1926 Vega Tu-Ba-Phone #9 Custom Plectrum Banjo

Vega Tu-Ba-Phone #9 Model Plectrum Banjo (1926), made in Boston, Mass., shaded maple finish, laminated maple neck and rim, ebony fingerboard, brown hard shell case. 

This is a very interesting and truly superb Vega Plectrum 4-string, long neck banjo, an instrument we rarely see these days. This particular example is something of a transition piece between the older and newer Vega lines of the 1920's. It is a spectacular banjo to behold showing a selection of Vega's top-line features including heavily engraved shaped pearl inlay in the bound ebony fingerboard, a lovely neck of laminated figured maple, engraved heel and headstock inlay, a crisply executed elaborate carved heel and the inimitable (if oft imitated!) Fairbanks/Vega Tu-Ba-Phone tone ring. 

This banjo is marked on the dowel simply as a Tu-Ba-Phone #9, and shares these distinctive features with both the Style X #9 tenor and the "Regular" 5-string #9. Depending on which Vega serial number charts one consults it dates between 1925 and 1927 though the features match the 1923 catalog specs, but with the addition of the Vega individual flanges and pie-section resonator. At the time this was made the 4-string Plectrum Tu-Ba-Phone was a custom-order option separate from the new Vegaphone line, so it is quite possible someone simply requested this particular combination of features from both. The 10 7/8" rim is mated with a long 26 3/4' scale neck, identical to the 5-string version simply lacking the upper peg and "hump" required for it. 

This #9 model is similar but not identical to the contemporary early Vegaphone Artist and Deluxe models. The major differences are the rim hardware is not gold plated, and the inlay pattern is more elaborate and less symmetrical. Most #9's were originally built as openback instruments but this one has what appears to be an original factory Vegaphone resonator and individual flanges that are decorated pieces like the Vegaphone Deluxe. If not custom ordered it may have been factory re-fitted with this soon after completion. The tuners are early Grover Patent geared pegs with pearl buttons; these are period but not original to the banjo. The tailpiece is the original 4-string Kersher. 

This is really fine example of what to many is a good candidate for the best "jazz" banjo ever produced, combining sweetness and power in equal measure. Although Vega banjos were among the most popular makes of the 1920's, this Style #9 was a very expensive instrument and in Plectrum form is quite rare today. While not having the same "cut" as the tenor banjo with its high A string, the Plectrum is to many players a more versatile instrument with a deeper, sweeter tone and more suited to solo or small group chord/melody playing. It works perfectly in the 4-string "Chicago" (Guitar) tuning and for the guitarist requiring a "double" instrument for early jazz settings we cannot imagine a better choice than this fantastic looking and sounding Vega. 

Overall length is 37 1/2 in. (95.2 cm.), 10 7/8 in. (27.6 cm.) diameter head, and 3 in. (7.6 cm.) in depth, measured at side of rim. Scale length is 26 3/4 in. (679 mm.). Width of nut is 1 3/16 in. (30 mm.). 

Pictures and description from RetroFret 


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