1927 Bacon & Day Radio Special

Banjos experienced booming popularity and sales in the 1920s. As a response, many manufacturers greatly expanded their ranges of offerings. The 1928 Vega catalog noted 11 separate models, plus three more open-backed variations, all of which were available in tenor, plectrum, 5-string and mandolin form, for a total of 56 different banjos. On top of this were non-catalogued custom creations, plus related products like an entire range of tenor lutes. Other companies did the same: Gibson, Paramount (Lange), Epiphone and Bacon all offered a profusion of banjo models at various price points during this period.

While many of these models were aimed at professional players, amateurs of at skill levels and budgets were not forgotten. A common theme from the late 1920s into the 1930s was the increasing flashiness of inexpensive banjos; at a time when professional instruments boasted a gaudy array of pearl, celluloid, ink, paint and rhinestones, an amateur could be forgiven for feeling left out with plain wood and minimal decoration. The use of pearloid plastic was frequently used to cover cheaper wood – and, it must be said, to distract from the dead sound of the cheapest banjo designs.

As one of the most highly-respected builders of professional-grade banjos, the Bacon company never sold their products at the lowest price points typically occupied by Stromberg-Voisinet, Harmony and Regal. However, Bacon did realize the market potential of mid-priced banjos that produced a lot of sound at reasonable prices. While the Silver Bell series offered cutting treble and flashy appearances above the $100 mark, the less expensive Styles A, C and Peerless accounted for a large chunk of Bacon’s overall sales. These models lacked the Silver Bell tone ring, instead making do with a simple steel bar; the resulting sound was a touch less refined by the standards of the time, but still good enough to attract a substantial number of players.

In the mid 1920s, Bacon expanded their mid-priced offerings with a variety of short-lived models. Some contained variations on the Silver Bell design, while others were based on more affordable models. The Radio Special fits into this latter category; its simple steel rod is derived from models like the Peerless, but the pearloid covering on the resonator, rim and peghead elevate it above that model visually. It was built for just over a year, from late 1926 to early 1928; it was never catalogued, but a number of variations appeared in that brief time. Most have a flat flange with bell-shaped holes like mine, but a few have the more complex design found on the Silver Bell series. Some, like mine, have painted accents on the headstock and resonator, while others were apparently completed simply with ink in the engravings. Some have a plain heel cap, while others have decoration there. The 3-ply maple neck is similar to that found on the Peerless.

This particular banjo is all original and it remains in excellent condition aside from some finish wear on the neck. There may have originally been an arm rest; some Radio Specials have them, others don’t.

 

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