In 1897 Messrs Rettburg and Lange took over the factory and banjo making plant of JH Buckbee and established a factory at 383 Second Avenue, New York City. By 1903 they had moved to 115-121 East 13th Street and from this address in 1908 they announced the production of their “Orpheum” range of banjos. Three years later they were able to announce that increasing business had made then seek even larger premises at 225-227 East 24th Street.
In January 1915 they advertised their “Brass Band Orpheum” – an new banjo with 29 frets (to high G) . The neck on this instrument was joined to the hoop at the 20th fret with a fret board extension over the velum carrying the extra 9 frets.
July 1918 saw the debut of the “Orpheum Plectrum banjo” and a new 5 string with a long fifth string tuned to an octave below the third string (this banjo was similar to the Vega banjo Brent Hayes had played for some years).
It was in August 1920 that the company was granted a US patent for its new “Paramount” banjo and this new instrument (designed by William L Lange) made its first appearance in 1921. In 1922 William took over sole control of the company and changed the title to Wm L Lange. In September of that year he announced (as “successor to Rettberg & Lange) six styles of the “Paramount” banjos.
“Paramount” banjos became world famous and were much sought after by all the leading dance-band players. The five spacious floors at East 24th Street accommodated over 250 workers making banjos and included its own plating shop. It was during this period that Wm D Bowen tested all banjos leaving the factory.
In November 1922 Lange made what was said to be the World’s largest banjo. It was for the Paul Whiteman orchestra and is said to have cost $500. The instrument weighed 35 pounds and was five feet long. The hoop was 24” in diameter and the neck 3 feet long and was playable!
In the early part of 1925 the Lange factory bought out a cheaper model instrument with the name of “Langstile” and this incorporated a resonator made of metal and mahogany. Such was the demand for this cheaper instrument that it was produced at a second factory located in Brooklyn where instruments (notably the “Challenger” and the “Artcraft” range) were also made for other manufacturers and retailers to sell. All manufacturing ceased in 1939.
The Challenger Melody King and the Challenger Victory were both manufacctured by William Lange the builder of Paramounts, Orpheums, Langstiles, Langecraft, Broadcraft and many more for various stores. The Melody King model was a bottom end professional level model which sold for $135 in the late 20's, $5 more than a Paramount A. Langstile Tenor models, sometimes with a Supertone name were made for Sears by Lange.
Images courtesy of Vincent Hadus