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Did I get screwed on Ebay?

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Jun 21, 2019 - 12:59:30 PM
9 posts since 4/15/2019

Hi banjo experts! I just bought my first banjo back in March after dreaming about learning for years. I bought a cheap Jameson off of Amazon, figuring I've picked up and put back down a lot of hobbies in my life and didn't want to spend a lot of money in case it didn't stick.

Well, it stuck. 3 months in and I've been practicing up to 5 hours every day, and am quite literally obsessed. So I started looking for my next banjo. Missed out on a beautiful barely-used Deering Blackgrass on an Ebay auction, and was so upset that I bought the next most beautiful one I saw - a cheap but pretty little Recording King Starlight sky blue open-back. After briefly researching I couldn't find new pricing on open-back models (the series has been discontinued), but found a resonator model on Amazon for $450 so I thought the "Buy It Now" option for $200 on Ebay was a decent deal, even if it was used. The pictures looked nice with just a little cosmetic damage. The description said "Condition is Used. Great shape."

Upon receiving it and cleaning off dust, tiny spots of bug poop, and what looked like a small splash of coffee, I thought maybe it hadn't been well-taken care of. Then I noticed that the strings are rusted (or something - my fingers don't slide on them at all) and the action is HIGH at the base of the neck, probably a full 1/4", leveling out to normal toward the nut. Then the high G string is on a lower plane than the other strings, closer to a normal level.

I can replace the strings, sure, but how fixable is the action issue? It seems to me like the neck must be warped. Should I try to take it in to get it fixed, or get a refund and spend the $ on something better? (That new Starlight resonator one on Amazon for $450? I just love a non-traditional colored banjo and there aren't many to choose from.) And am I out of line for thinking the seller really misrepresented it? He has a 100% rating so I don't guess he goes around lying to buyers regularly.


Your input is much appreciated!


PS: Ebay's item description said "Used: An item that has been used previously. The item may have some signs of cosmetic wear, but is fully operational and functions as intended. This item may be a floor model or store return that has been used. See the seller’s listing for full details and description of any imperfections."???

Jun 21, 2019 - 1:16:26 PM
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1259 posts since 4/13/2009
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That's ebay's generic definition of "used." The Recording King banjos in that series are inexpensive, but playable. Not much of improvement over the Jameson, I think. Sight down the neck to see if it is straight or bowed. 1/4 " is not that high and probably can be adjusted if the neck is ok. Others here can give you details about adjusting the neck and action.

Jun 21, 2019 - 1:16:31 PM
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1817 posts since 12/31/2005

I would seek a refund for peace of mind sake. IF that is not possible, then you have a choice to make about how much to spend to fix. High action can be caused by a number of things, some more expensive than others to fix. Things to check would be the tightness of the coordinator rods (is the action high because the neck is being pulled forward). is the neck relatively straight. Lay a straight edge down the board. There should be a slight bow forward, but not a lot. This may be fixable with a truss rod adjustment. The neck could be twisted. That is probably a budget breaker. The bridge could be an inappropriate size for the neck set. (They come in different heights). That would be a cheap fix.

If nothing works, you can always sell as salvage. The pot has some value even if, for some reason, the neck is trashed.

If it turns out you can't get a refund and you made a bad purchase, you can at least take some comfort in the fact that there are very few people here who haven't done the same thing. The only shame would be to make the same mistake again. Many fine sellers with reputations to protect here on the Hangout. You get more full disclosure. You may pay a little more, but as you have learned, that may be money well spent.  E-bay is fine if you are an experienced buyer with a good eye.  Even then, some folks get burned.  Craigslist is a shot in the dark and usually terrible values.

Have some fun learning about it and do not beat yourself up if it does not work out. It's just a lesson along the way that we all had to learn.

Edited by - Brian Murphy on 06/21/2019 13:18:28

Jun 21, 2019 - 1:33:01 PM
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3801 posts since 10/18/2007

If the neck is warped width wise(check by sighting down the neck from the tailpiece) the length wise " warp" may be solved with a simple adjustment of the neck rod and/or by changing out the bridge to an acceptable height. I would take the banjo to a reputable banjo luthier (NOT a regular guitar music store) in your area.

Jun 21, 2019 - 1:47:38 PM
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1053 posts since 12/4/2012

The action problem might be as simple as just changing the bridge. How tall is the bridge? Measure from the middle foot (if there are 3 feet) to the top of the bridge at the middle.
A low bridge is about 1/2 inch. If you have a low bridge like this but very high action, then the problem will either be with the neck bow (or a big problem warp) or the neck angle.

If the bridge is 11/16 inch or taller, than that is fairly tall and you could get a lower bridge which would lower the height of all the strings and maybe make the action playable.

Banjo necks are only attached to the body of the banjo with a couple of bolts. If these are not adjusted properly the neck could be at a funny angle making the action too high. You could also shim the neck. This mean putting thin wood or other material between the neck and the body at a strategic location to change the neck angle and bring the action down.

If the neck is truly warped, that is, twisted out of shape, then you have a problem. Otherwise, it just may need to be properly set up.

Start with the bridge. That you can do by yourself.

Edited by - bluenote23 on 06/21/2019 13:49:14

Jun 21, 2019 - 1:56:54 PM
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447 posts since 7/4/2017

I agree with trying changing the bridge. Also it is normal for the 5th string to sit lower due to the 5th string nut Vs the other 4 strings nut. If strings are rusty it's cheap to change them.

If you are playing clawhammer btw I wouldn't worry about a high action at the bridge end, it makes it easier to play over the neck. The previous owner might even have put a high bridge on for this purpose.

Edited by - AndyW on 06/21/2019 13:59:17

Jun 21, 2019 - 3:24:46 PM
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917 posts since 3/22/2017

It's been awhile since i got my Starlight resonator off ebay, it had a broken neck and a few pieces missing for about the same price and I remember action being around 1/4".

So read some online banjo setup guides from Nechville, Stelling, Prucha,, Deering etc.  Then cut strings off and:

- tighten head (around 88-90 is somebody has a drum dial), or use S. Davis' ruler and coin method, you can search threads for htat
- tighten lag bolts (nuts that hold the pot and neck together
- measure string height over 1st fret and 12th,
- polish frets and look at string reflections off frets, should be smooth curve that shows relief, trussrod setting
- try lower bridge as stated above
- don't compress the rim w/coordinator rods, put some shims in, if you need to adjust neck angle

My starlight's still going strong, if yours has a warped/unevenly bowed neck you should return it, otherwise what you experienced is pretty much what i did also, for around the same price.

Edited by - gtani7 on 06/21/2019 15:29:06

Jun 21, 2019 - 3:33:23 PM
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10513 posts since 2/12/2011

1. Get away from Ebay. 2. Get away from these exceptionally mediocre brands. Deering, Gibson, Hatfield are the brands to shop. It's time to elevate your standards in order to elevate your play.

Edited by - kmwaters on 06/21/2019 15:34:14

Jun 21, 2019 - 3:36:51 PM
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10513 posts since 2/12/2011

Jun 21, 2019 - 4:10:30 PM
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13 posts since 3/14/2019

That action sounds pretty normal to me. My 5th string is also a bit lower next to the others. And the action does typically get higher as it goes down the neck. I thought all of them did, but maybe not. Thats how my goodtime classic is set up

Jun 21, 2019 - 7:35:35 PM

9 posts since 4/15/2019

Thank you all for the great advice! There's obviously a wealth of knowledge on these forums. I really had only compared it to the one banjo I own, which has a fairly consistent, low action the whole way down, and all 5 strings line up when you look at it sideways. I attached pics of each from the side where you can really see the difference. 

The bridge of the Jameson is 5/8" while the RK is 11/16". The neck is lined up flush with the body and doesn't *look* warped. I haven't tried adjusting it in any way.

I didn't know about the higher action  for clawhammer - maybe it'll be salvageable once I change out the strings... and learn to play a new style. :)

Edited by - EllsBellsNC on 06/21/2019 19:50:25

Jun 21, 2019 - 7:41:49 PM
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136 posts since 3/7/2019

I buy cheap banjos to take apart and tinker with. I bought a old harmony for 50$. It had a slight twist and warp. It had some juicy frets so I just leveled the frets with a long block and recrowned them. After that and a few other things it's a decent banjo(for 50$). But for 200 if the neck is warped and the seller didn't state that in the description I'd try to return it. But, it usually says some where. Please look closely at the pictures ....blah blah blah.

Jun 21, 2019 - 7:46:44 PM
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9 posts since 4/15/2019

Sorry for the lack of terminology here but... I forgot to mention the folded piece of tissue stuck in the tailpiece (?)... Not sure what that's about. And just now I noticed that the head (?) is on with the logo at the bottom, and there's a crack in the rim (?) so maybe a diy change-out gone wrong? See pics. Might be returning after all. Sigh.

Edited by - EllsBellsNC on 06/21/2019 19:54:55

Jun 21, 2019 - 7:53:40 PM
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12098 posts since 10/30/2008

One simply question, is your bridge in the correct spot on the head? If you bridge is MUCH too close to the neck, that will cause the action to get quite high. I think 1/4" is indeed on the high side, but not fatal. "Most" banjoists are happy if the bottom of the 1st string is 1/8" above the top of the 12th fret. Personally, I like 3/16".

Again if your bridge, which is a tall one at 11/16", is too close to the neck, it pushes the action up high. Whatever is the exact distance (to the 1/16") from the front of the nut to the 12th fret, that should be the distance from the 12th fret to the face of the bridge. Don't make any conclusions about your action height until you're sure the bridge is in the correct spot.

Each reduction in height you make in the bridge, reduces that action by exactly half as much measured at the 12th fret. So if you switch from an 11/16" bridge to a 5/8", that will reduce the action height at the 12th fret by 1/32". Try your Jamison bridge on the RK. Little things like that help.

Don't worry about the 5th string (the high string).

Once you've done this work at the bridge, then I agree you may want to have someone familiar with banjo tinkering help you be sure the neck is TIGHTLY fastened to the rim. Or if your neck has too much forward bow in it, how to flatten it back out with the truss rod. Don't experiment on your own, get experienced help. SOMEONE in LA will be able to help you.

And change those strings and get picking, so you can decide if you LIKE how the banjo plays and sounds. That's more important than measurements and appearance.

Good luck.


Just noticed your added photos.  The tissue/cloth in the tailpiece cover is a common way to stop it from rattling or buzzing.  Not very elegant but it works.  Even prewar Gibson Mastertones sometimes have a piece of felt cloth stuffed or even glued into that spot for that reason.  And, that's not a crack in your rim, it's a seam in the wood which is normal.  Not to worry.

Edited by - The Old Timer on 06/21/2019 19:55:56

Jun 21, 2019 - 8:03:21 PM

9 posts since 4/15/2019

@the old timer Ha! I feel like a dummy. Of course there would be a seam. Great advice, thank you so much!

Jun 21, 2019 - 8:22:04 PM
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52162 posts since 12/14/2005

Standard advice to banjo newbies:
Post a thread with a title that says
"Setup Help Needed Near____________" with your location in the blank.

That will get you advice from people near you, who will tell you who they trust to work on THEIR banjos.

Jun 21, 2019 - 8:23:35 PM
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52162 posts since 12/14/2005


The folded tissue is to silence a rattle.

Jun 21, 2019 - 8:45:50 PM

9 posts since 4/15/2019

Oh and @the old timer: the bridge is actually farther toward the tailpiece. They marked it at the spot equidistant from the 12th fret, but it's scooted it back half an inch from the mark, and still strings are high. With the rusty strings I haven't really tried to tune it yet.

@mike gregory: I thought it might be something like that, but it doesn't seem loose or rattley without the tissue so I wasn't sure.

If nothing else, this certainly has been a learning experience!

Edited by - EllsBellsNC on 06/21/2019 20:46:28

Jun 21, 2019 - 8:53:33 PM
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10043 posts since 6/2/2008

11/16 strikes me as too tall a bridge for one of these, unless the previous owner used that to solve some other problem.

Switching to 5/8 will make a big difference. If a lower bridge results in buzzing in the low frets, then loosening the truss rod 1/8-1/6 of a turn should give enough relief to stop that.

Action on your Jameson looks really low. Surprised it doesn't buzz all over the place.

Edited to add: While that crack in the rim is probably a seam, which is normal, it being visible indicates there's been movement. Note the slight seam opening between plies on the bottom of the rim. Something to keep your eye on.  Can't say for sure it's going to get worse -- though if you use the coordinator rod to lower action, you probably will put some pressure on that seam.

Edited by - Old Hickory on 06/21/2019 20:57:48

Jun 21, 2019 - 10:11:11 PM
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917 posts since 3/22/2017

I've had a few entry level RK's besides the blue starlight: a couple Dirty 30's, R20, and i remember dark lines indicating delam or just a poor glue/pressing/bending job on at least a couple o fthem.   I've seen dark lines between plies on R35's and up, even.  Just make shoe the shoe bracket is not inserted /rotated at a funny angle where it would be wedging on the bolt hole. I'll be visiting my sky blue starlight next week, i'll look inside the rim

Edited by - gtani7 on 06/21/2019 22:11:53

Jun 23, 2019 - 11:16:37 PM

9 posts since 4/15/2019

Update: I put new strings on it and swapped the two bridges, and moved the neck forward a tiny bit. Strings still sit higher than I'd like, but it is better. I will buy a half inch bridge. Feeling better about my purchase, will keep it as my travel banjo and drop some $$ on a "real" banjo once I figure out which one to get. Thanks again for all the help!

Jun 24, 2019 - 12:15:06 PM
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3 posts since 12/31/2014

Why anyone doesn't start out on a Deering Goodtime, is beyond me. Start with a new banjo ! They are very reasonably priced, easy to play, and sound GREAT !

Jun 24, 2019 - 12:52:04 PM
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286 posts since 4/27/2013

I've got an RK Dirty 30s camping banjo and it took a little adjusting at the bridge for a lower action. That's about it.
It actually plays kinda "purty" in some styles that I prefer over my Gibson. The light weight is great. I play it a lot when not practicing for a specific gig.

Ironically, my Ebay experience was the opposite. I expected to have to fix some frets which were supposedly high and pulling out. No such thing. It was flawless.

Jun 24, 2019 - 6:35:53 PM
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19 posts since 10/13/2011

That’s a chancy thing. Ebay.
I’m experienced and know how to translate double speak on EBay.

No returns.. No Buy..!..

Don’t despair. Just don’t sink a lot of money ?? in it.

Better off taking your loss, binding up your wounds and getting a good banjo.

I guarantee you’ll never get over wanting to play banjo..

Good Luck

Jun 24, 2019 - 7:07:59 PM
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52162 posts since 12/14/2005

Originally posted by EllsBellsNC

Oh and @the old timer: the bridge is actually farther toward the tailpiece. They marked it at the spot equidistant from the 12th fret, but it's scooted it back half an inch from the mark, and still strings are high. With the rusty strings I haven't really tried to tune it yet.

@mike gregory: I thought it might be something like that, but it doesn't seem loose or rattley without the tissue so I wasn't sure.

If nothing else, this certainly has been a learning experience!

Around these parts, tissue is the PRIMARY fix-it for anything that rattles!  cheeky

Jun 24, 2019 - 11:42:47 PM
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14785 posts since 2/7/2003

The banjo was originally made with a 5/8 bridge, get rid of the 11/16

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