I have been playing for about 4 1/2 years now. I upgraded from a bottle cap to a Deering Sierra after about 3 months. That banjo had an incredible sound and it even made my mistakes sound good.
I have fibromyalgia and the Sierra was pretty heavy so I convinced myself to sell it and get a lighter one about a year ago.
Unfortunately nothing that I got makes a dent to the sound that I got from that Sierra. I bought and sold a few banjos and still, not the sound I like. Unfortunately I live in a rural area in North Idaho and there are no great dealers near me so I can only get a banjo by buying it online, which means I can’t try them out.
What do others do in this situation?
It may be worth going to Greg Boyd’s in Missoula. He has lots of high end banjos on hand that you could try out.
+1 on a trip to Greg, the trick is for something to be in his shop that is relatively light (for a banjo). Worth giving him a call, that if something comes in, you'd be interested.
What have you tried, since letting go of the Sierra? (I thought you had a Nechville for a while, those are a bit lighter because the Helimount is lighter than the usual banjo hardware.)
Edited by - jswkingsfield on 05/16/2018 10:35:49
Did you consider a Hartford with the wooden tone ring? Much lighter and beautiful tone.
The 1925-26 Gibson Ballbearing Mastertones are 2 to 3 pounds lighter than the cast tone ring banjos of later years. When setup properly with their stock tone ring they can be loud and uniquely vibrant. I wouldn't be surprised if Greg Boyd had one or two of them there. Might want to try one out.
The discontinued no-tone-ring Recording RK-R25 was light and surprisingly bluegrass sounding. I played one and it was hard to believe there was no tone ring in it. They turn up used in the Hangout classifieds, eBay and Craigslist, usually for around $500.
Many sellers here will let you try out a banjo and return it if you discover it's not for you. Typically, you would had to cover the shipping and, of course, there is always the hassle of shipping a banjo that you have to put yourself through.
In the Classifieds you will find a 1928 Gibson TB-1 conversion with a Clayton pyramid ring and a neck by Don Bryant. I have a similar TB-2 conversion (also with Clayton ring and Bryant neck). Mine has superb volume and incredible tone, and weighs under 9 pounds. I suspect the one advertised in the Classifieds is similar, but you could contact the seller.
The pyramid ring is—to my ear, anyway—somewhere between a flat head and an archtop. Gibson briefly introduced this ring after the ball-bearings. Arnold Clayton has produced a replica that sounds a bit brighter than the original Gibson ring. Don Bryant’s necks are first-rate.
I have no connection to the seller of the banjo in the Classifieds, but based on the similar one I own, I can definitely recommend the Clayton pyramid conversions as a light-weight hoss of a banjo.
How much lighter do you need to go?
Five years ago I found a Kel Kroydon KK10 (Gibson style 11) and got Robin Smith to make a neck for it. Uncut (so no tone ring, just a brass hoop) it weighs a little under 9 lbs.
I haven't looked to buy another banjo since.
I had a Recording King RK R50 (also discontinued) a solid one piece neck no tone ring a very nice banjo weighing around 8 lbs.
For what it is worth Deering will make a custom Sierra with wooden tone ring.
You need to spend some time learning about setup. Have you taken any of your banjos apart and put them back together? If not, get after it. It will be well worth your time.
If you have the funds a Yates LM-1, no tone ring, PW brass hoop.
Bishline makes a wonderful brass hoop resonator model titled The Patriot, with a lovely walnut resonator.
Robin Smith at Heartland Banjos also has more than one extremely nice lighter-weight brass hoop resonator banjo models. I'm pretty sure there's a walnut and a mahogany. Here are links to the irreplaceable BH member Jim Britton playing a couple of mahoganies----A good brass-hoop reso has a great sound!:
AmericanMadeBanjo (AMB) makes reproductions of the KK11 and the walnut Style 2, with brass hoop tone rings. I have their walnut Style 2 and love it.
They make them with heavy flathead tone ring, and with the original-style brass hoop. They differentiate the lighter brass hoop with the designation "KK46," so it's the KK46-10 and the KK46-11.
Edited by - ceemonster on 05/16/2018 20:48:10
There is a turtle hill woody banjo for sale in the classifieds that is going for a nice price and it weighs in at 8.5 pounds or so the seller told me. I've tried these banjos before and not only do they sound good, play nicely that weight is pretty light compared to a regular banjo. That might be a good banjo for you to check out.
I heard Ned Lubereki play a White Lotus as Midwest Banjo Camp last year and it sounded fantastic. He made a big deal about how light it was. Now Ned can probably make a hubcap with some bailing wire tied on sound great. But I was pretty impressed with the tone on that given how light it was.
I bought an RK-25R when Musicians' Friend closed them out a couple years ago, simply because the price was low. It sounds good after being set up, and it has been the only banjo I play since my quadruple bypass last year. I do look forward to playing my Deering Deluxe again sometime, however. The banjo in my avatar with the ceramic tone ring weighs just a bit over 10 lbs., and it also sounds really good.
I wish I knew how to respond to people directly on this site, but I don’t.
Thanks to everyone who has responded. My teacher did show me how to hold my banjo in a more upright position to help with weight.
I just miss my lovely Sierra so much. My husband said it rang like a triangle bell that is rung for supper (he loves to eat, so all his compliments are couched in food terms).
I don't know what your budget constraints might be, but Stelling's Afton Star has a wood tone ring, with corresponding reduction in weight. I've played one, and heard others play it, too, and thought it was a great-sounding instrument.
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