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1930s May Bell Banjo Repairs

I don't see a lot of banjos in the shop. Probably because there are not a lot of banjo players out there. But I recently finished up some repairs on this 1930s May Bell Tenor. There's not a lot of information out there about Maybell Banjos, so it's hard to place this one in the lineup and put any sort of value on it. It's definitely not as ornate as many of the May Bells out there, especially lacking inlay detail on the back of the resonator.

It came in with what was thought to just be a cracked headstock. It was a typical "smiley face" crack, likely from it taking a tumble onto the headstock causing it to bend forward at the headstock/neck joint. Luckily this was all still in one piece, with face plate and some of the back overlays keeping everything together. It closed cleanly and only needed some glue worked into the crack and then clamping.

After repairing the headstock I addressed the setup, which had very high string height. Digging into this I noticed that the neck dowel was loose where it comes out of the heel. It actually pulled out with very little effort. Whether this was due to decades of age or exacerbated by the fall is not clear. But after cleaning up the joint and regluing it was back in one piece.

From there, the setup went fairly well. There's no truss rod in this old neck and no co-rods, so there were not a lot of options for dialing it in. The head had been replaced within the last year or so based on the date on the new head which makes me think that this was an old banjo that was sitting around and someone did just enough work on it to sell it. Adjusting the tail piece, the height of the neck at the rim, and deepening the nut slots got things into playable shape. Ready for some years of play.


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