Ca. 1942 Vega Electric Tenor Banjo

 

Vega’s electric banjos of the late 1930s were some of the best of their time; they had better string balance than Gibson’s offerings and superior hum rejection to Epiphone’s. Although National’s electric banjos might have matched them in both respects, Vega must have produced more than any of their competitors (judging by the number of surviving instruments). This was probably due to their unmatched reputation as a builder of acoustic banjos.

Unfortunately for Vega, the banjo market was a far cry from what it had been in the 1920s. Around the beginning of the 1940s, Vega attempted to revitalize their flagging sales by revamping the look of their electric instruments. Out went the black finish and massive chrome arm rests, never to return. In their place, electric guitars, mandolins, steels and banjos now sported flamed maple veneers under natural finishes. Sunbursts were briefly offered as well, but these disappeared after the briefest of periods. The pickups were replaced by smaller, cheaper, brighter-sounding single-coil units – High-Fidelity Pick Ups, in company jargon. This combination of features had been shown in the 1939 catalog on the deluxe Supertron guitar, but now they were applied across the product line.

These changes didn’t have much impact on Vega’s sales figures, but they do serve as an easy way to distinguish 1940s Vega electrics from their 1930s predecessors. The electric mandolins and banjos were probably produced only until about 1942, when wartime materials rationing caused Vega (and their competition) to cease large-scale instrument manufacturing. Similar guitars and steels would be produced after the end of World War II as the Triumphal series.

This particular banjo is most likely a wartime example, one of the last that Vega built. I say this because the neck was actually built around a decade earlier and revamped for the 1940s. Enough of the serial survives on the cut-down dowel to indicate 1931, and the original star logo (engraved and inked with the Vega name) was finished over and the newer script decal applied. This is the only electric banjo I have found with the script logo, and the only one with binding around the pickup rout. It looks like the factory was scrounging for any parts that could be assembled into saleable instruments. It currently sports non-original tuners, but everything else appears to be original.

 

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