Weaver Banjos

Alfred Weaver by Richard Ineson

 

Perhaps the most highly regarded English banjo maker was Alfred Weaver, he was born in 1857, and established a workshop in Upper St. Martins Lane, London, W.C., in 1878. His later addresses were 139, Long Acre and, 121 Sinborough Road, Earls Court, London S.W.

Weaver banjos are characterised by their plain lines and simple, functional mother of pearl position marks. The shape of the heel of the neck is very individual and has been described as spoon shaped, it tends to he longer on Weaver banjos, especially the banjos produced prior to 1900, than on those of other makers.

Several transitions in the design of Weaver banjos can be identified.

In his very early instruments made around 1878 - 80, the shanks of the hooks pulling down the vellum are bent, the fingerboards of these instruments are sometimes made from rosewood rather than ebony and were sometimes covered in ornately engraved, German Silver (white brass).

The nuts fixing the bracket shoes to the hoop are small and square and have an integral brass washer, the heel of the neck can be extremely elongated, push - in type violin pegs are always used, the balls at the base of the nuts, securing the straining hooks, are separate from the actual nut, (this was possibly intended as a locknut device), the overall impression of these instruments is that they are rather 'home made' in appearance.

Later, Weaver seems to have improved the quality of his metalwork, though his work remained highly individual, the nuts holding the bracket shoes became larger and hexagonal, the shanks on the hooks were straight, Grover pegs were fitted in place of the violin pegs, the balls on the nuts securing the straining hooks became integral with the nuts.

Most Weaver banjos were fitted with a small, ebony tail piece though some later banjos, perhaps post 1st World War, appear to have been fitted with a metal tailpiece as a standard Fixture, the wooden type of tailpiece was simply tied on with a piece of gut as on a violin.

The dimensions of Weavers' banjos vary, as do the types of wood he used in their construction, I have seen rosewood, walnut and birds eye maple used for the necks. The hoop in the instruments I have seen is always made from oak, used either as the lining material in the metal covered hoop models or in the solid in the wood hoop models.

Hoop depths and diameters vary greatly, depths on early Weaver hoops seem to be around 6. 0 cm later hoops are found to be as deep as 8.0 cm, early hoops tend to be less robustly made than the ones on later banjos. The diameter of the hoop seems never to be less than 27.0 cm and the largest diameter so far seen is 31.0 cm.

The bezel or, top band, on Weaver banjos is normally notched to receive the tension hooks except on very early models.

Weaver, though known predominantly, for his five stringed banjos, made all kinds of banjos zither banjo, tenor banjo, banjeaurine, mandolin banjo, banjolin (the peghead on these instruments was violin shaped) though 1 have not come across a plectrum banjo, to date.

Marks used by Weaver on his banjos, include two versions of an oval cartouche mark which simply says, in a band, surrounding the word 'maker', A. Weaver. London.

Other marks are A. Weaver London and A. Weaver London W. C. stamped in the wood on both sides of the perch pole.

Occasionally a facsimile of Weaver's signature along with the word 'Special' is found stamped on the vellum of a Weaver banjo, this is accompanied with the address of the premises from which he was working at the time the vellum was fitted.

I have seen two dated Weaver banjos, one had the date 1878 stamped on the top edge of the peghead, the other had 1879 stamped on both sides of the perch pole.

Weaver made banjos for other companies, such as Clifford Essex and Essex & Cammeyer, these normally have no Weaver marks on them but can be identified from the characteristic shapes of the peghead, heel shape, metalwork etc. The Essex & Cammeyer, Weaver banjos sometimes have an embossed metal strip pinned to the perch pole which says:-

'Made Expressly for Essex & Cammeyer'.

Weaver supplied leather cases with some of his instruments, these are stamped 'A. Weaver' in the leather, under the carrying handle, he also supplied leatherette covered, wooden cases with his banjos.

Weaver, retired in 1937 and died, after being involved in a road accident, in Bournemouth on June 17th 1939, aged 82, one of his daughters is said to have married Charlie Rogers.

His banjos were used by Joe Morley, Charlie Roger, Tarrant Bailey Snr and Jnr., and the Bohee Bros., amongst others. They are still regarded very highly by Banjoists, as the finest banjos, of their type, to have been made in Britiain

Weaver advertised his banjos in the American magazine,' The Cadenza' so, presumably, his instruments were regarded as being on a par with the American productions of the time.

 

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Wood Hoop Weaver by Alan Middleton

HEAD: Decorated waisted pattern; four Grover geared pegs fitted with ivory (bone?) buttons. Inlaid mother-of -pearl shield.

NECK: Mahogany (Rosewood ?) with ebony fingerboard, 191/4" (487mm) long. Nut consists of an ebony string-spacer and an ivory or bone piece set to give the correct string height. 21 nickel-silver frets.

Mother-of-pearl dots: one each at 5th, 10th, & 14th frets. two each at 7th & 17th; three at the 12th. Also, small m.o.p. dots on the 5th string side of the edge of the fingerboard at the 7th, 10th, 12th, 14th & 17th frets.

5th string peg: push fit into socket; ivory (bone?) button.

Perch pole let directly into inside of hoop at lower end: no supporting metalwork. Stamped on the visible face, and also on the opposite face (nearest to the vellum): A. WEAVER MAKER LONDON. W.C.

(No date or instrument number).

Chromium-plated wedge-plate screwed to perch pole at upper end of hoop; two ebony wedges.

HOOP: Mahogany veneer. 12' (305mm) outside diameter, excluding veneer; 21/2" (64mm) deep; 1/2' (12.5mm) thick at bottom of rim. Too little of basic wood is visible to allow positive identification. Could be oak or beech). 24 Chromium-plated tension hooks or strainers and square nuts with integral ball end.

24 Chromium-plated brackets (or shoes) have a threaded shank five-eighths of an inch (16mm) long, a separate brass washer, and hexagonal closed-end nut, three-eighths of an inch across flats.

BEZEL: Chromium-plated, 1/2" (1 2.5mm) deep, with roughly filed notches for tension hooks.

TAILPIECE: Rosewood. Standard Weaver pattern, with holes for gut/nylon loop over chromium-plated end button.

Banjos made by Sydney Young from Weaver stock by Alan Middleton

(Sold by John Alvey Turner through Bernard Sheaff in 1947 for 26.5s.0d)

Differences from the earlier one are shown in bold type

HEAD: Decorated waisted pattern exactly as earlier one. Four straight pegs (not geared) with black plastic (?) buttons. Inlaid shield of white metal.

NECK: Mahogany, with ebony fingerboard, 18" (47Omm) long.

Nut consists of ebony string spacer and ivory/bone (possibly even ivorine) piece set to give the correct string height.

20 nickel-silver frets.

Mother-of-pearl dots placed as above, but single dots are larger and more widely spaced at 12th than on the earlier instrument.

Perch pole and wedge-plate as above, but stamped centrally on visible face:

JOHN ALVEY TURNER

LONDON

On the 5th string side face, stamped centrally:

SYDNEY W. YOUNG

and on the same face, at the tailpiece end: 104

HOOP: Beech. A little over 12" (307mm) outside diameter, no veneer. Just over 2" (68mm) deep- just over " (15mm) thick at bottom of rim. 24 Chromium-plated tension hooks and hexagonal nuts with integral ball end. 24 Chromium-plated brackets and closed-end nuts exactly as above, but the separate washers are chromium-plated.

BEZEL: As above, but notches for tension hooks are neatly cut.

TAILPIECE: Ebony. Standard Weaver pattern with holes for gut/nylon loop over chromium-plated end button.

 

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