A reader writes:
I just bought an Irish tenor banjo ( The Vernon-17 fret 1920's ) Does anyone know any thing about this banjo?
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As far as I know, which isn't much, a banjo company named Bruno distributed these, although they probably commissioned them from a factory they didn't own. They were designed for beginners, but the few that remain today and have been properly restored are said to have a good sound.
Your banjo would have been designed for Jazz (Ragtime) players. It would have been tuned like a viola. ADGC, counting from the skinniest string to the fattest. Many banjo players count from the fattest string so they would call it CDGA tuning. The original Jazz banjos were 22 frets and tuned like 5-string banjos without the fifth string (DBGC, counting from the smallest string to the fattest). When it became common in "Dixieland" style playing to play chords that included the melody on the top note, shorter-neck banjos became more common, because the complicated chords were easier to play. But that was too short to play the melody on some songs, so the neck went up to 19 frets and more-or-less standardized there.
In Ireland, where mandolin players retuned tenor banjos to mandolin tuning (an octave down), they played closer to the root position, so it didn't matter whether the banjo had 22, 17, or 19 frets. So the 17-fret banjo stayed popular there, after most Jazz players in the US had gone to 19-fret banjos. That's one reason folks assume that any 17-fret banjo they come across is an "Irish Tenor." But in the case of your banjo, the chronology's wrong - this seems to be a "Jazz-age" instrument that was originally built for folks in the US wanting to play the most popular tunes of the day.
Thanks for getting in touch. If I find anything else out, I'll let you know.
Best of luck,