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-   -   Your Thoughts On Open-Back Banjo Choices Welcomed! (https://www.acousticguitarforum.com/forums/showthread.php?t=467165)

SpruceTop 07-09-2021 09:58 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by pjheff (Post 6756443)
Hi Ken—

Thanks for the thoughtful reply! Do you find that these banjos — due to their different constructions — lend themselves to specific applications, accept alternate tunings, or handle certain material more successfully? How do you rotate your instruments or choose the right tool for the job?

Best,
Patrick

Hi Patrick.

Firstly, I'm only a lower-level, intermediate clawhammer player, and not an authority on banjos. Secondly, I really don't place my banjos into best-usage categories, except the Deering Sierra as its tone ring and resonator suit it well to Bluegrass. Being OCD--and proud of it!--the reason I have the banjos in my stable is that I wanted quality banjos with different styles of tone rings.

I don't know if you know the following but here goes, anyway. So, what does a tone ring do for a banjo's tone? For me, a tone ring can add more clarity and more volume to a banjo's tone over a plain wooden rim. In my experience, aside from a Dobson tone ring which does seem to add some audible metallic after tones, tone rings don't seem to "ring" as their brass or bell-brass construction might lead someone to believe. What they do is support the banjo's head and modify the transfer of vibration back and forth between the head and the rim which, as mentioned, can result in more tonal clarity and volume. What I find alters the tone more than most tone rings is the diameter of the banjo head and the scale length of the strings.

Now, let's talk about Bluegrass banjos and tone rings. My Deering Sierra has a Deering-06-20 flathead-style tone ring, The flathead style is the most used style tone ring in Bluegrass. The diameter of the flat-head tone ring is about the same diameter as the banjo's head/rim. Think Earl Scruggs and his Gibson flatheads. The other well-known style of Bluegrass tone ring is the arch-top tone ring which has a lower diameter the size of a banjo's head/rim but has a smaller-diameter upper ring that mainly supports the banjo's head. The archtop tone ring gives the banjo a piercing tone that cuts very well in a Bluegrass setting. Think Ralph Stanley and his Gibson archtops. Bluegrass tone tings are the heaviest tone rings, and frankly, that's why I hardly ever play my Deering Sierra Flathead as the tone ring, flange, and resonator add quite a bit of weight making this banjo weigh-in at over 11 lbs and uncomfortable in the lap when sitting. If I ever get into Bluegrass, though, I'm all set!

I invite other players to add to or correct any information I've provided in this comment.

pjheff 07-09-2021 12:40 PM

Hi Ken,

Thanks again for another thoughtful reply!

Quote:

Originally Posted by SpruceTop (Post 6760150)
Being OCD--and proud of it!--the reason I have the banjos in my stable is that I wanted quality banjos with different styles of tone rings.

Honestly, that approach seems as good as any for gaining experience and sussing out what works for you.

Quote:

Originally Posted by SpruceTop (Post 6760150)
For me, a tone ring can add more clarity and more volume to a banjo's tone over a plain wooden rim. In my experience, aside from a Dobson tone ring which does seem to add some audible metallic after tones, tone rings don't seem to "ring" as their brass or bell-brass construction might lead someone to believe. What they do is support the banjo's head and modify the transfer of vibration back and forth between the head and the rim which, as mentioned, can result in more tonal clarity and volume.

Eliminating the Dobson then, have you found any significant differences between your wood, brass, Whyte Laydie, and Tubaphone tone rings?

Quote:

Originally Posted by SpruceTop (Post 6760150)
What I find alters the tone more than most tone rings is the diameter of the banjo head and the scale length of the strings.

Do your findings jibe with conventional wisdom that 11” pots have more cut, 12” more depth, etc? What is your experience with different scale lengths and wood species?

Best,
Patrick

SpruceTop 08-12-2021 02:56 PM

I've canceled my order for an Ozark custom 5-string banjo and will get a refund on my $400 deposit. Perhaps, sometime, later on, I'll place another order for an Ozark.

Current Banjos:
Vega No. 2 Tubaphone
OME North Star Walnut
Eastman EBJ-WL1 Whyte Laydie
Vega 12" Old Tyme Wonder
Rickard 12" Maple Ridge Dobson
Pisgah 12" Walnut Tubaphone
Bart Reiter Regent Whyte Laydie
Deering Sierra Flathead Resonator

Rudy4 08-12-2021 04:28 PM

A good idea.

Much as I'm always pulling for the small shop builder, it's important not to make promises way outside of what you can realistically manage.

Maryc-k 08-14-2021 04:02 AM

I bought an OME Omega that a dealer had on order for quite a while. I’m not sure it gets any better than the Omega, but I also ended up with an 11” Tupelo they received at the same time.

I have a few “small builder” banjos, including two Seeders and one of Ryan Navy’s Carolina Banjos, but the only small builder banjo I have ordered was a Beansprout. Aaron Keim makes great instruments and he is very very very close on his delivery forecasts and times. He bought Wildwood’s machinery and some of their wood supply when they retired.

pegleghowell 08-14-2021 05:45 AM

I have a 1907 Clifford Essex Special XX with a Whyte Laydie tone ring.I`ve set it up with heavy Chris Sands strings and it`s killer for the old timey stuff.

SpruceTop 08-15-2021 09:32 AM

As related earlier, back in 2017, my Pisgah 12" Custom Walnut Tubaphone took only 5 weeks from ordering to receiving the banjo. That was in more "normal" times. To be fair with Ozark Banjos, my Ozark custom order's timeline has gone through the owners' marriage, the birth of their child, and the COVID-19 Pandemic. After a wait of 3-1/4 years, I was compelled to cancel my order. I wish Ozark Banjos All The Best!

Rudy4 08-16-2021 06:17 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by SpruceTop (Post 6786334)
As related earlier, back in 2017, my Pisgah 12" Custom Walnut Tubaphone took only 5 weeks from ordering to receiving the banjo. That was in more "normal" times. To be fair with Ozark Banjos, my Ozark custom order's timeline has gone through the owners' marriage, the birth of their child, and the COVID-19 Pandemic. After a wait of 3-1/4 years, I was compelled to cancel my order. I wish Ozark Banjos All The Best!

That would have been a substantial portion of the wait on a new Romero! :)

CosmicCowboy 08-23-2021 10:07 PM

The nicest open back banjo I've owned was a kind of frankenbanjo, namely a 30s tubaphone pot with a bart reiter neck. Unfortunately I had to sell it, but I made some recordings with it, if you want to hear the thing:



Man, did that banjo ring...

I also had a really nice (and much cheaper) Lyon and Healy 'ladies banjo' built in chicago in the 20s, which had a great old time sound and - yes, i'm going to say it - mojo.

Current banjo is a UK built 'shakelton' by the British Banjo Co. circa 2010 or something, now sadly defunct. Very low frills, but it does the job.

Another banjo worth mentioning (I've had a few) was another British built one by J.E.Dallas, circa 1920. It was also low frills and low weight, but packed a lot of punch for its size.

There were, surprisingly, quite a number of very good banjo makers in the UK in the early part of the 20th C, a lot of whom made instruments for export to the US. I'm sure many of them have already been mentioned, but it's worth keeping an eye open on ebay and the like, as they're mostly very well built and very affordable.

Anyway, I hope that's of some use to you. I won't spam the thread with videos of myself like some mad narcissist, but there are videos of all of the banjos I've mentioned above on my youtube channel if you're interested. Happy plunking!

Paul Roberts 08-24-2021 08:44 AM

Will start new topic instead of posting cello banjo here.

SpruceTop 09-06-2021 07:40 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by CosmicCowboy (Post 6792775)
The nicest open back banjo I've owned was a kind of frankenbanjo, namely a 30s tubaphone pot with a bart reiter neck. Unfortunately I had to sell it, but I made some recordings with it, if you want to hear the thing:



Man, did that banjo ring...

I also had a really nice (and much cheaper) Lyon and Healy 'ladies banjo' built in chicago in the 20s, which had a great old time sound and - yes, i'm going to say it - mojo.

Current banjo is a UK built 'shakelton' by the British Banjo Co. circa 2010 or something, now sadly defunct. Very low frills, but it does the job.

Another banjo worth mentioning (I've had a few) was another British built one by J.E.Dallas, circa 1920. It was also low frills and low weight, but packed a lot of punch for its size.

There were, surprisingly, quite a number of very good banjo makers in the UK in the early part of the 20th C, a lot of whom made instruments for export to the US. I'm sure many of them have already been mentioned, but it's worth keeping an eye open on ebay and the like, as they're mostly very well built and very affordable.

Anyway, I hope that's of some use to you. I won't spam the thread with videos of myself like some mad narcissist, but there are videos of all of the banjos I've mentioned above on my youtube channel if you're interested. Happy plunking!

Nice "Lost Indian" CosmicCowboy and your now-gone Frankenbanjo sounds wonderful!

SpruceTop 09-25-2021 01:14 PM

Now that I'm at the top of the Ozark banjo order queue, I've canceled my refund request and have finalized my banjo order. Now comes the wait!

SpruceTop 09-26-2021 02:15 PM

My Ozark Custom Banjo Build will be:

Cherry Pot & Neck
12” Pot
Ebony Fingerboard
Vega Headstock and Heel Shapes
S Frailing Scoop
Brass Hardware with Double-pointed Shoes
Rolled Brass Tone Ring
Fiberskyn Head
Man In Moon Headstock Inlay & Star Cascade Fingerboard Inlay
Ebony Pot Cap
Railroad Spikes 7th & 9th Frets
Superior Bump Hardshell Case (if available)

Rudy4 09-27-2021 03:58 PM

Scale length and nut width?
Two critical specifications for me...


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