I've been eyeing Nechville banjos for a few years now and earlier this year finally decided to pull the trigger and order a custom Nechville Classic in Mohagany with Ivroid/black stripe binding, radiused Athena-width fretboard, EVO frets, and "speed" neck where most of the clear coat is sanded off. The stain and finish are just flawless - absolutely beautiful. The resonator glows orange in the sunlight is views like a dark mohagany stain indoors. What I'm most impressed with however, is the sound.
This Nechville is special in that it's been setup to the specifications of my instructor RIch Stillman. It includes a no-hole Necvhille tone ring and AMB head, a configuration that RIch has been on working on with Tom Nechville for some time. It's got a nice deep 4th string that you really can't capture in an audio clip and clarity up and down the neck that I just continue to be impressed with.
I want thank publicly thank Tom Nechville and Rich Stillman for helping create such an incredible instrument for me. I'll defer to Tom and RIch for further description of the specs and sound/video. I'll be at Jamvember this weekend if anyone wants to pick on it.
Photos here (or in my profile if this doesn't work)
Thanks for posting this report Dan. It is always fun to reach the highest expectations that players can imagine. Being familiar with the few adjustments and tricks we do might help other Nechville owners to take their sound to places they have never gone before. The lack of coordinator rods and Helical mounting makes for a natural purity of tone and a generally deeper tone than some Bluegrassers are used to. The modifications we suggest tend to focus the sound into a more traditional pocket while keeping what is great about the Nechville sound. Bridges are super important. and the density of wood is also a factor. Nechville offers compensated Enterprise bridges to spec, in the 2.2- 2.3 gram range for this setup. We can supply heads with thicker frosting, and offer advice on achieving the ideal head tension. I am happy to share more details if we have readers out there that are interested, Cheers, and Stay Tuned!
This effort started with a banjo Tom Nechville built for me about a year and a half ago. I wanted something that sounded traditional, based on my experience with pre-war Gibsons. Tom worked with some of my preferences and added some of his own, and succeeded in building what I was looking for. In short, it has a full sound, good note separation and consistent volume everywhere on the neck, much like the old Gibsons I have owned and played.
Dan’s banjo was an effort to reproduce the sound Tom got me in my banjo, which is a essentially a maple Classic with some modifications. What drew me to the Nechville design was the acoustic simplicity and adjustability. There are no coordinator rods, so the sound chamber is simple with no extra elements to add to the basic sound. It seemed like a logical step to use a no-hole ring to reduce the extra sound-producing elements even further. It’s always possible to add complexity if the sound is too simple, but if there are necessary structural elements like the rods you can’t reduce complexity.
The Nechville design also allows a great deal of adjustment. The Helimount allows the head tension to be marked so the head can be returned to an exact previous tension. If I like a sound, I can change it and know I can get back to exactly where I was before. The tailpiece has precise adjustments for downpressure and side angle. The neck attaches completely outside the banjo pot and adjusting the string action doesn’t affect the rim tension. So unlike the Mastertone design, it’s possible to isolate adjustments and change one factor without changing any others.
An interesting aspect of the design is that there is no direct contact between the tone ring and the wood rim, since the ring rides on top of a race of ball bearings. This eliminates tone ring fit as a factor in determining tone, and eliminates factors that affect wood, like humidity, in changing the sound of the banjo. In that way, it’s the equivalent of the change from skin to plastic heads.
Speaking of heads, the AMB head was my choice based on previous experience. I’ve put them on everything from Recording Kings to prewar Gibsons, and they have always improved the sound of the banjo. They are made by Remo but follow Tom Mirisola’s specifications, and add some depth and color to notes all over the fingerboard.
Likewise I wanted EVO frets for the durability and feel. I had them on a prewar 3 for about five years and there was barely any wear when I sold the banjo. Along with Tom's very fast finish, the frets contribute to a very slick feeling neck.
The bridge weight is a critical factor that we arrived at by experimentation. I tried many other high-end bridges on my banjo and none seemed as well-matched to Nechville banjos as his own bridges. I’ve been very happy with Purcell, Timeless, Hatfield and other bridges on other banjos, but they didn’t do the job on the Nechvilles.
Since I got my banjo, I thought there was something special about the configuration. Tom has been very willing to work with me, and together we’ve been narrowing down the factors that seem important in creating this sound. We’ve now reproduced the setup and sound in three banjos. Dan’s is the third of those, and the first one we’ve done in mahogany. All of them share the clean and full sound of the first one.
It’s difficult to capture the sound of a banjo in a recording, but here are two recordings of Dan’s banjo, one with its original setup with a lightweight brass tone ring and factory head, and one with Tom’s no-hole ring and an AMB head. Listen to them and see what you think of the difference in sound. Headphones will give you the best idea.
I am almost sure Mike Hedding plays a Nechville on his banjo instructional website. The banjo sounds very good. If I were buying another banjo, they would be among the candidates.
'Happy New Year....' 33 min
'Instrument Identification' 47 min