Vega Imperial Electric 5 String Banjo (1923)

Vega  Imperial Electric 5 String Banjo  (1923)
$2,950.00 + shipping
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Item # 11983
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Vega Imperial Electric Model 5 String Banjo (1923), made in Boston, Mass., serial # 63531, shaded mahogany finish, laminated maple rim, mahogany neck with ebonized fingerboard, hard shell case.

This is an interesting and fairly rare 1920s example of an "Imperial Electric" Banjo, made not long after the venerable Fairbanks trade name was finally discontinued in favor of just "Vega". It is stamped "made by The Vega Company" and "Imperial Electric" on the dowel with several patent numbers. That name dates to the 1890s and refers to the tone ring style, not actual electricity! By 1923 this was the oldest pro-grade model in the Vega line, patented in 1893 when electricity was a novelty!

This is a fairly plain but very robust, high-quality instrument, at this point a mid-line model for Vega. The dark-finished heavy laminated maple rim topped by the older "Electric" scalloped tone ring but lacks the bracket band used on the Whyte Laydie; the shoes are mounted through the rim. The tone is comparable, the absence of the bracket band does not seem to have much sonic effect.

The one-piece mahogany neck has an ebonized maple fingerboard, heelcap, and headstock facing, as well as bone nut and pearl dot-and-diamond inlay. The rim edge is bound in tortoise celluloid with the bottom edge lacquered black, and the tailpiece is the original 5-string No-Knot. This banjo is equipped with an original Vega pie-plate resonator, close fitted with no flange. This can be easily removed if desired for playing as an openback.

This Imperial Electric was far from the fanciest grade Vega, nowhere near as opulent as the high end models but structurally and tonally still one of the finest 5-string banjos in the world. By 1923 tenor and plectrum banjos were becoming the popular models and 5-strings were built in ever-more limited numbers. Fairbanks/Vega banjos pretty much define to this day what folks expect in an "old time" 5-string, and this instrument catches them just as 5-strings were slipping out of popularity as the Jazz age kicked in. It remains a classic old-time banjo and despite its plain appearance produces a sound that few others, new or old, can match. This is a wonderful playing and sounding banjo and a cool piece of Fairbanks/Vega history
Overall length is 37 1/4 in. (94.6 cm.), 11 in. (27.9 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 3/16 in. (30 mm.).

This banjo shows some minor wear for its 100 years on the planet but remains largely original, the only alteration being modern geared tuners added for playability's sake and a railroad spike at the 7th fret. The finish remains all original with only some light play wear, notable to the back of the neck and rim. The fingerboard has just a bit of wear, the frets have no visible divoting. The nut and 5th string nut have been replaced.

All parts on the rim are original; the original "No-Knot" tailpiece has one half-tine broken but is fully functional. The head is a recent Fiberskyn, the bridge is modern as well. The original non-geared friction tuners are still in the case; the modern Planets with amber buttons are not historically correct but make this banjo much more functional as a steel-string player. This is an exceptional find in a classy but not fancy old-time banjo, a truly superb player's instrument residing in a pretty "Wild" HSC lined with Faux Fur! Excellent - Condition.