1970s Koontz Tenor Banjo


Sam Koontz is a fairly well-known name in the guitar world; in the '60s and '70s he built custom acoustics and electrics with a unique visual flair, and many of his archtops made it into the hands of respected jazz players such as Pat Martino. Koontz also built at least one solidbody electric mandolin, and evidently at least one tenor banjo.

It's a peculiar instrument in many ways - the work of someone who's built instruments before, but probably not a banjo. The neck is carved so tightly around the hoop that tension adjustment isn't really possible without chipping away at the neck. The neck itself has a 23.75” scale, long enough to accommodate a 20th fret – unusual in a tenor, but not unprecedented. While the neck appears to be Koontz’s own handiwork, the pot has been recycled from a 1970s Japanese-built Vegavox, the flange is a pre-War Lange product and the resonator is most likely from Stromberg-Voisinet. It appears that additional veneers were added over the Vega rim, possibly as a visual upgrade but possibly to disguise the origins of the pot. The tuners are '70s Gibsons, which narrows down the date somewhat; Koontz died in 1981, so it's no younger than that.

And then, of course, there's the pickup suspended over the strings. It looks like a home-made pickup, but it still works and sounds quite good. The banjo is in great condition overall, though a couple of tension bolts have been replaced. The head has a small tear, but it seems to be stable so I have left it alone. The neck is a single piece of rosewood with a rather chunky profile, but it remains straight and easy to play.