1930 Super Orpheum 3 Tenor Banjo

Most banjo manufacturers of the 1920s would gladly build instruments for any retailer or wholesaler who purchased a certain minimum quantity. Often, these off-brand banjos would be customized, frequently bearing the customer’s name and/or unique decorations. William Lange and his eponymous company operated this way, but there was one thing that set them apart from their competitors: Lange created and developed at least four in-house brand names that were sold through multiple retailers.

The company started out as Rettburg and Lange. They purchased the old J.H. Buckbee banjo company in 1897 and began construction of their own Orpheum brand of banjos around 1902. The Orpheum line was hugely successful and enabled the firm to grow over the next couple of decades; by the time William Lange acquired full control in 1922, it was one of the biggest banjo manufacturers in the country. The introduction of the Paramount line in 1921 revolutionized the tenor banjo, and for the rest of the decade, Lange was at the top of the market. The Orpheum line continued in production alongside the Paramounts, and by the middle of the decade it was joined by the Langstile and Triple X brands. Variations on existing banjo lines, the Super Paramount and Super Orpheum models, were also built simultaneously with their original counterparts.

Some of these new names indicated unique structural features. The Langstile line were an attempt to convey the Paramount sound and quality at a lower price, so most lacked resonators and geared tuners. Triple X banjos had a unique system of supporting the tone ring on hollow tubes installed through the rim, while the Super Paramount line had a secondary resonator. However, the Super Orpheum line remains something of an enigma. It upgraded the Orpheum design with long-scale necks and resonators, but kept the same tone ring and hardware. In effect, the Super Orpheums were identical to the Paramounts except for decoration and the name on the headstock.

The Super Orpheum line was introduced in 1924. It’s not known how long it lasted – information on Lange products is sketchy in the 1930s – but some have been recorded with very high serial numbers, suggesting that they were built until Lange ceased production in 1939. It’s also possible that they had a separate serial number system; the Super Paramount banjos certainly did. Super Orpheum banjos are relatively rare, indicating that not many were built. Most likely, the banjo-buying public simply opted for the more familiar Paramount name when purchasing an instrument.

Like the original Orpheum line, the Super Orpheums came in models 1, 2, 3 and 3 Special (other models may have been offered, but these are the ones I’ve verified). Most surviving specimens are of the lower-priced 1 and 2 models. This Super Orpheum 3 tenor is a remarkable display of rosewood – probably Indian rosewood, one of Lange’s favored woods – while the pearl inlay in the headstock recalls the original Orpheum banjos. This banjo features the usual Paramount adjustable-tension tailpiece and a common late-era Lange flange design. Assuming the serial number is from the same sequence as the Paramount line, the banjo dates to 1930.

 

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