Ca. 1930 Majestic Tenor Banjo

Even by the gaudy standards of 1920s banjos, Majestic tenors and plectrums are usually quite ornate. All but the least expensive examples have copious pearl inlays and colored wood laminations; the same applies to other brands built by Puntolillo, such as Bell and S. S. Stewart. While it’s rare to find two Majestic banjos that are exactly alike, this tenor is particularly unusual. Not only is its decoration relatively tame and surprisingly art deco, but its basic construction is different than all other Majestic banjos I’ve seen.

All the indications suggest that this was a fairly inexpensive banjo. The rim is thinner than my 1920s Chief, and the tone ring is much simpler on this banjo as well. Other Majestics have plastic fretboards and peghead veneers, but this is the only one I’ve seen with asymmetrical fret markers. The offset dots may have been off-the-shelf items that reduced the cost of construction; the same is probably true of the chrome pickguard (which appears to be original, but looks out of place next to all the nickel hardware). There is a pleasant floral motif painted on the peghead, but the only significant decoration is the flamed walnut veneer and wood purfling on the resonator.

This particular instrument is the only Puntolillo banjo I have seen without a metal tube spanning the rim in place of a dowel. There is no indication that a dowel was ever present, nor could one be accommodated by the existing hardware. This may have been a further cost-reducing measure. The neck is attached by a single screw, and there is an unusually large gap between the neck and rim, but the banjo has held together well and is quite playable. The frets have been replaced and there have been some minor repairs, mostly to the end-cap veneer on the back of the rim. While the banjo is not especially loud, it has a deeper and more rounded voice than other Majestics I have played.