Banjo Hangout Logo
Banjo Hangout Logo

Premier Sponsors

Banjo Lovers Online

 All Forums
 Other Banjo-Related Topics
 Banjo Building, Setup, and Repair
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Tenor banjo necks

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:

Ken VanEtten - Posted - 04/30/2009:  16:38:48

I've been playing tenor banjo for a while and I've been seriously practicing single-string stuff ( Irish and American fiddle tunes) for about five years. The Irish (GDAE) tuning really helped me out because I could finally read fiddle and mandolin music without having to transpose. I also like the lower sound better than C tuning.
I have a Gold Tone 250 model tenor with a 19 fret neck. I bought an old Vega style F 17 fret tenor and the scale helped me to reach that 7th fret with much less effort.
So, I ordered a Gold Tone Irish tenor neck and put it on my Gold Tone Pot, thinking I could have the great tone with the same ease of playing I had on the Vega. It was a beautiful neck but the strings were so close together I kept bumping adjacent strings with my fingers. I contacted Gold Tone but they do not make an Irish tenor neck with the typical "American" width.
I was told their Irish tenor scale was designed by someone in England who ( evidently) knew what he was doing. In my opinion their Irish tenor neck was designed for women or children. The strings are just too close together. I let a couple of my banjo-playing friends try it out and they agreed with me.
So, I'm torn between using the Gold Tone with the regular 19 fret neck and struggling to hit the 7th fret, or playing the old Vega and hitting the 7th fret with ease. The trade-off is putting up with a tone that simply doesn't measure up to the Gold Tone. It doesn't have half the amount of sustain or volume.
I have written to Gold Tone to ask for the price of a custom-made neck but haven't heard back. All I want is their Irish tenor neck with an " American" width.
The upshot of all this is that I have a perfectly good Gold tone tenor sitting in a case while I spend my time playing on a lesser-sounding instrument. In defense of the Vega, it was made back in the 1920's, the neck is still straight and it was made for ease of playing. Every string plays true and in tune. I guess I just have to get used to that "vintage" sound.
Putting the Gold Tone (with two necks) up for sale has crossed my mind.

Edited by - Banjoman on 05/01/2009 11:41:40

beezaboy - Posted - 04/30/2009:  16:48:19

I can't help with your dilemna but can only sypathize with your too narrow fretboard. I have a late 1920's epiphone tenor with strings too close and it is so disconcerting to have to fret the strings so perfectly as not to touch an adjacent string that the banjo went into the case. I can say that my Deering Vega has a wide fretboard and is a pleasure to play.


mainejohn - Posted - 04/30/2009:  17:36:00

I guess American fingers have gotten chubbier over the past 90 years, along with American bellies. I agree, though, as my 2000 Deering Vega has a wider string spacing than it's 20's Vega counterparts, and it takes some getting used to when I switch back and forth.

John Coleman
Scarborough, Maine

beegee - Posted - 04/30/2009:  17:57:54

Is the neck too narrow or is the string spacing on the nut too close? In other words, is there room enough to widen the string spacing on the nut without dropping the strings off the side of the fingerboard?

It should be easy enough to get a neck built if you can't get one from Gold Tone.

"It is better, of course, to know useless things than to know nothing." -Seneca

Polle Flaunoe - Posted - 05/01/2009:  01:44:18


The vast majority of vintage brands have a nut width of 1 1/8" - except for Vega´s - they have a 1 3/16" width.

I´ve always wondered why?

The Gold Tone TS-250 has the same wide 1 3/16" neck - but the Gold Tone IT-250 has the slimmer 1 1/8" neck.

But - do remember - we´re talking about a difference of only 1/16". And the difference in string spacing at the nut is only 1/38" !!!

I´ll recommend, that you ask your music store or someone else to put on a new nut with the same string spacing as on your TS-250 neck (10/32") and check, that your bridge has a "standard" (wide) spacing of appr. 14/32".

I´m pretty sure, that your GT with the IT-neck will still be playable afterwards.

Another solution to both the larger string spacing and the benefit of a shorter neck is to tune down the banjo one note (FCGD) and capo your TS-neck at the 2nd fret. Many of my "Irish" banjo buddies are playing their 19-fret banjos this way.



kimmattis123 - Posted - 05/01/2009:  09:39:30

I have a 1930s vegaphone tenor and the neck is narrow..It's a 19 fret and the bridge is a replacement with modern spacing. I have a Bacon Belmont 5 string that I had to order a Snuffy Smith uncut and have a luthier friend of mine recut because the neck was so narrow the strings splayed at the bridge. Alot of newer necks wont fit well on the older pots and vice-versa.

Polle Flaunoe - Posted - 05/01/2009:  11:02:53


What´s narrow to you?

Please give us some measurements of the nut width for your banjo - plus string spacings at nut and bridge.

Then we´ll purhaps talk the same language.



BrittDLD1 - Posted - 05/05/2009:  10:52:33


Remember... the earlier style short-scale 17-fret tenors were originally
played mostly by mandolin players -- in melody style.

(Also if you compare the earliest tenor banjos to the 5-string banjorines
of the 1910 period -- you'll see what they used as their "pattern". The
banjorines were played in "classic" fingerstyle and had nice wide

The later LONG-scale 19-fret tenors were developed primarily for playing
LOUD percussive rhythm chords -- to be heard above the horns and
drums, in Dance Orchestras, and Jazz Bands.

The left-hand chording techniques also required "muting" certain strings,
to prevent dissonant notes. Often 1 finger fretted (and/or muted) multiple
strings. Having the strings closer together, made that easier to do.

They were VERY different playing styles!

Have you ever tried to fingerpick, (or flatpick) in melody-style, on one of those
narrow-necked, rhythm archtop guitars -- from the 30's and 40's? It usually
doesn't work very well. It takes that powerful percussive "chop" -- just to start
driving the top. (And when that top DOES start responding, they turn into

MOST of the early 17-fret necks are great for melody-style. But finding a
19-fret neck that's properly wide enough, probably takes some searching.
I'd guess that the late-20s tenors would be best at playing BOTH rhythm
AND melody-style.

Ed Britt

••• A good fiddle tune will bring two or more people together who might otherwise be enemies. •••

diarmaid - Posted - 05/05/2009:  12:41:05

Ken i would recommend perservering with the 19 fret gets much easier to reach the higher notes. Practicing running up and down the scales makes it much easier, and doing runs of rolls and triplets makes it less tedious, and keeps all the practice time musical. i used to practice lifting my index finger when i was going for the 7th fret, its often possible to move your hand progressively up the neck even when playing fairly fast like Brona Graham does here so its not such a big stretch for your pinky to hit the 7th fret

Ken VanEtten - Posted - 07/18/2009:  18:38:24

Well folks, I just sold three necks that I didn't use and ordered a custom neck from Gold Tone. It's basically their 17 fret neck with the width of their 19 fret neck. I sent them my pot and had them install it. It has been shipped and should arrive this week. Oh boy oh boy oh boy!

mike gregory - Posted - 07/19/2009:  04:09:51

Sell 3, buy 1.
And end up with what you WANT.
Sounds like a pleasant enough outcome.

BY the WAY,
Welcome to the Hangout.

=):{ )
Mike Gregory, Banjo Maker Infraordinaire
When I say my instruments are as good as anything Gibson or Martin ever made,
I mean MEL Gibson and DEAN Martin!

My banjos can be seen on my own website

See me & my SQUARED EEL banjo on the Y''all tube

Hangout Network Help

View All Topics  |  View Categories