1927 Weymann Tenor Mandolute


The tenor banjo was all the rage in the 1920s; it could easily be heard from the bandstand without electric amplification. However, practicing at home in the company of others could lead to beatings and evictions. Players needed an instrument that played like a banjo but lacked the eardrum-shattering volume. Some manufacturers just built wood-topped banjos, creating the tenor harp; others attached banjo necks to mandolin-family bodies, creating the tenor lute. By the end of the decade, the tenor guitar – a marriage of a banjo neck and a guitar body – was gaining consensus as the best solution.

 Weymann actually built all three instruments, probably the only company to do so. Their banjos were highly regarded, as were their mandolins, guitars, and ukuleles, so rather than reinvent the wheel, they started with existing parts. This tenor lute is built around one of their “mandolute” bodies (really just a slightly oversized mandolin), probably a Style 30 and complete with violin-style edges that hang over the sides. The neck was specially built with a dovetail joint instead of the usual banjo butt joint, but the cosmetics are the same as on the Style 50 banjo. The result looks a bit like a bouzouki that shrank in the wash. Whereas Vega used a large body (probably from an octave mandolin), the smaller bodies used by Weymann and Gibson on their tenor lutes make the instruments seem out of proportion. The small bodies also create a smaller sound, which might have been nice for practicing but limited the instruments’ use on stage compared to the loud and brash Vega lute.

 While this model is not mentioned in any surviving catalog, a 1927 trade magazine mentions a new mandolute model “built with the tenor scale and … called the tenor mandolute.” In other words, Weymann considered this a variation on the mandolin rather than the tenor banjo. Apparently, only one model was built (which is consistent with the others I’ve seen). The fact that it was not featured in subsequent advertisements or the 1928 catalog suggests that the tenor mandolute was quickly discontinued. The serial on this ones dates to 1927.