Sunday, September 1, 2013

'61 ODE Model 21 Long Neck Banjo

1961 Ode Model 21, "C" Grade.

I purchased it from the original owner's family. It had a broken dowel stick.  I consulted one of the best banjo makers around. His advice, also from another top banjo builder, was to insert a peg into the dowel stick and rejoin it to the neck. (There were other suggestions and methods, but this one is the most straightforward and comes from the experts.)

I'm not gonna do my usual (interminable) descriptions; the pictures speak for themselves.

I left the "patina" on the metal, just cleaned years of gunk off the wood and the head and some places where it needed it bad. Added some lemon oil and some wax.

It's a player's banjo, not a museum piece, so there are a few parts added or replaced that are not original but serve to make the banjo playable. I'm still searching the incredibly expensive vintage banjo parts market for a couple of other things, too. (I robbed a rare bracket off my 62 Ode, for one.)  And since it is going to remain a player's banjo, I'm intending to replace the 5th string friction peg with a Waverly planetary tuning machine and I may add a Shubb 5th string capo and a few other creature comforts. Of course it will wear my 1961 Bobby Lee True-Balance leather banjo strap.

Oh, yeah, it sounds incredibly awesome.

Update - 11/15/2013

I did succeed in adding those creature comforts to make my Model 21 more playable. First, I installed that Waverly planetary 5th string peg.
 I like the way it turned out: not too fancy and a pretty clean, uncluttered look, doncha think? It's a wayyy better tuner!
 I learned something from the guys over at Banjo Hangout which has caused me to decide against that Shubb 5th string capo for now. If you look closely at the fingerboard, you'll see a little brass nail head behind the 12th fret under the 5th string. (that would be the same as behind the 9th fret for you standard neck players -- long neck capoed at 3rd fret.) That's actually an original equipment brass screw installed at the Ode Boulder factory. The screw head was then filed down flat. That's the standard way most folk banjo players first capoed the 5th string when this banjo was built, retuning for other fret positions. Pete Seeger's book recommended tacks, and of course everyone took to them soon after. Today it's HO railroad spikes.

Speaking of tuning, these days everyone has those little electronic tuners.  JT's Serious Picks makes this neat little banjo mount for attaching a Snark tuner right on the pot brackets. It goes on and off quick and easy, or you can keep it on the banjo and it stays out of the way. No cluttering up your peghead with clamps and stuff.  Cool, huh?

A couple of other changes have enhanced the playability of the banjo. If you  look at the head you'll see a kind of "wavy" bridge now, rather than the old straight Grover bridge that was included when I purchased the Ode. The new bridge is a custom 7/16" tall one I ordered from Steve Davis. It's a compensated bridge with his very stable, canted footprint. I wanted it because 1) long necks benefit a lot from compensated bridges and 2) when I finished with the refurbishment of the neck/dowel stick the optimum adjustment of the string action left it a little high for my comfort. (I like it lower than average.) It was about 1/8" at the 12th fret; which most folks like, but there was not too much adjustment left to lower it. The simplest and best solution was to have Steve build me a bridge that was a 16th of an inch lower. (don't laugh, it makes hella difference!) What I was unprepared for was how much better the tone, sustain and melodic quality of the banjo was improved by his bridge.

Finally, the "vintage" part of "Vintage Ode Banjo" means that a couple of parts have aged out over 50 years. The ebony nut at the top of the fingerboard was crumbling and dessicated. The strings were cracking it when tuned up. I didn't want to change it out, but eventually I decided I had no choice. I carefully removed the old ebony and saved what's left of it for posterity. I had a nice piece of purple heart wood that I was able to sand and carve into a very nice replacement. Right now it looks very much like a bone nut, but it will rapidly age to a nice purple-brown patina. I think it matches the colors of the banjo better, anyway. I like the way it turned out, and the strings are well supported.  You like?

Update - 5/23/15

When they sent me the banjo, it had a 6-string Elton tailpiece. I thought it was an addition to the banjo from a later period. But looking at the 1961 Catalog, you can see that the banjos pictured there have that 6-string tailpiece, and not the unique 5-string inertia tailpiece that came later!

Should you be lucky enough to have your own Ode long neck, the hunt for a hardshell case can be a frustrating experience. I spent the better part of 6 months checking out all the possibilities -- ranging from custom Lifton or other fiberglass cases to fabric gig bags. The best choice for me turned out to be this one from Elderly. The Ode fits in it perfectly and it has enough neck supports. Although they list it as a generic "Canadian" case, it's actually a TKL. Keep an eye peeled and you can occasionally find it on sale or get a discount coupon. Shipping is not cheap, but the nice lady at Elderly explained that size and Canada and some other factors means they have to charge what they charge. I researched that info and verified that she was correct. It's Tolex over plywood, tough, well made, good hardware and a handle that is better balanced than a lot of them.