I was picked to do a review of David’s Zebra/Katalox bridges. After David & I corresponded via e-mail, he sent me two of his bridges – a Zebra with ebony cap, and one with a Katalox cap. I tested the Zebra/Katalox on my parts banjo, The Pope. This one weighed 2.27 grams & was the standard 5/8” tall. (The other one weighed 2.15 grams.) I used the heavier one because I like a bassier sound and a heavier bridge will tend to accentuate the bottom. The other one is on another banjo and I may add on to this later with comments on the ebony-capped one. I was familiar with Zebrawood because my Alembic electric bass is Zebrawood on the back.
Both bridges were really nicely constructed with nice corners, flat feet, the correct tipped back orientation and very smoothly finished. I was not familiar with Katalox but David cleared that up: “Yes, Katalox is Mexican Ebony. It’s about 10% harder than regular ebony and is what Gibson and Martin use on many fretboards and saddles nowadays.”
When I got the bridge from David, my banjo had a Mike Smith Kat Eyz pegged “select” 5/8” bridge that weighed 2.2 grams on it. (Pegged means it has four pegs going vertically thru the ebony cap and the maple body. From Mike’s website: Allows string vibrations to pass through the bridge without penetrating a solid glue line at the topwood/framewood marriage. Very small glue dots are used between (but not under) string slots. Pegs reduce amount of glue used.) This bridge had been on the banjo for some months so it was pretty much settled in.
Since I wanted reader to hear the difference, I recorded the banjo with a small mixer going in to my soundcard (Xonar Essence STX) with the mic (MXL 603S small diaphragm condenser) one foot from the head and with perpendicular orientation to the head. I tried to keep my right hand in the same position. Sorry about the mistakes!
When I changed to the David Cunningham Zebra/Katalox bridge and allowed it to settle for a few weeks so they would both be settled in for the most part. I recorded it with the DC bridge the same way as before. (I even used a ruler to make sure the distance from the banjo to the mic was the same, no changes to the mixer.)
I want you, dear reader, to hear the sound files for yourself but here’s my take on them:
The KatEyz bridge had slightly more bass response but the notes were somewhat “splashy”, i.e., not really focused.
The DC bridge was an angst (angst = the smallest difference you can hear) quieter but had a more focused sound and a slightly more treble sound.
The end result for me is that the DC bridge probably won’t stay on The Pope but it might end up on my Kenny Ingram, which is even bassier than The Pope, or on my other banjo, which has a maple Robin Smith neck. The Pope has a mahogany Robin Smith neck and all three have Sullivan Factory Floor rims. Note that I didn’t change the setup when I swapped bridges which may or may not have had an effect on the overall results.
One thing that I hasten to point out, and this has been pointed out over and over on the Banjo Hangout, is that every banjo is slightly different than every other banjo and that setup is paramount. The best thing you could do is have someone send you 10 or 12 bridges, try them all and keep one. Of course, any bridge builder who would do this is nuts but that’s why if you take your banjo to Chris Cioffi or Charlie Cushman for a setup, they would have dozens of bridges that they will try out on YOUR banjo so you know the right one’s on there. I have amassed a collection of about 20 name brand bridges so I can sort of do that myself. I am an inveterate tinkerer…
I gave this bridge a 10 on the review rating because it was so well constructed and obviously right up there with other “name brand” bridges. The way is sounds is a judgment call of course but it has a nice focused sound; I think it would be good on a bassy banjo…
Thank you to David for sending me these bridges to try and to Eric for publishing the results. You guys should pat yourselves on the back!
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Playing Since: 1962
Experience Level: Purty Good
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My Williams Kenny Ingram Special, #9, is almost 6 years old now. It's sounding real good and I expect it, from what other folks that have them said, to continue opening up as time goes on. Will brought it to the motel for me. We (my friend Paul and I) stayed in Grangeville but Will was coming up there for some appointments so he said he'd just bring it. I was paranoid to have it shipped so I brought my own Calton case for it. It sounds great all the way up the neck, very even. I put some Cryogenic strings on it (Bill Evans) and I think they sound better than the GHS that Will put on. More later...
I recently (May of 2013) took the KI to Chris Cioffi for frets & a complete setup. Look at my post "Visit with Chris Cioffi..." for more details. It came just when Chris said it would & it's fabulous!
I had a 1929 Mastertone that was heavily modified: Tony Pass ThinSkirt rim, Paul Hopkins full flathead tone ring, Presto tailpiece, Robin Smith Flying Eagle neck. I have all the parts for it so I could put it back the way it was. Edit: I put the prewar back the way it was and sold it to my dentist's husband to pay for the KI. He studies with Bill Evans, who played it and liked it as well. The flathead tone ring, rim and the Robin Smith FE neck are now on another banjo.
I use Tom Mirasola's cryogenic strings, Sammy Shelor fingerpicks & Blue Chip thumbpicks.
A few years ago I built a new banjo with a cast flange and a Sullivan factory floor rim and a Blaylock Beartracks tone ring. It has a Robin Smith mahogany neck and resonator with Christmas tree binding. It was designed to replicate an prewar, i.e. , short distance after the last fret, mahogany neck/resonator, Presto tailpiece, etc. Even has Jim Burlile's copies of Walt Pittman's twisters. Sounds real good.
The Del McCoury Band is the best in my opinion. Robby doesn't get the respect he deserves and Ronnie is simply the best mando player around today.
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"I was born in Chicago, 19 and 43." Moved to Los Alamos, NM, (birthplace of the A bomb and my brother who plays mandolin) at 6 months, then to LA until a few years ago. I lived in the Bay Area for 3 years and then moved to Woodland (outside Sacramento) because my brother lives there and I was trying to get a job at UC Davis. Couldn't get a computer job so I worked for TSA (Transportation Security Administration) I retired from TSA on 9-30-? and am loving it! I used to work for Electronic Musician and Mix in Emeryville, CA, before being laid off exactly two years after moving to Emeryville to take the job. Now I live in Woodland, CA, outside of Sacramento. I retired from TSA in September of ? & am now living the life, playing banjo, doing some photography, using my computers for fun, etc. Life's not bad...