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Jan 4, 2020 - 1:43:02 PM
2125 posts since 9/25/2006

We use a lot of adjectives when describing banjo tone. I’m curious which banjo/setup gave you the most powerful tone?

I’ll define “powerful” the same way JD described it—“no matter how hard you hit it, it just laughs at you.”

I suspect that a solid tone ring or perhaps a top tension assembly would provide the most powerful tone but I’m interested in what others have to say...

So, which of your banjos had the most “powerful” tone—as described by JD?

Edited by - revellfa on 01/04/2020 13:43:54

Jan 4, 2020 - 2:20:48 PM

Bill Rogers (Moderator)


23203 posts since 6/25/2005

A 30s Gibson top-tension pot (don’t know the #) that had been renecked with a non-copy neck. Powerful in every way. Ca. 1975. Coulda, shoulda, bought it for $3k.

Jan 4, 2020 - 2:33:20 PM

71231 posts since 5/9/2007

It all depends on your definition of power.
I find power in a good balance from the lowest frets to the highest.
I want a strong rumble in the lows and more volume available than I need.

Jan 4, 2020 - 2:35:31 PM

2125 posts since 9/25/2006

I would also define power as “more volume than you need", however, let's stick with JD's definition.  Lol.  

Edited by - revellfa on 01/04/2020 14:36:11

Jan 4, 2020 - 3:01:58 PM

2511 posts since 9/12/2016

Loud would not show in comparison if soft was not there to compare to. So the most widespread completely clear volume is the most available tool. Get it to beller out unexpected and sparingly .right in the mist of some other volume/tone juicy spots that are more of a nudging kind .There is no magic imo
this is my opinion,I don't say anyone should agree.

Jan 4, 2020 - 3:08:47 PM

2144 posts since 4/5/2006

There is more to it than volume alone.

I never met JD Crowe but John Hickman had this to say. There are three things that effect how a banjo sounds, the sound system, the banjo, & the guy picking it, (not in any particular order, but you get the point). At the time, John was playing that style 6 with the low profile tone ring. Although I had numerous recordings of his work with that banjo, & had seen him perform with it countless times, I was blown away when he told me it was not the loudest banjo he'd had.

Jan 4, 2020 - 4:27:28 PM

2611 posts since 11/15/2003

I've, never had a banjo that could not be " over played "
But, I've always had exceptional hand strength from years of lifting and, I accredit some of my hand strength to 20 yrs of league bowling,...that being said, it's not like I've ever set out to just deliberately see how loud I can play, the only banjos, I can recall, that I didn't have to really govern myself...were Stellings, I could always stick a bit more hand in them....especially the earlier builds....don't know why...maybe it's there design..

Jan 4, 2020 - 5:05:40 PM
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6845 posts since 2/14/2006

JD was once asked why he used .0095, .011, .012, .020, .0095 on the banjo as opposed to using mediums or medium lights, and his response was, "If you have a powerful banjo, you don't need anything more."

Jan 4, 2020 - 5:20:25 PM
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217 posts since 12/7/2017

I think "most powerful" does not necessary means "highest volume", that's the mystery of the banjo sound. I had a Sultana which sounded very shy when I first played it, but playing with my band the other musicians told me it was the loudest one I ever played with them. More, it didn't sound louder if I hit hard (as if less resonance), but with soft attacks. Exactly the opposite with another Gibson, I was struck by the volume when I just received it, playing in my band the other musicians could hardly hear it.
What the player hears is not what the audience hears, and especially for the banjo the sound is a hole thing, loudness depends on timbre (tone), it's not only a question of "volume" in itself.

Jan 4, 2020 - 6:11:23 PM
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12655 posts since 10/30/2008

I have, and have had, a lot of banjos, old and new.

The most surprisingly "robust" banjo was of all things my 1926 Granada with a custom Jim Cox flat head ring fit onto the unmolested ball bearing rim. That thing had no end of power, you almost couldn't use it in an indoor jam, but the tone of it was a bit too deep/hollow, just a bit like it was down a well.

I don't have any prewar flat heads, but I've played two original flat head five strings that I've said many times were the most powerful banjos I ever laid a hand to. They "shriek".  They are Ola Belle and Ellie.

Of my post 1990 Gibsons, the powerful one, without a doubt is the Blackjack. I use GHS JD Crowe Stage strings and a tall Snuffy Smith bridge. It is a brute, is the only way to put it. Not a lot of subtlety, but powerful.  The factory Presto tailpiece broke in half of course.   I replaced it with American Banjo Co.'s much improved Presto style.

The winner for power AND tonality is the Gibson Granada from the run of 5 that Larry Perkins and Greg Rich made up to match as close as they could the Earl - Sonny batch 9584.  I use a Snuffy Smith bridge and GHS JD Crowe Studio strings, and the same head that Larry Perkins had on it back in the early 1990s.

Edited by - The Old Timer on 01/04/2020 18:16:24

Jan 5, 2020 - 4:54:59 AM

1456 posts since 11/27/2005


I think my banjo's will have to start paying you an endorsment fee. Thanks for the complements They are very special, Power needs comerable tone when they come together with the right player and banjo WOW!!!


Jan 5, 2020 - 5:44:59 AM

2511 posts since 9/12/2016

sound engineers sometimes speak of cutting thru the mix by where it sits in the treble bass range ,stereo placement, ,individual effect settings. ,

Jan 5, 2020 - 6:54:13 AM
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1594 posts since 2/10/2013

Every exceptional banjo player I have known had a very strong picking hand. And, they played banjo often. No single brand of banjo ruled. Brands ranged from Gibson Granadas to banjos made by repairmen. As we well know, the sound of a banjo can change when played by different individuals.

Newer players complain about not being able to get the "right" sound. They have to realize it takes time and lots of playing to develop muscles in the picking hand. And it happens gradually - like most other things in life.

Jan 5, 2020 - 8:44:35 AM

2511 posts since 9/12/2016

It takes a tiny tiny bit of power to stretch a string as far as possible. dexterity and endurance yes but simply a strong pull would be good for hefting things not really important to me.
my 2 cents I don't ask others to agree

Jan 5, 2020 - 9:22:35 AM

71231 posts since 5/9/2007

When Jimmy Cox told me to come to his shop and get my just finished tb-2 conversion with his neck and cut for his Kentucky 5 flathead ring I had no idea what to expect.
When I got there he said,"Have a seat and I'll get your banjer."
He came out of the shop with the brand new old banjo and told me to pick it.
The power and tone that washed over and through me was like no banjo I had ever played.

He said,"It sounds real good already,but it'll gain more as the parts settle over the years..

That was in 1999 and this banjo just keeps getting better.Amazing power and tone.
When you get the banjo you love you stop looking for anything else.

As far as string sizes go the nearest analogy I can think of is some people drive Chevies and some people drive Fords.

I like 11 12 15 22 11 strings because that's what I like the feel and sound of when it comes to my playing style.I'm not trying to sound like JD Crowe.

Edited by - steve davis on 01/05/2020 09:29:54

Jan 5, 2020 - 11:03:49 AM
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1456 posts since 11/27/2005

I am a real believer of lighter strings on all banjos. You can get a wide variaty of tone when you use light strings. I use the 9.5 to a 20. The feel and the ability to not have the tone feel choked is really important. Up the neck it is great to be able to have the G string have the same balanced tone as the other strings. Wit heavier strings that G string starts to sound thick nit in a good way.


Jan 5, 2020 - 11:19:37 AM



2346 posts since 7/18/2007

Assuming this discussion is not limited to Mastertone style banjos only I’d have to say my 2005 Stelling has always had an edge over every other banjo I’ve owned power-wise. You just can’t overplay it and it responds to the lightest touch. Had lots of Mastertones/Masterclones but none have had the raw power of the Stelling. I am also a believer in light strings to bring out the nuances of tone. 9.5 10 13 20 9.5

Edited by - banjoez on 01/05/2020 11:21:13

Jan 5, 2020 - 11:47:56 AM



786 posts since 2/9/2007

I have owned many banjos , including most top end banjos , my 2005 maple osborne chief is the best banjo i have ever owned ,tonewise ,playability ,volume etc .the next best would have to be a stelling staghorn ,louder than my osborne , but not as nice a tone.

Jan 5, 2020 - 12:58:30 PM
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71231 posts since 5/9/2007

The set up of the banjo including the string sizes and the player's style are individual choices.

I set up my banjos the way I want them to play and sound.I don't wonder how somebody else wants their banjo to play and sound.
My big strings sound excellently balanced all over the neck.
I do a lot of playing nearer the neck than the bridge and really enjoy that fat 4th.

There aren't any wrong string's all about personal taste.That's why there are more than one choice of strings,thank the Lord.

Edited by - steve davis on 01/05/2020 13:07:10

Jan 5, 2020 - 2:00:41 PM

2511 posts since 9/12/2016

the x to y position of my right hand home spot calls out to heavier strings for me. I have little doubt pull offs and bends suffer though

Jan 5, 2020 - 5:24:19 PM
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898 posts since 1/25/2017

Is a banjo's power measured in decibels or is it just another subjective and ambiguous concept that only some can recognize?

Jan 6, 2020 - 6:30:28 AM

71231 posts since 5/9/2007

The best way to find your own best tone is to record all the information you can about your banjo when it's sounding its best to your ears.
Measure everything.
Head type and tension
Neck relief
Action height at frets 12 and 22
Bridge material(s),height and weight
Tailpiece angle
Strings being used
The way you play as in distance of the picks from the bridge in different situations
The way the banjo fits in with the other instruments/the balance which has a lot to do with how you play it.

The loudest banjo I have played so far was a cheap Asian brand with a sreaming tight clear head on it.
It was the worst sounding banjo I had ever played.

Jan 6, 2020 - 6:43:27 AM



5122 posts since 6/5/2011

Originally posted by SimonSlick

Is a banjo's power measured in decibels or is it just another subjective and ambiguous concept that only some can recognize?

...or maybe even that some think they can recognize??

—“no matter how hard you hit it, it just laughs at you.” ... JD's pretty good on the banjo, but he might just be an even better philosopher. 

Jan 6, 2020 - 7:02:12 AM

488 posts since 8/14/2018

I do feel that all of my banjos are laughing at me. Well, somebody is, at any rate.

Jan 6, 2020 - 7:04:20 AM

71231 posts since 5/9/2007

Learn how to trust your own ears.
They are the only ones you have for the rest of your life.

Jan 6, 2020 - 7:11:05 AM
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2511 posts since 9/12/2016

power to do what? comes to my mind,

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