or whether he worked for R & L. He was granted two additional patents for the banjo but these do not seem to have been used by R & L.

Orpheums were made in Styles 1, 2, 3, 3 Special, Brass Band and the rare #4. They were made as Tenors, 5 strings & Mandolin Banjos. There were also many custom models such as the "Duchess". Most Orpheum 5 strings have Serial numbers from #1-#3000. Tenors have #3000 and higher. Highest serial number seen is around #17,300. R& L did not keep records on the dates for their Orpheums. That is why most vintage instrument catalogues list R & L Orpheums as "c. 1915".

Many more tenors were made because Lange continued to make the Orpheum after he left R & L. in 1921. Many of the earlier features that were in the R & L Orpheums were incorporate by Lange in his top of the line Paramount Banjos which continued in production until about 1935. The Lange Orpheum 3 and the Orpheum 3 Special were among Lange's most popular Tenor banjo models during the "Jazz Age".

I have not been able to locate a price list for the R & L Orpheums. In 1929, the Lange Orpheums' selling prices were: #1-$70: #2-$90; #3- $110;-#3 special-$135.

The R&L Orpheums are not noted for their volume but do have a very distinct and pleasant ring. The 2 recent banjo CDs by Walt Koken, are fine examples of the sound of the Orpheum. Walt uses an Orpheum #4 on these recordings.

Price Track: (These are some of the prices I have seen for R & L Orpheums offered for sale during the last few years by reputable vintage instrument dealers .... )

  • 1987 5 string #1 $650
  • 1988 5 String #3 Spec. $1250
  • 1988 Tenor #3 c. 1915 $400
  • 1989 Tenor #1 c. 1915 $250
  • 1990 Tenor # 1 c. 1915 $350
  • 1990 MB #1 $350
  • 1990 5 string # 1 $800
  • 1990 Brass band, c. 1910 $850
  • 1993 5 string #1 c. 1915 $575
  • 1993 5 string #3 special $1600
  • 1994 5 string model #3 $2500
  • 1994 5 string Brass band $2500
  • 1995 5 string #3 special $1000
  • 1995 Brass Band, 1922 $1095
  • 1995 Brass Band $950


TUNING A 7-STRING BANJO

The top five notes are standard (non-bluegrass) C tuning. CGBD plus octave g on the drone string. The extra two notes are as follows. The 5th string is A ( same pitch as guitar A ) and the 6th string is G a tone below that. This seems to be the Victorian English tuning.

I find that tuning the first four to a D tuning D F# A D, the fifth to X, the 6th to X and the drone to f# is useful.

This effectively gives you all the usual fingerings of G, but on the 2nd thru the 5th strings, with the 1st and 7th as "extras." Try it, if you have a 7-string!

Alvin Turner's "Universal Banjo Tutor" from about 1890 gives the following tunings for English banjos:



More on the history of the banjo can be found at Mugwumps.
A list of American banjo makers, with dates of manufacture, is available also, as is a listing of vintage period British makers.
I would like serial number and historical information on GRETSCH and ODE / BALDWIN-ODE / OME banjos. If you have any, please !




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