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About the Gold Tone Mastertone™ “Bluegrass Heart” Béla Fleck Signature Banjo

Saturday, January 1, 2022

We're excited to be holding a giveaway for a Gold Tone Mastertone™ “Bluegrass Heart” Béla Fleck Signature Banjo with Case, so I chatted with Gold Tone founder Wayne Rogers about what makes this banjo special. Read all about it below, then be sure to enter the drawing!


Anyone who follows Béla Fleck knows he's been a fan of Gold Tone's lower-tuned banjos. But the Mastertone™ “Bluegrass Heart” Béla Fleck Signature Banjo is another beast entirely. What were you and Béla's goals in developing this banjo?


Marc Horowitz has an OB-3 Twanger and likes it so much that he called me with the idea of making a road banjo for Béla based on the OB-3 pot assembly; a banjo that would closely resemble "Number One", the Gibson style 75 he's played for decades. After we talked, Marc called Béla and we were off to the races.


The goal was to build one banjo to serve as a backup on tour if something should go wrong with Number One. There was no plan to issue a Béla model when this all started but as prototyping went along, Béla was on board for a signature model. His goals were: it had to play and sound as close as possible to his Gibson so he could easily switch to it on stage; it had to come in a roadworthy case, and it had to be affordable to anyone looking for a professional-grade instrument. He also wanted some design elements that meant something to him personally, so with the "My Bluegrass Heart" tour scheduled for a few months later, it was a great idea to tie in with that.


Can you lay out the timeline of this evolved, and who the principal actors were?

Marc came up with the concept in December of 2020, I signed off on it and Béla was involved the whole way. We all came up with ideas for utility and design, and we communicated daily for months. The first prototype went to Béla in June of 2021.


I've always appreciated your willingness to experiment with new banjo designs, while keeping costs low for the end user. What in your mind makes the Mastertone™ “Bluegrass Heart” Béla Fleck Signature Banjo stand out from other Gold Tone banjos?

Like the OB-3, this banjo was intended to be a no-compromise instrument that was suitable for use by the most discerning players. It’s the highest-priced instrument we’ve ever made, but the money is there; you pick it up, you play it, and you can see and hear that the money’s there.


This banjo was developed during Covid lockdowns with the attendant supply chain challenges, etc. How did this affect its development and eventual manufacturing?

This kind of worked in our favor. Since we were all homebound, there was ample time for development work to move along quickly. It was just six months from the idea to the first prototype.


Is this banjo particularly suited to certain styles of music? What sort of player would appreciate this banjo most?

Certainly, this banjo is aimed squarely at modern stylists. Fans of Béla’s know about his “Number One” banjo’s characteristics and many of these players would like to have an instrument that’s set up in a similar fashion. Until now, a banjo like this from a boutique builder would cost more than $5,000. Almost anyone can now have an instrument worthy of its namesake for an affordable price.


Anything else you'd like to share that our readers would be interested in? 

Gold Tone has long been noted for our high-value approach to instrument design. Everyone knows that we design and spec our products in Florida, and that we manufacture in Korea and China. The OB-3 and the ‘Bluegrass Heart” models show that the factories we partner with can turn out thoroughly sorted-out, great-sounding professional-grade instruments that we can offer to players at the most affordable prices. The notion that offshore manufacturing means compromised quality and value is out of date, and we’re proud of our part in making these instruments acceptable to many more players. It’s not important WHERE an instrument is made; what’s important is HOW it’s made.


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