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  #1  
Old 08-30-2017, 10:43 PM
George Henry George Henry is offline
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Default In Search of the Old Time Banjo Tone

After having played guitar for 30 years and bluegrass banjo for 20 years, I became enamored with the sound of old time music and clawhammer banjo in particular. So I bought a Mike Ramsey Standard Chanterelle and set out. Little did I realize how different clawhammer was from three finger. I had great difficulty transitioning from up-picking to down picking!

Struggling with my slow progress, I went through a series of banjos. I traded the Chanterelle for a Ramsey Whyte Laydy, that for an old Tubaphone conversion, that for a Cedar Mountain, then a Bart Reiter. Although these were all excellent instruments, I was getting the sound I wanted.

During a vacation to Eugene, Oregon, I stumbled across an ancient banjo at McKenzie River Music. It bore no identication, but it was very pretty! I ended up buying it and only later identified my purchase. It turned out to be a Rettberg and Lange from approximately 1901-02. I later traded a guitar for an even older banjo, a Luscomb from 1893. Both these instruments sounded fundamentally different from the generic sounding banjo tones I had previously experienced in my banjos.

So I decided that my searching is over. I seem to be satisfied with what I own.
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Old 09-01-2017, 09:43 AM
SpruceTop SpruceTop is offline
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Originally Posted by George Henry View Post
After having played guitar for 30 years and bluegrass banjo for 20 years, I became enamored with the sound of old time music and clawhammer banjo in particular. So I bought a Mike Ramsey Standard Chanterelle and set out. Little did I realize how different clawhammer was from three finger. I had great difficulty transitioning from up-picking to down picking!

Struggling with my slow progress, I went through a series of banjos. I traded the Chanterelle for a Ramsey Whyte Laydy, that for an old Tubaphone conversion, that for a Cedar Mountain, then a Bart Reiter. Although these were all excellent instruments, I was getting the sound I wanted.

During a vacation to Eugene, Oregon, I stumbled across an ancient banjo at McKenzie River Music. It bore no identication, but it was very pretty! I ended up buying it and only later identified my purchase. It turned out to be a Rettberg and Lange from approximately 1901-02. I later traded a guitar for an even older banjo, a Luscomb from 1893. Both these instruments sounded fundamentally different from the generic sounding banjo tones I had previously experienced in my banjos.

So I decided that my searching is over. I seem to be satisfied with what I own.
Now, all you need to do is fit your old banjos with calf-skin heads, if they don't already have them, for an even more authentic old-timey tone.
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Old 09-03-2017, 10:30 PM
George Henry George Henry is offline
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They both have calf or goat skin heads. The Luscomb was a real bear to get a new head on. They built those things to very close tolerances!
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Old 09-04-2017, 06:37 AM
Rudy4 Rudy4 is offline
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They both have calf or goat skin heads. The Luscomb was a real bear to get a new head on. They built those things to very close tolerances!
The .010" calf skin from Stearns Tanning is said to work well with jos having a minimal clearance between the tension band and rim interface.
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Old 09-04-2017, 11:02 AM
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sweiss sweiss is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by George Henry View Post
After having played guitar for 30 years and bluegrass banjo for 20 years, I became enamored with the sound of old time music and clawhammer banjo in particular.................Little did I realize how different clawhammer was from three finger. I had great difficulty transitioning from up-picking to down picking!.............
Your story is my story too.

Coming from many years of guitar playing to clawhammer banjo was an incredibly difficult transition for me to make also. Fretting hand skills transfer directly to banjo, which helps, but the picking hand starts from square one learning a new skill that is totally foreign. Throw drop thumb into the mix and you suddenly remember what it feels like to be a beginner. It sucks!

But of course, as we already knew from learning guitar, there are no shortcuts, and, with a lot of persistence and work, we did it.

I've been playing a Deering Americana open back, but will likely upgrade one of these days. Glad you found your sound, though!
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Old 09-04-2017, 12:47 PM
George Henry George Henry is offline
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My right hand remains unorthodox to the "orthodox" clawhammer stylists in that my thumb insists on too much independence. Be that as it may, my sound would be at home on Round Peak. After all, I am a musical product of W. North Carolina.
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Old 09-05-2017, 05:41 PM
Swamp Yankee Swamp Yankee is online now
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They both have calf or goat skin heads. The Luscomb was a real bear to get a new head on. They built those things to very close tolerances!

The few S. S. Stewarts that passed through my hands were also built to close tolerances and I really had to wrestle the new vellum heads on them. One of them I gave up doing it the "right way" and pre stretched a head onto the rim with a big stainless steel hose clamp first, let it dry, then fitted the stretcher ring over it to finish the job.

I owned a whole lot of vintage and reproduction banjos at one point, with original and replica examples of tub-a-phones, whyte ladyes, silver bells, little wonders... all in both 11" and 12" rim sizes ....and my favorite of them all for that old time banjo sound was an early 20th century Bruno "Manhattan" which had a rolled brass ring held up and away from the wood of the rim on a series of posts. I should have kept it, but of course I had to sell it off to buy the next one.... :/
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Old 09-05-2017, 06:34 PM
Swamp Yankee Swamp Yankee is online now
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here's a link to the same banjo, same inlays, headstock tone ring...all the same, but sold under the name of the tone ring patent holder.

http://www.billsbanjos.com/Morrison2.htm
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Old 11-14-2017, 07:01 AM
The Bard Rocks The Bard Rocks is offline
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Default sounding old

I have a couple of banjeaurines, big calfskin head, shorter neck, tuned in open C w/the equivalent of gut strings. My partner said "Everything you play on them sounds old". And they can be heard, too.
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Old 11-15-2017, 02:44 AM
darylcrisp darylcrisp is offline
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George
don't know if you are aware of Bob Smakula in West Virginia, but keep an eye on his website. Bob and his small crew have a continuous flow of old instruments thru the shop, they rebuild and rework them, then send them out better than new. His prices are extremely reasonable.

http://www.smakula.com/
I picked up a 1928 Vega Little Wonder with a Wyatt Fawley neck, and its simply wonderful.
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Old 11-16-2017, 09:59 AM
Swamp Yankee Swamp Yankee is online now
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Originally Posted by darylcrisp View Post
George
don't know if you are aware of Bob Smakula in West Virginia, but keep an eye on his website. Bob and his small crew have a continuous flow of old instruments thru the shop, they rebuild and rework them, then send them out better than new. His prices are extremely reasonable.

http://www.smakula.com/
I picked up a 1928 Vega Little Wonder with a Wyatt Fawley neck, and its simply wonderful.
Wyatt Fawley makes some excellent Vega repro necks - or at least he used to...is he still working?

I had an old Vega tu-ba-phone tenor conversion with one of his necks - all out inlays, gryphon head stock....wonderful workmanship.
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Old 11-17-2017, 10:18 AM
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I went down the OT banjer rabbit hole for a while - but my penchant was for minstrel-style so I was acquiring fretless (nyl)gut-strung. As a classical/flamenco player i have affinity for nylon, and downstroking has affinity with flamenco too.
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Old 11-17-2017, 10:33 AM
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William Lange was sort of the "Lloyd Loar" of banjos.

I have a 20's Slingerland 17 fret tenor I fool with. Keep thinking I might like to get a Gibson Trapdoor tenor one of these days. I've been seriously tempted by a William Lange White Swan tenor, sort of the White Falcon of tenor banjos.

Last edited by HHP; 11-17-2017 at 10:40 AM.
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Old 11-17-2017, 05:13 PM
Swamp Yankee Swamp Yankee is online now
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I went down the OT banjer rabbit hole for a while - but my penchant was for minstrel-style so I was acquiring fretless (nyl)gut-strung. As a classical/flamenco player i have affinity for nylon, and downstroking has affinity with flamenco too.
I had a Bob Flesher "Mountain Boomer" 14" pot, hide head, nylgut strung fretless...that banjer was a HOOT

I've still got a fretless, it was one of Jason Mogi's first efforts - built on a Remo hand drum with a Renaissance head. Doesn't get much play time, but I take it out every once in a while.
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