Catch of the Day: 1920 Vega Electric 6 String Banjo

1920 Vega Electric 6 String Banjo

Back in the early part of the 20th century, the banjo, the mandolin, the ukulele and the guitar were all racing to be the most popular fretted instrument in America. In 1920, the year this Vega Electric was made, banjo builders were hedging their bets by making banjos with mandolin, ukulele and guitar necks. These hybrid instruments never caught on in a big way, but the guitar banjo was the instrument of choice for important players like Johnny St. Cyr, who played with Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five and Hot Seven in the 1920s, and Papa Charlie Jackson, a prolific blues singer.

This particular guitar banjo was made by Vega, a Boston based builder and distributor that was founded in 1881. In 1904 Vega purchased the assets of A.C. Fairbanks, a builder of very nice banjos including the confusingly named Electric. Despite its moniker, the Electric was a completely acoustic instrument with an innovative scalloped tonering that was invented in 1890. The name was presumably chosen because electricity was a popular late-19th century buzzword that denoted modernism and progress. (Click here for a good look at the Electric’s scalloped tonering.)

Vega continued to use the Electric name for some of their own instruments, including today’s Catch. I have been fascinated with guitar banjos for years and I’ve played quite a few in my time including a handful Vega Electrics. I think that Vegas from this period are extremely well made and the Electric tonering gives the instrument a bright, ringing tone that is very appealing. Banjos from the 1920s are usually very ornate but I find the simple, unadorned look of this one quite attractive. This Vega Electric is piced at $1995 and it’s for sale at Matt Umanov Guitars.

Click here for the original listing.