A friend has acquired an unmarked mandolin banjo and wants to know what it is.  It looks original and all the brackets look aged and identical.  It has a replaced skin head (the logo looks fairly recent but is under the fingerboard extension.  It has an adjustment mechanism on the stick at the neck joint but it looks to be extended to its limit and action is high.  I know nothing about this type of instrument* so I'm asking here.  Here's some pictures.

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I forgot to put the text with the asterisk: Except a comment about a mando banjo by Jerry Garcia to David Grisman on their Shady Grove recording: "that is truly an obnoxious instrument."

Here's on on eBay that looks very similar except that it has fewer brackets.


Yes - it is a mandolin-banjo, or a banjolin.  A hybrid instrument that had some popularity around the turn of the 19th-20th century, basically to provide an instrument with a banjo voice (i.e. LOUD and twangy) to mandolin players.  The banjo really overtook the mandolin in popularity by 1900, only to see a further takeover by the guitar by 1950.  There is a wikipedia page on the mandolin banjo - with a pretty good history and comparison to other similar european, south american and middle eastern instruments.  There were lots of manufacturers - I saw a 1920s era Gibson version for sale on Reverb recently. 

I suspect these are more popular in the UK than elsewhere: I've had a bunch come through my hands in the past few years. Almost always in terrible condition, veneer peeling off everywhere and necks like bananas. About half were unsalvageable. Almost all of them, I've been asked to string like a ukulele.

Any clues as to the maker?


No idea, I'm afraid. Seems basically anyone who'd ever made a banjo knocked out a few of these when they were a fad.

I'd say Slingerland is a good bet.  The high end makers put their names on things, of course, and Slingerland made stuff with their famous "Maybell," "Slingerland," or for the cheap ones, nothing at all.

That bracket on the stick is just to clamp the heel tight against the shell.  There is no adjustment mechanism.

Resale value of these is so low, we generally can't support resetting necks, refretting, or much else. . .

Many of there have been converted to 5 stringers (if the pot is 10.5 inches or so).

I reset the neck on one by cutting the heel seat to the correct angle and moving the location of the tail end of the stick
by gluing on an extra block for the screw to go into.
A word of caution with these: never leave it in your car without locking it. You may find another one with it! Ha.

LOL!  We see them all the time because they were made by Slingerland which was not too far from Michigan.  As Frank mentioned their value usually does not exceed the likely and proper cost of the needed repairs.

We don't take them in having had bad experiences with them in the past, fix one thing, something else breaks, etc.

Besides playing Purple Haze on these things just doesn't cut it.....

This instument is dangerous for your hearing. Seriously.

"This instrument is dangerous for your hearing. Seriously."

Only in the wrong hands...which is most of us.

This band has learned how to tame one of these.

Eight strings on a banjo mandolin is generally too much tension to keep a stable set up and will often warp the pot into a potato chip shape. They can also be an overtone nightmare, small pot versions of these can be extremely bright. I have a small pot British made version that is likely capable of stripping paint, if you dig in when playing. It makes a lovely decorative object and sits on a shelf as a curiosity.

If you want to explore playing one of these things, it is best to get one with a full size pot(11")  that is heavily built, no spun over pots. (If it still scares you when you're done, at least you would end up with a decent pot that could be converted into a 5 string.) Then convert it to a 4 string instrument and stuff the pot full of socks. The trick to taming these is to diminish overtones and reducing sustain, make it plunky. The above pictured Slingerland mandolin banjo would probably set up and stay that way if converted to a 4 stringer, it looks heavy enough.

This is a Lyon & Healy "Own Make" version. The 4 string versions where often referred to as Tango or Melody banjos. Most of the early banjo manufactures had some version of these. Mostly popular in the dance craze days of the 20's as a lead instrument because of it's cutting power.

This banjo must weigh in at about 8lbs., it's heavily built. I experimented with many different wood types for the bridge but found that made little difference in taming it. I ended up with the first one I made for it, Maple with an Ebony top. Note the rubber grommets in the strings at the head stock and the tailpiece has leather glued under it. You need to kill over tones in these places. The inside of the pot has the entire perimeter lined with foam rubber that touches the skin head. There is also a foam block from the neck stick to the skin head, just below the bridge. Yes, it took all of that to tame it. The string choice is D'Addario flat wounds, FW74's.

I replaced the original 13" scale length, badly worn finger board, with a replica that is a modern mandolin scale length of 13 7/8". That was not part of taming the thing, just my preference as a player.


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