A Fairbanks Banjo Project

Stretcher bands, ferrules, rim thickness, hooks, nameplates
Copyright by Michael I. Holmes - 08/15/2001

This article is the result of years of research, accumulating data, and finally bringing it all together in one place. It has grown beyond the very narrow purposes of identifying certain changes in the Vega made banjo models, especially the Whyte Laydie and Tubaphone, to include when the name stamps changed. I haven't tried to match a date to the serial numbers, but that information -- although at best speculative and approximate -- is available elsewhere, including Mugwumps Online. For the collector/scholar, it is important just to know when changes occured. For the buyer, it is critical to know that an instrument being sold as "all original" probably is. Some of the information here will help.

First, it is important to know a few facts. Virtually all the metal parts for nearly all the East coast banjo makers were supplied by one company -- Waverly Music Products of New York, NY, in business from before the turn of the century until the 1970s when they were acquired by Stewart-MacDonald of Athens, OH. I interviewed Waverly's then owner, a Mr. Lomb -- son and grandson of the founders, early in 1970 when he had put the company up for sale. He told me that Waverly, for whom he had worked since his pre-teens, had provided most of the metal parts and accessories to the banjo makers. In his workshop he showed me many patterns, cutters, tools, and dies used in making the nuts for Vega, Gibson, Bacon, Paramount and all the standard nuts we associate with the large makers. Waverly also made many, varied, stretcher bands, the simple brass hoops used for tone rings on the less expensive instruments, and some of the components that went into the more sophisticated tone rings. They also made the various shoes and hooks, from the Cobra hooks used on early Fairbanks to the modern flat and round hooks. Most of the tailpieces and many of the tuners also came from Waverly. That there were others making some hardware is indisputed, but Waverly made most of it. I don't know if they made the Whyte Laydie and Tubaphone assemblies or if some of the parts were made locally and then assembled at Vega -- the most likely scenario.

It is likely that Vega did not stamp the serial number on a rim until final assembly, just before it was ready to be shipped. Since the rims were assembled separately from the necks, and since Vega made & sold a variety of styles (5 string, tenor, guitar, mandolin, plectrum, etc.) it stands to reason that the serial number wasn't afixed until the neck and rim were mated. This would explain why some rims have hardware and specifications after the time when some parts were disountinued. It seems especially true for the earlier Vega #7's and #9's which clearly sold in smaller quantities, and the assembled rims might sit around for a while. It does not explain the apparent anomolies of name stamps appearing with serial numbers earlier than expected. Two possible explanations occur to me -- there may be others. First is simply a reporting error, but I have seen some personally, and been sent photos of others. The other possible explanation might be that the banjo was returned to the factory, given a new neck with new logo stamp, but numbered with the old serial number. Your thoughts on this and any other factor relevant to this study are welcomed.

Be sure to visit the article Fairbanks & Vega Dating for more information about this project and a summary of my conclusions based on the instruments listed below.

If you have information about:

  1. Any Whyte Laydie banjo with serial number lower then 20343 or
  2. Any Whyte Laydie banjo with serial number between 24939 and 24945, or
  3. Any Tubaphone banjo with serial number lower than 25052, or
  4. A WL#7 with number above, but close to 24956, but especially around 25000
  5. Instruments with serial #s between 26019 and 26023, when the switch from Fairbanks plate to F-V stamp seems to have occurred.
  6. Serial #s for WL or Regent models with left (reversed) facing Gryphons all seem to be in the 24000 serial numbers.
  7. Any model F-V or Vega banjo with serial #s between 52669 and 52684 (a 15 number range), when the switch from "Fairbanks Banjo, Made by Vega" stamp to the "Made by Vega" stamp seems to have occurred.
  8. Vega serial #s between 99369 and 99686, when the switch from the Vega stamp to printed yellow labels seems to have occured.
  9. Serial numbers from the "Made by Martin" era.

Please send any information directly to me. Mike Holmes. Thanks.

F&C-1000Earliest reported Cobra hooks.
F--c15000Introduction of A.C. Fairbanks metal plate.
FSE517607Earliest reported Special Electric #5.
FWL220343Earliest reported Whyte Laydie.
FWL220803-- ThinRound 
FWL7 20827 GLongThinCobra 
FWL221101Standard WL#2, curly maple neck, red line under ph & fb, unusual Gryphon. 2 known
FWL221630GLongThinRoundReplaced ebony fb
FWL7 23344GLongThinNewEbony
FWL7 23891GShortThinCobraEbony
FWL2 24189GShortThinRoundEbony
FWL224559GNone RoundDyed
FElec24567NEarliest appearance of notched SB, but on a custom Electric
FWL224607G  Round 
FWL224655G  Round 
FWL224923N  Round 
FWL224945N ThinRoundEbony
FTU325060 NShortThickRound--
F-VTU325269Unexplained anomoly, confirmed, perhaps returned to factory?
FTU325362NShort Round 
FR25980From this point, the WL &TU specifications remain unchanged.
FTU326019Latest reported Fairbanks plate.
F-VElec26023Earliest reported F-V stamp except anomolous #25269.
F-VWL226484Orig 5 string w/A.C.F. plate & stamp.
F-VTU930441Latest reported style 3. Flowerpot peghead inlay.
F-VTU952669Latest reported F-V stamp.
VSenator52684Earliest reported Vega stamp.
VWL291892Earliest bracket band drilled with bolts through rim.
VVox199369Highest Vega name stamp, pre-yellow labels.
VVox4A99610Coordinator rods, lowest yellow label, wood strut, A = adjustable truss rod.
VPSA99686Yellow label, coordinator rods.
VWLA99815Yellow label, wood strut.
VWLA128923Needham address, Osborne mdl, carving, etc. post factory

SBStretcher BandGrooved/Slotted, Notched
Fer'lFerruleLong=2.5", Short=1"
FBFingerboardEbony, Dyed
RimFull Spun, Thin=3/8", Thick=7/16"-1/2"
Acknowledgements: Thanks to all who took the time to write to me, but especially to Hank Schwartz and Jim Bollman.

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