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Nov 14, 2017 - 1:15:42 PM
1023 posts
Joined Oct 17, 2013

I bought a used RK-20 off the Guitar Center website this morning. I had been considering a Fender FB-55 banjo that was located near St. Louis, but after looking at a few discussions on the less-than-quality FB-55, I chose the RK instead. I'm planning on swapping out the brass ring for a standard flathead tone ring.

Anyone with an RK-20 is welcome to offer their opinions on my latest purchase, whether I did bad, good, or indifferent.

Edited by - bluegrassbanjopicker on 11/14/2017 17:09:34

Nov 14, 2017 - 1:52:07 PM

RioStat Players Union Member


4268 posts
Joined Oct 12, 2009

You better plan on swapping out the rim, also.

The rim on those RK 20's are only about 3/8" thick

Nov 14, 2017 - 2:10:22 PM

1023 posts
Joined Oct 17, 2013

Will do.

Anyone else want to chime in? Please do so.

Nov 14, 2017 - 4:09:20 PM

spini Players Union Member


297 posts
Joined Sep 10, 2014

The R20 was my first banjo, it was a nice little banjo and it is now at a friends as his first banjo. I liked it fine. I would not put any $$ in it other than a good set up. Its a nice playing and sounding banjo as it is.

Nov 14, 2017 - 5:14:53 PM

1023 posts
Joined Oct 17, 2013

Well, it must be coming with a case, though it didn't say so on the website - the shipping weight for the package is 16 lbs. 

I have a spare maple rim from a banjo project several weeks ago. I'm going to try and fit it to the RK rim (with a bit of modification) when the banjo gets here.

Also, I wonder if the previous owner did any tinkering with it. Whatever he did/didn't do, I'll find out tomorrow.

Edited by - bluegrassbanjopicker on 11/14/2017 17:15:49

Nov 14, 2017 - 5:21:45 PM

1023 posts
Joined Oct 17, 2013

Most of that 16 pounds is 10 hefty pounds of solid banjo. The box probably adds 6 pounds more. Here's some specs from a Reverb page:


Laminated Maple Rim
Mahogany Neck
Mahogany Veneer Resonator
1-Piece Nickel-Plated Flange
24 Brackets
Rolled Brass Tone Ring
Single Coordinator Rods
Bound Rosewood Fretboard
M.O.P. Floral Fretboard Inlay
M.O.P. Floral Peghead Inlay
Rosewood Peghead Overlay
4-Ply Ivoroid Heel Cap
Kershner Tailpiece
Nickel-Plated Hardware
REMO Fiberskyn Head
Notched Hoop
Nut Width: 1-3/16"
Head Size: 11", 7/16" height
Frets: 22
Total Length: 39"
Weight: 10.45 lbs

Nov 14, 2017 - 5:32:25 PM

8675 posts
Joined Jun 2, 2008

Don't know what kind of rim you have on hand, but the RK-20 is a shoe-and-hook banjo, so you need a rim that hasn't been cut for any type of flange. You'll need to drill (or have drilled) 24 precisely located holes for attaching the shoes.

I think buying an RK-20 with the intent of upgrading it to a full flat-head tone ring is tough to justify economically.

Nov 14, 2017 - 5:53:52 PM

1023 posts
Joined Oct 17, 2013

What I have in mind is adding more quality wood to the pot, with a space between the two sections of maple rim so that the screws for the shoes can still be reached. The actual rim will not undergo major modification.

I have a pretty good idea of how to go about it, based on my learning from mistakes when I tried to make about 6 "banjos" about five years ago. Basically these were nothing more than very fancy looking wall-hangers in the general shape of a banjo. I gleaned a lot of valuable information from that experience. Many may not know that I even tried to make a hammer dulcimer once, in a dulcimer "craze." It didn't work or play (pun not intended). 

Nov 14, 2017 - 5:57:21 PM

8675 posts
Joined Jun 2, 2008

I just looked at the FB-55, and it sure looks like it's essentially the same banjo. Different inlay and pegged shape, but it looks like the same shoe-and-hook banjo, same flange plate, same extra wood at 22nd fret.

RK-20 is a banjo made for Recording King, not by them. My guess is it comes from the same factory -- currently shut down -- that makes the Fender.

Nov 14, 2017 - 6:54:19 PM

RioStat Players Union Member


4268 posts
Joined Oct 12, 2009

That RK 20 description above is "mis-leading"......the RK 20 is a shoe bracket  / flange plate set-up, not a one piece flange.

I buy Dirty Thirties,  and RK 06's (Midnight Black) banjos, just for the necks and resonators. They're the same as the RK 35 necks and reso's, just "simpler" inlays, and different color schemes.

Not trying to be negative,  but you've bought a "blood red" neck and resonator, with a thin, useless rim. Find a good 3 ply rim with shoe brackets, that can be cut for a tone ring, and you can make a nice little banjo out of it.

Edited by - RioStat on 11/14/2017 19:01:55

Nov 14, 2017 - 7:07:21 PM

1023 posts
Joined Oct 17, 2013

I understand completely, and I am not offended by your post in any way.

I've had enough experience dealing with frustrations on other inferior instruments to know what to do.

I'll see what I can do about improving it. I will post later upon completion of improvements.

Edited by - bluegrassbanjopicker on 11/14/2017 19:09:14

Nov 14, 2017 - 7:34:40 PM

gtani7 Players Union Member


295 posts
Joined Mar 22, 2017

I thought it was a great banjo for the money, I've also had a R06 Starlight and RKR35, I didn't like having only one lag bolt and the fretboard was dead straight witht he trussrod loose, but it sounded decent after tightening up the head and I remember mounting the tailpiece on a straight bracket to get the bolt to line up and get enough breakover angle:

Ultimately, I upgraded and sold it to GC, didn't want to deal with Craigslist, but that was in August or so.  So if it has red writing on the bridge and plugged holes for a sliding 5th string capo...

Edited by - gtani7 on 11/14/2017 19:40:40

Nov 15, 2017 - 1:26:56 PM
likes this

1023 posts
Joined Oct 17, 2013

Got the banjo. Upgrades, flathead tone ring, here we come!

Nov 15, 2017 - 7:40:30 PM

588 posts
Joined Mar 16, 2013

I had one for a couple of years and it was a pretty decent banjo when properly set up. Unless you happen to have the parts for an upgrade already on hand though I wouldn't spend money upgrading it. I finally got the RK-36 for my upgrade. I did put a renaissance head and a Big Foot banjo bridge on it which did help. It also likes a bit tighter head at about 85 on the drum dial.

If I were you I'd enjoy the 20 for what it is. A fairly lightweight banjo that's fun to play and has good sound and projection.

Nov 16, 2017 - 9:26:22 AM

1535 posts
Joined Jan 10, 2004

I don't really consider these kind of instruments a good foundation for a project banjo, they are what they are. MAYBE useful just for the neck and reso. The hardware while shiny is not that great. But it's yours so more power to you and lots of luck.

Nov 16, 2017 - 6:58:38 PM

gtani7 Players Union Member


295 posts
Joined Mar 22, 2017

Does it have 1 lag bolt?  Are you going to install another one?  That's one thing I considered that i think would enhance tone.  I didn't understand why the lower line RK r6 Starlights had 2 and that one only had one.
But bottom line for what i paid, it was a terrific value and a solid learner's instrument.
Originally posted by bluegrassbanjopicker

Got the banjo. Upgrades, flathead tone ring, here we come!


Nov 17, 2017 - 5:55:04 AM

Helix Players Union Member


10598 posts
Joined Aug 30, 2006

I've converted a couple of RK20's, all the parts are there, obviously the rim is lightweight and less tonal.

I put an adult rim in there and my design allows me to use the original tone ring.

My experience gives me an opinion, flathead tone rings do a certain job at a weight penalty, but they also clip frequencies.

I can install Fresnel ledges inside any rim by using simple binding strips, that creates three different and progressive reflective surfaces.

My Bluegrass rig is a Gold Tone OB250, minus the JLS, with a vintage Black Walnut beam for the rim, same tone ring as yours, so whether hanging back and vamping or soloing, I am always able to use the dynamics without struggling like others at the jam.

As to shoe and plate banjos, Deering and others take those specs higher up the price point, no flange, just a plate, lighter.

Deerings make banjo music, no doubt.

Did RK ship in a box?, they're pretty good at it.

RK/Greg Rich innovated the perfect solution to the hook bolt on one rod banjos. No hook bolt, just a simple screw going down through the heel, lines up. Their banjos mate up pretty good. I caution not to install another rim rod, it won't help the tone. The path is already there.

Make note those banjos are built in a different factory that contracts to others also. Great hardware. You can put any kind of rim you want in there, and RK has 3-ply blanks available if you need. Others like Hickler and Helix and various builders can put a new motor in that race car. it's like having a twin turbo without a hood scoop.

Here's an example in Hickory


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