I had the neck off an 1890s Lyon and Healey 5-string banjo to replace the skin head, and noticed this section of light colored wood under the finger board.  The neck appears to be cherry, but I can't tell from the end grain what the lighter colored wood is.  Is this something that is not uncommon, and I've just not been noticing? 


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That isn't uncommon on banjos, it is just a filler piece at the end of a truss rod. I would imagine that Lyon & Healey just had some hard maple cut to size for this purpose and used it regardless of the neck wood.

Hi BanjoNeil,

I think this banjo predates the use of any metal truss rods.  I've seen later Lyon & Healey banjos with an ebony laminate running all the way through the middle of the neck, but I don't remember seeing this kind of technique on a banjo of this period.


An 1890's Lyon and Healy banjo would not have a truss rod, unless one was added at a later date. It is likely Maple but would run underneath the length of the fingerboard, to help stiffen the neck.

I'd say that neck is mahogany, possibly Spanish cedar, but not cherry.

Definitely no metal in necks back then. 

Good eye Paul.  The dark grain lines looked finer to me than mahogany, and the medullary rays looked much like cherry, but comparing it to Washburn guitar neck of the same vintage, they look very similar.  Can I ask what tipped you off?

Here is a better shot of the grain.



Remember, the usual mahogany back then was Swietenia mahagoni, AA "Cuban" or West Indies mahogany, which is a gourmet grade that's hard to get now. It still has much more open grain than cherry. What really tipped me off, though, was having messed with hundreds of Lyon and Healy banjos, refitting and repairing necks, etc.

Gibson made mandolin necks from cherry for a short while in the mid-teens, I'm surprised it wasn't used more than it was. Maybe the furniture people got it all? Mahogany's a lot easier to work with. 


What I was really wondering about is if this "stiffening" insert is a common occurence, or is it somewhat unusual for the time period.  Any ideas as to the "stiffening" material?  Maple would be readily available, but boxwood or hickory might be stiffer.  Appreciate your experience.

Thanks, George

Stiffening or reinforcing bars (I prefer terms like these to "truss rods") were common back then, and different makers were experimenting for quite awhile as steel strings increasingly came into use, culminating, finally, in adjustable metal rods. Why they chose various materials before that is anyone's guess. Martin always used ebony, in cedro necks, which is a great combination. L&H's fancy carved mandolins had an inner lamination of hard rubber! Once steel strings became the norm, all the earlier notions seem inadequate. That said, banjo string tension is so low it hardly mattered. On Gibson's early mandolins with their short, stout necks, it didn't matter, though they still tried a number of things. On later mandolins and on guitars, especially, it really did matter. It'd be nice to climb into the time machine and go back and ask them what the heck they were doing!

Thanks Paul,

Although this banjo presently has nylon strings, it makes me wonder if it wasn't originally designed for steel.


If it's the 1890's, probably gut. Steel strings just weren't that popular yet, though they were starting to appear.

On my 1890's Stewart, I've got Flourocarbon strings, and they sound sweet. I just buy big reels of Seaguar flourocarbon fishing leader, and snip off what I need. They make WONDERFUL ukulele strings, and darn fine banjo strings as well. I think I'm using 80, 60, 40, and 30 lb test leader. (This appears to be the exact same stuff that Martin sells as flourocarbon uke strings.)

In that period steel strings were coming in strong. Looking at original nuts, the slots would only work for steel, never gut. I personally think they sound better with nylon. And even better with real gut strings. 

Actually, the bone nut on the Lyon & Healey has slots that are too narrow for the nylon strings.  I really like the sound of the Nylon, but hesitated to change the original nut.

Mark, thanks for the tip about the fishing leader.


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