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Clef Club Deluxe Guitar Banjo , c. 1925

Clef Club  Deluxe Guitar Banjo ,  c. 1925

Clef Club Deluxe Model Guitar Banjo, c. 1925, made in Philadelphia, PA, natural varnish finish, laminated mahogany neck and resonator, original brown hard shell case.

One of the more unusual and visually impressive instruments we have seen, this huge and very ornate banjo-guitar is the work of a fairly obscure but quite skilled maker, and may be one of a kind.

The rim is a full 16" wide, two inches wider than even the largest Gibson banjo-guitars, and with a full flange and resonator attached spans over 18 1/2". The entire instrument is lavishly decorated with a vine fingerboard inlay, elaborate marquetry on the resonator sides, and multiple colored wood laminates in the neck and headstock. The hardware is a mix of styles (some looks very Lange/Paramount), but appears all original; this is obviously a handmade instrument. The very small internal labels promise "exceptional quality", and in this case at least seems to be accurate!

Little history seems to have survived on the Clef Club brand, sold and likely built by the partnership of McGinnis/Shaw in Philadelphia. While some of James Reese Europe's orchestras went under the name "Clef Club Band", no evidence of any connection to this brand has surfaced…except, of course, that Europe's musicians used quite a few banjos!

McGinnis and Shaw appear to have been active in the early 1920's and to have built primarily fairly simple short-neck tenor and mandolin banjos. This is by far the most deluxe Clef Club brand instrument we are aware of, as well as the most ambitious, and was almost certainly a custom order. While the Philadelphia Mummers' tradition accounts for a lot of banjo activity in the area, it is hard to imagine anyone parading with this instrument without some sort of wheelbarrow to carry it! The sound is deep and rumbly and unlike anything else we have heard.

Here's the NPR story:
Overall length is 39 in. (99.1 cm.), 16 in. (40.6 cm.) diameter head, and 4 in. (10.2 cm.) deep. Scale length is 25 in. (635 mm.). Width of nut is 1 1/2 in. (38 mm.).

Well-preserved overall; several repaired cracks to the flat-backed resonator. Appears all original -- probably refretted early on, as the frets are somewhat eccentric but look period. One inlay is missing from the nut end of the fingerboard. Includes gigantic original alligator-grain HSC with some period paraphernalia. Excellent Condition.

Item # 3095
This item has been sold.

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