Early Fairbanks & Cole


ca. 1881

© Luke Mercier, 2005; Photos by LM

Click image to enlarge

Hear this banjo Lost Indian played by Luke Mercier


Some words:

This Imperial has been a prize in my own personal poorman's banjo collection for the past couple of years and it is now time to pass it on to its next custodian. This banjo is in the same state as it was when I acquired it. This description is done to the best of my somewhat limited knowledge of Fairbanks & Cole banjos. I have listed its features and measurements as accurately as possible and have also outlined (in my opinion) what I believe to be original and not original.

It is your responsibility to do your own research!!!


This beautiful 'V' neck with its sawcut inlays and classic boat-shaped heel bearing the ser. # 6101 is from a later period than the body which places it ca. 1886. My sources have led me to believe that it was not unlikely for necks and bodies to be mismatched during the F & C era therefore I have no reason to believe that the neck and body do not belong together.

The dowel is branded with the Fairbanks & Cole, Makers Boston, Mass. stamp with Imperial on either side. The distance from the back of the nut to the rim is 17 3/4" and 17 9/16" to the tension hoop. Width at the nut is 1 1/4" or 32mm. There are 22 frets in total and the first 3 have been replaced with room for adjustment. The bone nut is not the original.

The neck attachment I believe is not original but a brass replacement.

The ebony faceplate and backstrapping are in my opinion original and have sustained no cracks.


The early sawcut inlays are all very clean. I suspect that a few may not be original however, to be perfectly honest I'm not really sure. All are very well seated; there are no loose bits.

Neck Thickness:

(23mm at nut, and 27.2mm at 12th fret position)
The overall string length from nut to bridge is 26"

Entire length of the banjo is 34 1/2"


This is a very classy and slim old half-spun pot bearing the ser. #878 which places it ca. 1881. It measures 11 1/2" across the back and is 1 7/8" deep. It is 5/16" thick, constructed from four plys with absolutely no vineer separation. The finish is grey-black. It is perfect!


This rim has Fairbanks Electric style shoes and I am unsure about the brackets and nuts being original. I suspect that this banjo may originally have had double-pointed shoes with a different style nut, possibly square however, time was clearly spent in adapting its current nuts to suit the depth of the rim. They are open barrel type with some honest wear and scuffs.

Exact reproduction hardware could be had to make this beauty more complete.

The bolts that secure the shoes are modern exact reproductions that don't get any better.

The grooved tension band I feel to be original.

Setup and Sound:

This banjo is strung in nylon with good positive tension.
The current bridge is a 1/2" Grover but should be changed to a 5/8" traditional style Fairbanks minstrel bridge in order to provide more clearance over the fingerboard extension.

The tailpiece is one of my own reproduction castings in eurethane casting resin. Regrettably it looks quite dirty but is still very functional.

More than just a plunk!


More information about Luke Mercier Handmade Banjos