Man with The Banjo

Man with The Banjo
The secret life of famed banjo virtuoso Eddie Peabody

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Eddie Peabody Collection

A few of the many (Man with the Banjo’s) musical instruments
used in performances from the 1920s through the 1960s,
that are now on display at the National Music Museum in Vermillion, South Dakota.

These photos are of the Eddie Peabody model Vox V plectrum banjo manufactured by the Vega Company circa mid-1960s.  All metal hardware and fasteners on this instrument, inside and out, are gold plated. To my knowledge, this instrument was played publicly only once, on the Johnny Carson television special Sun City Scandals, which aired in December 1970.

This was a banjo my father assembled for me.  It was essentially a Vox IV manufactured by the Vega Company circa late 1950s.  All metal hardware and fasteners on this instrument, inside and out, are gold plated.  The resonator, covering the back of the instrument, was likely manufactured in the early 1930s and is engraved with the “Peabody” coat of arms.  A beautiful piece of artwork and a testimony to the craftsmanship of the day.

This is a mandocello,  sometimes referred to as a mandoloncello. It was manufactured by the Vega Company in the early 1920s.  There are four pairs of monotone strings that are tuned like a violin: in fifths.  This instrument was used in Vaudeville performances in the 1920s and in a 1927–28 film short with protégé at the time, Jimmy Maisel.

These are photos of the acoustical prototypes of the instrument my father called the banjoline.  He wanted to create an instrument made of wood that replicated the sound of a banjo with a violin mute placed on the banjo’s bridge.  There are six strings—octave fourth, monotone third, single first and second.  During a Vaudeville performance it was more expeditious to have someone handing him various stringed instruments. This was the beginning of the evolution of the Eddie Peabody model banjolene.

This is a photo of the first electric banjoline prototype manufactured by the Vega Company circa the mid-1950s.  My father and the producers at Dot Records wanted a different sound for the albums he was producing.  This instrument was used in the production of six of the thirteen albums he recorded for the Dot label.  Again, there are six strings, an octave fourth, a monotone third, and single first and second, along with two magnetic pickups and a vibrato arm.

In the early 1960s the Vega Company gave the patent for the electric banjoline to my father and it was picked up by the Fender Electric Guitar Company.  This is a photo of the prototype of the Fender manufactured electric banjolene which they produced until the company was sold to CBS. The patent was released and picked up by the Rickenbacker Electric Guitar Company.

This is a photo of the Rickenbacker prototype of the Eddie Peabody model electric banjoline which they began producing in the mid-1960s, and concludes the evolution of this musical instrument.


  1. George: My last visit with your dad was in Sept. 1970 in the Pacific Northwest and he played a Vegavox V on that tour. Don't know if it's the same one pictured. I saw him play three different banjolenes in the 1960's - one of the Vega prototypes, a Fender and the Rickenbacker - all fine instruments. For whatever reason, the Fender really caught my ear. Wonderful fellow that your dad was, he made it possible for me to get one of his Vegavox IV banjos that Larry Kellens had worked his magic on and in 1971, I purchased a Rickenbacker banjolene, both of which I continue to play to this day. Your dad was and always will be the greatest. Your mother was a terrific lady too. Thanks for posting these photos - most interesting! ...Johnny Thorson (Canada).

    1. Johnny:Thank you for your comments on dad and the collection. It's been awhile since I've come across the name Johnny Thorson. All the best to you and your family. You may be correct regarding the Pacific Northwest, but when on the road he usually took his trusty workhorse Vox-IV as was the case in November at Covington, Kentucky.
      Anyway, keep those cards and letters coming...did you like the book?
      Thank you again, Johnny.

    2. Hi George: It was so good to hear from you. I'm surprised you'd remember my name. I've read three or four "preview pages" of your book and it's absolutely fascinating. I've never bought anything over the net but I'll see if I can get somebody else to make the purchase.

      I have all the letters and showcards, etc. that your dad sent me from his travels on the road. So often he mentioned wishing he could spend more time at home with his family. I remember him referring to his favorite Vegavox IV as his "workhorse banjo".

      Cecile and I wish you and Carol all the best. I look forward to reading "Man With The Banjo"

      ...Johnny Thorson

  2. George, this is absolutley wonderful! I am proud to own and play your Dad's Vox 4 from his Lawerence Welk days, one which he sold to Eddie Collins, was sold to Skip Rosenthal (his student) who passed it on to me. It is my pride and joy and I have recorded an album with it saluting your Dad's inspirational musicianship. We have a site on Facebook called "Eddie Peabody Fan's Cellar" which has over 200 pictures - please come and join it, I will be honoured to have you there. In July I'm flying to St. Louis for a big banjo convention to meet with Johnny Thorson, bringing your Dad's banjo and celebrating his memory. It would be an excellent place to present your book.
    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and pictures with us.
    Best wishes,
    Sean Moyses

  3. Thank you, Sean, for your email...that's an interesting history for one VOX IV! I'll check out your Facebook site, Sean, and will get back to you regarding your invitation to the big banjo conclave. I apologize for my late reply...lots going on around this household the past two weeks.
    I thank you again,Sean, and will be in touch in the not-to-distant future.

  4. I have a ukulele with Eddie Peabody"s signature. It is an old Mossman ukulele from the 20's maybe. Email me at

    Aloha, Rick

  5. George, I have a very old banjo body with this written on the back of the head: From Eddie To "Bill"
    Eddie Peabody April 8th 1928
    Would you know who this "Bill" is? Could it be William "Bill" Johnson?
    Could it be Bill Lowery, a 4 year old kid at the time?
    thanks for any info, Mart

  6. My late wife and I saw Eddie Peabody in Fresno in May of 1959. I have always been a Peabody fan ever since my Dad gave me his 1916 Vega Little Wonder tenor banjo in the late 40s.

  7. My mother's cousin, John Secrist, played fiddle and/or guitar with Eddie Peabody in southern California (he lived in Long Beach). This would have been in the 1920's. He moved to northern California in 1927.