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My Banjo journey

Friday, August 6, 2010

I started playing banjo in January 2008 (the date on my home picture, I now see, has the wrong date on it. Every time the battery goes, the date changes and I never remember to fix it).  Like all newbies, I posted the question of what banjo to buy.  Not knowing anything about what a banjo would cost, I was initially looking at a Johnson, because it was, well, affordable.  But, after posting my questions I ended up with my first banjo which was a Morgan Monroe MNB-1.  It was recommended by Paul at Banjo Hut, after a discussion of my playing desires.  I played for a couple of months and really liked the MNB-1, with the exception of the color, which was a bit orange. I then found out what the difference was between a tone hoop and tone ring, and thought I had to have a tone ring.   I again called upon Paul at Banjo Hut and we worked out a trade for a Morgan Monroe Matterhorn.  I really liked the Matterhorn, as it had an excellent sound and I loved the old time look. 

While playing during the first year, I had become quite acquainted with the Hangout and read everything I could about banjos. I absolutely felt I had to have a Gibson, so I got an Earl Scruggs Standard.  The funny thing is, I sounded no better with an expensive banjo than I did with a lower end banjo...Hmmm imagine that.  After a while of playing these banjos my shoulder hurt from carrying the weight, and Paul told me this would happen.  So since I now had two heavy banjos, I sold the Matterhorn (I think I'll always miss the Matterhorn), and bought a Gold Tone CC100R Plus. I looked at the Goodtimes at that time, but they had that Gumby Head, and I just couldn't come to grips with that look.  I played the Gold Tone, which by the way was a great banjo. I really liked the lower weight, and the sound was good also.  The dark tobacco stain was kind of a put off, but the weight and sound kept me playing it for about a year. The Gold Tone came out with the BG-150F, and I sold the CC100R Plus to get the better looking BG-150F. Since it was so popular, they were having problems keeping them in stock and I had to wait almost 6 weeks to get one. During this time I played my heavy Gibson.

There was considerable chatter on the hangout about the new Goodtimes, and a thread called "What do you think of the sound of the new Goodtimes?" started by Mrs. Deering caught my attention.  I read these with interest and after many good reviews, I ordered a new Goodtime while still waiting for the Gold Tone BG-150F.  I received the Goodtime and immediately and I liked the plunky sound.  Like all banjo players, I had been looking for a sound. I thought I wanted to sound like Earl, but after playing the Goodtime, I really liked that sound. I felt that this was the sound I had been searching for.  It was at this time I put the Gibson in the case and put it away.  The weight of the Goodtime is something that really kept me picking it up.  It is only 4 pounds and had the sound that I liked.  Not that all was well in river city, I did/do not really like the substitution of the RR spike at the 5th fret instead of the normal 5th string PIP. The no arm rest was also a negative as I had a vega arm rest put on it but quickly found this digging into my arm so I ordered a Nechville wooden arm rest. This arm rest was amazing, and the most comfortable one I have had. Also, no more cold metal against my bare arms when I would wear short sleeves. However, the price kind of choked me. 

I received the Gold Tone BG 150F, and it is a fine banjo. I really like the look, it has a GREAT bright bluegrass sound, and it is loud even though it only has a tone hoop as opposed to a tone ring. One of the main reasons I bought it was because it was's still twice as heavy as the goodtime, but 5 lbs lighter than the Gibson.  Still I really like the BG150F, however it is too loud to play in the house (hmmm seems I'm the only one who likes banjo).  But also, I am always afraid of scratching the resonator of any really good looking banjo, and the Goodtime doesn't have a resonator so that worry is eliminated.  The Goodtime has become my player banjo, it's all I pick up and play.  I really like the weight and Plunky sound, and the new head is attractive. The new fret inlays of walnut, and even the blond color has grown on me.  Disappointments included the 5th string rr spike in place of a PIP (I've almost caught my finger on the rr spike during slides), and the lack of an arm rest was an annoyance (but I wouldn't have found the Nechville arm rest if it did have one). Lastly, the lack of a fingerboard overlay in a dark color, such as what I am used to, is sometimes distracting. I have gotten used to this, and can now say I like it.  What I did find is that with no resonator or tone ring, the peg head and neck were heavier than the pot and the neck wanted to drift downward. This was causing me to have to support the neck, interfering with freedom of hand movement, so I found a used flange and resonator to put on the banjo and increase the weight of the pot.  

So my Gibson was stowed away, and my new Gold Tone is in a stand. I want to play it, but it's just too loud to play while anyone is home. I play my Goodtime every day. I decided the Gibson is too heavy, and the tone isn't really me. At about the same time, Deering came out with the Eagle II which has a different tone that I like. But something had to go prior to buying another banjo, so, I sold the Gibson and the Gold Tone, as the Eagle II seemed to be a mid ground between the two. It would include a full tone ring banjo, lower in weight than the Gibson, but a bit heavier than the the Gold Tone.  Both sold relatively quickly and I placed an order for the Eagle II, Custom - in Walnut with 3 RR spikes, and a Renaissance head.  I have played one, and it is, as mentioned,  lighter than my Gibson. It is also comfortable to play, really attractive, and I like the sound. I'm hoping the walnut and renaissance head will only add to the sound I like.  I've bought 7 and sold 5 banjos in 3  years. I think I'm done now...I'm glad I'm back to two banjos, three was just too many for me.  The Eagle II, cost wise, was in between the cost of the BG-150F and the Gibson, and it is a professional banjo. I really like it. Funny how things work out sometimes...more expensive isn't always better, but then, only experience can teach us that.

So, here we are a bit later, January 2014.  I had run across the OME NorthStar last year and was immediately struck by it.  The aged bronze hardware, walnut wood, peg head, Tone rim vs Tone ring for light weight all were what I've been looking for during this journey, and this was it.  However, unless you find one at an OME retailer, it just isn't available.  So I had to order one. It took about six months to be custom made at OME in Colorado.  Something had to go to make room, so the Goodtime was the odd banjo out. I sold it and used the funds as a down-payment on the OME, my most expensive banjo to date, and absolutely my favorite.  I have no regrets with the Northstar. It's everything I've always wanted in a banjo, including looks, sound, weight, playability.  I wasn't sure the combination of things that totally appealed to me as an individual was out there, and I was so surprised to find it.   I guess it's all back to that journey I keep reminding myself of.

I think I'm done buying banjos, for now. I have two terrific banjos, OME NorthStar and Deering Eagle II.  These two are true favorites, and I am thrilled with both. I can't say that I've ever owned a bad banjo. They have all been good banjos, and every single unit has had its virtues. What it comes down to is just a matter of personal taste in the end. 

I continue to enjoy the journey, but continue to remind myself that this isn't a race, and to slow down and enjoy the journey.

Now, if I could just play better...

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Playing Since: 2008
Experience Level: Novice

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Occupation: Banking

Gender: Male
My Instruments:
2013 Ome Northstar (Walnut)
2011 Deering Eagle II (Walnut)
2012 Self Made 5 string (Walnut)

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Created 12/29/2007
Last Visit 2/25/2021

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