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Banjo Identification - Help

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Sep 14, 2018 - 12:38:38 PM
5 posts since 9/14/2018

My wife is really looking for an open-backed, clawhammer style banjo, and I was hoping to get one for her. She plays three finger style on a Samick copy of a Gibson Mastertone banjo, but she is looking to branch out and to play in smaller, quieter settings as well. I know she really likes the sound of the one that Maya de Vitry uses in the below video, but I haven't been able to figure out what the make and model is.

I'm a guitarist by training, so when it comes to even identifying banjos I'm hopelessly out of my depth. What sizes should I be looking for? Brands? Neck and head materials? Really anything at all is helpful, even if it is pointing to a more appropriate forum would be greatly appreciated.


youtube.com/watch?v=5RxMn8OvYvY

Sep 14, 2018 - 2:30:02 PM

rcc56

USA

1732 posts since 2/20/2016

The Stray Birds, who are disbanding, have a website that allows an email contact. You could try to contact Ms. de Vitry and see if you get a response.

By the way, that's a great band.

The Saturn inlay on the peghead of her banjo was commonly seen on older Chanterelle banjos made by Mike Ramsey, BUT . . . there have been several stories of Mike Ramsey not delivering banjos after they had been ordered, so unless you can find one used, it would be better to look for something from another maker.  It's hard to tell from the video, but she may be using a Renaissance head.

Most of the currently made open back banjos are based [at least loosely] on old Fairbanks/Vega designs. Bart Reiter is a very good maker, and I'm sure others will recommend a dozen more. Or you good go for an original Fairbanks/Vega from the early 1900's.

Banjos have a different nature than guitars and mandolins. A good banjo can have a variety of different tone qualities depending on how it is set up. The type of head used, the head tension, and the type of bridge are some of the things that can affect the tone.

My personal preference is an old Bacon ff Professional #1, built by the old Fairbanks/Vega company. They are hard to find, but prices for a plain one such as mine are fairly modest, $1600 to $2000.  Mine has an 11" rim, and is set up with a "top frosted" Remo head at moderate tension, and a three footed Grover bridge with bone inserts for each string.  It has a tone that is both clear and fat, possibly a bit more "open" sounding than most of the modern open backs.

Others will prefer different instruments and set-ups than what I use.  There's a lot of variety in the banjo world.

You'll get plenty of opinions from this forum. Some of them will be very well informed. Good luck.

Edited by - rcc56 on 09/14/2018 14:38:24

Sep 14, 2018 - 2:32:20 PM

Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

21238 posts since 6/25/2005

Any decent wood-rim openback with some kind of tone ring can be set up to sound like that. First, figure out your budget, then start looking for a banjo. Plenty of help here for that.  If there’s a good instrument shop anywhere near you, so much the better. 

Edited by - Bill Rogers on 09/14/2018 14:36:51

Sep 15, 2018 - 5:39:39 AM

5 posts since 9/14/2018

Thanks for the advice, this is a really good start for me. There is an excellent shop nearby, I might go and see what they sound like.

Sep 16, 2018 - 11:40:15 AM

10093 posts since 10/27/2006
Online Now

quote:
Originally posted by Bill Rogers

Any decent wood-rim openback with some kind of tone ring can be set up to sound like that. First, figure out your budget, then start looking for a banjo. Plenty of help here for that.  If there’s a good instrument shop anywhere near you, so much the better. 


A good part of her tone in that video is in the fingers and comes from the fact that her action is set high enough to play so far over the fretboard.

Yes it’s a Chantrelle but otherwise, what Bill says. Depending on your budget, there are a dozen or more banjos in the Classifieds that can get you very close. 

Edited by - mikehalloran on 09/16/2018 11:41:09

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