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Tubaphone no 3 front


Vega front


In 1889 in Boston, Mass. Julian Nelson and his brother Carl, with two skilled musical instrument makers named John Pahn and John Sweson, formed a small company for the making of guitars.


 Calling themselves The Vega Company, Julian and the two Johns started to produce some high quality guitars in their one roomed “factory”.  Carl took no active part in production ; he was merely the financial adviser (book keeper) in the beginning.


Business prospered and kept the three craftsmen busy but for some years Vega guitars were only known in and around Boston.  


Julian Nelson was an expert on woods and was always responsible for the selection and purchase of the quality timbers that went into the making of Vega instruments.  (He died on 14th July 1920 at the age of 51 but his insistence on only the best woods for Vega instruments, was a legacy he left behind him).


After a few years Julian and Carl Nelson purchased the controlling interest of the other two partners and Carl entered the firm as full-time financial adviser and a move was made to larger premises on one of the waterfront streets in Boston.  To cope with the fast increasing demand for Vega Instruments a number of workmen were added to the pay roll and several wood working machines installed.


In addition to guitars the Vega Company now started to make mandolins, which were fast becoming popular in the USA.  With Mandolin Clubs (orchestras) being formed everywhere in America the name of Vega started to become known from the East Coast to California.


The demand for Vega guitars and mandolins continued to grow apace and soon the company had outgrown its small factory.  Having in mind the future development of the company, in 1908 the two brothers Nelson bought the Standard Band Instrument Company (?)  from Thompson & Odell  (the music publishers and importers) who, incidentally, had originally acquired the firm and its factory about 1880 from Quimby Brothers and DC Hall (its founders) who were the first instrument makers of any note in Boston.


This was the first expansion which made it possible for the Vega Company to sell goods other than those they actually made.   (It is interesting to note that this remains the status quo to this very day {1967})


The Vega plant was moved into the spacious Standard Co factory at 62 Sudbury Street where, with the additional machines and up-to-date facilities they remained until June 1917 when they moved to even larger premises at 155 Columbus Avenue.


In 1904 the premises of AC Fairbanks & co in Washington Street was destroyed by fire. These makers of high class banjos were held in high esteem by banjoists.  The firm at this time was owned by Messrs Dodge & Cummings but the affairs of the company had been in the capable hands of David L Day, a name regarded with respect throughout the whole banjo world.


The Vega Co. was offered the trading name and salvaged plant of Fairbanks and with their purchase Vega added the making of banjos to their growing activities.  David L Day was taken into the Vega company assuming managerial duties in the firms new banjo department.  From the Fairbanks company Vega also acquired some of the skilled banjo makers and, perhaps more importantly, the services of Herbert J Fandel , who started with the Fairbanks company in 1889 and was to play an important part in the design and promotion of Vega banjos.


When the Vega company became a fully-fledged corporation under the incorporating laws of the state of Massachusetts, David Day was elect Secretary of the company.  With the acquisition of the Fairbanks Company Vega not only started to make banjos with their own name but also continued to market the Fairbanks products.  For a time they used both names as trading companies: the Fairbanks Company being at 63 Sudbury Street and the Vega Company at 62.  All models in the Fairbanks range were also available as Vega instruments.  In addition to supervising the banjo making part of the factory David Day was “on the road” selling these high class instruments.


In 1908 the Fairbanks “Whyte Laydie” was redesigned by David Day and a year later Vega produced the famous “Tu-ba-phone” banjos, both of which were revolutionary in design.


Under the management of Carl Nelson (Treasurer) Julian Nelson (President and Factory Superintendent) and David Day (Secretary and Sales Manager) the new Vega company grew in size and prestige.  When he dance band boom started Vega instruments were eagerly sought by players everywhere and the company was hard put to it to keep up with the unprecedented demand.


Here it might be mentioned that in 1918 the company made the special extra-large hoop banjos with low G fifth string used by Brent Hayes in all his world tours.


In 1920 the factory was turning out eight models which ranged from the cheapest to the dearest: “Senator”, “Regent”, “Imperial Electric”, Whyte Laydie No. 2”, “Whyte Laydie No. 7”, “Tu-ba-phone No. 3”, “Tu-ba-phone No. 9” and the “Tu-ba-Phone Delux”, the latter three having 11” hoops and the others 10 ¾”.


In 1922, after an active business association with the form for eighteen years David Day resigned his position with the Vega company to become Vice-President and general Manager of the Bacon Banjo Company.  “Bert” Fandel replaced Day as Sales Manager and his high standards of instrument perfection did much to further the booming sales of Vega tenor-banjos and plectrum-banjos at that time.  It was under his aegis (with Julian Nelson having passed away 3 years earlier)  that in 1923 Vega re-designed most of their banjos and, in 1927, in addition, produced its “Vegaphone” model and, in 1927, its revolutionary “Vegavox”.  A modern version of an old ideas in banjo construction which found favour with many solo and orchestra players.


The discontinued banjo production when the USA entered WWII but recommenced production in the late 1960’s and continue to make a full range of banjos, including long necked “folk” banjos and models in the style of the pre-war  “Vegavox” Instruments.  


The Vega Co., Inc. is now (1967) located at 40 Leon Street Boston,  Mass. USA.  


Pictures courtesy of Steve Prior

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