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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Aluminium banjo pots


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bearbear - Posted - 07/29/2010:  07:50:27


I have a Sears banjo that my mother in law has had under a bed for 50 years. It has an aluminium rim about 1/8" and is 11" dia. It has only 1 rod inside the pot. I was thinking about changing the head to skin getting some decent tuners a good bridge and good strings to get a nice old time sound. I've seen some high dollar banjos with aluminium rims around, so what could the difference be. The neck is good on this banjo as well.

banjered - Posted - 07/29/2010:  11:13:43


Gopherit!

vintagewells - Posted - 07/29/2010:  12:00:19


Check out the photos on my homepage. I find that aluminum rims have great potential to make interesting projects, and good sounding banjos. I haven't tried a hide head on one yet, but why not?
I have two, one probably as old as yours, and a newer one. The neck on the older is mahogany and has a fine straight grain. I stripped both down as I like to see the wood.
I have to say that I like to take them with me when I will be outdoors in the sun for hours and they do hold up well to the conditions.
I have the original(?) tuners as in the ones that were on them when I acquired them. One set is mismatched, and I have thought of replacing them but they work really well, even though they are mismatched. The thing stays in tune!
Before you replace the tuners, access how well they work, or don't work. Some of the cheapies back then are better than some of the mid range new ones.
But then that's my opinion.
Keep me posted on this project.
Lorna

banjered - Posted - 07/29/2010:  13:03:38


Me, Mr. Gopherit back again. My first banjo was and is an Iida that I bought for 50 bucks 20 plus years ago. It is an amazing solid banjo. The "cheap" open-geared guitar tuners never miss a lick. It's my kick around experiment-on-it banjo. Right now I keep is out in the garage where we have been banned. Though it gets way hotter than any banjo is supposed to be, it is always in tune when I pick it up. I have nylon strings on it so I won't be too loud and insult the superior musical tastes of those within hearing range. Its bluegrass neck is too narrow for my preference but what the hey. Frankenbanjo - yeah Gopherit! TC

mikehalloran - Posted - 07/29/2010:  14:04:10


Post some pics!

uncle.fogey - Posted - 07/29/2010:  14:24:02


I recently had an opportunity to work on a 60s ODE, which has an aluminum pot. It sounded great - it changed my thinking about aluminum for banjos. Aluminum is very sonorous, which, theoretically, makes it a good material for banjos, as long as you are searching for a good sound and not a slave to "Earl's sound", aluminum is wonderful, but it's a different set of qualities than brass or bronze.
The sonorous nature of aluminum tends to generate a ring with a lot of sustain (depending on setup) The very early Stewmac rims, back when they first started, are aluminum. There must be thousands of them floating around out there. I rarely see them on eBay, but they're out there.
The real beauty of an aluminum pot is that it's rim and tone ring all rolled up into one.

theonly1hardway - Posted - 07/30/2010:  07:06:01


I wouldn't take for my 2 ole stewmac aluminum pot arch top banjos. I don't think I'm ever going to sound like earl anyway....but I do sound alot like me!

Eastbaygeorge - Posted - 07/30/2010:  10:23:12


Regarding the comment about guitar tuners: I had nice conversation with Greg Deering at Grass Valley in June, and one of the many interesting things he said about banjos was, "The cheapest guitar tuners are better than the best planetary tuners. But you can't sell a good banjo with guitar tuners -- nobody will buy it." Greg's reasoning was that planetary have no intrinsic resistance to turning -- the tension screw controls that and has to be adjusted all the time. The guitar tuner has a "built in" resistance to to the worm gear, and stays where it is put.

I totally see his point, but when I think about putting guitar tuners on my banjos....ehh, it doesn't seem right somehow.

That's why I keep a little pair of pliers in my case pocket I guess.

mainejohn - Posted - 07/30/2010:  12:07:03


EBG said: " But you can't sell a good banjo with guitar tuners -- nobody will buy it." (I guess he was quoting Greg Deering)


...the exception being us old folkies who have them on our longnecks. If I were to buy a vintage Ode or another Vega longneck, I'd want it with Grover Rotomatics. Not only are they smooth as silk, our idols (Pete Seeger, Dave Guard, et al) had them on their longnecks.

edit: sorry about the sidetrack, as the subject is "aluminum pots"


Edited by - mainejohn on 07/30/2010 16:38:48

uncle.fogey - Posted - 07/30/2010:  13:58:01


I have to agree with Mainejohn on this. I, too, have rotomatics on my Vega longneck, just like Dave Guard did, and they are VERY smooth and easy to use - never need any fooling around. 5-star planetaries, on the other hand, can be cantankerous.

dlc - Posted - 07/30/2010:  17:08:37


My first banjo - an Iida - had an aluminum body, and it's the banjo I played to win three state bluegrass association championships the first year I took up the instrument as a teenager.

But it took me awhile to get it adjusted - set up - so that I was satisfied with the tone and the playability.

Aluminum body banjos good learner instruments. There's almost no way for beginners to damage them while learning to adjust them.

Sometimes I kinda wish I still had my trusty old Iida.

gmo - Posted - 07/30/2010:  21:06:41


I recently put together a "knock-a-round" banjo built around a Saga aluminum pot from an rb-45 Rover to have laying around for whenever I wanted to pick and didn't feel getting one of my "heavyweights" out of the case - I could just reach over and grab the "knock-a-round" from off the chair by the couch ! This aluminum pot banjo has great sound and tone and fits the bill !! Three cheers for aluminum pot banjos !!
George

ssduke - Posted - 07/31/2010:  20:33:55


I've got an old aluminum-rim stew-mac kit banjo that I've always liked, and like even more since I put a skin head on it.

Deaf Lester Crawdad - Posted - 07/31/2010:  23:22:48


quote:
Originally posted by uncle.fogey

I recently had an opportunity to work on a 60s ODE, which has an aluminum pot. It sounded great - it changed my thinking about aluminum for banjos. Aluminum is very sonorous, which, theoretically, makes it a good material for banjos, as long as you are searching for a good sound and not a slave to "Earl's sound", aluminum is wonderful, but it's a different set of qualities than brass or bronze.
The sonorous nature of aluminum tends to generate a ring with a lot of sustain (depending on setup) The very early Stewmac rims, back when they first started, are aluminum. There must be thousands of them floating around out there. I rarely see them on eBay, but they're out there.
The real beauty of an aluminum pot is that it's rim and tone ring all rolled up into one.



Depends on the pot. (And the Maker.) Some of the early '60s Odes had not only a dural aluminum pot but also featured a cast-brass Mastertone-style tone ring that mounted on top of the metal pot.

My '63 (?) model 43B long-neck is one of these, and it's volume and clarity are outstanding -despite the fact that it's a real boat-anchor in terms of weight.

Only problem is that the notes are so easily heard that mistakes become painfully obvious to even the most casual listener...

~Pete

McUtsi - Posted - 08/02/2010:  01:08:17


A primer on aluminum alloys & grades,please..?..from "kitchen utensil" to...well,almost "bell like"...McUtsi

luvdat - Posted - 09/09/2010:  05:44:40


It's threads like this that make me glad I ordered a Rover RB-45P as my first banjo.

dflowers - Posted - 09/09/2010:  07:28:13


I, too have an old import with an aluminum pot. I am learning daily on it. While it may not be the RB250 that I desire, never the less, it is a 5 string banjo. I love it just the same. So, for all of you folks out there that are like me, all I can say is. Hold on to your dreams and someday, we will get better, for sure and someday, maybe, we will have that nice banjo with the wood rim and the cool tonering.

yumagah - Posted - 09/09/2010:  09:51:26


For many years I owned an Iida archtop with aluminum pot. I even replaced the head with a clear one to show off the aluminum archtop construction. Sold it a couple of years ago, but still have a picture which is attached. Its a funny coincidence just two days ago I was given an old Saga aluminum banjo that somebody found. A picture of it is posted in a separate thread here. The sound reminds me of my old Iida.

When I took up the instrument in the late 1970's, just about all the entry-level banjos were aluminum. It probably was the Deering Goodtime line that changed the market to how it is today. If a beginner doesn't want to spend at least 300 to 400 bucks for a starter instrument, aluminum is still the way to go.

About guitar-style tuners vs planetary: I think some of the very pricey Nechville banjos use guitar-style tuners as part of their unique design. Also a good number of Deering Boston's and Goodtime Special's are on the market with guitar tuners, and these are not student-grade instruments.


Edited by - yumagah on 09/09/2010 09:54:06

McUtsi - Posted - 09/09/2010:  10:03:17


That Iida w/ clear head & all IS a good looking banjo...McUtsi

luvdat - Posted - 09/09/2010:  10:38:35


Still waiting on that Rover 45P. Tomorrow?

I may order a clear head in the meantime...

Klondike Waldo - Posted - 09/09/2010:  13:34:40


All three of my banjos have aluminum rims.

Dogfeathers - Posted - 09/09/2010:  20:36:38


I only have one banjo with a aluminum pot and it certainly has its own signature sound...but it sounds a bit too "metallic y" for my taste. I have stuffed it with various items and it has gotten better, but it still is not my first choice for clawhammer style banjo tunes. It is my old Sloan "Fold a Jo" travel banjo and it is the only banjo that I have purposely mounted a Fiberskin head so I don't have to deal a lot with humidity affecting it as much when I fly around the country. I prefer real skin heads on all of my other open back banjos.

If you other folks with metal pots try to temper down that metallic sound, what are you doing to do it? I use medium weight strings, stuffed the back of the pot and use a heavy weight 5/8 Moon bridge. TIA

Happy Frails,
Dogfeathers
SF Bay Area


Edited by - Dogfeathers on 09/10/2010 08:05:43

xnavyguy - Posted - 09/10/2010:  04:51:11


One thing that has worked well for me has been replacing the standard banjo heads with a Remo Ebony Ambassador 10 mil. drum head. That was suggested to me, very early on in my BHO career, by member 1four5. I tried it on a regular bottlecap style rim and on another very lightweight rim without a flange.

The bottlecap, an Oscar Schmidt that I call Oscartone, is my main player. I've had a lot of folks come up to me, at jams & performances, and ask me how in the world do you get THAT kind of sound out of THAT banjo?

My other three aluminum banjos, 2 bottlecaps and one Iida with a 2 piece flange, are fitted with cake cooling racks inside the resonator. The cake racks do a bit of very high frequency filtering that takes some of the edge off the metalic sound, while preserving all the volume.



Oscar


9" Cake Rack Tone Control/Enhancer

Helix - Posted - 09/10/2010:  04:55:04


What you have is a real find, you can set it up, it'll play and glad to have some attention after a few dusty years.

Aluminum doesn't vintage or get better, many people play and swear by them.

Grovers on a longneck look really good, silky.

A high school teammate went out one night to a secret location (Lenexa) with a hacksaw and came back with an Agricultural grade aluminum rim.

dflowers - Posted - 09/10/2010:  05:20:32


Heay, ex-Navy guy. They did not teach the cake rack application in boot camp. Where did you come up with that? Ingenious.

xnavyguy - Posted - 09/10/2010:  11:01:58


quote:
Originally posted by dflowers

Heay, ex-Navy guy. They did not teach the cake rack application in boot camp. Where did you come up with that? Ingenious.


Like a lot of my "discoveries" that one came from my buddy Art Horan (Roll Player). Several year ago, he had some good experiences using a porcelain plate mounted inside, on the resonator, of his el cheap Hondo banjo. He was working on a clarity problem with his Washburn B-14 and didn't have any porcelain plates so the tried the cake cooling rack and noted an improvement in the harmonic content of notes played on that banjo with and without the cake rack.

I've attached a recording made with and without the cake rack installed. It's hard to hear the differences in the recording but, live, you can hear the difference. The differences are also noticeable when using Audacity to do a spectrum analysis of the recorded notes.

It's been so long since we made the recording, I'm not sure of the exact order but I think the first 2 segments are my redneck bottlecap banjo, first without the cake rack and then with the cake rack. The second 2 segments, I think, are Art's Washburn B-14, first without the cake rack and then with the cake rack. I could be wrong. Maybe Art will see this thread and remember.


Edited by - xnavyguy on 09/10/2010 11:06:26



Cake Rack Examples

   

mwc9725e - Posted - 09/10/2010:  12:02:03


My first banjo was a (blush) Lotus, aluminum rim, made in Korea. I liked it back then and still like it, guitar tuners and all. I play it more than I play any other of my 5 or 6 banjos --- all with wooden rims.

If you like how it plays, sounds, and looks, don't worry what anyone says about it -- you'll hear lots of disparaging remarks about almost any subject -- just play it and enjoy yourself.

luvdat - Posted - 09/10/2010:  12:52:00


The Rover 45P arrived!!! Nice banjo even stock but will change head to Five Star smooth and the bridge to a Snuffy Smith.

lazlototh - Posted - 09/10/2010:  16:57:55


I have a couple Gariepy banjos with aluminum pots. They are quite impressive.
Also have a steel Deering pot that really sounds decent.

I think my next one might be a Chevy Vega brake drum.

As a lot of folks have said here before, even a cigar box banjo will sound good in the hands of someone who can really play well.

I still can't figure out how my banjos sometimes sound good, though...

Klondike Waldo - Posted - 09/11/2010:  09:50:20


quote:
Originally posted by xnavyguy

quote:
Originally posted by dflowers

Heay, ex-Navy guy. They did not teach the cake rack application in boot camp. Where did you come up with that? Ingenious.


Like a lot of my "discoveries" that one came from my buddy Art Horan (Roll Player). Several year ago, he had some good experiences using a porcelain plate mounted inside, on the resonator, of his el cheap Hondo banjo. He was working on a clarity problem with his Washburn B-14 and didn't have any porcelain plates so the tried the cake cooling rack and noted an improvement in the harmonic content of notes played on that banjo with and without the cake rack.

I've attached a recording made with and without the cake rack installed. It's hard to hear the differences in the recording but, live, you can hear the difference. The differences are also noticeable when using Audacity to do a spectrum analysis of the recorded notes.

It's been so long since we made the recording, I'm not sure of the exact order but I think the first 2 segments are my redneck bottlecap banjo, first without the cake rack and then with the cake rack. The second 2 segments, I think, are Art's Washburn B-14, first without the cake rack and then with the cake rack. I could be wrong. Maybe Art will see this thread and remember.


Jerry. how do you attach and orient the cake rack? Do the wires run parallel to or perpendicular to the tension rod?

mwc9725e - Posted - 09/11/2010:  13:05:54


quote:
Originally posted by xnavyguy

quote:
Originally posted by dflowers

Heay, ex-Navy guy. They did not teach the cake rack application in boot camp. Where did you come up with that? Ingenious.


Like a lot of my "discoveries" that one came from my buddy Art Horan (Roll Player). Several year ago, he had some good experiences using a porcelain plate mounted inside, on the resonator, of his el cheap Hondo banjo. He was working on a clarity problem with his Washburn B-14 and didn't have any porcelain plates so the tried the cake cooling rack and noted an improvement in the harmonic content of notes played on that banjo with and without the cake rack.

I've attached a recording made with and without the cake rack installed. It's hard to hear the differences in the recording but, live, you can hear the difference. The differences are also noticeable when using Audacity to do a spectrum analysis of the recorded notes.

It's been so long since we made the recording, I'm not sure of the exact order but I think the first 2 segments are my redneck bottlecap banjo, first without the cake rack and then with the cake rack. The second 2 segments, I think, are Art's Washburn B-14, first without the cake rack and then with the cake rack. I could be wrong. Maybe Art will see this thread and remember.



Seriously. Is it my 80-year-old ears, or maybe my speakers? I honestly can't hear any difference at all between the "with" and "without".

xnavyguy - Posted - 09/12/2010:  07:52:27


To answer the questions about the cake rack. I also found it difficult, with the with the files compressed into MP3's, to hear any difference in the sound, with or without the cake cooling rack installed. It is easier to hear the difference in person and on the original, uncompressed, .WAV files.

I used a drop of hot melt glue on each of the four cake rack feet to hold them to the resonators on the three banjos of mine that have them installed. My friend Art used artist putty, which he also uses as a temporary mute when he wants a quiet banjo, to temporarily attach his rack so he can change the orientation easily. What seems to work best is with the wire running at some angle to the coordinator rod. The filtering effect changes with position. These racks are $2 at the cooking store at the outlet mall so it isn't a big investment.

As a side note here. Art no longer uses the cake rack in his Washburn. In that banjo, which does not have a metal rim, he found that by moving the bridge string slots over 1/16" toward the treble side of the bridge had the same effect as the cake rack on that banjo.

yumagah - Posted - 09/12/2010:  20:11:49



I just tried adding the cake rack to the old Saga banjo I posted about earlier. I did notice some improvement in the sound, I would say by adding weight it boosted the lower frequencies which tend to be weak on an aluminum rim. It did not however make a $99 Saga banjo sound like a Stelling. Not that it was supposed to!

Still trying to decide if its better enough to keep it that way. Right now I have a temporary mounting using a strip of electrical tape over each of the rack's feet. Glad I got this "junker" banjo recently to mess with.

stanger - Posted - 09/21/2010:  11:17:24


quote:
Originally posted by McUtsi

A primer on aluminum alloys & grades,please..?..from "kitchen utensil" to...well,almost "bell like"...McUtsi




Hi, McUtsi...
Aluminum has been used for banjo pots for a long time, as far back as the early 1900's.

During the big folk boom of the early 60's, when the 5-string was re-discovered after nearly becoming extinct, a few young makers began using aluminum rims. Art Garippy was one, Chuck Ogsbury was another. Harry Lane, a maker who came along later, also makes banjos with aluminum rims.

Of the two, Ogsbury made far more banjos, and experimented a lot with his rims. He used hard aircraft-grade aluminum, developed his own casting methods which eventually produced a rim with an integral tone ring, and later refined this by adding brass rods, tubes, and one cast flathead tone ring several different configurations. Deaf Lester's Ode, with the cast flathead ring, is the most rare of the bunch (I own the first one, fellow Ode fanatic Ed Britt owns another, and Lester's makes the total of known banjos with this ring 5 in total. There are probably a few others.)

These days, most of the aluminum-rimmed banjos have rims that are made in Asia, Egypt, and India. They are mostly based on an Iida (a Japanese make) model that appeared in the 70's as a beginner's model. The rim has been copied extensively- some I've seen are copies of copies, and very poorly cast and finished, while others are much more cleanly and better made.

The aluminum used in the imports is all much softer than the stuff used in the Odes- I'm sure a good share of it comes from re-cycled soft drink cans now. The harder grades of aluminum create a more complex tone, as the material is approaching the hardness of brass and bronze.

Aluminum makes a banjo loud and bright, but setup can change the tone a lot. As a material, aluminum has good and bad points- it is very durable and stable- a good rim won't warp or degrade very easily. But the metal also is quick to contract and expand in heat changes, which can make a banjo very unstable until everything reaches a moderate temperature. Bringing in one from 10 into a 70 room means it's going to need a lot of re-tuning until it warms up.
regards,
stanger

McUtsi - Posted - 09/21/2010:  13:22:05


Thanks,stanger...thats good info..."aluminum" has more to it than just
the "thud" associated w/ tapping a cooking pan,and Im just taking
an interest in possible ways of making a low end alu banjo pot sound
OK..in fact,I just purchased an old Duke guitar-banjo and Im going to
build a nice maple neck for it and set it up appropriately,complete w/
a good TP,planetaries etc...experimentation spoken here...McUtsi

farmer bob - Posted - 09/22/2010:  06:01:45


My 1970 aluminum banjo from Japan sounds thin and lifeless with the resonator and totally empty sounding without the resonator. As for tuners I built a banjo with classical guitar style head so the geared tuner knobs point backwards. Pointing backwards sorta compensates emotionally for the planetary effect... Bob.

vintagewells - Posted - 09/22/2010:  13:00:06


Like I've always said, aluminum banjos rule.....
Seriously... want to dull the tone, line it with balsa wood.... HAH!
Lorna
I love the darn things.

yumagah - Posted - 09/22/2010:  19:15:58


quote:
Originally posted by farmer bob

My 1970 aluminum banjo from Japan sounds thin and lifeless with the resonator and totally empty sounding without the resonator. As for tuners I built a banjo with classical guitar style head so the geared tuner knobs point backwards. Pointing backwards sorta compensates emotionally for the planetary effect... Bob.




Assuming the banjo is playable or can be adjusted, the 9 inch cooling rack mod. described above is well worth trying. Have only tried on one aluminum rim so far, but it does a nice job of strengthening the lower frequencies.

T-18 - Posted - 10/22/2010:  09:47:39


I like aluminum much better than the plastic that it could have been from that era.



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