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Could a Vintage Dowel be Replaced With a Rudy Rod ?

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Jan 19, 2020 - 7:13:13 AM
5236 posts since 12/20/2005

I am curious about this, as being a more practical approach to addressing the various problems old banjos often have, than having a neck reset.
I have 2 banjos made by Ken Levan, which have his own Rudy Rod system.
I simply like it. It's rock solid and looks great.

I don't know if this has been tried, but it seems it would be easier to do, than a normal procedure for resetting a neck.

Jan 19, 2020 - 7:14:46 AM

csacwp

USA

2553 posts since 1/15/2014

You would still have to reshape the heel, and it would ruin any value.

Jan 19, 2020 - 8:26:38 AM
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3711 posts since 5/12/2010

Well, he didn't ask about value, but I agree that if it is a banjo which would have interest to a "collector" then altering the original design would have a negative impact on the value.

A great many "vintage" banjos have little to no value to a collector and there is nothing wrong with doing things to improve playability on these banjos.

The question is could the dowel be replaced with a "Rudy Rod", and the answer is "Yes, it certainly could be".

Having to reshape the heel depends on what the objective is. A different angle is not always needed or even desireable.

Most of the old banjos were designed to use a low bridge usually around 1/2", and many modern players want a higher bridge, especially those who play a down stroke style usually called "clawhammer" nowadays.

If you simply place a taller bridge on a banjo designed for a 1/2" bridge the action over the fretboard is too high.

If the plain of the neck is raised in relation to the plain of the head, a higher bridge can be used and still have correct action over the board. Cutting off the dowel and substituting a different neck attachment such as the "Rudy Rod" is a much simpler way of doing this than resetting the dowel properly. The rim mortice for the dowel should be plugged, but even this is not absolutely required.

Jan 19, 2020 - 8:44:32 AM
Players Union Member

rudy

USA

14941 posts since 3/27/2004

You can find photos of a Vega N conversion here:

Vega N tunneled fifth neck with channeled dowel stick neck attachment

In that case the original neck was kept and can be swapped back later if desired.  Nothing particularly difficult to do a conversion other than working out a relatively invisible method of installing the heel-embedded barrel nut.

Jan 19, 2020 - 9:05:55 AM

csacwp

USA

2553 posts since 1/15/2014

What I don't understand is that the old timers had no problems playing stroke style/clawhammer on 1/2" bridges, and those bridges respond better and (to my ears) sound better. Why do modern revivalists require a non-period setup?

Jan 19, 2020 - 9:30:16 AM
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12590 posts since 6/29/2005

quote:
Originally posted by Leslie R

I am curious about this, as being a more practical approach to addressing the various problems old banjos often have, than having a neck reset.
I have 2 banjos made by Ken Levan, which have his own Rudy Rod system.
I simply like it. It's rock solid and looks great.

I don't know if this has been tried, but it seems it would be easier to do, than a normal procedure for resetting a neck.


Leslie,

I have just posted a thread about how to do it.  I did not use a vintage banjo, but one of my own.  I would not cut the dowel off a banjo of historic significance, although I would not reset the dowel on one, either.

Jan 19, 2020 - 10:03:20 AM
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Players Union Member

rudy

USA

14941 posts since 3/27/2004

quote:
Originally posted by csacwp

What I don't understand is that the old timers had no problems playing stroke style/clawhammer on 1/2" bridges, and those bridges respond better and (to my ears) sound better. Why do modern revivalists require a non-period setup?


Progress? 

I don't understand what a "modern revivalist" is, or how a "non-period setup" can't be perceived as simply a matter of personal preference.  Is there no room in banjo culture to make allowance for that?

You could just as easily ask why "old timers" needed tension-adjustable head when more primitive players got along just fine with non-adjustable heads, or why they would require fretted necks when "more primitive players" were satisfied to play without frets (why would anyone need those?) or any of the other modern contrivances that are unnecessary.

Nothing wrong with wanting to lock into an older style such as classic banjo, but there's also nothing wrong with anyone who chooses to embrace any perceived advancements in either the mechanics / design of an instrument or changes in repertoire or playing style.

Jan 19, 2020 - 10:30:44 AM

5236 posts since 12/20/2005

I can play clawhammer and 3-finger with a 1/2 bridge.
It's simply easier to do it with a taller bridge.
There is a difference in sound as well.
I recall an archived post about plectrum banjo players having a preference for really tall bridges, 3/4 and even 7/8. That kind of setup helped getting the sound they were looking for.

Jan 19, 2020 - 10:53:42 AM

7518 posts since 1/7/2005

quote:
Originally posted by rudy
quote:
Originally posted by csacwp

What I don't understand is that the old timers had no problems playing stroke style/clawhammer on 1/2" bridges, and those bridges respond better and (to my ears) sound better. Why do modern revivalists require a non-period setup?


Progress? 

I don't understand what a "modern revivalist" is, or how a "non-period setup" can't be perceived as simply a matter of personal preference.  Is there no room in banjo culture to make allowance for that?

You could just as easily ask why "old timers" needed tension-adjustable head when more primitive players got along just fine with non-adjustable heads, or why they would require fretted necks when "more primitive players" were satisfied to play without frets (why would anyone need those?) or any of the other modern contrivances that are unnecessary.

Nothing wrong with wanting to lock into an older style such as classic banjo, but there's also nothing wrong with anyone who chooses to embrace any perceived advancements in either the mechanics / design of an instrument or changes in repertoire or playing style.

 


As much as I prefer quality vintage instruments to be un-modified, or at least modified in a reversible way, I have to agree with Rudy on this one. Modifications to historical instruments is done all the time in order to produce tools that satisfy the needs of the player. For example, most valuable and highly desirable antique  violins have replacement or modified necks to provide the player with a modern long-scale. This is a totally accepted procedure, and doesn't seem to affect value much, if at all. There are pieces in the modern repertoire that require a modern design if they are to have the greatest performance value to the player. Only certain museum pieces seem to have been exempt from the process. However not every performer plays 16th century music.  

In a similar way, the banjo has come a long way since Earl Scruggs and Charlie Poole, and the best performers are always looking for ways to improve their instruments in order to meet their performance preferences. 

On the other hand...  :-> there is no shortage of new banjos and violins that are the equal of vintage instruments, and can be had with any desired tweaks and variations, made to order. I personally like to see historical instruments exempted from the dictates of musical fashion, and be allowed to remain as designed. And I would be surprised if the majority of professional players don't do quite well with instruments designed to fit the performance. The majority of my favorite banjo players play new instruments. Partly, of course, because of the cost of valuable antiques, but also because new instruments can do any job that is asked of them. 

DD

Jan 19, 2020 - 10:55:12 AM

csacwp

USA

2553 posts since 1/15/2014

quote:
Originally posted by rudy
quote:
Originally posted by csacwp

What I don't understand is that the old timers had no problems playing stroke style/clawhammer on 1/2" bridges, and those bridges respond better and (to my ears) sound better. Why do modern revivalists require a non-period setup?


Progress? 

I don't understand what a "modern revivalist" is, or how a "non-period setup" can't be perceived as simply a matter of personal preference.  Is there no room in banjo culture to make allowance for that?

You could just as easily ask why "old timers" needed tension-adjustable head when more primitive players got along just fine with non-adjustable heads, or why they would require fretted necks when "more primitive players" were satisfied to play without frets (why would anyone need those?) or any of the other modern contrivances that are unnecessary.

Nothing wrong with wanting to lock into an older style such as classic banjo, but there's also nothing wrong with anyone who chooses to embrace any perceived advancements in either the mechanics / design of an instrument or changes in repertoire or playing style.

 


I think you misunderstand what I am getting at. I have no problem with progress - that is what modern instruments and builders are for. I do take issue with the modification of historical banjos to suit modern tastes when better options exist.

Also, I wasn't talking as a classic banjoist this time around. I've been playing a fair bit of old-time lately and was speaking from that perspective. The old timers had no trouble using old bridges/setups, so I don't understand why so many revivalists feel the need to change things. Same goes for other modern trends like scoops. It's not very old-timey to use modern instrument design, is it? The techniques have to change to accommodate the different setup, and the instruments sound and respond differently. 

Jan 19, 2020 - 11:39:32 AM
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12590 posts since 6/29/2005

It's fair to say that only a handful of Stradivarius and Amati violins are "original"—with the exception of museum specimens, the "players" have all had their necks replaced to lengthen the fingerboard to extend the upper range of the instrument; the addition of a chin rest, the use of mostly wire strings, rather than those made of gut, to produce a more brilliant tone; and the replacement of internal elements such as the sound post and bass bar with larger ones, which increase the instrument's volume and strengthen its structure. As a result of such modifications, the character of the violin's sound has changed dramatically since Stradivari's lifetime.

When my son was learning to play the cello, a conductor friend told us to get every CD of Bach's unaccompanied cello suites that was available, and we got about 10—Pablo Casals, YoYo Ma, Pierre Fournier, Rostropovich, Janos Starker, Anner Bylsma, and others.  Almost all of these players were using priceless antique cellos that had been carefully modified over the years to be used in modern orchestras and to play in the concert pitch of today with modern strings.

The exception was Anner Bylsma, who used an unmodified period baroque cello with gut strings.  Of course, his playing was tremendous,  and it sounded wonderful, but it was a different sound than all the other ones.  I'm glad I got to hear those CDs, (over and over) and it was instructive.  There is absolutely a place in music for period instruments, but I'd hate to miss being able to hear YoYo Ma, Fournier, etc. on their instruments with the setups they have.

Jan 19, 2020 - 12:16:42 PM

csacwp

USA

2553 posts since 1/15/2014

quote:
Originally posted by Ken LeVan

It's fair to say that only a handful of Stradivarius and Amati violins are "original"—with the exception of museum specimens, the "players" have all had their necks replaced to lengthen the fingerboard to extend the upper range of the instrument; the addition of a chin rest, the use of mostly wire strings, rather than those made of gut, to produce a more brilliant tone; and the replacement of internal elements such as the sound post and bass bar with larger ones, which increase the instrument's volume and strengthen its structure. As a result of such modifications, the character of the violin's sound has changed dramatically since Stradivari's lifetime.

When my son was learning to play the cello, a conductor friend told us to get every CD of Bach's unaccompanied cello suites that was available, and we got about 10—Pablo Casals, YoYo Ma, Pierre Fournier, Rostropovich, Janos Starker, Anner Bylsma, and others.  Almost all of these players were using priceless antique cellos that had been carefully modified over the years to be used in modern orchestras and to play in the concert pitch of today with modern strings.

The exception was Anner Bylsma, who used an unmodified period baroque cello with gut strings.  Of course, his playing was tremendous,  and it sounded wonderful, but it was a different sound than all the other ones.  I'm glad I got to hear those CDs, (over and over) and it was instructive.  There is absolutely a place in music for period instruments, but I'd hate to miss being able to hear YoYo Ma, Fournier, etc. on their instruments with the setups they have.

 


Sure, but banjos aren't violins, and the Strads were modified to play different music. Old-time banjoists claim to play the same music as the old timers using traditional techniques, so I don't understand why they feel the need to alter the period instruments. 

Jan 19, 2020 - 12:49:03 PM
Players Union Member

rudy

USA

14941 posts since 3/27/2004

quote:
Originally posted by csacwp
quote:
Originally posted by rudy
quote:
Originally posted by csacwp

What I don't understand is that the old timers had no problems playing stroke style/clawhammer on 1/2" bridges, and those bridges respond better and (to my ears) sound better. Why do modern revivalists require a non-period setup?


Progress? 

I don't understand what a "modern revivalist" is, or how a "non-period setup" can't be perceived as simply a matter of personal preference.  Is there no room in banjo culture to make allowance for that?

You could just as easily ask why "old timers" needed tension-adjustable head when more primitive players got along just fine with non-adjustable heads, or why they would require fretted necks when "more primitive players" were satisfied to play without frets (why would anyone need those?) or any of the other modern contrivances that are unnecessary.

Nothing wrong with wanting to lock into an older style such as classic banjo, but there's also nothing wrong with anyone who chooses to embrace any perceived advancements in either the mechanics / design of an instrument or changes in repertoire or playing style.

 


I think you misunderstand what I am getting at. I have no problem with progress - that is what modern instruments and builders are for. I do take issue with the modification of historical banjos to suit modern tastes when better options exist.

Also, I wasn't talking as a classic banjoist this time around. I've been playing a fair bit of old-time lately and was speaking from that perspective. The old timers had no trouble using old bridges/setups, so I don't understand why so many revivalists feel the need to change things. Same goes for other modern trends like scoops. It's not very old-timey to use modern instrument design, is it? The techniques have to change to accommodate the different setup, and the instruments sound and respond differently. 


Thanks for the clarification.  I was unaware that you weren't referring to classic style.

As far as modern trends go, I don't see any need to stick with older instrument designs.  I know a lot of "old time" players and they play traditional pieces, but are just as likely to be playing "Waiting For Nancy", "Obama's March To The White House", or self-composed tunes.  Old Time today is in a state of evolution and that's a good thing.  Music that's forced to continue in stasis is doomed to obscurity.  Trends in modern design can only serve as beneficial to the progression of the music.

Very few of those instruments that are being modified for a practical reason are what we would call historically significant.  My folks were antique dealers for 30 plus years and continually had to explain that if it started out as mediocre it still is.

Jan 19, 2020 - 1:35:34 PM

6690 posts since 8/28/2013

To add to Rudy's folk's adage, I'd say, "They don't make 'em like they used to. But in numerous cases, that's a GOOD thing."

In my opinion, it's not the "old time" players that are doing things wrong. It's the name itself. I doubt if anyone ever plays the exact same notes with the exact same inflection as Dock Boggs, and he probably played things differently from performance to performance. After all, basically "old time" is folk music, passed down through generations of players who all may have added their own licks. What once may have been played on a tack head banjo was most likely played later on a Boucher with tension hooks, then on a Supertone, or even on a Kay with a resonator, so why can't the same be played now on a modern clawhammer banjo with coordinator rods and a frailing scoop?

Jan 19, 2020 - 2:30:32 PM

12590 posts since 6/29/2005

Way back when I first joined the BHO there was another industrial designer who had worked for ODE on the forum—I miss him.  Anyway, I said I couldn't believe that people wanted to deliberately put the bridge in the wrong place and make the banjo sound "tubby".

He straightened me out properly and told me that they actually liked that sound and were basing their idea of the sound on old recordings made with primitive equipment, like Alan Lomax field recordings.  I instantly understood and have understood ever since.

I can listen to people playing banjos, guitars, mandolins, cellos, violins today —you name it, either live, or on recordings made with modern equipment, but there is no way I can actually hear Dock Boggs, Gaither Carlton et al other than by those old recordings. So it's leap of faith—are we trying to duplicate their sound, or the sound of the old recordings—no way to tell.

Jan 19, 2020 - 2:47:20 PM

950 posts since 1/26/2012

Who's to say the old timers wouldn't have preferred the modern changes? Just because they did it their way doesn't necessarily mean they thought it was the best way. Maybe they just hadn't figured it out yet.

Jan 20, 2020 - 7:26:03 AM
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3711 posts since 5/12/2010

It is only an assumption that the "old timers" in question did not also feel the need to change things.

Some "old timey" stroke styles work fine with a low bridge, but there were a lot of very different styles of down picking or "stroke style" the "old timers" played.

Some styles require room for the meat of the thumb to get under the fifth string, and that is very difficult to do with a 1/2" bridge.

The central WV style I play is one of these. It was called "Thumpin" or "Rappin" by the old folks long before all styles of down picking got lumped under the "Clawhammer" title.

With this style the hand comes down toward the head at a very steep angle, and the thumb hooks the drone string, sounding it when the hand goes back up. More room under the string makes this easier to do. You can play this style with a 1/2" bridge, you just won't play it as well.

Thumbs were not any smaller in the old days, so the same thing was true way back then as it is now, and I know for a fact that many "old timers" modified their banjos to get this extra room. It is not something new thought up by the "revivalists", it simply has become more common in today's world as we are more in touch with each other than ever before.

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