WWII-Era Banjolele Restoration
A customer brought in this cool WWII-Era Banjolele and wanted us to check it out and see if it was something we could restore.
The instrument was in rough shape but not unsalvageable. There was rust covering most of the metal components and the banjo head had a large tear on the right side.
We started by disassembling the instrument. This allows us to address all of the pieces in a more complete and efficient manor. The neck is in pretty good shape but mostly dirty. We will just be cleaning it before moving on to the body.
We address the metal pieces by polishing them with steel wool. This makes them look and feel much nicer and ensures they will work properly and last longer.
Here we have started polishing the flange, the large metal ring attached to the resonator. You can see the difference between the front and rear of the flange, as well as on the smaller pieces that have already been completed.
The most crucial part of this repair was replacing the banjo head. Keeping in line with the original, we used calf skin for the replacement. Some banjo heads are made of plastic or other similar materials. In order to replace the head, the skin needs to be soaked in water and then lightly dried off, allowing the skin to stretch without tearing.
In this instrument, the head has three rings that are part to the assembly process. The tone ring sits between the head and the wood of the body, it acts as a bearing surface for the head and affects the overall tone of the instrument. The next is the flesh hoop, used with heads made of skin. The skin is draped over the rim and then the flesh hoop is fitted around it. the excess skin is then folded back towards the top, encasing the hoop in the head material. The last is the tension hoop, which is the large ring that the hooks attach to. It is placed outside of the skin and rests on the flesh hoop.
As the nuts are turned, the hooks pull on the tension hoop which, in turn, pulls the flesh hoop, tightening the head. This has to be done in a specific pattern to ensure even stretching. The trick is to stop at just the right moment because, as the skin dries, it shrinks. This will tighten the head even more but, if it is too tight when this happens, it can tear.