Bacon FF Professional Special Grand Concert 5 String Banjo , c. 1916

Bacon  FF Professional Special  Grand Concert 5 String Banjo ,  c. 1916
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Item # 11985
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Bacon FF Professional Special Grand Concert Model 5 String Banjo, c. 1916, made in Forest Dale, Vermont, French polish finish, laminated white holly neck, laminated maple and holly rim, original black hard shell case.

This extremely fancy instrument was Fred Bacon's top-of-the-line banjo long before ex-Fairbanks designer David Day became his partner. Bacon was a leading 5-string banjo stylist in the early 1900s and like several of his peers started designing and selling his own banjos. There was no Bacon factory in this period; earlier instrument built for Bacon by Vega in Boston but by the time this one was made the subcontractor was Rettberg and Lange in New York. This banjo bears some similarities to their own Orpheum line but for the most part is a unique and original creation, like everything Fred Bacon put his name on a first-class instrument all the way.

The "FF Professional" series most unique design element was the rim, built around Fred Bacon's patented tone ring and internal resonator system. This consists of a heavy hollow chambered rim with a substantial air cavity between the inner and outer surfaces. There are F-shaped soundholes all along the back. The cupped Bacon tone ring is mounted under the head but not easily visible. There is a wire arm rest on the top of the rim, and a corollary rubber padded leg rest on the underside.

This is a superbly detailed instrument; The 2-stage maple rim is veneered inside and out with white holly, with a "black holly" ebonized underside trimmed with wood marquetry and celluloid. The neck is very elaborate, laminated white holly with a underlaid wood strips including beneath the bound ebonized extension fingerboard. This and the headstock (front and back) are inlaid with elaborate shaped pearl and abalone designs. The backstrip of the headstock extends well down the neck, which also has a neatly carved floral pattern on the heel.

The 1914 catalog of "The Bacon Manufacturing Co. of Forest Dale Vermont" describes the model as "Positively the finest banjo ever made, both for tone and looks. A WORK OF ART". While the fine folks at Fairbanks/Vega might have argued that point, certainly this is a very elaborate and beautiful-sounding instrument. Retailing in 1914 at the very hefty sum of $125.00, this was absolutely one of the best banjos of its day. "Every note clear as a bell" was Bacon's claim, and now 110 or so years later this banjo still delivers!
Overall length is 38 3/4 in. (98.4 cm.), 11 5/8 in. (29.5 cm.) diameter head, and 2 5/8 in. (6.7 cm.) in depth, measured at side of rim. Scale length is 28 in. (711 mm.). Width of nut is 1 1/4 in. (32 mm.).

Aside from the mounting of modern geared tuners and a plastic head this banjo remains in beautiful original condition, with only some light general wear. Apart from some feelable light scrapes on the back of the neck behind the 3-5th fret area the all-original finish has aged magnificently with only very minor play wear. The plating is in excellent shape and there is hardly any wear to the original frets or fingerboard.

The original pearl-button friction tuners are in the case, finely geared gold-plated Rickard tuners have been fitted which if not historically accurate do allow the banjo to function far more reliably as a steel-string instrument. A couple of tiny chips on the back of the headstock resulted from this addition. The 5th string tuner is a Grover-style geared unit. The tailpiece is curious; it is to the same design as the original Bacon-Kersher piece but is unplated with custom engraving, including what appear to be an owner's initials. It may be original (custom engraving WAS offered in the catalog) or a replacement, but in ether case it appears as old as the instrument. All other hardware appears original.

The banjo is set up with a Remo plastic head and recent bridge. Even with the hardware substitutions this is about as nice an example of this very rare well-over-century old banjo as we ever expect to see! It plays perfectly with a lovely sound, a truly fine instrument for any style. Components for an original "Hartnett Tone Bar" are also included, still in the original fitted hard leather case, a special catalog item in 1914 at the price of $18. This is fairly well worn with no handle but still an amazing survivor today! Overall Excellent - Condition.