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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Will it make me a better player?

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coolet5 - Posted - 11/27/2021:  08:42:03


I’m aware that this is somewhat of an odd question but I assume I’m not the only one who is or was in that or a similar situation:

I’ve been playing for a few years now. I have a Deering Goodtime with a few upgrades. I’m eyeing a stelling Red Fox, we all know that these aren’t cheap Banjos and it will be the most I ever paid on a musical instrument.

Assuming both Banjos are well setup, I'm practicing and doing what  it takes to improve and end goal is recording jam and performance.

Will getting the Stelling make me a better Banjo player or do you think it won’t make much difference?

Let me know your thoughts.

Thanks in advance!

Edited by - coolet5 on 11/27/2021 17:15:21

heavy5 - Posted - 11/27/2021:  08:58:47

I'm sure it will enhance your willing to play more but I don't know of any immediate transposing of improved playing ability at this time from any banjo except from hyped banjo sales advertising .

coolet5 - Posted - 11/27/2021:  09:03:32

That on its own can definitely make me better. I understand what you saying. Coming from bass world when I purchased my current well made Nash bass guitar, it did result in me wanting to play it more.

Thanks for your reply.

thisoldman - Posted - 11/27/2021:  09:10:05

Couple of thoughts. My understanding is that Stellings have a unique tone, due to construction differences. As Bob says, having a really nice banjo will make it more likely to pick it up to play, and that additional practice will hopefully lead to improved playing.
My story. I won an ebay auction for a really nice (Wildwood Paragon) banjo awhile back. At the time I was playing 2ftl on a Gold Tone open back. I gave it to a good friend who is a outstanding BG picker to play for a few months. He played that banjo in church one Sunday and I was amazed at the tones he got out of it. After church he handed back to me and told me to just play it. So I switched over to Scruggs style picking. That eventually led me to Tony Ellis (who sometimes plays a Stelling) tunes, which is where my niche has been for the past few years. I don't play the Paragon as often as I used to (I have, gasp, other banjos), but when I do get it out of the case I am always pleasantly surprised about how easily it plays and how good that banjo can sound, even in my hands. My dream, someday, would be to play a Stelling and sound as good as Tony does.

doryman - Posted - 11/27/2021:  09:21:38

Mechanically speaking, the Deering Goodtime banjo is a good enough banjo that it is not likely the limiting factor in your journey to becoming a better banjo player. However you may find, as some others have, that a different neck width or a radiused fretboard might improve your playing, and those kinds of modifications would almost certainly come by buying a new banjo and not by modifying your Deering.

Mentally speaking, I agree with others that having an amazing banjo might induce you to play more, and more consistently, which would make you a better banjo player.

JSB88 - Posted - 11/27/2021:  09:26:15

I got a better banjo earlier this year (although it was a lot less than any Stelling), and basically agree with most of the previous posts. What I will add is that it still makes my heart soar with joy when I play and hear its beautiful tone, so I would say go for it, you won't regret it.

wrench13 - Posted - 11/27/2021:  09:26:20

Aside from the psychological effect ( hey I paid $****.** for this thing , I'm dam well gonna play it good), at certain price points yes, the better instrument is worth the bucks. It is with fiddles at least. You can spend a grand on an old fiddle and it will sound good, but try a 10 grand bench made one from a real violin maker and wow, it will blow the mind. I don't know if that holds true for banjo's ( I suspect it does) but I believe in getting the very best instrument you can afford, especially if you're serious and have your sights on performing and recording. I learned guitar on a piece of crap Harmony, with a neck like a baseball bat and action like a suspension bridge. It did me no favors when learning.

1935tb-11 - Posted - 11/27/2021:  09:27:08

it will give you a better sound ,but nothing replaces correct practice and pushing yourself.

BeeEnvironment - Posted - 11/27/2021:  09:33:49

Don't think of a better-quality instrument that makes "your playing better". Your playing will stay the same, you will learn new things, etc...

Think of a buying a better quality instrument as enhancing the tone and "sound" of your playing to your likes. Some folks might not like the sound of a 20000 dollar instrument compared to a 200 dollar one.

So, its not about your playing, its about the quality and the tone you like in a instrument.

Michigan Lefty - Posted - 11/27/2021:  09:47:23

I am a beginner level player and recently upgraded from a Deering Goodtime to a Prucha Legend.

The Prucha doesn't make me any better. It does make me want to practice and learn more.

I don't regret spending the money for a professional level banjo because it's something I want to do.  I feel like a child using an adult tool but it motivates me to do better.

Edited by - Michigan Lefty on 11/27/2021 10:04:43

Possum Fat - Posted - 11/27/2021:  09:51:34

IMHO it will make you a better player. I have upgraded three times and each time helped my playing. The reason is, for me, the new sound, new look, new feel motivated me for months to play more often and longer--to take more care and pay more attention. I noticed these improvements with each new purchase. My first serious upgrade was a Stelling.

My advice--if you can afford it go for it. I bet you won't be sorry.

coolet5 - Posted - 11/27/2021:  10:31:52

Good answers. Does anyone here know about the string spacing of each of these Banjos? are they the same or different and if they are different how so?

Omeboy - Posted - 11/27/2021:  10:55:38

A well made, well set up instrument can certainly make your playing easier, but the effect you're asking about is purely psychological. A step up to a really fine banjo is a  great shot in the arm, but the only thing that will ever improve your playing is diligent practice. There are plenty of people out there who own expensive banjos that can't play worth a hoot. There can be many reasons for that, but for many, they just don't put in the practice. Other than that, you should make the upgrade to a better banjo if you can. It will motivate you to keep improving and soon you'll be playing better as a result.

Edited by - Omeboy on 11/27/2021 10:56:23

jdeluke137 - Posted - 11/27/2021:  11:00:37

I agree with all the other posts, particularly the ones saying you will sound better. Well executed slides, hammer ons, and pull offs will sound significantly better, which means poorly executed ones will be obvious. That difference helps you to know what to practice, which enhances your ability over time.

thisoldman - Posted - 11/27/2021:  11:18:02

Michigan Lefty A child using an adult tool....I like that...been there.

deestexas - Posted - 11/27/2021:  11:24:52

As said before,

rcc56 - Posted - 11/27/2021:  11:38:58

It has been my experience from 30+ years of teaching that upgrading from a student level instrument to a professional grade instrument will facilitate your abilities, sometimes greatly, sometimes moderately. I have also seen that it can expose your weaknesses, sometimes embarrassingly so, because a good instrument won't lie to you, and it won't cover anything up.

It is essential that any new acquisition be correctly set up and adjusted, even if it's a top grade instrument.

John Porter - Posted - 11/27/2021:  11:43:58

I think Bob is right on the money. I always say to people that a professional quality instrument makes you want to play it more, which obviously helps you improve. Also, if you're really serious about getting better, having an instrument that reveals your shortcomings is only a positive in the grand journey of learning.

rcc56 - Posted - 11/27/2021:  12:18:38

I will add that if you've been playing for a few years and have the slightest idea that you've outgrown your Goodtime [which you probably have], by all means move up to a better instrument [as long as you can afford it]. It will be well worth it, even if it does expose a problem or two that you didn't know you had.

If at all possible, play the new instrument before you buy, and make sure that the neck will fit your hand.

Old Hickory - Posted - 11/27/2021:  12:34:51

A better instrument has more tonal range, more volume, more power, more headroom.  It responds better to every level of touch. You want to pick softly, it whispers melodically. You want to pick hard, it screams and then asks "Is that all you got?" It never gives out. Never gives up.

Just another way of saying what everyone else has said. Because the better instrument sounds better, it makes you sound better. That makes you want to play it more. The more you play, the better you get. The better instrument will always help you sound your best.

And here's the kicker: After the Stelling helps you get a whole lot better, you'll play the old Goodtime one day and be amazed at how good it sounds.

Alvin Conder - Posted - 11/27/2021:  12:37:37

Good tools = Good work.

Yes, a better instrument will without question help you become a better player.

Reasons are all listed above. That being said, the number one factor is practice. Lots of practice. Having a good instrument is just a tool to make the work easier.

RB3 - Posted - 11/27/2021:  12:54:39

A good banjo won't make you a good player, but a really bad banjo can significantly affect your ability make honest judgments about your development as a player. I know this from my experience.

I started more the 50 years ago with a $40 pawn shop banjo that was made in Asia. I worked on Cripple Creek and Cumberland Gap for 6 months, and neither song sounded like what I heard on the records. It was very discouraging. Then, one day I went into a music store and I spied a nice looking Ode Model C on a music stand. After receiving permission from the proprietor to try out the Ode, I discovered that what I was playing did bear a significant resemblance to what I was hearing on my records. It was a real epiphany and I've never forgotten it.

My advice is to get the best instrument you can afford. A really good one will help provide inspiration.

Cornflake - Posted - 11/27/2021:  13:05:32

You can always sell your Stelling and get your money back. I've played my Red Fox for 20 years and love the dang thing.

overhere - Posted - 11/27/2021:  14:00:06

I’m going to say something a little different. Does it make you play better? Upgrades sometimes more than likely have better necks smother and sometimes quicker. Actions can sometimes be closer to the neck without buzzing and give better fretting ability. Tone is all important when trying to play phrases where you need a certain sound. Also certain tones give you incentives to play things or try things you may never try with a clunker banjo. Like everyone says ,sure if you’re a mediocre player and limited time plying it may not offer a whole lot ....but any expensive instrument I ever tried ....banjo....mandolin....guitar I was always found more comfortable to play. A better banjo should have a wider up the neck range of ease and cleaer sounds which lend to ease of playing phrasing high up.......there are many advantages to playing a better instrument.......I wouldn’t trade any new instrument with my first calf skin head banjo on a rainy playing back in the 60s took off when I bought a Gibson RB 100.....the songs started sounding like the recordings.....and I still today love the neck it had.

Old Hickory - Posted - 11/27/2021:  16:08:33

Also . . .

Many lower level instruments can actually hold you back, with high action, uneven frets and limited adjustability that renders them uncomfortable to play -- if not almost unplayable. If their fretboards aren't accurate, they'll never play in tune.

All that and the previous knocks on bad instruments being said, you're starting with a Goodtime, which many people think is the best beginner instrument. They have comfortable necks, with the same profile as Deering's higher end banjos; they're designed for easily playable low action; and they can be set up to sound pretty good. A Goodtime in good condition works with you, not against you.

The Stelling will be light years better, but you're starting in a good place.

1935tb-11 - Posted - 11/27/2021:  16:13:22

when i got to play the mack crowe 75 that mills has , i sounded like me on the 75,,not bad but like me,,,when jim played my style 11 conversion it sounded like jim my 11 ain't what the mack crowe is but,,,,,,,, its in the hands man

Helix - Posted - 11/28/2021:  04:35:56

Someone said the Stellings have their own sound.

Go take another listen to "Smokey and the Bandit." That banjo is a Stelling Bellflower from '76.  I got to work on that banjo in my shop.  I learned a lot and took that back over to my own banjos.

About action:  high action gives the most volume with lesser intonation up the neck.

Low action is what I see at the jam, slinky gives the least resistance and better intonation, but less volume from really nice banjos that weigh a ton.

This will help you redefine your specs.  

From the Attack, Sustain, Decay point of view.  Your goodtime has limits and no tone ring assist.  So it has high Attack, Low sustain and high Decay

Now look at what the "Wet" banjos produce:  High Attack, High sustain and Low Decay.  Ok then.  

Then the "Dry" old timers come in with Low attack, Low sustain and high Decay, like popcorn banjos, they snap, crackle and POP.  

I became frustrated with the "Science" crowd because they don't measure real living, playing banjos and we HAVE the technology to measure live banjos.

My opinion about Stellings is that they were "designed." Given how difficult it is to enter this niche market with strong innovations and make a living while one can get picked to pieces.  He made strong innovations regarding his heel cut (flat) with a straight sided rim so the pyramidal ledge for the flange just snugs right up.  It all falls together,  He used hollow aluminum pipe for his rim rods, like Vega. 

These banjos are heavy, but I think you will make you a better player.  The good banjo will help and will give lesser validation to no feature sameness. 

Here's 4 hawks at sinrise, take your pick.

Edited by - Helix on 11/28/2021 04:55:11


majesty - Posted - 11/28/2021:  05:58:12

If the better banjo could talk, it would say to you: You can buy me on one condition, that you find out why you are not a better player.

conic - Posted - 11/28/2021:  10:32:30

I dont think it will make you a better player only lots and lots of good practice and playing at lots of slow jams will do that.

Look up Rob Bourassa, he plays an ancient old style goodtime openback and  blows most pickers away

Look Up Geoff Hohwald he sells many banjos and demonstrates them on his tube channel but they all sound like Geoff Hohwald picking.

Look up Jens Kruger, he plays like Jens Kruger whatever banjo he plays but If you want much better tone and volume get the Stelling


talljoey - Posted - 11/28/2021:  22:00:38


Originally posted by JSB88

I got a better banjo earlier this year (although it was a lot less than any Stelling), and basically agree with most of the previous posts. What I will add is that it still makes my heart soar with joy when I play and hear its beautiful tone, so I would say go for it, you won't regret it.

Absolutely!  Upgrading to my Deering Sierra did make my heart soar, still does.

I do have a suggestion; find a great teacher, who will inspire you to learn more. Best money I ever spent on a banjo wasn't the banjo, but the lessons on how to play a banjo. 

majesty - Posted - 11/29/2021:  05:22:53

talljoey: Exactly, that is what I believe, in my opinion.

YellowSkyBlueSun - Posted - 11/29/2021:  13:02:23

The question is, "will buying a better banjo make me a better player". My answer is, "Who cares if it does or not?"

Nobody goes out and takes driving lessons and spends 100 hours at the track before buying a nice car. When you buy a new computer, you don't ask yourself if you're good enough at using computers to justify the nicer model. You don't take courses on the Kama Sutra before buying a new bed.

Musical instruments are the only product where people feel the need to justify a purchase with their skill level. For the life of me, I'll never understand why.

Can you afford the Stelling? Do you want it? If the answers are "yes", then go buy it. Nothing else matters.

conic - Posted - 11/29/2021:  13:25:43

silly answer, the OP question was not can i buy a new banjer, driving lessons and computers only if im good enough",

It was "Will getting the Stelling make me a better Banjo player or do you think it won’t make much difference". sounds like he is asking for help

mrbook - Posted - 11/29/2021:  18:46:54

My first good banjo after playing my Harmony for 25 years made a big difference in my playing. The Harmony sounded decent - not great, but even other banjo players thought it was good, and I disparaged it more than anyone else - had low action, and played in tune up the neck, but the new one (made by a small maker) felt like a real banjo. The neck felt more substantial under my fingers, and I finally felt like I was playing a real banjo when I played it. It sounded better, too. Not as expensive as the Stelling, but a good banjo can make you feel like you are a better player, which I'm sure makes you one. How far you go with it is still up to you.

saw_woods - Posted - 12/01/2021:  12:48:28

My Stelling Sunflower is just fun to play. Not that my old beater, kick-around banjo isn’t, but it’s a whole different level. When I pick up my Stelling (usually daily) I almost always pick for an hour or more. My beater banjo is on a stand and gets picked up more frequently, but often only for a song or two.

monstertone - Posted - 12/03/2021:  11:48:43

If for no other reason, the Stelling will contribute to you becoming a better player because you think it will. It will inspire you. You will not have to pick as hard to pull tone out of it. Stelling necks have a contour I find very much to my liking. You certainly cannot lose money on a well kept Stelling banjo. 

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