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Sosebee bridge and Danny Barnes

Posted by spurtalisterous on Thursday, February 21, 2013

Replaced the Grover bridge on my Cortez archtop with a Sosebee today.  Made recordings before and after.  I understand people feel bridges are "green" at first.  I don't have an ear for it, I guess.  My banjo sounds better, in the direction I had hoped and in one I didn't expect but welcome.  First, everything sounds pretty clear by contrast.  Second, and unexpectedly, it took away a bit of the pinginess or high treble I was experiencing.  I like this.  The tone is creamier, more mid-based, but still clear.  I would say it's thicker.

Which brings me to Danny Barnes.  On Bishline Banjos website, Barnes remarks on the thick tone he gets from his shorter-scale, wooden tone-ring Bishline.  It is a really interesting sound.  These instruments are such personal things, and few other instruments allow you to tweak their tone so profoundly post-purchase.  When I was ordering this archtop 70s import (my Cortez, now officially named Folkerdina), I expected the tinniness of an archtop but probably exacerbated by perhaps relaxed standards of building in Japan during the 70s.  In fact, this banjo was built very well; compared to imports today, well, it's an unfair comparison.  During the 70s Japanese makers were using as models the best American banjos, and making them with updated technology of the 70s but with wood that still had not sunk to quality levels builders experience today.  This resulted in some pretty decent instruments.  Note for instance the demand today for early 80s Goldstars (essentially the same thing).

Anticipating crazy tinniness, I asked the guys at Elderly to install a Fiberskyn head.  I have to say that I was really impressed with the sound of the banjo a few minutes out of the box (with all their polishing and clean-up, fretwork, it was an essentially new banjo).  Over the last couple of weeks I have grown to like it more and more, and now I can explain what it is I love about the tone.  Archtop banjos are not merely more trebly, they are voiced differently.  To me they have a throaty, cylindrical kind of tone; that is usually accompanied by lots of high-end, leading many people to expect archtops to sound like Ralph Stanley (recently = 80s to present).  Do go back and listen to Ralph's pre-Stanleytone days with the Stanley Brothers, especially "Midnight Ramble" and some of those.  That banjo had plenty of mid-range, and in fact, it almost had some break-up like it was somehow amplified or slightly distorted.  That electric banjo sound was something I was after for a long time.  I got the closest on one of Gibson's reissued top-tension RB-7s back in the late 90s.  But there is a difference in an archtop's voice.

This banjo has that throatiness, but the pingy high-end is somehow reduced (maybe the Fiberskyn?).  It sounds terrific.  It also sounds really clear, as though I'm playing through a Roland JC-120.  But the 120 implies more treble than I get.  In essence I think I have finally gotten a "thick" tone that works for me.  Danny's banjo sounds great, and it sounds perfect with him.  In some ways it is almost guitaristic by comparison with a regular banjo, and I wanted mine to have more banjo character.  I think I'm going to love this one.

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