Ca. 1930 Ludwig Standard Art

The Ludwig Drum Company was founded in 1909, and by 1923 they had become the largest drum manufacturer in the world. The company’s fortunes have fluctuated over the decades; arguably, the company’s apex occurred in the 1960s when their logo appeared prominently on the most famous bass drum in the world – just above “The Beatles”. The company’s brief detour into the banjo world was initially successful, but the high cost of investment in banjos combined with the onset of the Great Depression nearly caused the company to fold within five years.

Ludwig banjos debuted in 1925 and last appeared shortly after the brand was sold to Conn, but a surprising number of them survive for such a brief production run. Serial numbers suggest that around ten thousand were made overall; as with most other brands, most of the surviving examples are lower-priced models. The tenor line ranged from the $75 Kingston up through the $500 and up Special Art series (the Oriental, Luxor, Toreador, and Corsican models, which probably found mutual inspiration with Leedy’s National series). A number of plectrum banjos were also offered, sometimes with different names than their otherwise identical tenor siblings.

Complementing the Special Art series was the Standard Art model. The choice of name is somewhat misleading; despite being less flashy than the Specials, this was hardly an instrument of middling appearance. The Standard Art shared its fret markers with the $245 Ambassador tenor, but there was a good reason why it listed for a full $350. The headstock face and heel cap were veneered entirely with abalone and pearl, and the prominent marquetry on the neck included pieces of pearl among the colored wood. The resonator was inlayed with a floral pattern made of contrasting woods which, oddly, was shared by the mid-priced Ace Deluxe model. The heel was carved with more flowers, and even the back of the headstock had a hand-textured surface with a carved border. The Standard Art was rounded out with similar gold-plated and engraved hardware to the other high-end models. The rim and neck are made of walnut.

Ludwig banjos can be grouped into three periods based on their construction. The earliest have a bottom-tension design and no flange; the next ones have a flange, and the final ones are built with a top-tension design (and flange). This banjo, like the majority of Ludwigs, falls into the last category. All have Ludwig’s “Action Regulator” neck angle adjustment system, another indication that the company was closely following Leedy’s designs.

In addition to being an exceptionally rare instrument, this banjo is in exceptionally clean condition. Aside from a refret, at which point the neck binding was replaced, the instrument is entirely original and shows no repairs.