Vega Vegaphone DeLuxe Tenor Banjo , c. 1926

Vega  Vegaphone DeLuxe Tenor Banjo ,  c. 1926
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Item # 9454
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Vega Vegaphone DeLuxe Model Tenor Banjo, c. 1926, made in Boston, Mass., serial # 82292, shaded maple finish, laminated maple neck, rim and resonator; ebony fingerboard, original black hard shell case.

This is a lovely and beautifully original example of one of the top-of-the-line "Industry Standard" Orchestra tenor banjos from the 1920s, the Vegaphone DeLuxe. Vega's "Vegaphone" line was introduced in 1923 as an answer to the Paramount line of resonator-and-flange banjos. Along with the slightly earlier Paramounts they established the template for all others to follow in the design of the modern banjo.

Vega had been THE premier banjo builder since 1904, when they bought the charred remains of the A. C. Fairbanks factory and all their designs. Fairbanks manager David L. Day stayed on, and Vega prospered with their Whyte Laydie and Tu-Ba-Phone 5-strings which were undisputed leaders in the 1910's market. In 1923, spurred by Paramount they produced modernized Tu-ba-Phones with long scale necks, geared tuners, and full flange/resonator systems. The resulting Vegaphones were available in several levels of trim and proved immediately popular with professional players. Although Vega created the Vegavox series in 1927 with a top-tension adjustment and deep-dish resonators, many banjoists continued to prefer the more traditional Vegaphone.

At the time this banjo was built, the De Luxe was the top of the Vegaphone line and fancy as all get-out. Compared to many high-end 1920's competitors it is very traditional, with Vega's trademark beautiful engraved pearl inlay, a carved heel and quilted maple pie-plate resonator. There is delicate engraving on the tension hoop and the 28 individual flanges. As a hold-over from Vega's open-back banjo line there is a fantastic abalone cap on the bottom of the rim completely hidden by the resonator! The side wall of the resonator is covered with engraved ivoroid, but even that looks like old New England scrimshaw.

All workmanship is to the highest level, as is common with Vega. The pie-section resonator back has beautifully shaded figured maple sections contrasting with the engraved Pyralin outer edge. The elaborate engraved varied shaped pearl inlay in the heavy bound ebony fingerboard was a Vega specialty, and nobody ever did it better. The neck is 3-piece shaded maple construction featuring a carved, pearl inlaid heel and ebony backstrap. The bound headplate is inlaid with Vega's fanciest floral pattern engraved pearl, with an engraved pearl inset on the back as well. The headstock carries gold Ludwig Planet tuners with real pearl buttons.

The gold-plated Oettinger adjustable tension tailpiece has each arm engraved in turn "Deluxe Vegaphone The Vega Co. Boston". The mid-'20's Vegaphone banjos were simply classier than many of their celluloid-swathed peers, with the Edwardian flavor of their 5-string Fairbanks ancestors continued into the flashier jazz age. They are also arguably the best-sounding instruments of their type ever made, at least they offer the most traditional banjo tone of the louder orchestral jazz era. From the beginning Vegaphones were extremely popular with period jazz musicians and can be seen in many old photographs, as well as heard on literally thousands of early dance band and jazz recordings. This DeLuxe is one of the nicest Vegaphones we have had and a real showpiece both visually and sonically.
Overall length is 33 1/2 in. (85.1 cm.), 10 15/16 in. (27.8 cm.) diameter head, and 3 in. (7.6 cm.) in depth, measured at side of rim. Scale length is 23 in. (584 mm.). Width of nut is 1 1/8 in. (29 mm.).

This beautiful banjo has survived nearly 100 years in very fine original condition. It shows signs of play with some dings dents and scrapes to the finish, most notably on the back of the resonator. Much of the gold plating remains intact on the hardware, with some typical areas rubbed down to the metal below. The engraved pearl still retains practically of the delicate filled line work that is often rubbed away.

Some finish is chipped along the laminated spine of the neck and this can be feltůan old Elton capo still in the case pocket may be the culprit there. The neck remains quite straight and the original frets show only a little wear. It is set up with a perfectly fit modern simulated skin head and plays perfectly. Simply a stunner, housed in its deluxe original green plush lined HSC with a Paramount-style zippered lining and an original Vega tension key still in the pocket. Excellent Condition.