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Dec 8, 2019 - 2:07:54 PM
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12522 posts since 6/29/2005

I recently had the opportunity to make three banjo with shorter scales than I normally use— a SuperWoodie with a 25.5” scale, a TuBaTone with a 25.5” scale and a cherry fretless with flush fret markings and a 24.8” scale.  All different. I thought it would be interesting to hear the differences in the sounds of the them one to the other, same tune, recorded at the same time.

This thread will be about the two 12” 25.5” scale ones, since they are similar geometrically but differ in the kind of wood and tone-ring.


Here are some details of the SuperWoodie:
The SuperWoodie has maple wooden parts, except the Tone ring, which is baked ipe with a brass skirt.  

 

I can make these tone rings from any wood, and so far have made them from baked ipe, teak, amelanchier and black locust. They all sound good, and the difference is more in the design which stiffens the rim than the species of wood, although there are subtle differences and I can change the geometry—they are removable-not glued on to the rim.

Here are some details of the actual banjo:

In the pictures that show the back, you can see how the tone ring extends in from the inside of the rim becoming a structural element of the design.  The shoes are ball-type brazed onto the bracket band, a specialty of mine, and somewhat difficult to do requiring two alloys of brazing rod which flow at different temperatures.

Here you see the star at the first fret—the name of this banjo is “Stella”—the fingerboard is 1 3/8” at the nut by request of the client.

The TuBaTone banjo is made from walnut, and the neck is made from walnut planks stored in the rafters of a gristmill I once owned near Bethlehem PA, which was built in 1744.

The walnut in this banjo was most likely sawn before the American Revolution and has a few VERY OLD worm holes in it—I have a small amount of these ancient boards and use the wood for special projects, like this one.  I sent this one to a person in Massachussets who works in a place older than my old mill, so it must be happy there.

Here you see the pot with the TuBaTone tone ring and colorful bronzy patina on the metal.  The shoes are brazed to the bracket band.  I really spent a lot of time learning how to make these patinas, and it's quite a process—I don't do patinas on the tone rings, and you can see that in this picture.  You can see the secondary rod requested by the customer in the Rudy rod system inside the pot.

Here’s the tone ring. I make these in 11“ and 12” sizes, and have even made a 14“ one.

I offer copper and magnesium engravings as standard inlay material for pegheads and scoops—here you see copper.  I think it looks really good with the walnut and abalone.

I thought it would be interesting to hear what the difference between these two is—when people talk to me about making them a banjo, they frequently want to know what the difference between a SuperWoodie and a Tone~Wave or TuBaTone is,  is a maple banjo brighter than a walnut one and how does a shorter scale differ from a “normal” one?
I will show two mercifully short videos—first the difference between the two 12” 25 1/2” banjos, with different woods and tone rings, and second, a comparison of an 11” TuBaTone with a 26 1/4” scale and the 12” one with the 25 1/2” scale.

BTW, they are all strung with the same strings; 10-12-14-22(phosphor bronze)-11 and all tuned the same—these sound clips are all in double C tuning, so the bass is down to a C.

NOTE, the way this site works, it won't allow me to attach videos in the order I want to, so it has them backwards—the one to watch first is the one on the right about two short scale banjos, which is the subject of this thread—the other one compares 11" to 12"


Edited by - Ken LeVan on 12/08/2019 14:15:34

Dec 8, 2019 - 2:28:15 PM
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Players Union Member

rudy

USA

14867 posts since 3/27/2004

Hi Ken,

When you use the "Add Attachments" feature you can move any or all of them to change the order in which they are displayed by using the two arrows at the bottom of the attachment.

Dec 8, 2019 - 2:29:14 PM
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7490 posts since 1/7/2005
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Nice work. All of the banjos have impressive bass response. Great clawhammer banjos.
Ken, we are fortunate to have, on this forum, builders of your ability, craftsmanship and good taste. Your posts are one of the main reasons I keep coming back for more. There is always something to learn.

DD

Dec 8, 2019 - 5:14:46 PM

12522 posts since 6/29/2005

quote:
Originally posted by Dan Drabek

Nice work. All of the banjos have impressive bass response. Great clawhammer banjos.
Ken, we are fortunate to have, on this forum, builders of your ability, craftsmanship and good taste. Your posts are one of the main reasons I keep coming back for more. There is always something to learn.

DD


Thanks Dan,

I really appreciate your comments

12 inch banjos definitely have a strong bass, and I make 11" ones deeper than the traditional Tubaphone design, which increases the bass on those as well.

Dec 8, 2019 - 6:40:57 PM

2187 posts since 7/20/2004

Ken, I played my 12" Super Woodie A-Scale with our band at Mass this morning. It just keeps getting a stronger voice with each passing month.

Dec 8, 2019 - 9:45:34 PM

10556 posts since 10/27/2006

Sweet!

Dec 9, 2019 - 4:24:26 AM

12522 posts since 6/29/2005

quote:
Originally posted by CW Spook

Ken, I played my 12" Super Woodie A-Scale with our band at Mass this morning. It just keeps getting a stronger voice with each passing month.


Thanks Rick,

Your banjo, for those who are following this thread, is a 12" A-scale (24" scale), lightweight, with an aluminum bracket band and tension hoop, skin head and and SuperWoodie tone ring— it was unique in nearly every regard, and I strung it up with red Nylguts.

I remember that it sounded great at the time, so I am very happy to hear that it keeps getting better.

Ken

Dec 9, 2019 - 5:11:57 AM
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3680 posts since 5/12/2010

Wow Ken!

Beautiful banjos, and I am most impressed, surprised really, with the sound of the woodie. What a nice sounding banjo.

Dec 9, 2019 - 6:14:30 AM

12522 posts since 6/29/2005

quote:
Originally posted by OldPappy

Wow Ken!

Beautiful banjos, and I am most impressed, surprised really, with the sound of the woodie. What a nice sounding banjo.


Thanks Andy,

The thing with those Superwoodies that makes them work is that they are very wide and extend into the pot, like Dobson and Bacon tone rings, except they are much heavier.  They become a structural stiffening flange, making the pot more rigid.  The skirt holds them in place so they become anchored to the rim.  The radius where the head rides is also a little greater than I make on brass ones, so there's a little more head contact around the edge

I got the idea from David Politzer, who pointed out how Bacon tone rings work as a stiffening member structurally, rather than something that "rings"—it makes sense.

Also, in the last batch of banjos I finished, I had three customers write and tell me the banjos sounded much better than they thought they would, and I guess the SuperWoodies are an example of that "surprise" as you say.

Edited by - Ken LeVan on 12/09/2019 06:15:33

Dec 9, 2019 - 7:28:13 AM

3680 posts since 5/12/2010

Most of the banjos I build are on 12" rims with a short scale (usually 23 1/2"). I used to build with fairly thick block rims, which worked well with the two piece tone rings I make, but lately I have been using thinner laminated rims with the Dobson style tone rings and really like the result. As you are aware a thinner rim creates a larger air chamber which usually adds to the bass response.

I have never built a woodie, but I sure do like the way you have done it.

Dec 9, 2019 - 6:10:41 PM
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2 posts since 6/15/2019

Hi all, I’m proud to say that Stella now lives with me in the Dallas, TX area. I caught BAS and Ken delivered the cure! Having owned a Goodtime for 10+ years and deciding to get more serious about learning overhand banjo in my retirement I wanted an upgrade. Ken delivered, big time, as you can hear, she sounds amazing. Love the tone and wide fingerboard. I now have a beautiful looking and an amazing sounding jo and have a lot of practicing to do. It will be very enjoyable on this instrument. As nice as his photos are, Stella is better looking in person. Thanks to all the builders who post and display your creations and share your knowledge on the BH.

Dec 10, 2019 - 10:18:23 AM

463 posts since 8/14/2018
Online Now

quote:
Originally posted by Ken LeVan
I sent this one to a person in Massachussets who works in a place older than my old mill, so it must be happy there.

It is resting comfortably and glad to be in out of the cold.

Like Jim above, I was getting into learning frailing and related OT styles, and wanted something nicer/different from the Goodtime I had (and my other other banjo, an antique Stewart). The tone is almost bell-like with crazy sustain. The neck is comfortable and plays easily. Sounds real nice in double-C or sawmill tuning. Also seems like it has a lot of potential for playing melodically with picks.

Dec 10, 2019 - 11:36:03 AM

12522 posts since 6/29/2005

quote:
Originally posted by MacCruiskeen
quote:
Originally posted by Ken LeVan
I sent this one to a person in Massachussets who works in a place older than my old mill, so it must be happy there.

It is resting comfortably and glad to be in out of the cold.

Like Jim above, I was getting into learning frailing and related OT styles, and wanted something nicer/different from the Goodtime I had (and my other other banjo, an antique Stewart). The tone is almost bell-like with crazy sustain. The neck is comfortable and plays easily. Sounds real nice in double-C or sawmill tuning. Also seems like it has a lot of potential for playing melodically with picks.


Thanks!

Starting at the age of 17, I loved the sound of those banjos that were made in Boston, and I'm trying to follow in that tradition.

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