Fairbanks & Cole Expert 5 String Banjo (1885)

Fairbanks & Cole  Expert 5 String Banjo  (1885)
This item has been sold.
Item # 10506
Prices subject to change without notice.
Fairbanks & Cole Expert Model 5 String Banjo (1885), made in Boston, Mass., serial # 5399, natural finish, spunover rim, mahogany neck with ebony fingerboard, chipboard case.

This is a very nice and relatively well preserved Fairbanks & Cole banjo from the mid-1880's, the early years of the firm(s) that would become the foremost banjo makers of the period. Considering its age (now approaching 140 years on the planet) this is really a splendid example of an 1885 "Expert' model, not the absolute fanciest instrument but nicely ornamented and beautifully made.

This banjo is built on a fairly large 12" spunover rim made with a two-stage internal lip but no elaborate tone ring; those were in Fairbanks' future. It is outfitted with typical early Fairbanks and Cole hardware including teardrop shoes, the old square pattern nuts (only used up into the early 1890s) celluloid tuners and tailpiece.

The neck has a noticeable V profile and an early version of the Cole "boat heel". It is tightened to the rim with Fairbanks' early screw adjustor, as patented in 1887. The position marks on the beautiful jet-black ebony fingerboard are finely shaped pearl inlay, not as elaborately engraved as later Fairbanks & Cole instruments would carry but still quite attractive. The headstock has a lovely early Fairbanks style inlay pattern as well. This is a beautiful banjo, better made and more playable than many of its contemporaries well into its second century.
Overall length is 36 1/4 in. (92.1 cm.), 12 in. (30.5 cm.) diameter head, and 2 1/8 in. (5.4 cm.) in depth, measured at side of rim. Scale length is 27 1/4 in. (692 mm.). Width of nut is 1 5/16 in. (33 mm.).

This banjo has seen some re-working over the last century+ but is still a lovely instrument; It remains in relatively original condition for one this old. There is an old French polish overfinish to neck, not heavily done. The finish on the interior of the rim and dowel appears original. There is a partial crack to the bass side of neck heel; this was solidly resealed decades ago but is visible. The rim plating is original; we would assume the hooks, nuts and probably the hoop were replated decades ago.

The head is very thin hand-tucked plastic, an unusual but surprisingly effective way of doing it. The neck is quite straight, the frets have virtually no wear (it was a gut-string banjo) and playability is excellent. It is possible this is a very old refret but if so it is not anything like modern wire.

This is an excellent banjo within its 19th century limits (gut or nylon strings only, please!) and a lovely authentic player for old-time (VERY old-time), minstrel or classical styles. It is an extremely playable relic of the dawn of the age of the "modern" banjo, built by the best maker of the day. It remains the perfect instrument to play in your Victorian parlor or on the porch at sunset, rockin' along with the old houn' dawg at your feet. Excellent - Condition.