Repair Shop Spot: Banjo Bulbs, Jigs & Clamps

Mike Runyon at Mass Street Music holding a 20s Gibson Mastertone banjo

This 1920s Gibson Mastertone had a little surprise inside when he took the resonator off.

Mike Runyon in the Mass Street Music Repair Shop has been working on this 20s Gibson Mastertone banjo, brought in by a nice couple who rediscovered it under a bed. They’re getting it fixed up for their granddaughter. Even after all this time, it only needs a set up. However, when Mike pulled off the resonator, he discovered two small light bulbs on the interior.

two light bulbs inside a banjo to keep skin head dry

No, it’s not a crazy lamp grandpa made, it’s a Gibson Mastertone!

Because most banjo heads long ago were made from skins, cooler weather and high humidity could really take a toll, cause the skin to ‘sag’ and the bridge might even come loose. Some players remedied this by attaching warming contraptions like these bulbs to keep the skin warm and dry. A cord came through between the resonator and the head to plug it in. Nifty. Mike is leaving the bulbs in place though the cord has long since been cut.

two bulbs in a banjo resonator

The two bulbs kept the skin head dry and kept if from shifting, sagging and generally causing musical havoc.


Jigs and clamps…this sweet mando was set up in a jig by Mike Horan who was doing some repairs on it. Often the shop will use jigs to hold things in place while working on another area of the instrument, or to hold something together while glue is drying. They have a million uses and look pretty swank too. Note the clamp on the back end.

jigs on a mandolin

Mike Horan was working on this mandolin and had it hunkered down in a jig, with a clamp on the back area, which was glued.


a guitar braced during repairs

One of my favorite sights in the shop is clamps! It’s like an exoskeleton when an instrument is fully clamped up. Here Mike (r) and Josh (l) are working together on a guitar.

And just because, here are a couple random shots from around the shop the other day….

guitars awaiting repair on a rack at Mass St Music

A baker’s rack of guitars awaiting or in process of repair


small banjos on a shelf at Mass Street Music repair shop

The back of Josh’s bench

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