1920s Majestic Chief

The workshop of Gaetano Puntolillo produced banjos for a variety of brands such as S. S. Stewart, Globe and Bell. Some banjos bear names that suggest custom orders or limited runs. However, Puntolillo is probably most famous for their own Majestic brand, whose name can be found on banjos from a wide range of price points. Apparently, no contemporary literature has survived describing the brand; it’s possible that Majestic banjos were primarily custom orders or decorated according to the whims of the builder.

While the most famous Majestic model – if they ever maintained consistent model specifications – is the De Luxe, other names such as Masterpiece, Professional and Chief frequently grace the brand’s headstocks. The hierarchy and price structure of these models is unknown, but this Chief tenor has many features that are similar to the Puntolillo-made S. S. Stewart Wondertone D, which was listed at $170 in 1927. That would have made it a rather good buy at the time, given the gold hardware and multiple laminations in the neck. The rim and resonator are mainly maple, but they have been veneered with rosewood to give the instrument a more upmarket appearance. Compare the grain of the resonator veneer and the purfling to that on my Stromberg Deluxe; clearly, the various east-coast builders were noting each other’s work and purchasing materials from the same suppliers.

This particular banjo was formerly owned by Al Valenti, a prominent musician and early endorser of D’Angelico guitars. The tailpiece and head are replacements, but everything else appears to be original.