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Apr 1, 2020 - 4:05:08 PM
13 posts since 6/1/2015

Hi All!

After playing the (same) banjo for 14 years, I am finally in a place where I can afford a new one. I am looking for some advice as to what manufacturers, models, wood types, resonator styles, etc. I should be looking at. Some bulleted info below. Any advice is very welcome and appreciated!

- Current banjo is a Savannah 5 string resonator banjo. I've had it so long I'm not even sure the model.
- Current banjo is signed by many of my favorite players, including the late and great Ralph Stanley, so I'd like to retire it so I'm not wearing off the signatures.
- I play some really fast 3-finger bluegrass stuff (Scruggs, Ralph Stanley), some melodic stuff (Trishka, Fleck), but I also write a lot of my own music in alternative tunings, many of which are dark.
- Because I play in so many alternate tunings, I really appreciate having a sliding 5th string capo.
- I really like the warm tone that my banjo currently has. Though I play 3-finger, I tend to like a less bright tone than is typical for bluegrass. That being said, I've also preferred the tone of resonator banjos (rather than open back) when I've tried others.
- My budget is $2k-$3k, but I'd consider waiting another 6 months or year until I can save up another $1k.

Here is a link to a song I wrote if it's helpful facebook.com/paislienne/videos...85842209/

I appreciate everyone's help with this!

Thank you
Maurissa

Apr 1, 2020 - 4:17:47 PM
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200 posts since 10/26/2008

Maybe a used Deering Hartford model or something else with a wood tone ring would be cool?

Apr 1, 2020 - 4:23:41 PM
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548 posts since 1/28/2013

Bishline has a nice wood ring banjo. I've always been interested in the Bishline banjos. They have a unique sound.

Apr 1, 2020 - 4:25:14 PM
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beegee

USA

21623 posts since 7/6/2005

There are several builders making non tone-ring banjos and others making wooden tone ring banjos. Maybe look for a mahogany banjo. You might search out an older non-Mastertone Gibson. You may find a tenor you can convert to a 5-string.

Apr 1, 2020 - 5:29:46 PM
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466 posts since 6/2/2011

Look at the Deering White Lotus (oak rim, neck & resonator). I have a Companion Custom Woodie, intergratedvwoodvtonevrkng carved in a maple block rim.

Apr 1, 2020 - 5:31:47 PM
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96 posts since 2/3/2016

I would suggest Companion Custom Banjos. They are great to deal with and build amazing banjos with tone rings, tone hoops and the wooden tone rings like many are suggesting. You can really get custom too or just use a model out there for inspiration. They are really fair on price. And you get to deal with them directly.

Edited by - Robbie McKee on 04/01/2020 17:33:54

Apr 1, 2020 - 5:46:18 PM
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12829 posts since 10/30/2008

I think you'll be able to find any number of used Deering John Hartford's in your price range. Very very high quality build and a "deep" tone with wooden tone ring.

Focus your shopping for the next year on wooden tone ring banjos when you can stumble across one "live".

Gibson non tone ring banjos would include the post 1949 RB 100 and RB 150. Gibson made a brief run of the "RB" Banjo in the 1990s that had no metal tone ring, it would be <$2000 most likely.

Pre-war, you'll find any number of no-tone-ring Gibsons converted from tenor or plectrum to 5 string, with very high quality conversion necks. Gibson RB-1, RB-2, RB-10, RB-11, Key Kroydons, Recording Kings, Montgomery Wards, etc. These will be at the upper end of your price range because of their age and maker name. None of these have "wooden tone rings" like a Deering Hartford, so they might feel too "dead" to you compared to what you're used to.

Have fun studying and shopping.

If you want a tone ring banjo that's not as bright as a "regular" Mastertone, consider the Gibson top tension banjos. They tend to have a "dryer" sound with less overtone, than "regular" Mastertones. The reissue top tensions from the 1990s and 2000s will be another $1000 above your price range, but they're worth checking out if you see one, just in case it's the sound you seek.

You can EASILY have a sliding 5th string capo (Shubb for instance) added to any banjo you like.

I like your "Spider" song.

Edited by - The Old Timer on 04/01/2020 17:48:06

Apr 1, 2020 - 6:37:01 PM
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Mooooo

USA

7816 posts since 8/20/2016

I would look into getting a custom banjo from one of the many small builders out there. Look at the Banjo Building, Setup, Repair Forum and you will start to see some fantastic banjos being made at affordable prices. You have enough already for a really nice one.

p.s. you can take off the head and put it in a frame and replace it with a new one and still use that banjo without ruining the signatures.

Edited by - Mooooo on 04/01/2020 18:44:33

Apr 1, 2020 - 8:05:17 PM
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1019 posts since 10/5/2008

You should check out Nechville banjos. They are a little different, but may be exactly what you want. They are VERY easy to work on and change the tone. Definitely worth looking into, and you can find used ones within your budget.

Apr 1, 2020 - 8:31:25 PM
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200 posts since 5/9/2017

I will also recommend Companion Custom Banjos. I know Chris and Stephanie, and they are awesome to work with. They put together my banjo, and it came out just like I wanted it to. They specialize in making wood tone ring banjos, and have several different options depending on what tone you are looking for. Also, they can customize just about any part of the banjo. Here is a link to their website! 

Companion Custom Banjos

Apr 1, 2020 - 9:46:01 PM
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ClawJam

USA

194 posts since 12/21/2012

your banjo sounds great...not sure what you're using for a pickup/ mic but sounds organic.

i would recommend Bishline banjos. i have several tunes i just posted on my page all playing my custom Bishline....it's incredibly versatile.

Rob was incredible to work with (as was Andy...R.I.P. ) i've not played everything out there.....but i don't feel like i need to anymore.....make mine a Bishline

Apr 2, 2020 - 12:29:53 AM
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748 posts since 6/25/2006

Yes, your banjo has an open, woody sound - good recommendations so far, you could try an Ome NorthStar banjo to get a woody sound but with more punch, depth. Just be a aware that when you get a new banjo, you may not initially like it as much as your old one. It takes a while to adjust to a new sound. Also, not sure how much your current banjo weighs but that is another consideration (some traditional build bluegrass banjos are very heavy).

Apr 2, 2020 - 4:40:34 AM
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257 posts since 4/26/2007
Online Now

There's an awesome Turtle Hill "Woody" in the classifieds for a great price, well below your budget. It even has a Tony Pass rim in it. This banjo will definitely be more dry, dark, and deep-sounding than one with a metal tone ring, perfect for the low-tune songs.  And being so lightweight it'll also sound great in a clawhammer-style. It has spikes currently, but could easily be fitted with a sliding capo:

banjohangout.org/classified/74913

Edited by - HuberTone on 04/02/2020 04:42:01

Apr 2, 2020 - 3:01:11 PM
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2491 posts since 4/16/2003

OP:

When I first heard your banjo, I thought "Deering Hartford".
Either the standard model (with flange), or perhaps even the one with the "pop-on" resonator (doesn't have a flange) -- easily converted between resonator and open-back.

Also, the Bishline "woodies" came to mind.
And Andy Lowe beat me to mentioning the Turtle Hill "woody" that's in the classifieds. Looks like a very interesting instrument...

Apr 2, 2020 - 5:20:42 PM
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13 posts since 6/1/2015

Thank you all for your amazing advice and recommendations! Once upon I picked up a Deering Hartford... and it was pretty amazing. I'll have to test one out again. Just watched some videos and that might be a winner...

I also really love the sound of the Companions from the videos I watched. I wonder if I might be able to check one out in person. They also do seem reasonably priced, and I really love the idea of being able to ask for custom requests.

I was also checking out Bishlines before I started this thread, and there are a lot of pretty incredible ones to pick through there. I listened to the video (linked just below) and it was pretty close to what I had in mind, but still lacking a little bit of the depth that I've liked in some of the others I've heard.
youtube.com/watch?v=rW2jyhQeS9s

All that being said, there is only so much I can tell from videos. I am excited to go try some out once we are able to go outside again. Thanks again for all the awesome advice!

Apr 2, 2020 - 5:22:01 PM

13 posts since 6/1/2015

Thanks for all the detailed info! This was extremely helpful. Wooden tone ring is definitely the way to go. You have also certainly sent me down the path of reading all about the old Gibson banjos... Thank you! This is so interesting! 
 
quote:
Originally posted by The Old Timer

I think you'll be able to find any number of used Deering John Hartford's in your price range. Very very high quality build and a "deep" tone with wooden tone ring.

Focus your shopping for the next year on wooden tone ring banjos when you can stumble across one "live".

Gibson non tone ring banjos would include the post 1949 RB 100 and RB 150. Gibson made a brief run of the "RB" Banjo in the 1990s that had no metal tone ring, it would be <$2000 most likely.

Pre-war, you'll find any number of no-tone-ring Gibsons converted from tenor or plectrum to 5 string, with very high quality conversion necks. Gibson RB-1, RB-2, RB-10, RB-11, Key Kroydons, Recording Kings, Montgomery Wards, etc. These will be at the upper end of your price range because of their age and maker name. None of these have "wooden tone rings" like a Deering Hartford, so they might feel too "dead" to you compared to what you're used to.

Have fun studying and shopping.

If you want a tone ring banjo that's not as bright as a "regular" Mastertone, consider the Gibson top tension banjos. They tend to have a "dryer" sound with less overtone, than "regular" Mastertones. The reissue top tensions from the 1990s and 2000s will be another $1000 above your price range, but they're worth checking out if you see one, just in case it's the sound you seek.

You can EASILY have a sliding 5th string capo (Shubb for instance) added to any banjo you like.

I like your "Spider" song.


Apr 2, 2020 - 5:23:56 PM

13 posts since 6/1/2015

Thanks! It was actually just filmed on a phone, amplified by what I THINK was an SM57. Glad it turned out so well! 
I am definitely liking the Bishlines. There is such a variety, I will keep watching videos, and hopefully check some out in a store soon. 
 
quote:
Originally posted by ClawJam

your banjo sounds great...not sure what you're using for a pickup/ mic but sounds organic.

i would recommend Bishline banjos. i have several tunes i just posted on my page all playing my custom Bishline....it's incredibly versatile.

Rob was incredible to work with (as was Andy...R.I.P. ) i've not played everything out there.....but i don't feel like i need to anymore.....make mine a Bishline


Apr 2, 2020 - 5:27:53 PM
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ClawJam

USA

194 posts since 12/21/2012

call Rob at the # on his site.....he will speak to you in person....and build you exactly what you want....he's truly amazing

Apr 2, 2020 - 7:10:33 PM
Players Union Member

Helix

USA

12562 posts since 8/30/2006

I would not compromise just to get a wooden rim cap

I have two bluegrass rigs in the ads
Both have magnetic resonator mount
Both weigh 7 lbs three hours later
One is all Bamboo
One is Grapefruit w Mahog neck
Both have rolled brass tone rings
Each is $1000

Lots of options, seek the sound you want

For 3k. I want a car and a scholarship for a young female player


 

Apr 2, 2020 - 7:29:07 PM

13 posts since 6/1/2015

Thanks! I will check it out. Sadly, my days of first cars and college have long passed... I suppose I should update my photo, that one's about a decade old from my college days. :)
 
quote:
Originally posted by Helix

I would not compromise just to get a wooden rim cap

I have two bluegrass rigs in the ads
Both have magnetic resonator mount
Both weigh 7 lbs three hours later
One is all Bamboo
One is Grapefruit w Mahog neck
Both have rolled brass tone rings
Each is $1000

Lots of options, seek the sound you want

For 3k. I want a car and a scholarship for a young female player


Apr 3, 2020 - 1:21:36 AM

maxmax

Sweden

1410 posts since 8/1/2005

Maurissa,

I'd like to complicate things a little and play Devil's Advocate if I may. :-)

Your taste in banjos sounds about like mine and I have actually owned the Deering Hartford flange model twice, and sold it both times. In my opinion, it's a nice banjo and the lack of metal tone ring does remove some metallic zing, but my experience is that it's a difficult banjo to setup for a darker, bassier sound. I messed around with my second one forever trying to make it work by constantly swapping heads, bridges, string gauges and everything, but it really only sounded good to me when it was setup fairly tight. As soon as it got a looser mellower sound, the bass dropped fast and it started to sound dead.

I now own a Stelling Afton Star, which is also a woody, and in my opinion it's a stronger, louder banjo that can handle a wider range of setups. But it still sounds better when setup fairly bright.

I think there are flatheads out there that can handle a deeper, darker, mellower sound and still retain bass and liveliness better than most woodies. But unfortunately it doesn't seem like all flatheads can do that either, so it's not that easy. I am quite happy with my Afton Star and don't see myself moving away from it in the near future, but unfortunately I don't think it's my end-all five string either.

Good luck, it's a difficult, but fun task finding "the one". :-)

Apr 6, 2020 - 7:41:22 AM

214 posts since 12/8/2011

We've got both the Deering White Lotus and the Deering John Hartford model in stock! 

Apr 7, 2020 - 7:44:25 AM

21 posts since 10/5/2019

If you are looking for something different, try out a Randy Wood featherlight banjo. Great sound and only weighs 8 pounds or less.

Apr 9, 2020 - 4:47:59 AM

257 posts since 4/26/2007
Online Now

HOLD THE PHONE, this may be the one for you:

banjohangout.org/classified/80592

A Bishline for an extremely good price and no tone ring = lightweight as all get out. I'm not associated with this sale in any way, shape, or form but happened to come across it in the Classifieds and remembered this thread.

Apr 9, 2020 - 4:53:39 AM

45 posts since 1/7/2019

Many more pictures of that same banjo here banjobuyer.com/banjo/78444

Apr 11, 2020 - 8:07:42 AM
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49 posts since 1/26/2020

That Bishline is a great deal. I personally just got a Cimarron from Rob and I am thrilled with it. I also personally met with Chris from Companion Banjos, he is local to me, and he is one of the nicest guys out there and truly will do whatever you want and do it for a great price. You can’t go wrong with either one.

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