1924 Bacon & Day Super Mandolin Banjo

 

The history of Bacon banjo models in the 1920s is something of a mess. The Silver Bell line is reasonably well-documented, but the less expensive models are more difficult to untangle. Some models had very short durations and limited production; some were never catalogued, and some catalogued models were never actually produced. Some varied from others only by the name on the headstock. The source of this malaise is not clear. Bacon may have had difficulty defining a product line in the rapidly-evolving banjo market, and the arrival of David Day as the company’s principal designer may have spurred a rapid series of changes.

The culmination of Day’s work during this period was Bacon’s new Silver Bell line. First produced in 1923, the combination of its tone ring and full resonator was at the core of almost all of Bacon’s high-end banjos until the company’s demise in 1939. The Silver Bell line was immediately adopted by many professional players with a range of budgets. By the middle of the 1920s, Bacon offered what was probably the most expensive catalogued string instrument of the time: the $900 No. 9 Ne Plus Ultra Silver Bell.

However, there was still a market for excellent-sounding banjos at a more moderate price. The Blue Ribbon and its successor the Blue Bell featured a less expensive tone ring and snap-in resonators. Both were available as tenor, plectrum, 5-string, 6-string (guitar) and mandolin banjos, though tenors were the most popular by a wide margin. Bacon also briefly produced a Super or Supertone upgrade to the Blue Ribbon, which sported true Silver Bell tone ring. This became a separate model, the Super, which was essentially a Silver Bell pot with an internal resonator. The chronology is hazy; serial numbers suggest that many of these variations were in production simultaneously, and contemporary catalogs are often misleading or incomplete. Most likely, the last of these mid-priced models to be discontinued was the Super, which appears to have been produced until 1928.

This particular instrument bears its full title inlaid into the headstock lest the player forget: “B&D Super Mandolin Banjo”. The tenor version was described in a Bacon catalog, but the mandolin version was only mentioned in a price list in 1923. At $115, it was $10 cheaper than its Silver Bell equivalent but more expensive than the company’s other mandolin banjos. This banjo was built in 1924, and it therefore carries the early Silver Bell tone ring with soundholes on both sides. Aside from the replacement tailpiece and head, it is all original. Mandolin banjos frequently suffer from poor intonation and somewhat muddy-sounding chords; Bacon’s tone ring and adoption of a long scale, unlike most mandolin-banjo builders, helps somewhat to alleviate these issues. The banjo is still extremely loud, the result of eight high-tension strings directing their force into a relatively small head.

 

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