Vintage Guitar - July 2016 - Open - 30
By george gruHN aND sTaff
illed as "the latest orchestral sensation... unparalleled for versatility,"
Vega's electric banjos - developed to compete with one being made by
Gibson - were of little consequence in the market.
Documentation is sparse, but it appears
Vega started building them in late 1938 and
continued until '42, before surrendering
to the production privations of World War
II. Available with a tenor or plectrum neck,
company catalogs offered them as outfits with
an amplifier and hard case.
The first Gibson electric tenor and plectrum
banjos shipped in March of '38, followed in
May by an electric five-string banjo. In '39,
Photos: William Ritter. Instrument courtesy of George Gruhn.
de luxe eleCtRiC
Vega's electric banjos listed as $80, $175 for
the amp/case package. In '38, Gibson charged
$77.50 for theirs, and in '39 raised the price to
$85.25. A complete Gibson outfit was $188.
Both offered a choice of amplifier; Vega's
were 10- or 18-watt versions, Gibson's 15
watts or 18 watts, and both asked customers
to specify AC or DC operation. Gibson went a
step further by offering amps that would run
on 220-240 volts and 25 to 50 cycles.
This Vega De Luxe was built circa 1939
at the company's factory in Boston. Its
plectrum-length maple neck has an ebony
fingerboard with 22 frets and 10 rectangular
mother-of-pearl position markers. Its scale
length is rather long at 27.25", and the peghead
has a Vegaphone-style pyralin overlay that is
engraved and painted. The tuners are Grover's
DeLuxe units with mother-of-pearl buttons,
and the neck attaches to the body with a "stub"
dowel stick using a regular Vega wedge clamp.
The neck and body are finished in black
lacquer, while the rim of the electric banjo
is multiple plies of maple with an outside
diameter of 11.75" and a thickness of .625".
The rim is 2.5" tall and is single-bound
white on the top and bottom edges. The top
and the back of the body are constructed of
poplar laminate. There is a single-ply white
pickguard on the front of the body. The bridge
is height adjustable but uncompensated and
the tailpiece is a Grover "De Luxe" clamshell
with gold-plating and engraving.
The electronics are accessed through a