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New Banjo purchase help requested

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Feb 13, 2018 - 10:42:49 PM
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77 posts since 8/24/2013

I am an intermediate clawhammer player. I've been playing CH on my (heavy) 11" BG resonator banjo till now. I'm considering the following banjos and would appreciate your help since no quality banjo stores are anywhere near where I live to audition. (I plan to make some recordings and am coming along as a fiddler too. I'm an experienced guitarist. I hope to start an Old Time string band in due time.)

Richard Maple Ridge 11"
Richard Maple Ridge 12"

Rickard Custom Dobson 12" Spunover
Pisgah 12" Rambler Overspun Dobson Walnut

I prefer a clear, but plunky tone as opposed to one that rings out for days (Deering, Stella). If you have owned or played the above, can you give me some insight as to the playability, tenability, quality of build, tone and record ability of the above?

If you have any others you might recommend, please advise.

Finally, would you go with an 11" or 12", given I do like the CH tone on my BG 11" banjo.

Much Appreciated!

Scott

Edited by - Skyflyer911man on 02/14/2018 11:43:39

Feb 14, 2018 - 5:03:02 AM

Mike Rowe Players Union Member

USA

623 posts since 11/27/2005

Please call Sean or Bill at Rickard Banjos!
(905) 727-8686
They're more than happy to talk about banjos.

Feb 14, 2018 - 5:04:34 AM
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Craig_B

USA

1092 posts since 11/22/2009
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I bought an open-back to complement my Stelling, with the hope of learning some clawhammer stuff (and I will, when time allows). I did some research online and then spent almost a full day at Elderly auditioning what they had in the $1K-$1.4K range. I knew from the sounds I heard in videos that I wanted the deeper resonant tones I heard in 12" pot models. I actually went to the shop predisposed to the Pisgah Dobson Rambler with the spunover rim. What I heard, and the choice I made, ended up completely different. The Dobson is a very bright and loud banjo for an open-back. It's tone is gorgeous but bright and loud, and more percussive (big attack, short sustain) than I expected from an open-back. It was completely the opposite of the more mellow, "plunky" kind of sound I was looking for. Truth be told, I didn't think it was different enough from my Stelling to make it worth buying as a second banjo. Plus it's really heavy for an open-back, due, no doubt, to the spun-over rim.

The one I kept coming back to, over and over, as I switched between instruments that day, was a 12" Pisgah Possum. I actually wished I didn't like it so much, because its appearance is, well, different. The walnut rim and neck are gorgeous, as is the cherry cap on the rim, and the brass hardware complements it all nicely, but the fretboard and peghead overlay are persimmon (as is its tone ring), and let's say that's something of an acquired visual taste. But it sounds so nice - it has all the depth I was looking for from the 12" pot, and its tone is more mellow, without a lot of brash high sparkle, and the sustain seems just right to me.

I don't recall the other brands and models I tried (being new to open-backs, the names didn't mean that much to me, so they didn't stick with me), but I don't think I played the others you mentioned.

Feb 14, 2018 - 5:11:42 AM

87 posts since 2/7/2011

I have a Pisgah 11" Dobson. Had an original Whyte Laydie for years and years and liked the sound but it was "too nice" to carry about, let others play, play outside, etc. Rang like a bell all day long. Dobson is nice ½ way compromise between the really plunky plain tone rings and the white ladies, tubaphones, etc. The Rickards are nice; I think the Pisgahs are a little better value (plus made here in NC). Thought I see that the Pisgahs can get expensive as you add "options". Mike Ramsey's are nice. IMO no reason to get a 12", tho they are the rage at the moment. Since this is your first CH banjo I think, you may want to get something not too expensive, because you might change your mind as to what you really "need/want", re: scale length, tone ring, rim style, weight, finish, etc. etc.

Feb 14, 2018 - 5:18:48 AM

48567 posts since 12/14/2005

It seems that the USED banjos for sale on the HangOut might be very good for the price, since they've generally been cared for by people who are SLIGHTLY insane about banjos.

As to the brands you mentioned, I have no actual experience in playing them.
In any event, best wishes for a successful search.

Feb 14, 2018 - 7:22:57 AM

llrevis Players Union Member

USA

166 posts since 3/3/2010

You should take a look at the New Vinage Line of open banjos by Ken LeVan member here, website in links section. Priced at $1295 and should be priced much higher. More bang for your buck. Several configurations available.
I have one of his necks on a Tubaphone conversion and it is outstanding.

Feb 14, 2018 - 7:57:24 AM

gtani7 Players Union Member

USA

628 posts since 3/22/2017

You could look at the offerings at dealers like Bernunzio, Elderly, Music Emporium, Grphyon, Greg Rich that do youtube instrument demos and if they don't have sound samples of a particular banjo you can probably have them do one, maybe as a sound clip, no video. Also i think most of them will give you a refund but you don't have a long time, a few days, if you buy a used instruments, to notify them and shipping both ways will be a decent chunk of change.

I think it would help if you say what tonerings you're familiar with (sounds like you want a simple hoop/rod rather than a tubaphone/Whyte Lady/silver bell/dobson etc), if you want the full plunk of a natural skin head vs a Renaissance/amber, things like that

Feb 14, 2018 - 8:04:49 AM

4 posts since 1/19/2018

I haven't played any Richard banjos, but I have a 12" Pisgah Rambler Dobson. I think it's a great sounding banjo, but I don't think it's the "plunky tone" you are looking for. Here's a video of mine:

youtube.com/watch?v=o389KSWGDPE

Edited by - Doctor JerBear on 02/14/2018 08:06:59

Feb 14, 2018 - 11:05:53 AM

DC5 Players Union Member

USA

1925 posts since 6/30/2015

Best if you can go to a shop that has a lot of banjos to try. They are few and far between. I went to the Music Emporium in Lexington, MA and tried at least 10 different banjos. On the web page I saw a 12" Rickard, and several Omes that looked nice. I really liked the looks of the 12" Rickard with its brass hardware. But as I played (and I was there for hours) different ones I kept coming back to the Rickard 11" Dobson for the sound. With a rag stuffed inside it was the sound I liked the best. The 12" didn't feel right and was a little too low for me. My only issue on the Dobson was it had a little too much sustain which I fixed with a John Balch goat skin head. Now it's a much better banjo than I am a player, but it is sooooo much fun to play that I play it all the time, and when I'm not playing it I like just looking at it. With the co$t of a banjo it is really best if you can just sit and side by side compare.
My other open back is a Deering Goodtime Classic, which is a great banjo, but doesn't sing to me like the Rickard.

Feb 14, 2018 - 11:17:31 AM

77 posts since 8/24/2013

quote:
Originally posted by Mike Rowe

Please call Sean or Bill at Rickard Banjos!
(905) 727-8686
They're more than happy to talk about banjos.


Feb 14, 2018 - 12:02:18 PM

77 posts since 8/24/2013

Thanks Guys! Great advice, and coincidentally, I had talked with Sean just yesterday morning!

Since my resonator banjo already has a beautiful tone for clawhammer, but is heavy, I think the spun over or overseen pots (depending on which company is referring to them!), may be heavier than I want to go for with my tenuous back!

Having said that, it seems the Dobson 11" with a proper skin head might be the way to go.

The skin head will tone down the ring sustain, the smaller size will be lighter and the plucky will be there with clarity because of the Dobson.

Does that sound about right considering your input and my objectives?

I've got a Maple Ridge 11" waiting for me at a well-known store if I want it. And I just need to make a decision in the next day or two.

Feb 14, 2018 - 2:55:52 PM

mjt0229 Players Union Member

USA

236 posts since 4/20/2015

I own an 11" Maple Ridge and an 11" Pisgah Dobson Rambler, both with calf skin heads from John Balch. I love them both; you can't go wrong with either.

I love the feel of the deep Rickard neck, but my Pisgah came set up with nice low action and feels very responsive. Both banjos came with an 11/16" bridge, but I've put a 5/8" on the Rickard and its action is now much closer to the low, quick feeling of the Pisgah.

I was tempted to use a car analogy, and call the Pisgah a sports car, but I couldn't decide what I'd call the Rickard that wouldn't undersell it. It'd be a car that you always love to get behind the wheel of in any conditions, even if it's not going to peel out and go zero to sixty in nothing flat.

The Rickard is much lighter weight, but I sit when I play so I only notice when I'm switching banjos.

I've been tinkering a bit with the setup on both, so it's hard to compare tone directly since they've got different bridges, tailpieces, stuffing, etc. On the whole, I'd say the Pisgah is a little louder and brighter; it has a snap that would probably cut through at a jam. The Rickard is usually a little more complex but not quite as loud.

I go back and forth between them as to which is my favorite. From time to time, when BAS hits, I realize I couldn't decide which one I'd sell to fund a new one. Maybe trade the steel Pisgah for a fancy copper one? Or sell the Maple Ridge to get an Enoch Dobson or a nicer, fancier Rickard?

Feb 14, 2018 - 2:59:27 PM

mjt0229 Players Union Member

USA

236 posts since 4/20/2015

If you need help making up your mind, feel free to DM me with questions. I might even have time to set up a Skype session and I can play them both for you.

Feb 14, 2018 - 3:14:44 PM

77 posts since 8/24/2013

Mark,
Thanks for the input and the offer. I'm old school (read: old) and don't Skype, but if you had some sound clips, I'd be interested.

Feb 14, 2018 - 3:21:42 PM

mjt0229 Players Union Member

USA

236 posts since 4/20/2015

quote:
Originally posted by Skyflyer911man

Mark,
Thanks for the input and the offer. I'm old school (read: old) and don't Skype, but if you had some sound clips, I'd be interested.


I'll try to make a quick recording with the banjos set up as close to each other as possible.

Feb 14, 2018 - 3:51:57 PM

77 posts since 8/24/2013

Mark,
Much appreciated! Perfect comparison between the two for my needs. Thanks for taking the time to share that.

Feb 15, 2018 - 7:23:52 PM

rcc56

USA

1672 posts since 2/20/2016

And now, a totally different point of view: Gryphon has just listed a c. 1921 Whyte Laydie tenor with a 12" pot for $825. There are not a ton of these 12" Vega's floating around. You could have them convert it for you-- they certainly know how to do the work. They would probably be fine either with you supplying the neck, or supplying it themselves.

You might be doing me a favor if you did this-- I don't have a 12" banjo and I've taken the pledge . . .

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