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American Banjo Maker

Albert Conant (A C ) Fairbanks, a player and maker started making simple inexpensive 5-string Banjos in 1875.

He was born in 1852 in Sterling, Massachusetts and in 1880 he was living in Chelsea, Suffolk, Massachusetts with his wife Emma and son Curtis after whom one of his banjos was later named (The Curtis Electric). In 1880 A C Fairbanks joined forces with William A. Cole, a banjo player and teacher, for a partnership that was to last for another 10 years.

The company was Fairbanks & Cole. The models produced during this partnership were the Imperial, Expert and Clipper as higher grade instruments, and Class A (with 9 grades of finish), Standard, Champion and Acme as cheaper grades. The Clipper was later dropped from the range as too expensive

In 1883 David L. Day joined the company as an errand boy, and despite such humble beginnings, rose to become General Manager and is widely regarded as the one responsible for the successful design range of Fairbanks and Cole, Fairbanks and Vega banjos. David Day was born in 1865 in New Hampshire, although his father was born in Surinam, and was a porter in a carpet store. In 1880, they were living in Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts. It is likely that at 18, his first job was with Fairbanks. How he acquired a mastery of banjos is not known, but he would have learnt a lot from both Fairbanks and Cole.

After a disagreement with Cole, Fairbanks continued on his own as A.C.Fairbanks and Company in 1890 with Day staying as manager. Some time during the period 1890 to 1895, the Electric tone ring was designed, probably by Day rather than Fairbanks although Fairbanks had the patent. The range of banjos was Electric, Curtis Electric, Imperial Electric, Columbian, Senator, Special and Regent. Cole also went solo, producing his own banjos and the Eclipse tone ring. Fairbanks left the company in 1896. His name continued on the banjos, but Fairbanks was no longer part of the company. The company was run by David Cummings and Frank Lodge with Day as General Manager. In 1901, the Whyte-Laydie was introduced. It was an evolution of the Electric sharing the same tone ring and was a new banjo for a new century. The wood was unstained maple where all the other banjos were stained dark as was the fashion, and this gave it its name. It was available as No. 2 and No. 7 with light or heavy ornamentation.

In 1904, a fire razed the A.C.Fairbanks & Co building to the ground and the manufacturing rights were sold to the Vega Company. They started manufacturing and selling banjos under the A.C.Fairbanks label to add to their range of instruments.
(banjolin June 17, 2008)

See Also Vega