Fairbanks Whyte Laydie # 7 5 String Banjo (1908)

Fairbanks  Whyte Laydie # 7 5 String Banjo  (1908)
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Item # 11149
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Fairbanks Whyte Laydie # 7 Model 5 String Banjo (1908), made in Boston, Mass., serial # 24272, natural varnish finish, laminated maple rim and neck, ebony fingerboard, black tolex hard shell case.

This banjo is a beautiful example of one of the most desired of all openback 5-strings: the Fairbanks Whyte Laydie #7. This 1908 instrument is built on a just-under 11" diameter rim with a 27" scale neck, pretty much the favored pattern for most openback banjos since. Its produces a wonderful sound that few other banjos, new or old, can match. While many builders have emulated these original 110+ year old Fairbanks designs over the last 50+ years, only a few have come close to really matching them.

The Whyte Laydie #7 is an exceptionally beautiful banjo, a feast for the eyes as well as the ears! This was the highest grade cataloged Whyte Laydie model and features incredibly elaborate early style hand-engraved pearl inlay on the headstock and bound fingerboard. The headstock face has an intricate scrolled pearl floral pattern while the famous "gryphon" design piece ornaments the headstock rear. The heel is elaborately carved in a floral pattern with a pearl-inlaid laminated ebony heelcap. These high-end Fairbanks banjos are some of the finest fretted representations of the pre-WWI gilded age.

The rim is equipped with Fairbanks' patented bracket band with the shoes are mounted to that, not drilled through the rim. The rim itself is fitted with the "Electric" tone ring that was the finest of its time and still a standard fitting today, over 125 years since its invention. It is capped with tortoise celluloid on both edges and has elaborate herringbone marquetry along the bottom. Even the hooks are more elaborate than usual, with a subtle flaring to the "cobra' head and closed-end nuts. The tailpiece is an original cammed No-Knot and the friction tuners are fitted with genuine pearl buttons.

The world-beating Fairbanks models of this era were mostly the brainchild of David L. Day, chief engineer at Fairbanks/Vega and arguably the most important (if unsung) banjo designer of all time. His many instrument innovations set the pattern for what is now considered the traditional openback banjo and have been widely copied for decades, yet few modern banjo players even know his name. No matter, even 110+ years on the Whyte Laydie #7 remains a glowing testament to the artistry of its designers and builders, an instrument that instantly justifies its longstanding stellar reputation as one of the finest banjos ever made.
Overall length is 37 1/16 in. (94.1 cm.), 10 13/16 in. (27.5 cm.) diameter head, and 2 1/2 in. (6.4 cm.) in depth, measured at side of rim. Scale length is 27 in. (686 mm.). Width of nut is 1 1/4 in. (32 mm.).

This banjo remains in fine original condition with some general wear and minor repair, but is quite well preserved for being nearly 115 years old. The only notable repair is a filled hole in the lower part of the dowel stick for what was almost certainly a Farland style mute, now long gone. There are some very small screw holes patched on the lower inside rim capping from that same long-ago installation. The finish on the neck has had a thin coat of French polish added, probably many decades ago. This has ambered nicely but the neck finish does feel a bit thicker and slicker the very thin original varnish, which often quickly wore through.

The small-wire frets are original, they may have been worked on a bit in the past but retain excellent height and show very little wear. The very dense ebony fingerboard shows some tiny patching marks here and there. The often fragile original thin ivoroid binding is fully intact, there are minor marks along the inside edges indicating it may have been reglued some time ago.

The original plating shows some wear but is decently preserved overall. The rim and hoop have fine spotting from moisture on much of the surface, but no major areas of loss. A number of the hooks show some corrosion loss to the plating especially along the lower edge, where many are worn through completely. While not perfectly preserved cosmetically they are a complete original matched set of early Cobra style hooks which is often not the case 100+ years on. Just about all of the hardware is original and complete, including the cammed No-Knot tailpiece and the pearl button tuners. The 5th string tuner shaft is the correct style but that part may be later, however the pearl button remains a matching original.

This banjo is an excellent player, set up with steel strings, a lovely white calf skin head from Clifford Essex in England and newer bridge. The absolutely fantastic sound these are known for is provided in abundance; this smaller rim banjo has a bit more cut than the larger-rim Fairbanks versions but retains an overriding even and full bodied tone. These classic banjos really do not show up much nicer than this well into the 21st century. It is housed in a modern HSC. Overall Excellent - Condition.