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Jan 29, 2020 - 3:35:50 PM
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4024 posts since 10/18/2007

I've been learning and playing traditional Irish tunes on a 5-string resonator banjo for thirty years, chiefly for contra dances. Note for note duplication of the tunes with a thumb pick and two finger picks at dance speeds is not that easy, but the tunes are certainly fun to play. I've been thinking of using a tenor banjo with a flat pick for a more authentic sound. What is the difference between a regular tenor and an Irish tenor banjo? What brand of banjo should I buy? New or used? Not long ago I heard a '23 Paramount and really liked the sound (Some trad I hear on Youtube seems quite harsh to my bluegrass ears, though I realize that's probably the trad sound). Please help.

Jan 29, 2020 - 3:58:33 PM

2326 posts since 12/31/2005

You may unleash the annual debate about "Irish tenor." That terms is often used to refer to 17-fret tenors. But Irish musicians do not all use this. Plenty use 19 fret, or whatever else they have. The true Irish musicians I have seen also are not as brand crazy as Americans are. What are you playing on now? What is your price range?

Edited by - Brian Murphy on 01/29/2020 16:01:14

Jan 29, 2020 - 4:06:34 PM

robobanjo

Canada

295 posts since 8/21/2009

As Brian has said, best to know what your price range is. From there, you will have alot of advice on brands/models and who to buy from, vs who not to buy from ... so what's your price range?

Jan 29, 2020 - 4:58:24 PM

4024 posts since 10/18/2007

I am borrowing some kind of tenor from a friend within a few days. If the passion sticks after working with it I would say my price range is up to $1500 USD.

Jan 29, 2020 - 5:19:20 PM
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robobanjo

Canada

295 posts since 8/21/2009

Okay, my 2 cents for a $1,500 banjo: Seek a restored vintage Vega, Paramount, Weyman, or such from Gruhns, TradBanjo, Intermountain Guitar & Banjo, Vin Mondello, Elderly, Bernunzio's, or Smakula. New banjos are more expensive, as in $3-4K. There are lower end GoldTones, but I personally would avoid those. Again, just my 2 cents. Watch lots of youtube videos to better appreciate the tone from different make/model options. All the best!

Jan 29, 2020 - 6:15:40 PM

7625 posts since 8/28/2013

The only difference between the the tenor and the so-called Irish tenor is the tuning. GDAE for the iridh, CGDA for standard.

Another good banjo would be the Epiphone Recording models from the late twenties.

Jan 29, 2020 - 6:33:46 PM

769 posts since 2/19/2012

It's funny, the whole 17 vs 19 fret thing. I have both. I started with a used 17 fret Goodtime thinking the shorter scale might be easier to start with, while reading many posts stating the real Irish players (in Ireland) play 19 fret banjos. So of course I had to try one (now two). At this point, I can say (and you'll read this lots of places) that the intonation is better on the longer scale banjo when tuned to GDAE. It's not horrible on the 17 fret Goodtime, but the rather slack G string is harder to tune so it intonates well both open and when fretted. On the other hand, it is easier to play sometimes when hopping back and forth between frets two and seven on the first string. Look for a youtube of Martin Hardiman's Jig, for example. This may be moot at this point. The important thing is to jump in and see what works for you. I admire your tenacity in playing so much Irish on a five string! If you settle in with the flat pick, the tenor will probably feel like you now have a better tool for the job.

Jan 29, 2020 - 8:00:33 PM

4024 posts since 10/18/2007

Thanks to all. This is precisely information I was looking for. GDAE means it's tuned like a mando or fiddle, right? Using the flat pick sounds a bit daunting.

Jan 29, 2020 - 8:19:58 PM
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769 posts since 2/19/2012

Like the mandolin but an octave lower. Of course you know you'll have to try mandolin as well. They are really fun. :)

Jan 29, 2020 - 9:57:46 PM

rcc56

USA

3113 posts since 2/20/2016

If some of the banjos you have heard sound too harsh, you might want to consider one of the plainer pre-war banjos without a high end tone ring, such as a Vega style N with a Little Wonder tone ring. The style M's with Tubaphone tone rings are very good banjos, and are of higher quality, but they tend to have a brighter tone. You can also look at some of the plainer Bacon and Orpheum models.

I use an old trap-door Gibson for "Irish" style. It's not as strong as a good Vega, but I like the look and the funky tone.

Any of the above banjos can be easily found for $500 to $1000.

Paramount also made very good banjos. The best old tenors were primarily made by Vega, Paramount, Bacon, and Epiphone.   I don't see much sense in buying modern tenors, domestic or import, when older instruments of very high quality can be found at much more reasonable prices.  If you can find a few to play before you buy, it will be very helpful. Looking at a map, I don't know if there are many banjos in your part of the country. Perhaps you could take a road trip . . .

Edited by - rcc56 on 01/29/2020 22:04:49

Jan 29, 2020 - 10:31:32 PM

rcc56

USA

3113 posts since 2/20/2016

If you do an advanced search in the classifieds and select "Oregon" for the location, you will find a Vega Style N in Tualatin, OR; and a Gibson trap-door in McMinnville.

The closest store to you that I know of that keeps a good stock of banjos is Intermountain Guitar and Banjo in Salt Lake City. If you are willing to drive that far, be sure to make an appointment before you go.  They've been around for decades, but they are currently open by appointment only.

I am not aware of anyone in Seattle or Portland that has a good stock of banjos.

Edited by - rcc56 on 01/29/2020 22:42:41

Jan 30, 2020 - 12:24:52 AM

257 posts since 12/7/2017

I have a Weymann for sale in the classified, excellent banjo

Jan 30, 2020 - 2:41:46 AM
Players Union Member

Ryk

USA

241 posts since 11/20/2011

I'd jump on that Weymann. I have one and love it. They're very well made and designed in such a way that with the resonator off none of the hardware is digging into your leg. And ... there's nothing harsh about the sound.
Ryk

Edited by - Ryk on 01/30/2020 02:42:12

Jan 30, 2020 - 4:37:24 AM

798 posts since 6/25/2006

Yes, go for the Weymann - suberb banjos and sound great for Irish style

Jan 30, 2020 - 9:15:35 AM

4024 posts since 10/18/2007

Oh< Lordy, now you've got me thinking on that Weymann.

Jan 30, 2020 - 9:36:52 AM
Players Union Member

Helix

USA

12836 posts since 8/30/2006

I volunteer at an acoustic music showcase

Someone just donated an older
Oscar Schmidt w new hard shell case
19 fret

It’s an entry level Banjo with resonator

The donor stipulated this not go to a collector. But to a playing musician

Contact me if you would like to discuss it




 

Jan 30, 2020 - 6:04:03 PM

111 posts since 9/30/2016

I got a goose-bumpy kind of rush when I saw the Oscar Schmidt presented by Helix. I have the virtual twin, though badged “Stella,” with a bit more “mother of toilet seat” trim. It actually sets up nicely, and responds to experiments: bridges, strings, capos, etc. In fact, mine (my late Dad’s, c. 1923) is set up very loosely strung so when capoed up to 17” long is an actually playable GDAE. So tuning up and thereby extending scale length makes it better, up to the 19 fret “size.”

OTOH, people here know far more than I, and you are in the right spot for advice.

What fun!

David

Jan 30, 2020 - 6:47:55 PM

Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

23909 posts since 6/25/2005

Many Irish players use archtop banjos, which of course fits a Weymann. I don’t play tenor, so that’s just an observation—and that preference is not by any means universal.

Jan 30, 2020 - 6:57:41 PM

robobanjo

Canada

295 posts since 8/21/2009

Here's a recording on a Weymann of mahogany, virtually the same: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ksgk5jS5z0E

Jan 31, 2020 - 6:37:17 AM

2326 posts since 12/31/2005

Jan 31, 2020 - 7:02:20 PM

DSmoke

USA

868 posts since 11/30/2015

Cornflake , I know that Weymann, and it's a great buy! 

My advice is you will not find a new tenor banjo for Irish trad playing in your price range worth buying. While there are new ones available within that price, most poeple will upgrade from that model and you can find them used for much less. The vintage tenors are the most popular used for trad playing, most commonly with GDAE tuning. If you are in the States you can buy one of these, setup correctly for trad, for under $1000 and if you continue with the music easily sell it for what you paid for it if you want to upgrade. So, that covers the financial aspect. The most important thing is whatever banjo you buy, it is setup for trad by someone who knows Irish trad music. There is definitely a certain tone, and that is not what the 5 string players are after. It's more like what they were after 30 years ago. I would suggest finding something to get you started for $500 or so, maybe an open back, get your flat picking down and see how the music sits with you.

Sorry for the long reply, but I want to address your questions. You mention 17 fret and 19 fret. The number of frets are not as important as scale length. This determines the reach and fret positions. Common perspective is better tone from the longer neck. That is a whole other debate worth reading about. I personally would play the shortest scale length possible, but many of the top tenors are going to be 22" plus in length.

As for brands, there are way too many great vintage banjos to say which to buy. It's all about the setup.

Edited by - DSmoke on 01/31/2020 19:09:51

Feb 3, 2020 - 6:42:28 AM

2424 posts since 10/9/2011

Lots of good advice here. I'll second the Weymann recommendation. I bought one restored by DSmoke here at a very reasonable price, set up perfectly for Irish trad. I doubt I'll ever feel the need for anything "better". I'm especially lucky in that Dan is a friend and session mate, so he often checks out my Weyman to make sure it's playing it's best.
Dan probably didn't want to sound like he was advertising on this forum so let me do it for him. He's a fine craftsman who knows,understands, and loves tenor banjos. He buys,restores, and sells at very reasonable prices. If you haven't already bought one, check with him.

Feb 3, 2020 - 9:35:40 AM
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4024 posts since 10/18/2007

I want to thank all of you for your input. I bought the Weymann from Pasdimo and it's on its way. I'm very happy with the transaction. Buying a new instrument without months of rumination and exploring is not my style but the recommendations were pointing to buying the Weymann, so I took the plunge. I have borrowed a tenor from a friend and am working through Youtube lessons. So far I'm enjoying the ride and the plectrum picking seems easier than I had anticipated... Michael

Feb 3, 2020 - 9:46:31 AM

769 posts since 2/19/2012

Awesome! You're in for some fun times.

Feb 4, 2020 - 6:39:41 AM

798 posts since 6/25/2006

Congrats Michael - am sure you won't be disappointed. The Weymann megaphonic banjos have unique design features including megaphonic rim, 4-1 tuners, neck adjuster and pop-off resonator. The advantage of buying vintage is that it will hold its value if you don't get on with it and want to sell-on.

Just out of interest, the open-back banjos that Jim Patton (JP Banjos) has been building are inspired by the Weymann megaphonic banjo - he is taking a break from banjo building so an original Weymann may become more sought after!


Edited by - hobogal on 02/04/2020 06:44:50

Feb 4, 2020 - 9:24:12 AM

4024 posts since 10/18/2007

quote:
Originally posted by hobogal

Congrats Michael - am sure you won't be disappointed. The Weymann megaphonic banjos have unique design features including megaphonic rim, 4-1 tuners, neck adjuster and pop-off resonator. The advantage of buying vintage is that it will hold its value if you don't get on with it and want to sell-on.

Just out of interest, the open-back banjos that Jim Patton (JP Banjos) has been building are inspired by the Weymann megaphonic banjo - he is taking a break from banjo building so an original Weymann may become more sought after!


Interesting stuff. Thanks.

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