Visit Sidewinder 5th String Capo

 All Forums
 Other Banjo-Related Topics
 Other Banjo-Related Topics: Clawhammer/Old-Time
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: A Scale Banjo for Clawhammer Old Time?


Please note this is an archived topic, so it is locked and unable to be replied to. You may, however, start a new topic and refer to this topic with a link.

Page: 1  2  

BillyTweed - Posted - 01/02/2010:  14:02:34


Is an A scale banjo appropriate for playing old-time music? My understanding is that it's same as a "standard" banjo, but with a shorter scale length and tuned one step higher. I read somewhere that lots of fiddle tunes are in A and D, but I don't know if old time players consider this banjo "kosher" or not.

I'm just starting out on banjo and learning clawhammer style. I like old time music, but my definition of old-time is probably broader than some on this site. I like my old time with a country flair, not so much folky.

Anyway, I'm about to buy a banjo and could sure use some help making sure I don't paint myself into a corner (or get snarky looks when I show up with the "wrong" kind of banjo).

All comments and suggestions welcome. Thanks.



biscuit joiner - Posted - 01/02/2010:  14:35:20


I love A scale banjos. In the group I play with I can use it for 90% of the tunes, since we have fiddlers whose tunes are often in A and D.

If this is your only banjo, though, you're out of luck if anything in G comes up. Since you can always use a capo, a standard scale banjo will cover all the bases.

And don't worry about it not being 'kosher', I can't imagine anyone looking down their nose at an A scale. If they did I'd guess they may not be all that much fun to play with anyway.

banjers51 - Posted - 01/02/2010:  14:38:09


I can't imagine anyone giving you grief for playing an A-scale instrument. To some players they represent a very practical solution, given the fact that so many tunes are played in A or D. And, as long as the scale length isn't too short, you can always tune down a whole step for those moments when the group wants to shift into G and/or C. Quite a few of those who endorse these shorter scale instruments also like to point out the tonal advantage that comes from avoiding using a capo, since the strings vibrate a bit more freely. On the other hand, with the current popularity of 25.5" scale banjos, I would argue that there isn't that much need to purchase/own a true A-scale instrument, since the former can just as easily be tuned up to A/D and left there without causing any undue strain. Of course, if you have small hands, this becomes a very different conversation, since an A-scale instrument can be very beneficial to those with less reach.

Banjers51

RWJones1970 - Posted - 01/02/2010:  14:55:26


*** My only banjo is an A-scale Reiter Galax and it is tuned in G. Bart told me when I purchased this instrument that I can tune it in G and capo to A if I need to. I am currently having Wyatt Fawley build me a short scale reproduction Vega neck for a Vega WL pot. Here is a picture of my Reiter if you care to have a looksee.... I love A-scale banjos !

http://www.banjohangout.ws/banjohan...61842009.jpg


Edited by - RWJones1970 on 01/02/2010 15:57:10

oldwoodchuckb - Posted - 01/02/2010:  15:35:49


A scales were essentially re-invented for old time. The roughly 24 inch scale is jes'fine for either G or A tuning - although some will argue otherwise, and by the same token the 25.5 - 26.4 scale length can go up to A as well as G.

The real drawback to having a banjo tuned for A and D is that of the G jam. Tuning all 5 strings down changes the tension on the neck enough that is can take a while for the neck to settle down, and you might have to re-tune a couple times in the first few minutes. No major problem for most of us. I use a G tuning (Old G) that only has 2 strings different from my D tuning so it is almost no problem at all for me. Take a gander at Rocket Science Banjo
http://www.rocketsciencebanjo.com
It is a free download and has many tunes written out in the Old G tuning I use AND in the standard G tuning.
There is also plenty of advice and techniques for clawhammer banjo and videos of the basic strokes.

I now have a blog and the latest article is on jamming and jam ettiquette. It is at:
http://rocketsciencebanjonews.blogspot.com/


Edited by - oldwoodchuckb on 01/02/2010 15:37:37

chip arnold - Posted - 01/02/2010:  15:35:53


There's no worry over tuning an A scale banjo down to G or C. People do it all the time. If I had the $ I'd have OME build me an A scale neck for my Juggernaut. I capo to A & D from G & C and I like the shorter reach very much. Even shorter would suit me fine. I also like the slacker feel of the capoed strings as compared to tuning up to A & D.

biscuit joiner - Posted - 01/02/2010:  15:53:47


quote:
Originally posted by biscuit joiner

If this is your only banjo, though, you're out of luck if anything in G comes up. Since you can always use a capo, a standard scale banjo will cover all the bases.



I could have been clearer here--yes, you can tune an A scale down to G if needed, but like OWC pointed out, it's a little fussier than capo-ing a G scale up to A.

Even having said that, if I could own only 1 banjo it'd be an A scale.

R.D. Lunceford - Posted - 01/02/2010:  16:29:24


I keep my A-scale Reiter tuned to G with no problem.

There were lots of old vintage banjos around with short-scales:
Ladies' banjos, etc., so they've always been around. The short scale
with an 11" pot makes them really comfortable to play.

If you're attracted to an A-scale, I wouldn't hesitate.

banjo bill-e - Posted - 01/02/2010:  16:38:15


I hate capos and very much want an A-scale banjo. If not for the "new economic reality" we all are enjoying, I would own one by now.

Brooklynbanjoboy - Posted - 01/02/2010:  16:42:59


I have switched to 25.5 inch scale banjos. I love them. I've never felt comfortable playing a capoed banjo. I sense a lot of distortion, and it changes my sense of the fingerboard. But at least one of the builders of my several 25.5 inch scale banjos has said better to use the spike for at least the fifth string. And while they do tune up to A, much more easily than my 26+ inch scale banjos, there's still a bit more tension on the strings than A scale banjos I have played. So I'm aiming to get me an A scale as my "gold watch", 9 months from now, when I retire from the USG. Now begins the thrill of the hunt.

Take care,

Lew

Cottonmouth - Posted - 01/02/2010:  17:16:24


Did someone infer that you can't play in the key of G on an A scale banjo without retuning? Please tell me why not.

chip arnold - Posted - 01/02/2010:  17:42:12


Cotton, I don't think anyone said that. The comment had to do with tuning down to open G and the poster has clarified his meaning.

RWJones1970 - Posted - 01/02/2010:  18:08:12


*** Lew, so your in the hunt for an A-scale ? If I had an extra $3000 right now I would be seeking Jason Burns, Jason Romero, or Chuck Lee to build me a super beauty custom A-scale. Have fun creating your dream "gold-watch" banjo !


Edited by - RWJones1970 on 01/02/2010 18:08:49

BillyTweed - Posted - 01/02/2010:  20:10:36


Wow. Thanks everybody for the great input. Given what you've all said, I think I'll go forward with buying the Reiter A Scale banjo.

I don't see tuning down to G when needed as a problem, but more of a welcome challenge. I play guitar, bass, and I'm learning mandolin, and I feel that whatever instrument I play, being able to tune (and re-tune) it properly is the most important thing. If we're not in tune, then no matter how good we play, we don't sound that good.

I've heard all the jokes about banjo tuning, and I can see in the few weeks that I've been playing, it's a different animal than tuning a guitar. But I also find mandolin tuning to be a challenge because each pair of strings has to be perfectly in tune with each other AND then you have to get all the courses in tune with each other.

Anyway, thanks again for all the comments. One thing is very clear, the banjo players on this site are very passionate about their instruments and willing to share their experience with beginners who hardly know which end of the banjo is which. You guys are fantastic!

rudy - Posted - 01/03/2010:  08:30:13


R.D. or others,
Can someone post the actual scale length of Bart Rieter's A scale? I'm just starting on a neck for my just completed 12" pot and I'm thinking 24-1/2" scale with 17" of neck from nut to heel. That will put the bridge at 60% of the distance from heel to tailpiece. This will be a nylgut flush fret banjo.
TRhanks!

BillyTweed - Posted - 01/03/2010:  09:23:25


For some reason, Reiter doesn't list the A Scale model on his website so I couldn't check it out there. Elderly Music's website says the scale length is 24 3/4", but I did notice that their posted scale length for Reiter's standard banjo disagreed by 1/16" from what I saw on Reiter's website, reiterbanjos.com.

You could contact Bart Reiter at banjobart@aol.com and ask him, I suppose, if you need the exact measurement.

biscuit joiner - Posted - 01/03/2010:  09:26:39


quote:
Originally posted by rudy

R.D. or others,
Can someone post the actual scale length of Bart Rieter's A scale? I'm just starting on a neck for my just completed 12" pot and I'm thinking 24-1/2" scale with 17" of neck from nut to heel. That will put the bridge at 60% of the distance from heel to tailpiece. This will be a nylgut flush fret banjo.
TRhanks!




I don't have one in front of me but Elderly says they are 24.75", which seems long to me, but then again his G scale is long fro my taste at 26.25".

My A scale is 23.25", but it uses a 10 1/16" pot.

I'd be interested to hear what others' A scale banjos measure, since there's obviously a good deal of variation.

edit: that crazy monkey beat me to it


Edited by - biscuit joiner on 01/03/2010 09:27:53

Bisbonian - Posted - 01/03/2010:  09:37:17


I make mountain banjos in the Frank Proffitt style, with a 25.5 inch scale length. They tune quite easily to either A or G (and Double D or Double C). I made a gourd banjo with neck dimensions patterned after a Bowlin 1865, and it has a 24 inch scale. My only fretted banjo is an 1889 S. S. Stewart American Princess, and it has a 24 3/8" scale length...normally an A scale, but also quite playable in G. In fact, I guess I don't have a "normal" scale length (26+") banjo at all! I just love the versatility of the A scalers, and don't much like capos. I get only positive interest in them at jams.


Edited by - Bisbonian on 01/03/2010 09:38:29

Cottonmouth - Posted - 01/03/2010:  12:54:29


biscuit joiner, both of my banjos are short-scale. My '22 Tu-ba-phone pot is 10-1/8" with a Wyatt Fawley 24-1/2" scale neck. Wyatt has built two of these for me since '97. The other banjo has an 11" pot (Dan Pennington) with a 22-7/8" scale neck by Roy Smith.

RWJones1970 - Posted - 01/04/2010:  15:11:44


*** All this talk about A-scale banjos is making me want to see some pictures. I think we should further carry on this discussion by showing off your current A-scale!

BillyTweed - Posted - 01/04/2010:  17:27:33


I would be happy to provide a picture, but I don't have anything uploaded to a website and my understanding is that's the only way to get them linked into a post.

I'll try linking to one of Elderly's website pictures of the Reiter A Scale, but not sure if that will work.




Edited by - BillyTweed on 01/04/2010 17:29:46

BillyTweed - Posted - 01/04/2010:  17:28:46


Woo hoo. It worked.

biscuit joiner - Posted - 01/04/2010:  18:38:41


quote:
Originally posted by Cottonmouth

biscuit joiner, both of my banjos are short-scale. My '22 Tu-ba-phone pot is 10-1/8" with a Wyatt Fawley 24-1/2" scale neck. Wyatt has built two of these for me since '97. The other banjo has an 11" pot (Dan Pennington) with a 22-7/8" scale neck by Roy Smith.



Ken, do you prefer one scale length over the other? I wonder at what point a large-handed player (like me) would find the scale too short...

Cottonmouth - Posted - 01/04/2010:  19:57:52


Yes Sir, I am playing the shorter of the two more often, due to arthritis in my left hand and shoulder problems, as well. Other than that, I don't think it would matter at all, as both instruments are a joy to play. I don't think large hands or fingers would be a problem as long as the string spacing is normal (or extra narrow necks).

Bisbonian - Posted - 01/04/2010:  22:28:32


25.5" scale , A/G scale mountain banjo:

Bisbonian - Posted - 01/04/2010:  22:30:10


24.375" scale, A scale S. S. Stewart American Princess ladies banjo, 10 inch pot:

RWJones1970 - Posted - 01/06/2010:  06:04:15


*** Those pictures are excellent.... Thanks! That mountain banjo and SS Stewart are sweet! Anyone else?


Edited by - RWJones1970 on 01/06/2010 06:05:50

jbalch - Posted - 01/06/2010:  06:42:32


These are not new pictures...I know you have seen them before. They are some of the short-scale banjos I've owned and/or traded over the years. I'll post them again here for the discussion:

Fancy 1994 Reiter custom Grand Concert A-scale:



And a very nice Lo Gordon/ Cedar Mountain A-scale which belongs to my friend David Emery:


24" scale Bay State 300:



24" scale SS Stewart Grade 2:


This Jeff Menzies tackhead was custom-made with a short neck. The scale is 24" with the bridge in the center of the 13" rim:


Edited by - jbalch on 01/06/2010 07:01:24

RWJones1970 - Posted - 01/06/2010:  09:10:43


*** Thanks for the pictures John ! I love that Reiter most of all but that Cedar Mountain is a beauty too. Does that CM have a rolled brass tone ring?

farmer bob - Posted - 01/06/2010:  09:23:09


I would go with a short scale neck and keep the instrument as a dedicated A banjo...I know you can tune a G neck up to A but it does put a lot of unnecessary tension on the instrument. I'm planning to build a true A scale instrument this year with a scale in the 23"+ range. I got another G scale nylon banjo and a double neck mountain dulcimer to do first...Bob.

jbalch - Posted - 01/06/2010:  09:39:21


The Cedar Mountain is a Foothills model with a beautiful rosewood, block, tone rim (no tone ring).

I think the scale length is 24 5/8" ... about the same as Bart Reiter's (24 3/4") A-scale. Lo also makes a shorter 22 3/8" L model that he sells as a true A-scale.

A few months ago, I set this Cedar Mountain banjo up for David with a vellum-processed calfskin head from Bill Miller. I played it again at David's home over the recent holidays. WOW... the sound is big and wide. The tone is amazing. It sounds as good as it looks!

steelhead - Posted - 01/06/2010:  10:24:59


John, did the Cedar Mountain have gut strings or steel? I'm curious because I've thought about setting up my Lo Gordon "Appalachian" with a skin head.

jbalch - Posted - 01/06/2010:  13:17:19


David's Cedar mountain is set up with steel strings...but it would sound great with gut or nylon. I'm not sure if he has ever strung it with anything other than steel. he is a BHO member. I'll ask...

JB

DEmery - Posted - 01/06/2010:  13:37:26


John I have not set the Lo Gordon Cedar Mt. banjo up with gut; but like you said above...it would perform nicely if gut was installed. As you saw over the holidays, my ebony banjo built by Dan Knowles is strung with Nygut and it is powerful. While the Cedar Mt. banjo doesn't kick like the 12" pot ebony banjo, all signes are it would project a strong, round tone. My SS Stewart Thorough Bred is strong with gut so the Cedar Mt. would without doubt be fun if (maybe at this point the question is when) strung in Nygut. David

tfaux - Posted - 01/06/2010:  15:23:34


Bisbonian, your picture inspired me to find my camera.
A 1896 S.S. Stewart American Princess with roughly a 24" scale. This one still has the cute little ivory bauble on the tailpiece but the original pegs are long gone & it now sports a more functional set of Peghead tuners.

Tom

jbalch - Posted - 01/07/2010:  04:50:22


Tom:

That is a very nice looking SSS American Princess. I really like the original Stewart common sense tailpiece with the ivory rosette. Those are nearly impossible to find (if you need one for resoration).

image from www.mugwumps.com"

tfaux - Posted - 01/07/2010:  07:19:21


Thanks John, it's a plunky little banjo, and very comfortable to play.
The rosette seems an odd design choice to me, particularly for what was at the time a fairly low-end instrument. The tailpiece itself has a budget feel. This one has had to be re-soldered.

Not meaning to sidetrack the thread...


Tom

RWJones1970 - Posted - 01/07/2010:  12:46:48


*** It's a real treat for me to see pictures of other peoples A-scale banjos. Thanks!
More pictures, please !

Bisbonian - Posted - 01/07/2010:  18:27:16


Nice, tfaux! I love my Stewart. The picture I posted was from the advertisement when I bought it. It was sold on consignment, and was set up with steel strings (nooooo!), a misplaced Remo head, and the bridge completely in the wrong place. After I put a skin head on it, strung it with Nylguts, and tuned it up, I found I needed to place the bridge much farther South, as you have. Looks odd, sounds good.

jbalch, mine is missing the rosette, but I have heard that not all of the banjos came with it. Wyatt Fawley apparently makes them once in a while...I am patiently waiting for him to make one for me (nudge, nudge ;)

I recently purchased a 1928 Vega Style S (mandolin-banjo) Tubaphone. It has a 10 1/8" rim, just about exactly like my Stewart. The plan is to carefully disassemble and save the mandolin bits, and build an A scale neck for it. I'll return with progress photos...might be quite a while.

jbalch - Posted - 01/08/2010:  04:23:37


quote:
Originally posted by Bisbonian


jbalch, mine is missing the rosette, but I have heard that not all of the banjos came with it. Wyatt Fawley apparently makes them once in a while...I am patiently waiting for him to make one for me (nudge, nudge ;)



You are right. I think the rosettes only came on early banjos. Even the very fancy (later) Special Thoroughbreds usually did not have them.

Canadian builder Luke Mercier had an interest in reproducing them too (at one time). You migth contact him if interested.

JB

jbalch - Posted - 01/08/2010:  04:31:25


quote:
Originally posted by jbalch

quote:
Originally posted by Bisbonian


jbalch, mine is missing the rosette, but I have heard that not all of the banjos came with it. Wyatt Fawley apparently makes them once in a while...I am patiently waiting for him to make one for me (nudge, nudge ;)



You are right. I think the rosettes only came on early banjos. Even the very fancy (later) Special Thoroughbreds usually did not have them.

Canadian builder Luke Mercier had an interest in reproducing them too (at one time). I don't know if he pursued it.

JB

Brooklynbanjoboy - Posted - 01/08/2010:  05:02:53


Back to the A scale for a moment, as I begin to contemplate commissioning another banjo, an A scale this time, what should I be thinking about?

How many people put a 12 inch pot on an A scale banjo? How many prefer the smaller, 10+ inch diameter pots for this kind of banjo?

I've heard people talk about 24 inch scale, and 24.75 inch scale. How would you state your preferences?

How about intonation south on the fingerboard, is that compromised by scale?

Would an A scale banjo be more fittingly build as a fretless?

Just questions aimed at generating food for thought.

tfaux - Posted - 01/08/2010:  07:16:31


The 10" pot combined with Nyl-gut strings and short scale makes for a really comfortable little banjo.
I have several regular scale steel string banjos that I use when I'm playing with other people, gigging, etc, but at home playing solo or with just one other person I often prefer the little one. It plays fine up the neck, intonation and action-wise, and it sounds great--I don't think there's any reason that the intonation on a shorter scale instrument should be less accurate. The only drawback is that it doesn't really hold its own with other instruments, but that's part of its charm, and the set up obviously has a lot to do with that. A larger pot might have more low-end oomph.
You can hear the American Princess here:
http://www.banjohangout.ws/banjohan...81112009.mp3

Tom

biscuit joiner - Posted - 01/08/2010:  07:29:55


quote:
Originally posted by Brooklynbanjoboy

Back to the A scale for a moment, as I begin to contemplate commissioning another banjo, an A scale this time, what should I be thinking about?

How many people put a 12 inch pot on an A scale banjo? How many prefer the smaller, 10+ inch diameter pots for this kind of banjo?

I've heard people talk about 24 inch scale, and 24.75 inch scale. How would you state your preferences?

How about intonation south on the fingerboard, is that compromised by scale?

Would an A scale banjo be more fittingly build as a fretless?

Just questions aimed at generating food for thought.



To my eye, an 11" pot is about the biggest that looks 'normal', but no one said you have be normal. The one I play has a 10 1/8" pot, but it feels a little small--my next one will be 11"

I haven't noticed intonation issues, but I will admit to spending 90% of my time north of the 7th fret.

As far as the scale itself, I've learned that the length is all over the place. For me, 24" is the longest I'd want, some are less than 23". The one I play seems just about perfect for me at 23.25", but I'd be curious to try shorter.

Cottonmouth - Posted - 01/08/2010:  08:15:53


Bisbonian, I have owned two Fairbanks-Vega 10-1/8" Tu-ba-phones (1910 & 1922), the latter rim came from a Style S mandolin banjo. Wyatt Fawley built 24-1/2" scale necks for both banjos which made them very enjoyable instruments. There are a few photos on my page for your perusal.

harvey - Posted - 01/08/2010:  10:22:44


A (well made) A-scale banjo will not have intonation problems. Correct intonation has nothing to do with the length of the neck, but with the correct positioning of the frets and the bridge.

jbalch - Posted - 01/08/2010:  10:45:07


Lew:

IMHO: 11" is a good size for an a-scale banjo rim. I think you lose a little something with rims much smaller than 11"

My 1994 Bart Reiter "true" a-scale is aprox: 23 3/8". It is made to be exactly the same as his standard scale banjo capoed at the 2nd fret.

As I've said before, Bart's current "A-scale" banjos are a little longer that the old "true A-scale" instruments he used to make. Bart told me that the slightly longer scale allows him to use an off-the-shelf truss rod rather than something custom-made.

I'm sure that 24"+/- scales are fine for A tuning. But IMHO something a bit shorter is ideal.





cathypknitting - Posted - 01/08/2010:  11:52:34


I recently had an A scale banjo built for me by Noel Booth. I absolutely love it! You don't have to worry about the capo getting in your way. It's a 11" pot and way louder than I expected it to be.

I have a regular scale Booth banjo with a 12" pot that I also adore. The low tones are absolutely incredible. I use it for G tunes, C tunes, and demented tunings. Without capo.



Noel Booth A scale banjo

   

Bisbonian - Posted - 01/08/2010:  14:58:40


quote:
Originally posted by Cottonmouth

Bisbonian, I have owned two Fairbanks-Vega 10-1/8" Tu-ba-phones (1910 & 1922), the latter rim came from a Style S mandolin banjo. Wyatt Fawley built 24-1/2" scale necks for both banjos which made them very enjoyable instruments. There are a few photos on my page for your perusal.



Thanks Cottonmouth. That's the same banjo as in your avatar, isn't it? Like you, I think this will be THE banjo. I've been looking for a Tu-Ba-Phone pot for a while :) I was scanning as much of the net as I could last night, looking for examples of such a conversion, and I came upon several examples of Wyatt Fawley's work. One was up over 26" on a 10 1/8 inch pot, and it looked pretty good, but I think right around 24 1/2" would be just about perfect. I'm pretty well stuck on the utility of an A scale banjo.

Did you save the mandolin neck? I wonder if it would be possible (or desirable) to re-use the dowel stick from mine. From what I have seen, Wyatt makes his own, but I sure like all those Fairbanks-Vega stamps all over it.


Edited by - Bisbonian on 01/08/2010 15:01:40

ELWOOD - Posted - 01/08/2010:  15:06:25


Sure enjoyed the baby pictures . the 24.5 scale is real good in appearence and performance I am having an A scale built on a 12 pot by builder Bill Van Horn at 24 inch scale the bridge ends up near the middle of the skin head. this is a good sounding formula ,as his mp3,s will show an example of the voice.


Edited by - ELWOOD on 01/09/2010 09:46:38



Ramsey 11 a scale/ Miller skin head

   

Page: 1  2  



Want to hide these Google ads? Join the Players Union!




You are not logged in.
Log In


Not a member? Create an Account (FREE!)



2166 BANJO LOVERS ONLINE

HOME | FORUMS | MEMBERS | MEDIA ARCHIVE | TABS & LESSONS | CLASSIFIEDS | REVIEWS | LINKS | CALENDAR | STORE | TERMS OF USE