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Two little gems from opposites sides of the pond... Essex & Washburn

By nguiver, May 28 2018 11:42PM

Two top of the line instruments from two top makers plying their trades across the pond. The Chicago made Washburn model 422 turned up in a country auction in Somerset, England with an estimate of £50-80. (it made £840 including commission). The pot had been reinstalled upside down !! in a vain attempt to lower the action, which resulted in some of the hook threads being too short .. result? .. failure when the nut ran out of thread while the skin was being tightened.

Only two of the original bone Maltese Cross tuners survived. Now restored to its former glory (tuners excepted and awaiting a few hooks) in Bob Smakula’s shop with steel strings, for playing. It’s the second one we have seen recently at auction in the UK, the other turned up in Birmingham in 2013. Its worth taking top instruments to experienced restorers as these early Washburns had a wooden peg under the heel inlay through into the dowel stick that has to be drilled out before a neck reset can be done. What would the end result have been if your restorer didnt know that?

The 2nd, an early Clifford Essex made by Alfred Weaver at 15 Grafton Street, W London was discovered sitting in an amazing music shop six miles north of the White House in Washington DC, “House of Musical Traditions”. Next to it on the wall was an equally interesting fretless Brewster with his own version of the “Dueling banjos” inlay again crafted in London (see below). The style of inlays on the Essex look to have been influenced by SS Stewart, the heel is typically Cole (not Weaver) in style, and the leaves, acorns and flowers on the Washburn sat comfortably within the art nouveau style.

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For tailpieces: Michael Holmes article on Mugwumps


Antique/Vintage Banjos at auction Collectors Weekly


Banjoleles on David Sims Ukulele Corner


Hank Schwartz site on the history of Fairbanks


Banjo Hangout


Smakulas Fretted


National instruments