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Posted by Dock Jekel on Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Last June, I visited family in Grand Rapids, MI. During this trip, I had the fortune to spend many hours over the course of 3 days playing dozens of banjos, one right next to the other, at Elderly Instruments! It was only an hour drive to Lansing, MI, and a nice getaway from the in-laws. 
While playing banjos, I concentrated, and was concerned, cause I was thinking hard, about laying some cash down, for a banjo upgrade. Now, I tell ya, I made a choice, and, I bought one! But you know, I didn't have enough money, cause there were some wonderful banjos that I left behind.  I loved the Tubaphones volume, I loved the clunky wooden things, like the Chuck Lee... The Bacon resonator was kind of like the Tubaphone... The fancy Wildwood, the Flesher Grand Cotillion, the Ome, The Deering, the Chanterelle, the Epiphone, and the Ceder Mountain, the Enoch...But one banjo clearly stood out for me. This thing just vibrated and just came really alive in my hands.
THE VEGA WHYTE LAYDIE  It was a VEGA WHYTE LAYDIE NO. 2 (1926).  I played the thing a long time. Believe it or not though, I bought this banjo, but new!  At some point, they pulled another banjer up from the basement that they had in stock.  Woa! I tried it out.  It was the same banjo! - minus a small inlay detail, and minus the Vega bracket band. They both had the same inlay- star at peghead and 5 fret. I personally, couldn’t tell a difference in the way they sounded or played. The new banjo sounded just as alive!  Maybe better, when I compared them side by side!  
SOLD! Bart Rieter Regent am for me (#3201).  Playing all the banjos together was a really good learning experience for me. I was planning on shelling out a fair amount of bucks to make a serious upgrade on a banjo. I would not say money was no object, but I was willing to pay a lot for the banjo that spoke to me. The VEGA WHYTE LAYDIE design spoke.  This banjo sort of vibrated in my hands, and I feel like my playing improved a notch! (action? whatever!).  I play with a fiddler in a band, so, I liked the power that this design has. I thought, Tubaphone, Bacons, and similar tone rings styles were very desirable, but, a bit too much for me. I am not a conformist by nature (Hey, I play the banjo!), so it amuses me greatly that my preference for the electric tone ring is more than pretty typical.  It is big time cliché’.  A second choice, looking back, was a thin potted Chuck Lee with a rolled brass tone ring- real nice.
Incidentally, Bart Reiter used to be the Forman Repair person in the Banjo department at Elderly Instruments, for many years. Considering the volume of new and vintage banjos at Elderly, I imagine his training was fine. I bet he knows as much about banjo parts and construction as anyone. 
Hey, this is just my experience, and an account of my preferences. My opinion should not be worth very much to someone else, cause I don’t know that much about banjos. Everyone is different. Everyone has their own preferences. But, this past summer was a good learning experience for me.  And, I am happy to share my story.
P.S. I recommend to anyone, go out of your way to visit those few special places, if you can, where you can play a  while, side by side, all the wonderful banjos that are out there!  
Note: This text is taken partly from a posting and a correspondence with RWJones1970

8 comments on “I GOT TO PLAY 'EM ALL!”

ScottK Says:
Thursday, August 27, 2009 @7:36:21 AM

Congratulations!  I had a similar experience with a Reiter Whyte Laydie No. 2 at Pioneer Music in Portland, Oregon a few years ago and ended up owning it.  Coincidentally, I just got it back a couple days ago after an extended loan to a close family friend and am really enjoying getting reacquainted with the feel and sound.  I think you're going to love your new banjo!  -Scott

RWJonesy Says:
Thursday, August 27, 2009 @7:59:13 AM

*** I know what your saying Doc.... I own a Bart Reiter A-scale Galax with electric tone ring and it's the sweetest I have yet to own. I would also like to own several dozen others too !!!!!

ElGringorio Says:
Thursday, August 27, 2009 @9:09:27 AM

Elderly's is two hours north of me. I have been up there several  A fine, fine music store with wonderful banjos. Yessir, a playground for you and me.

Dock Jekel Says:
Thursday, August 27, 2009 @11:55:46 AM

Nothing like those banjo playgrounds!  They sure are fun!  Wish we had a store like Pioneer Music closer to me in Northern California.  Hey, my Dobson banjo has an A-scale, and I like it.

ScottK Says:
Thursday, August 27, 2009 @1:38:54 PM

Be careful what you wish for.  Pioneer is into my pocket for the Reiter, a Mid-Missouri mandolin, a Moon octave mandolin, a Washburn tenor banjo, and two Taylor guitars.  And that was from before they moved the store to walking distance from my house!  I'm trying to keep it down to picks and strings now.  :-)  Great folk, though.  -Scott

BRUNO25 Says:
Monday, August 31, 2009 @3:29:22 AM

Congrats,  Dock!  Sounds like a good time.   We have Bernunzio's Vintage Instruments here in Rochester,  NY.   It's about an hour from me.  I get there when I can.   They've got a lot of great banjos.   I bought my Orpheum No. 1 there about a year and a half ago.  I love it.   I didn't know much about banjos then,   and still don't,  really.   But it spoke to me and I love it.

Cheers!    John

Banjo75 Says:
Monday, August 31, 2009 @8:11:18 PM

I am very jealous of that Reiter... some day, some day.

Dock Jekel Says:
Tuesday, September 1, 2009 @4:31:14 PM

Bernunzio's seems like one of the rare places to play a lot of banjo's, and destroy your finances!  Banjo75,... your day will come!

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