Our Banjo


My wife and I were talking the other day – one of those rare days when we were able to be alone without the little ones (9, 4 and 3) that we had after being married some 10 years.  We are in our late 30s and were talking about different things…one of which was maybe having a few instruments that we could learn to play with the kids.  She is the musical one in the family, I wasn’t so inclined, but have always enjoyed music especially folk, celtic, and tradition-based music.  Well, we go to visit her folks and out of the closet literally comes this 4-peg, 22 fret, beautiful banjo.  But, being completely new to banjos, there are a few questions we have – so, we found www.banjohangout.org and hope that some of its members can help us “newbies” with returning this to its full glory.  Also, I should note, that unfortunately for me – there is no relationship to Bella Fleck – boy I wish we had some of her talents!  ;-)


Our Resources:

·       Two adults, three kids with an interest;

·       Some funds;

·       A few friends who are blue-grass musicians that we might be able to ask for help; and

·       The internet.


Our new banjo:

·       We believe it to be a piece owned by a great uncle who lived and taught at the UW – but not in music;

·       Maker:  Rettberge & Lange of New York – distributed by C. Bruno & Son of NY;

·       Model:  Orpheum No. 1 – 22 frets;

·       Drum:  Maple – appears solid with one seam – with an open back;

·       Pegs:  4 – celluloid

·       Neck:  Fretboard is 19 ¾” to the bridge; inlaid with six white dots between 6th and 7th; 9th and 10th; 11th and 12th; 14th and 15th;  16th and 17th; 18th and 19th.  There is written in a light reddish color under the bridge D-B-G.

·       Head:  A very old repair had been made to the head that is signed/stamped – Jos. B. Rogers, Jr. – Union Brand Warranted.  

·       Hooks/Shoes:  24

·       Bridge:  Stamped Orpheum

·       Tailpiece:  No knot style tail piece with five anchors.

Pictures of things described above




Our initial questions – so far:

·       Is this in fact a Plectrum banjo?  Or a four-string wanting to be five??  

·       Cleaning – not the pegs I am aware of issues with celluloid – is there a good thing to us on the fret board, head, and the maple itself?  

·       Strings – we have some that were in the case – but heaven knows the age and whether they are the ones that should be used.  Assuming they are “too old” any recommendations on strings for this?  Again, we have a friend who can help us on this.

·       Does the head need to be replaced?  It was repaired and sounds “good” to my wife and I when it is lightly tapped…no hollow or vibration sound.   You can see the repair in this picture.

·       What is a good beginner’s book to learn more about this instrument and learning how to play it??  I should say, is there a “Beginning Banjo for Dummies??”  J