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Setting up Silverspun / Silver Bell banjos for fingerstyle and clawhammer

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Mar 25, 2020 - 11:32:34 PM
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18 posts since 2/4/2017

I've long been searching for a banjo that would sound great for both finger style and clawhammer playing. I play both (for me fingerstyle includes old time, melodic / single string Irish, and classical / ragtime, basically everything but straight Scruggs bluegrass). I play pretty melodic clawhammer too.

In my search for 5-string banjos that perform well in both arenas, bright clear and bell like but without the qualities that make cast bronze rings sound so harsh for clawhammer. I like the overtones to be beautiful but controlled so they don't get muddy.

So far I've found :
Tubaphones and Whyte Laydies - 11" (seem to sound best with a skin head and better for clawhammer)
Nechville timber tonic tone rings (never owned but played a few times with plastic head, better for fingerstyle)
Gibson ball bearings (only tried with frosted head, better for fingerstyle)

And lastly, I've come into possession of a
Bacon & Day Montana Silver Bell
And a 1970s Ome Silverspun Single X.
Both have resonators, which I keep unscrewed to play with our without depending on styles

So far I've tried a frosted and a Renaissance head on the Ome. Neither sounded right. The B&D just arrived and has a smooth white head on it. Has more pop and clarity, but still sounds a little too much like plastic for my ears.

Does anyone have experience with putting skin heads on these banjos? How tight? Any particular bridge makes or specs? Strings? Stuffing? Both have oettinger style repro tailpieces currently.

Any tips appreciated! And if there's any other banjos out there you feel to be the ultimate machine for both fingerstyle and clawhammer, feel free to give them a shout out.

Thanks!

Mar 26, 2020 - 12:24:51 AM
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Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

23212 posts since 6/25/2005

I play an Essex Concert Grand, which is a Whyte Laydie clone. I had an Ome Double-X, which would be very similar to your Singlle-X with the Silverspun ring. It was a very nice banjo, but didn’t quite have the depth and power of the Essex. I eventually sold it. That’s just my take. If you can find one to try, check out an 11” Ome with the “Vintage” tone ring. Tremendous banjos. I still prefer the Essex to my newish Ome Mira, but the Mira has power and depth I did not find in the Double-X. Whether you’d like the Vintage ring sound, I don’t know, but it’s worth tracking down a banjo with one to try.

Mar 26, 2020 - 10:37:40 AM

7565 posts since 1/7/2005

Unfortunately, "great sound quality" is a rather subjective thing. What I prefer in sound may not make you happy.

I would focus on what brands display the sound you prefer. And probably the most efficient way to do that is to listen to a lot of banjo music, find the players who's sound you like best, and use the same instrument they do.

Selecting one brand that does it all, may be more difficult. I think it would be safe to say that the odds of finding the holy grail of sound for every musical style is unlikely. The demands of bluegrass is quite different than that of clawhammer, Celtic, etc. Personally, I find that two banjos gives me the range I need for what I play, but there are compromises that I have to make. You can, of course, play old timey music on a Mastertone, or bluegrass on a Whyte Laydie, but neither will be a perfect fit.

I would look at Weymann banjos. They play well for bluegrass, but are warmer in sound than a Gibson. Of course, you won't see many pros playing them, because pros tend to focus on one style and pick the instruments best suited for that style. I tend to like the sound of Ludwig banjos for a variety of music, but they require making a new neck, since Ludwig never made a five string. Your Silver Bell is loud and bright, but was designed more for big band, jazz and ragtime than folk and country music.

Good luck on your quest. It will be interesting to hear what you settle on.

DD

Edited by - Dan Drabek on 03/26/2020 10:40:40

Mar 26, 2020 - 5:29:38 PM

18 posts since 2/4/2017

Thanks for the tip Bill! I'll definitely keep my eyes open for an Essex Concert Grand (they seem quite rare though, aren't they, particularly in the states?).

I've also loved the sound of the Omes with Vintage tone rings that I've heard on youtube. The Romero tone ring is the same idea as well I believe, I have that in a 12".

And yes, I am aware that one banjo may never do it all, and I'll definitely always have more than one, but I'm trying to get as much versatility in one that I can, so that for all those times when it only makes sense to take 1 banjo somewhere (teaching, touring in a band, etc) I've got my bases fairly well covered.

For Weymann, are you referencing the megaphonic rim? Are there particular models that sound better than others? I like old Ludwig stuff - I have a 26" ludwig bass drum with painted calfskin head and internal lights. Sounds like thunder. I've learned that certain brands have consistent quality over their models (eg Ome, Romero, etc) though the different models can sound quite different.

If anyone has thoughts on set-up please do chime in too.

Mar 27, 2020 - 4:43:15 AM

5257 posts since 12/20/2005

Do you own the Gibson BB that you mentioned?
If yes, you might try a Renaissance head. With a little experimenting with the head tension and with whatever bridges you have, you might find what you are looking for.
Looks like you have some really fine banjo's.
The Romero would be a great banjo to experiment with.
It's not difficult to mount a skin head. I have mounted a couple. I watched a couple of YouTube videos and found it to be a lot easier than I thought it would be.
Odd thing about the BB with a skin head. Sounds great, but for me, I found the slightest contact with the skin head would dampen the tone. I put an old fingerguard on the banjo because of that. Didn't have that with other heads. I finally went a Renaissance head and one of Steve Davis' bridges. I like it. There's a lot you can do with a Gibson BB.

Mar 27, 2020 - 5:04:14 AM

5052 posts since 9/21/2007
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I would not call a CE Concert Grand a "WL clone"-- they are significantly different. They were certainly inspired by them. I would go so far as to call them a knockoff.

The aesthetics are entirely different. The scalloped truss is obviously a patent infringement, as is the bracket band.

They CEs have better details too like the 5th string nut and scalloped stretcher hoop. I like the shape of the neck better as well-- not as clunky (while the rest of the banjo is more clunky than a WL). The CE has a 26.5" scale which is shorter than the "professional" size of the WL.

All models of the CE line are ripped from other makers. With the exception of the Metal Hoop Specials (which try their hardest to imitate Weaver banjos) most look very different from their inspirations.

Mar 27, 2020 - 11:24:52 AM

7565 posts since 1/7/2005

quote:
Originally posted by banjobard


For Weymann, are you referencing the megaphonic rim? Are there particular models that sound better than others? I like old Ludwig stuff - I have a 26" ludwig bass drum with painted calfskin head and internal lights. Sounds like thunder. I've learned that certain brands have consistent quality over their models (eg Ome, Romero, etc) though the different models can sound quite different.

It's been quite a few years since I've picked on a Weymann, but the ones I've tried have sounded good for bluegrass, and for frailing if you removed the resonator. I don't know the exact models, but here's a link with Jim Mills playing an old Weymann. Crisp in sound but a bit softer and less sharp than a Maybell. Very responsive.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sVytjuOao6g

DD

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