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Potential Upgrades to 1979 Fender Leo Deluxe Banjo

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Jan 19, 2020 - 8:30:57 AM

kschultz1

Canada

12 posts since 11/1/2019
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Hi,

I recently acquired a Fender Leo Deluxe banjo made in Japan. I am looking for advice on what upgrades I can make to give it a louder, brighter, more in your face bluegrass sound. All current parts are stock. Looking forward to hear your opinions.

Thanks.

Jan 19, 2020 - 8:53:02 AM

2045 posts since 12/31/2005

With what you have posted, there is not much to say but to try a new neck and a new pot. Can you post a sound file and then say what you want more/less of? What is "right" is far too subjective. "Bright" can even mean different things or result from different adjustments.  The one response you will get is to "tighten the head."  Well, maybe but we don't know what it is like now or how tight the head is.  We all have different opinions on what the right sound is, some slightly different and some drastically different. What do you want and where is the instrument falling short?

Edited by - Brian Murphy on 01/19/2020 08:54:21

Jan 19, 2020 - 9:34:05 AM
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bill t

USA

199 posts since 12/14/2012

I've been around two Fender Leo Deluxe banjos in the past, never owned one. My impression is that they're a good,
well built banjo. I don't know exactly what you mean when you say "upgrades". I'd suggest making sure the banjo is
well setup, strings, head tension, good bridge, make sure the parts fit together well and are properly tightened, etc.,
and when that's all done, if you still aren't happy with it, start looking for something you are happy with. I don't know
what level of a player you are but, to me, a lot of what affects the sound of a banjo, is the person playing it. I personally
would recommend against new tone rings, new rims, new this or that. I think these Fender Leo Deluxe banjos have
good parts and if one goes the "new this, new that" route, you can spend a lot of extra money that you'll never recover
and still end up with a banjo that you're not happy with. Just my opinion.

Jan 19, 2020 - 10:04:22 AM

kschultz1

Canada

12 posts since 11/1/2019
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Ok. I uploaded a few pictures for you to see how I currently have it set up. Remo frosted banjo head, Grover bridge. Not sure what kind of tailpiece. I believe the tone ring is stock. I am using Daddario light Nickel strings. I had mediums on it before and I found that the sound was too warm and really had to work hard to dig a twangy bright tone out of it. Now I find that the light strings have less dynamics and sound weak. I play with a plastic thumbpick and metal fingerpicks. I would consider myself an intermediate player. I am primarily a Tele chicken picker that had moved to banjo recently.




 

Jan 19, 2020 - 10:12:52 AM

kschultz1

Canada

12 posts since 11/1/2019
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I will add that I find the tone to be compressed. I had more dynamic range out of my Fender FB-54 that was all aluminum with Mahogany resonator. I want it to sound louder, more dynamic and brighter.

Jan 19, 2020 - 10:19:25 AM

473 posts since 8/14/2018

quote:
Originally posted by Brian Murphy

With what you have posted, there is not much to say but to try a new neck and a new pot.


Wouldn't that be most of a new banjo?

Jan 19, 2020 - 10:22:01 AM
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1313 posts since 4/13/2009

Reduce the downward pressure of the tailpiece and get another bridge - a Sullivan roasted bridge is only $10 and a good first effort.

Jan 19, 2020 - 10:41:05 AM
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bill t

USA

199 posts since 12/14/2012

Are you sure that you've got the bridge where it supposed to be? It looks like on the
treble side particularly, that it's quite a ways out toward the center of the head.

Jan 19, 2020 - 10:42:06 AM
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Blackjaxe47

Canada

1469 posts since 6/20/2014

I would add that looking at your photo's there is something seriously out of wack with your bridge placement. Head tension has been mentioned previously, that can affect the tone. You have what is known as a "window tailpiece" and I would replace that with a Presto, inexpensive and a much better tailpiece just stay away from the cheap Asian knockoffs. Make sure you only use enough downward pressure to keep the bridge from sliding around.....excessive down pressure can choke the tone. And a much better bridge has also been recommended. I prefer medium gauge strings I have always found that to be my personal preference, light gauge just sound too thin to my ears. Several makers have "Medium Lights" which may work better for you, give those a try.

Edited by - Blackjaxe47 on 01/19/2020 10:43:06

Jan 19, 2020 - 11:10:24 AM

kschultz1

Canada

12 posts since 11/1/2019
Online Now

Yes. The bridge is on a bit of an angle but it seems to intonate better there. if I put it straight up and down the 1st string is flat. I can see why the make a compensated bridge. I may look into that.  I think medium-lights may be the way to go for the sound and feel i am looking for.  Not diggin' the lights at all.  Too sloppy feleing as well.

Edited by - kschultz1 on 01/19/2020 11:11:58

Jan 19, 2020 - 11:16:31 AM

banjonz

New Zealand

10844 posts since 6/29/2003

I had a couple of Ibanez Artists. When I got them I played them for a while to listen. I wasn't happy with the sound so I pulled them all down, even to removing the tone ring from the rim. I then put them all back together and was amazed at the response. They just came 'alive'. Mind you, I have been working on banjos for decades so know how to set them up. Just a thought.

Jan 19, 2020 - 11:16:44 AM

kschultz1

Canada

12 posts since 11/1/2019
Online Now

Any recommendations on what brand of tailpiece and bridge to buy?  Also may consider a brass tone ring.  Please post links. Thanks

Edited by - kschultz1 on 01/19/2020 11:26:11

Jan 19, 2020 - 11:39:37 AM

2408 posts since 4/16/2003
Online Now

OP:

Post a link to a sound file or YouTube video of someone playing a banjo that you want your banjo to "sound like". So we can "hear" what you want to hear.

I'd replace that tailpiece. My preference is for the Deering "True tone" but a presto might do. Or a new-style Kershner made by Prucha (sold by gregboyd.com).

Other than tailpiece/bridge, I wouldn't put too much money into it.

Jan 19, 2020 - 12:00:09 PM

kschultz1

Canada

12 posts since 11/1/2019
Online Now

quote:
Originally posted by J.Albert

OP:

Post a link to a sound file or YouTube video of someone playing a banjo that you want your banjo to "sound like". So we can "hear" what you want to hear.

I'd replace that tailpiece. My preference is for the Deering "True tone" but a presto might do. Or a new-style Kershner made by Prucha (sold by gregboyd.com).

Other than tailpiece/bridge, I wouldn't put too much money into it.


I don't know how to describe the tone i am looking other than a more loud, aggressive in the high mids , brighter kind of tone. Less warmth.  More dynamics.  Slightly more sustain.  Right now it sounds dull, lack of sustain, no punch.  I found that a steeper string angle on the bridge improved the tone but somewhat killed the sustain.    Why do you like the Deering Truetone over the others?  What is the difference in each of their tone?

Edited by - kschultz1 on 01/19/2020 12:02:38

Jan 19, 2020 - 12:54:05 PM

1169 posts since 2/2/2008
Online Now

Once you start looking at rings and rims you set yourself up for fitment issues.
Start by pulling it down and reassembling it like Wayne from New Zealand suggested. You may see something not right. These older banjos can de-laminate rims causing the tonering to tighten up causing dead choked sound. You may find a torn head under the hoop.
Start there to know your banjo before swapping parts.

Jan 19, 2020 - 1:09:15 PM

bill t

USA

199 posts since 12/14/2012

Kevin, You said above, "If I put it 'bridge' straight up and down the 1st string is flat." Flat compared to what.
If you measure from your nut to the 12th fret and from the 12th fret to the bridge on the 1st string, the two
distance should be the same or pretty much the same. It looks in the picture like your bridge is not where it
needs to be. It looks closer to the middle of the head than it should be and that will give you a thunky sound.
I'm not looking for an argument here. I'm trying to be helpful.
I think that Warren Yates of Yates Banjos has a Youtube video on setting bridge placement if you're interested.
On the subject of tailpieces. I've got a 20 dollar brass Presto from Elderly Instruments on one of my banjos and
I think it works fine. I'm happy with it and would buy another one like it if I needed it.

Jan 19, 2020 - 1:29:13 PM

2045 posts since 12/31/2005

quote:
Originally posted by MacCruiskeen
quote:
Originally posted by Brian Murphy

With what you have posted, there is not much to say but to try a new neck and a new pot.


Wouldn't that be most of a new banjo?


It would be a completely new banjo.  That was my point.  

Jan 19, 2020 - 1:30:38 PM

kschultz1

Canada

12 posts since 11/1/2019
Online Now

I've learned how to intonate the bridge. It measures how you say and when I press down on the 12th fret it's perfectly intonated on both D strings. Maybe it's the angle of the picture but when I look at other banjos online the bridge is in the same spot.

Jan 19, 2020 - 3:18:39 PM
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kschultz1

Canada

12 posts since 11/1/2019
Online Now

UPDATE:

So I took some advice from here and took everything apart and reassembled it. What a massive difference. I also replaced the bridge with another Grover Acousticraft bridge with individual ivoroid blocks that was in the case from the previous owner. I think bridge may have been a big part of the improvement. The sound is much tighter and brighter. No weird low overtones like I was hearing before. The volume is much louder and it doesn't sound compressed anymore. Way more dynamic range. I actually feel it needs a bit more warmth now. I think I can achieve that by moving from light to medium light or medium strings. I don't like the feel of the lights anyway. Thanks for all of the input!


 

Edited by - kschultz1 on 01/19/2020 15:19:08

Jan 19, 2020 - 5:05:34 PM

Blackjaxe47

Canada

1469 posts since 6/20/2014

Spend the money and buy a premium bridge, Sullivan Roasted Maple would give you the warmth your looking for. I swear by Tim Purcell's bridges, also available in roasted maple as well as several other choices of wood and string spacing.

Jan 19, 2020 - 5:07:32 PM
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Players Union Member

RioStat

USA

5100 posts since 10/12/2009

quote:
Originally posted by kschultz1

Any recommendations on what brand of tailpiece and bridge to buy?  Also may consider a brass tone ring.  Please post links. Thanks


Are you reading the replies you're gettin' ?

Sullivan Roasted Maple bridge https://www.firstqualitymusic.com/collections/bridges is a good start

Presto-style tailpiece https://gregboyd.com/product/prucha-presto-tailpiece/

Jan 19, 2020 - 5:38:28 PM

1169 posts since 2/2/2008
Online Now

quote:
Originally posted by kschultz1

UPDATE:

So I took some advice from here and took everything apart and reassembled it. What a massive difference. I also replaced the bridge with another Grover Acousticraft bridge with individual ivoroid blocks that was in the case from the previous owner. I think bridge may have been a big part of the improvement. The sound is much tighter and brighter. No weird low overtones like I was hearing before. The volume is much louder and it doesn't sound compressed anymore. Way more dynamic range. I actually feel it needs a bit more warmth now. I think I can achieve that by moving from light to medium light or medium strings. I don't like the feel of the lights anyway. Thanks for all of the input!


Well done great place to start. Now you can be confident the parts are doing their job correctly.

Yes I agree it's time for a bridge of quality. Good luck choosing because there are so many good ones. Have the head tuned to suit your banjo can be a major improvement and time consuming. Dail gauges are great to see your increments in adjustments. If 91 too much you can watch it go back to 90.5 and then 90 etc and not have to guess.

My experience in tail pieces is the only big change I have experienced is with the Fults and the claw ottenger style. I have not noticed amazing major changes with other types or very minor ones. Fults are great for stable but nothing wrong with a simple Presto. That tailpiece you have is quite acceptable.

Jan 19, 2020 - 10:55:35 PM
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Banjo40

USA

632 posts since 9/6/2004

I own a 79 Leo and a Leo Deluxe. Good advice given here on using a Presto tail piece and a better bridge of which there are many to choose. I use both Snuffy Smith bridges and Sullivan bridges. I see you have a Remo head which is a big improvement over the original clear head. With just these changes and a proper set up your banjo should sound very good. If you want to take your upgrade further and if you intend to keep the banjo you might address the biggest weaknesses in a Leo banjo, the multi-ply rim and the die cast tone ring. For the money and for that banjo a three ply rim for $125 and a $200 tone ring from FQMS would be a vast improvement and give you a banjo that would do anything you wanted it to do.
firstqualitymusic.com/collecti...ssemblies

Jan 20, 2020 - 12:36:17 AM
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Players Union Member

Helix

USA

12207 posts since 8/30/2006

I've had a couple of Leos in my shop. One now has a Cherry Helix type rim, the other is Maple. Both now use a rolled brass flat bar tone ring with Fresnel ledges inside the rim to ratchet sound out away from the playing surface.

I love tube and plate rims, they make great open backs, they have the most wood in them of any type of rim, very versatile.

I think you have an adequate if not perfect tailpiece.

See the difference a few tweaks make, good ears.

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