Ca. 1920 Regina Tenor Banjo


The workshop of Gaetano Puntolillo is most famous for producing Majestic banjos of the 1920s as well as various models for S. S. Stewart. A few other brands can be found on Puntolillo headstocks, such as Bell and Regina, but it’s not clear whether these brands were owned by the manufacturer or by other retailers. The obscure names frequently carry as much decoration as the Majestics, with all manner of carving, engraving, veneers and fancy woods.

The Bell and Regina banjos seem to date predominantly from early in Puntolillo’s career, though not exclusively. Like the instrument pictured above, many of them have extra-large 12.25” rims, friction tuners and 17-fret necks, suggesting that they date from the late 1910s to the early 1920s. Many also have wooden dowels instead of Puntolillo’s trademark metal tube across the rim, a more conservative design than was used on his later creations. The decoration on these banjos ranges from fairly simple to quite ornate, with some of the fancier Bells sporting animal heads carved into the heels.

This Regina banjo is not the fanciest creation to come out of Puntolillo’s workshop, but it’s hardly the plainest either. The multiple wood laminations in the neck (both parallel and perpendicular to the freboard) are functional as well as cosmetic, serving to reinforce the straightness of the neck against the tension of the strings. The parquet inlays along the inside and outside of the rim are purely decorative, and even the non-inlaid parts of the neck and rim are made of birdseye maple. The most unusual feature is the fretboard inlay, a floral vine pattern whose like I have not found on any other Puntolillo banjo. If anything, it recalls the “tree of life” patterns seen on high-end banjos from several decades earlier. Curiously, the flowers line up only with the second, eighth, and twelfth frets, prompting the inlayer to supplement a number of commonly-referenced locations with dot markers.

The tone ring is Puntolillo’s usual large, perforated creation, with its patent number stamped into the dowel. Several similar Bell-branded banjos have perforations on the outside of the rim as well, though that appears not to have been done with the Regina brand. The scalloped nut is classic Puntolillo as well. Interestingly, it appears that all of Puntolillo’s tenors with this large rim originally sported mandolin-style tailpieces.