Banjo Hangout Logo
Banjo Hangout Logo

Premier Sponsors

Banjo Lovers Online

 All Forums
 Other Banjo-Related Topics
 Other Banjo-Related Topics
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: I'm being sucked over to the "open back" side

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:

1four5 - Posted - 11/03/2009:  17:55:17

I bought a Helix rim and put it together with a Hazen neck. Two weeks later and this thing screams. It vibrates like nothing I've ever played before. It mic's better than either of my resonator banjos. It only weighs 5 pounds. I've played 6 gigs with it and it plays in the mix beyond any expectations. I look down still, and can't believe it's an open back. Like where's the battery or something?

Previous to this, I've played my Goodtime, CC100R and Vega as open backs, and wasn't interested. I'd played the Goodtime and Epiphone open backs at Guitar Center, yuck. I'd even played my Calico without the resonator, ewww.

Ironically, the Helix is the 13th banjo I've owned. (and first and only non factory custom build)

If my house was on fire today and I could only save one banjo... I'm sorry to all you bluegrassers, but I'd grab the open back.

What is happening to me?


fretlessinfortwayne - Posted - 11/03/2009:  18:09:35

It's called maturity, refining your tastes, growth.


"Each one's got to have his own style. It's all creamed potatoes, just fixed a little different." -- Benton Flippen

snapjackson - Posted - 11/03/2009:  18:11:07

Originally posted by fretlessinfortwayne

It's called maturity, refining your tastes, growth.


"Each one's got to have his own style. It's all creamed potatoes, just fixed a little different." -- Benton Flippen

CoE15NJV - Posted - 11/03/2009:  18:12:11

I think it's called an epiphany.



Flying Eagle - Posted - 11/03/2009:  18:14:44

I think you're what Rush Limbaugh refers to as a "BINO" - Bluegrass In Name Only.

backtothefuture - Posted - 11/03/2009:  18:16:09

Originally posted by 1four5

.........What is happening to me?


Not sure....but I'm betting it was the ukulele.



Jaminbanjo - Posted - 11/03/2009:  18:18:38

Hurry, run away from open backs while you still can!


asmcsgac - Posted - 11/03/2009:  18:18:43

Say it isn't so

backtothefuture - Posted - 11/03/2009:  18:22:54

You all my posts saying that lefties should play righty?

Well.....I take those all back.

Obviously this was a mistake as it causes serious brain damage.



1four5 - Posted - 11/03/2009:  19:14:17

Guess what I'm taking to my next bluegrass jam?

Yep Today I played my open back at a show, and then practiced for an hour with my Goodtime... and it seemed like it weighed a ton! Then this evening my Calico weight at least 95 pounds and when I went back to the Helix... ahhhhhhhhhh and it's louder, dryer and cleaner. I'm a mess.


GerryH - Posted - 11/03/2009:  19:14:51

It was meant to be....

French - Posted - 11/03/2009:  19:24:49

come to the dark side...

72chevy - Posted - 11/03/2009:  19:26:11

Dean, is that third fingerpick wrapped too tight cutting off blood flow? That new neck of yours does peak some interest though. Any sound clips comparisons?


1four5 - Posted - 11/03/2009:  19:32:53

My only sound clip connection is BHO member KyBlugrass. Today's technolgy has run away from me. One of these days we hope to put something together! The 3rd fingerpick just means the other's don't have to work so hard


rendesvous1840 - Posted - 11/03/2009:  20:15:25

Sounds like your tastes have embraced something new. Never say "never". An openbacker is born. Next, embrace some index or thumb-lead 2 finger. You'll be surprised what you don't need the other pick for.

"A master banjo player isn't the one who can play the most notes. It's the one who can touch the most hearts." Patrick Costello IBARD topic

majorhoople - Posted - 11/03/2009:  21:35:20

And pray tell, which wood is your great sounding Helix rim made from? Just curious.

Surveyor - Posted - 11/03/2009:  22:02:38

All good! I may need more hill to climb...I thought I was making progress. :) Banjos rock. I have a feeling someday I will have the same struggle!

Mr. B

Wind me up and watch me go!

roy.carpenter - Posted - 11/03/2009:  23:54:16

Be careful, Dean. I made the same mistake and some dobro player at a jam ended up leaning over and saying, "Roy: I am your father!" with James Earl Jones's voice.

Roy Carpenter

And to think of all the time I wasted not playing the banjo...

1four5 - Posted - 11/04/2009:  02:45:26

Good one Roy ...

And pray tell, which wood is your great sounding Helix rim made from? Just curious.

I got his maple "Sunbeam" rim, serial #3. I'd been reading his comments and very interesting posts for the last year. Having an open mind, I decided to try one for myself. Now I know why Helix can say what he does... because his banjos can back up every word! Fantastic machines! And he is a really great guy to work with, and really good prices for a custom build, with e-mails and photos along the way.

Paul, I actually use 4 fingers (thumb and three finger picks) ... I've never tried two-finger! But you're right... the longer I play, the more "never say never" applies


Edited by - 1four5 on 11/04/2009 02:48:46

country frank - Posted - 11/04/2009:  03:28:10

Amen to the Helix brand.

Larry, what have you done to Dean?

This just 'aint right.

Proud Union Man

Regards from London.

frailin - Posted - 11/04/2009:  06:31:26

Hey Dean

I played Scrugg's style BG for 15 years. It was "ok." I converted to CH on a whim. Best decision I EVER made (and I've never looked back).

* Now I can SING with my banjo!
* I can play lead or backup without overwhelming the other members of the band
* I'm more about rhythm than notes (which I like)... I CAN get people to tap their toes
* Open-backs weigh a whole lot less

If you come this way, don't tell others... pretty soon NO one will be playing 3-finger any more!

"Gospel. The most powerful music in this world and the next."

thetexan - Posted - 11/04/2009:  07:33:49


You must listen to's not too late. Sure it sounds good (you say) but think of the coolness factor. Think of the hoards of girls that will no longer be mysteriously drawn to you because you dont have a resonator, but who will flock to the rest of us who do! Think of the raised eyebrows at the jam sessions when they see a open back coming...everybody knows you can't REALLY play Shuckin' the Corn on an open back.

And the temptation to give up the picks and 3 finger style for, dare I say it....can I utter the words ......clawha ....clawhammmmm .....clawwwwhaaaaaa.......that other style.... will just be too great!

Think of your family, man! Think of what you will put them through!

Come back to us, the ones who love you. Put the resonator back on the Goodtime and let's put an end to this foolishness.

Here is a number you can call...1-800-RESONATOR. The people there understand what you are going through and can help. They have meetings where you can get together with other guys like youself who are struggling with this issue. They have loaner resonators and no one plays without picks. Give them a call before it's too late.


Edited by - thetexan on 11/04/2009 07:35:54

rjanecek - Posted - 11/04/2009:  08:26:13

Dean, I headed over that way too a few years back. I still keep the picks around as well as a proper BG banjer. But love the open back way

embrace it


1four5 - Posted - 11/04/2009:  08:44:50

Hey Tex, I called the number you provided... and they said I had to enroll in a 12 bar program ...

My Goodtime still has the resonator on it... and I have realized that one drawback of an open back is that it would be harder to smuggle secret RK documents inside it, without a resonator. But since I'm not into secret agent stuff, I guess it's not much of a delimma

* I'm more about rhythm than notes (which I like)... I CAN get people to tap their toes

I've always been this way. The wonderfull people I play with are very talented musicians, and there's already plenty of melody notes flying all over the place. My job is to augment them, provide a nice rhythm, add some sweet fill, and never try to compete or step on eachother. I play with 4 fingers, and do a lot of rhythmic double and triple pulls, and even a fake clawhammer pattern with picks. We play bluegrass but it's only a small part of our music. My style developed with a resonator banjo, however, it seems to be even better on my open back. In the past, I'd always loved the simplicity and weight of open backs, but until my Helix, I never had one that stood a chance!


oldwoodchuckb - Posted - 11/04/2009:  15:12:52

Your eyelids are getting heavy. You are growing tired, so tired, You can't carry that heavy lead slab any farther. YOu want a simple light banjo and to free yourself of those steel picks. You hear a tune. "Turkey in the Straw" is calling to you. You can hear it in the blue mist of dusk. Close your eyes and sing:

Well we had a little chicken but it wouldn't lay an egg....
Rocket Science Banjo - Advanced Clawhammer Techniques for beginners and long time players alike. Plus videos and 25-40 EZ Clawhammer Tunes.
& check out "How To Mold A Mighty Pinky" at:
banjo brad's great banjo site

supah_g - Posted - 11/04/2009:  17:57:13

Originally posted by oldwoodchuckb

. You hear a tune. "Turkey in the Straw" is calling to you. You can hear it in the blue mist of dusk. Close your eyes and sing:

Well we had a little chicken but it wouldn't lay an egg..

I was thinkin' more like .... "I saw the light"

Welcome to the "Dark Side" Dean! Next thing you know, you'll be planting a capo on the 2nd, tuning to double C, and not having to reach quite so far... Enjoy the path of lesser resistance.

I have an excess resinator or two kickin' about - damned awkward things to store neatly. Can't seem to give 'em away! Ahh, but truth be told, I still have one piece of heavy artillery, but she don't see near as much action as the ones in the 7lb range neither.


PS - open back folk don't "suck" anyone over. As others have suggested, your transformation, might be attributed to a higher calling - one that you are now "open" to receive. The "sucking" sound must be coming from elsewhere.

1four5 - Posted - 11/04/2009:  18:16:46

I was thinkin' more like .... "I saw the light"

She's (notice I'm already in a serious relationship with my open back?) already performed "I saw the light" in public.

This morning I did an hour on my Calico, before shucking it for the Helix. I'm getting hookeder more every day. I'm past the point of no return. Oh my...

The sucking sound has vanashed... is that good or bad?


CoE15NJV - Posted - 11/04/2009:  19:02:30

Just remember, Dean: the DEVIL lives inside banjo resonators! Over time the weight of those banjos with resonators will slowly drag you down, down to Dante's Inferno!


supah_g - Posted - 11/04/2009:  19:21:35

Originally posted by 1four5


The sucking sound has vanashed... is that good or bad?


It is in fact a good thing Dean. (I wasn't gonna say, but just between you & me, the "sucking" sound is actually due to a pressure imbalance. Specifically, the the prices of bluegrass type resinator banjos, and the lower pressure of cold, hard cash being sucked out of bank accounts and wallets all around us. The "Hoover Men" don't know about open backs just yet. We're tying to keep that way, btw...)

shushhhhh, ok!?

ome - Posted - 11/05/2009:  04:57:04

What is next? A FLATPICK? bwaaaaa

It's not the notes, but the spaces between them.

RyanHerr - Posted - 11/05/2009:  07:28:20

Prices look very reasonable too, I'd probably feel tempted if I had any money right now! I'm also a fingerpicker who has been moving towards openbacks. I'm coveting a wide neck & 12" pot.

1four5 - Posted - 11/05/2009:  09:06:18

My lips are sealed Grant And I tend to agree that some sort of Devil or at least one of his helpers lives inside my resonator banjo!

Flatpick? Believe it or not, one of the reasons I play banjo today is because I was such a clutz with a pick many years ago. As soon as I started fingerpicking my guitar, everything started falling into place.


1four5 - Posted - 11/05/2009:  20:19:53

OK, here's the photo proof! Picture taken by BHO member "Kyblugrass" Last Saturday after a lunch show.


Grey Dog - Posted - 11/06/2009:  04:26:33

I'm waiting to see if you do the HeliX rim swap-out thing on your Calico....You can always keep the original rim just in case this is a phase....



][ Grey Dog in NH

1four5 - Posted - 11/06/2009:  08:02:23

I don't think so Scott... the Calico already has a wonderfull bluegrass maple bright punchy tone. it's not the sound... it's the weight! The Helix can hit a upper deck home run at almost 1/3 the weight... and that my friend is not a phase, it's a REVOLUTION ... or is that revelation... or maybe it's just getting old. Heck, I haven't had a back ache or migraine since I started playing my open back


1four5 - Posted - 11/07/2009:  17:29:59

Played the open back today at an outdoor bluegrass jam. That pretty much seals it... it's my number one. It's only limitation is my talent... there's nothing this thing can't do as good if not better than my resonator banjos. Conversion is complete


Sultans of Claw - Posted - 11/07/2009:  18:58:40

That's a good place to be, man. Enjoy!

Lee Callicutt

thetexan - Posted - 11/13/2009:  08:00:47

At least you have picks on your right hand......that means, at least, you haven't completely gone off the deep end.

Edited by - thetexan on 11/13/2009 08:04:11

Grey Dog - Posted - 11/13/2009:  08:16:28


][ Grey Dog in NH

1four5 - Posted - 11/13/2009:  10:04:58

I play everything with fingerpicks... even my Telecaster


Bisbonian - Posted - 11/13/2009:  17:10:00

So tell me about this Hazen neck. I have been dreaming of building a neck that looks like the one in your "proof" picture...I guess that is it. I didn't know anyone was building them. Guess my idea is not so original. Is the fifth string full length? Or is it tunneled? How do you like the neck?

"When Banjos are Outlawed, only Outlaws will have Banjos."

1four5 - Posted - 11/13/2009:  17:26:26

It's a maple neck with a 12" radiused rosewood fretboard, jumbo stainless steel frets and a 25 1/2" scale. It's got 1 1/2" string spacing at the nut and I'm using a 2" wide string spacing at the bridge. Yes, the 5th string is full length, fully fretable to the nut. If you don't fret the 5th string, it playes identical to a shorty 5th string banjo. If you do fret it, you have 5 more notes in easy reach, great chord voicings, and you can even bring or alternate your drone notes with barrs or thumbovers. I don't use a capo, but if you did, you would only need a guitar capo and you're good to go. The concept of the full length high G string is nothing new, 12 string guitars have always done it. It also rings out better, deeper and more pure, more in balance with the other strings. The more I play it, the more I like it, the more sense it makes, and the less I even understand the shortys, or why it's still done like that.


Edited by - 1four5 on 11/13/2009 17:37:36

72chevy - Posted - 11/13/2009:  18:53:17

? on the 5th string... what gauge do you use? Do you cringe when tightening the string to typical 5th string high G pitch? Aren't you afraid you'll loose an eye? or is do you spike it at 5 most of the time?

1four5 - Posted - 11/13/2009:  19:01:28

No spike, that would defeat the purpose. I use the regular .010 from the set. I used to own a 12 string guitar, and also help keep our rhythm guitar player's 12 string set up... so It's not even an issue, been stringing up high G strings for years. In fact, that's why I knew it would work, and why I did it. It just makes sense and makes things SO simple and hassle free. I've never broke one on a banjo or a guitar.

BTW, if you're contemplating how the full length fully fretable 5th string works...again, if you don't fret it, it plays identical to a traditional banjo. If you do choose to fret it, the simplest way to start exploring the possibilities, is to know that where ever you fret the 3rd string, you can fret the 5th string. It's usually easily reached with a simple thumbover. this way, barr and 4 string movable chords can easily become 5 string chords, fully playable with any roll. Applications would include playing back up in any key simply, with no capo... having the drone note follow the chord... alternating drone notes... and higher melody notes in easy reach. And if you do choose to capo, just a guitar capo and your good to go, no worrying about retuning or other ways do deal with 5th string capoing or spikes.


Edited by - 1four5 on 11/13/2009 19:17:02

Flying Eagle - Posted - 11/13/2009:  20:38:46

Originally posted by 1four5

And if you do choose to capo, just a guitar capo and your good to go, no worrying about retuning or other ways do deal with 5th string capoing or spikes.

That's not entirely true, is it? I play several songs in the key of E out of a base D position, capoed at the 2nd fret with the 5th string nailed at the 9th fret. To replicate that on your banjo-telecaster, wouldn't I have to use a banjo capo and have some other means of capoing the fifth string? It does offer some interesting possibilities with being able to fret the fifth string while playing chords in the first position. I wouldn't mind trying it sometime, and trying a 6-string banjo with an extra bass string like Sonny O toyed with.

One question though... considering your growing distaste for resonators and assuance that your open-back is just as viable in a non-amplified bluegrass jam as a Mastertone or a Stelling, did your buddy in the picture trade in his herringbone D-28 for that blonde Epiphone with the humbuckers and the f-holes? And are y'all gonna go "unplugged" in a festival cow pasture, by-the-campfire bluegrass jam with 5 other guitars, 3 resonator banjos, a couple of mandolins, a dobro and a doghouse bass?

"Old soldiers and old sailors have a place to go,
but no one helps a railroad bum like poor old Hobo Joe".

Bisbonian - Posted - 11/13/2009:  20:56:21

Thanks a lot, Dean, for the explanation, and the closeup photos. Looks like an awesome banjo all the way around. I hear nothing but praise for those Helix rims.

"When Banjos are Outlawed, only Outlaws will have Banjos."

brokenstrings - Posted - 11/13/2009:  22:19:05

Laugh of the day. At least everybody's good-humored about it.


Frailaway, ladies, frailaway!

1four5 - Posted - 11/14/2009:  02:06:58

did your buddy in the picture trade in his herringbone D-28 for that blonde Epiphone with the humbuckers and the f-holes?

He had too, to keep up with the Helix

Jim, we play in E a lot, I use a opens and inversions and thumbovers as needed. Since going with this style set-up, my 5th string is becoming much more involved in the chord make up, than a drone. It works well with our music. Tom has a room full of guitars from Martin to Gretch to Breadlove to a Tele and les Paul, Dobro and even an old acoustic F-hole and 12 string. We are more old country and western swing and the the Epiphone is his most versitle for what we do. My bandmates aren't into the bluegrass, so when I go to those jams, I'm on my own. As for viability and sceptisism, I can understand. I was the last person to ever think I would love an open back. I've said some not nice things about them and woodies and tone "hoops" in all my past banjos and experimentings, but that's because my only experience had been factory made plywood stuff. I was the king sceptic reading Helix's posts for the past year or so. But I wasn't willing to dismiss the possibility of truth, without first hand experience. I'm glad I tried, as his rims exceed my wildest speculation and expectations in tone and volume. Now I'm thankfull for an open mind, a killer banjo, and no back aches

There's also the aspect of versitility. It's hard for me to admit that my pride and joy 4.5K professional banjo is getting beat out by an open back nearly 1/15th it's cost, so that's got to be one heck of a banjo. I also don't play exclusively bluegrass, in fact, I play very little bluegrass. There are times when I've had a hard time taming the harsher metallic sound of my tone ringed banjo to fit some of our music. With the open back, moving my playing position closer to the neck makes a much bigger difference, and now I'm beginning to even understand frailers playing over the neck. I also use a slide occasionally and love slide playing, and oh my does it sound good on this open back banjo... something that is much harder to make work on a bluegrass banjo, especially with a 5th string tuner in the way. My playing is also a bigger part of our trio's rhythmic sound than just background vamping, especially since we play without drums or bass, and the more driving serious bluegrass tone, again, was harder to make fit all the time, and quite frankely, could get old in a hurry. I play a lot more rhythmic hooks, background riffs and co-instrumentals than is common in bluegrass, but on the flip side, hardly ever blast solo leads. Within a few minutes of my first rehersal with the Helix, Tom told me "I think you've found the sound". Every player and their needs are different, and I found something that really works for me.


Edited by - 1four5 on 11/14/2009 08:32:48

Helix - Posted - 11/16/2009:  15:33:20

A person's heart tends to spring open like a trap, good luck getting THAT back in the box.

Doesn't Dean have a case, no, he just walks around with the banjo on his shoulder all the time, like a young person sleeping with cowboy boots on. Comfy.

rvrose - Posted - 11/16/2009:  16:29:47

Originally posted by Helix

Doesn't Dean have a case, no, he just walks around with the banjo on his shoulder all the time, like a young person sleeping with cowboy boots on. Comfy.

I know how Dean feels - I haven't taken that Helix Hurricane off my shoulder since I got it.


Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Privacy Consent
Copyright 2024 Banjo Hangout. All Rights Reserved.

Hangout Network Help

View All Topics  |  View Categories