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Questions I have while debating upgrading from my first banjo

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May 31, 2020 - 3:05:23 PM

rotto

USA

13 posts since 4/2/2020

I got my first banjo about a year and a half ago. It was an entry level gold tone. I'm happy with it, still not very good at it, but I still enjoy practicing almost every day, and yes I have improved. Questions o have; How good do you have to be to consider an upgrade? How do you justify spending the money? What should be some of the things to look for in your next banjo?

May 31, 2020 - 3:20:02 PM
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828 posts since 8/6/2004

Well, in my opinion, it is never too early to upgrade. Especially when you are looking at high quality used. My banjos are the only things I can think of, other than some of my guns, which have held their value against inflation.

Many resources on the internet now especially here that will instruct you as to a fair price to pay for what you want. I suggest going to a place that has a lot you can try, like Elderly or Turtle Hill to get a feel for what it is you want.

The other upside to upgrading, if you get a banjo with a really nice neck, and low action, (assuming you are playing three finger) you will reap the benefits almost immediately, with more joy and less work in your playing. My biggest regret is not going for the best banjo I could find, when I first started playing. (1980)

May 31, 2020 - 3:33:20 PM

10810 posts since 2/12/2011

If you are going to upgrade then make it significant. Save up and get a really good one. You will not regret it. I would consider Gibson Scruggs Standard or the Deering Tenbrooks Legacy. I have both and love them both. While the Tenbrooks Legacy has a mahogany neck it is still plenty bright. Both are gorgeous.

May 31, 2020 - 3:37:27 PM

2160 posts since 5/2/2012

My first question would be -- what is your current banjo (entry level may mean different things to different people)? My second would be - how much do you spend on your hobbies and "toys" in a year? I'm thinking if you bought a lifetime banjo (let's say a step up to an GT OB150 or a RK35 or maybe a "pro" level banjo), the cost over time (like daily over many, many years) would be pretty low. How good do you need to be? Some say a "better" banjo will encourage you to play more, which hopefully translate into being a "better" player. What do you look for? Since you are probably looking for a resonator banjo, given your interests in music, think 3 ply or block rim, a high quality cast tone ring, high quality metal components, reliable tuners. and a good setup at the minimum (this would be my personal short list).

Edited by - thisoldman on 05/31/2020 15:43:25

May 31, 2020 - 3:59:49 PM

2233 posts since 12/31/2005

These are great points. A better instrument definitely pushes you and inspires many pickers. But the other point is a really good one also. Do you have a 50 or 100 now? What are you considering in terms of an upgrade. The save and make a real leap is great advice. The market for pro grade used banjos is crazy right now. I see excellent banjos you could play for a living at $1600-1700. Adjusted for inflation, prices have never been better in history. So you are in an enviable position. If that is too rich, there definitely is a step up level at the 700-1000 range where you will get noticeably better instruments.

May 31, 2020 - 4:15:39 PM
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conic

England

786 posts since 2/15/2014

quote:
Originally posted by rotto

I got my first banjo about a year and a half ago. It was an entry level gold tone. I'm happy with it, still not very good at it, but I still enjoy practicing almost every day, and yes I have improved. Questions o have; How good do you have to be to consider an upgrade? How do you justify spending the money? What should be some of the things to look for in your next banjo?


If you want to play with more confidence, be able to improvise and join in at any jam then a new banjo will not help ( only a lot of practicing the right things will do that ) but a new banjo is very good to have.

I would stick with your decent goltone for at least 2 more years then you will know exactly what you want out of a banjo so save up and get a custom build, there are some great builders on here. In the meantime , practice many times.

May 31, 2020 - 4:24 PM

rotto

USA

13 posts since 4/2/2020

quote:
Originally posted by Brian Murphy

These are great points. A better instrument definitely pushes you and inspires many pickers. But the other point is a really good one also. Do you have a 50 or 100 now? What are you considering in terms of an upgrade. The save and make a real leap is great advice. The market for pro grade used banjos is crazy right now. I see excellent banjos you could play for a living at $1600-1700. Adjusted for inflation, prices have never been better in history. So you are in an enviable position. If that is too rich, there definitely is a step up level at the 700-1000 range where you will get noticeably better instruments.


I have the 50. I'm not in a hurry, and am in the process of saving up. But what are things that are desired in a banjo that mine doesnt offer. For what I paid, it has great tone.

May 31, 2020 - 4:25:58 PM

rotto

USA

13 posts since 4/2/2020

quote:
Originally posted by conic
quote:
Originally posted by rotto

I got my first banjo about a year and a half ago. It was an entry level gold tone. I'm happy with it, still not very good at it, but I still enjoy practicing almost every day, and yes I have improved. Questions o have; How good do you have to be to consider an upgrade? How do you justify spending the money? What should be some of the things to look for in your next banjo?


If you want to play with more confidence, be able to improvise and join in at any jam then a new banjo will not help ( only a lot of practicing the right things will do that ) but a new banjo is very good to have.

I would stick with your decent goltone for at least 2 more years then you will know exactly what you want out of a banjo so save up and get a custom build, there are some great builders on here. In the meantime , practice many times.


I agree totally, the best way to get better is to practice,  and I'm in no hurry to upgrade,  but when I do ,what are the kind of things that are desired in a banjo?

May 31, 2020 - 4:36:37 PM
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828 posts since 8/6/2004

“I agree totally, the best way to get better is to practice, and I'm in no hurry to upgrade, but when I do ,what are the kind of things that are desired in a banjo?”

Everything is better in most high end banjos. Neck is faster. Tuners are more responsive and accurate. Action is lower. Neck is more easily adjustable. Tension hoop is mor solid, and holds the head more evenly. You should be able to hear, and feel the difference. If you don’t fall in love, pass it by.

I am the spoiled owner of four high end banjos. They all have their differences, and set up can also make a huge difference on how I feel about each one.

I would suggest, that you experiment with the banjo you have a bit. Different strings, different bridges, different head tension, Maybe different picks and see if you can hear and feel the difference. Then go to Elderly, and play everything they will let you play. Give it time.

May 31, 2020 - 4:37:25 PM
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ChunoTheDog

Canada

197 posts since 8/9/2019

Having an instrument that flat out makes you excited to pick it up any chance you get will undoubtedly not hurt your banjo playing progression. What that means and what that costs is up to you.

May 31, 2020 - 4:39:05 PM

ChunoTheDog

Canada

197 posts since 8/9/2019

I agree totally, the best way to get better is to practice,  and I'm in no hurry to upgrade,  but when I do ,what are the kind of things that are desired in a banjo?



As you progress you will answer this question for yourself. Your ear eventually will begin to discern the differences in tone from one banjo (and banjoist) to another. Eventually you will naturally develop a preference.

May 31, 2020 - 5:10:59 PM

54867 posts since 12/14/2005

According to the Internet, it's less than 8 hours to drive from Stevens Point to ELDERLY, in Lansing Michigan.
Well worth the time, for the $$ you seem to be intent on spending.

May 31, 2020 - 5:12:20 PM
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Players Union Member

Eric A

USA

652 posts since 10/15/2019

If there's an ideal sound in your head that you can't get from your current banjo, even if just a couple of single string notes, then you need to find that other banjo. You'll never be satisfied otherwise.

May 31, 2020 - 6:31:33 PM

2160 posts since 5/2/2012

So, if you move up from a GT50 to a GTOB150 I suspect you will see these differences. (I'm using the contruction of my GTCC-OT as a basis of comparison, thinking that it shares some similarities to the 50). I suspect the tuners will be a step up. The OB will come with a flange, instead of those metal brackets used to hold the resonator onto the 50. You will get a heavy cast brass tone ring (this is where you will notice the biggest difference - in the sound). The tension hoop will be beefier and will have notches for the j-hooks. There will be more J-hooks and they will be beefier. The pot will be thicker and 3 play instead of multi-ply. You will notice a richer, fuller sound as you play and you will produce good tones down and way up the neck. You should find similar differences in the RK35.

May 31, 2020 - 6:38:22 PM
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12988 posts since 10/30/2008

Just a thought to ponder as far as "when" to pull the trigger:

Good advice from everyone so far, keep playing til you can "feel" your banjo actually holding you back from the sound/tone/feeling you'd like better.

Play EVERY banjo you encounter. Almost every banjo player will be happy to let you try their axe, if you ask nice. (This also means get out and about with your banjo, where other banjos may be known to gather.)

So, my thought to ponder: put it out there that you intend to sell your current banjo. When some beginner asks you for a price, and you're prepared to give them a fair price, THEN is the time to upgrade.

Good luck, be patient, keep picking, and shop and have fun.

"Better" banjos give you VOLUME, sustain, power, bell-like tone all the way to the end of the fingerboard, sturdy/adjustable hardware, beauty, "ease" of playing, and a potential negative -- added weight. Lots of added weight. Oh yes, lots of weight. Buy used, and you can get a lot more banjo for your money.

May 31, 2020 - 6:39:47 PM
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Players Union Member

deadwud

USA

145 posts since 4/14/2020

I have an OB-150-RF that I'm about to list, if that's something you're considering.

May 31, 2020 - 7:01:21 PM
Players Union Member

rbfour5

USA

1049 posts since 11/9/2010

All good advice. Anyone can upgrade any time you feel like doing so, regardless of your level of playing. It boils down to your budget, shopping around within the budget. Be patient.

May 31, 2020 - 7:13:03 PM

Edwards

USA

99 posts since 3/26/2014

My wife got me a composite Banjo by fire side, and it was a good learning tool even though it isn’t as bright as other composites. And it only weighs 2 pounds. My point is I had the same discussion about five years ago after I had saved enough. And I jumped to a nice entry-level professional A gold tone as well. My point is of practice but if you only wanna buy one banjo it’s best to save and buy some thing that you’ll never have to replace unless it gets broken. Good luck and I hope you find something you really like

May 31, 2020 - 9:27:46 PM
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2233 posts since 12/31/2005

quote:
Originally posted by rotto
quote:
Originally posted by Brian Murphy

These are great points. A better instrument definitely pushes you and inspires many pickers. But the other point is a really good one also. Do you have a 50 or 100 now? What are you considering in terms of an upgrade. The save and make a real leap is great advice. The market for pro grade used banjos is crazy right now. I see excellent banjos you could play for a living at $1600-1700. Adjusted for inflation, prices have never been better in history. So you are in an enviable position. If that is too rich, there definitely is a step up level at the 700-1000 range where you will get noticeably better instruments.


I have the 50. I'm not in a hurry, and am in the process of saving up. But what are things that are desired in a banjo that mine doesnt offer. For what I paid, it has great tone.


What Antoine said!   Until you can answer this for yourself, keep your powder dry.   The learning and the hunt is fun.  Go play higher level instruments and promise yourself to not fall in love with the first one.  Give it time and play the field.   Listen to pros and start concentrating on on what tonal qualities they get.  Start with Rounder 44 with JD Crowe and some Ron Stewart.  Then listen to Ralph Stanley and Jon McEuen.  Then Bela and Ned Luberecki.  You'll hear real differences and will  start to develop a preference.  That will guide you.  Until you can really understand what you want just buying what someone tells you is "better" is hit or miss.  

Jun 1, 2020 - 1:48:32 PM

rotto

USA

13 posts since 4/2/2020

Thanks for the input everyone!!

Jun 1, 2020 - 2:10:21 PM

2194 posts since 4/5/2006

Banjo players, by nature, are tinkerer's. Always messing with the set up of their banjo. Changing string sets (weights), tail piece's, bridges, heads, adjusting the action, it goes on & on. When you get to the place that you've done everything you know of, finally arriving at the best of everything you've tried, only to conclude you've coaxed the best to be had out of that banjo, & it's still not there, that's when it's time to make your move.

By then you will have played, listened, studied what makes a good BG banjo to have a pretty good idea of what you want. Go all the way, one giant step! A few hundred dollars extra today will save thousands five, ten, fifty, years down the road.

The problem becomes finding your dream banjo. When I arrived at that point, back in the early 70's, the choice were old Mastertone's, if you could find them, new, ugly fly swatter Gibson's, cheap imports, or a custom build. The internet puts you light years ahead of of those pre internet days. I lucked out. Back in the 60/70's there were a plethora of independent banjo makers in the L.A. area. Today it seems those master craftsmen are scattered all over the country. That too could be the result of the Internet making them better known outside their own area. I've seen a lot of really nice banjo's go thru BHO classifieds. Not to mention all the custom builds available.  

Jun 1, 2020 - 3:30:41 PM
Players Union Member

Helix

USA

12688 posts since 8/30/2006

I can upgrade your Banjo with a new rim, just like changing the motor

I suggest you develop a set of specs that you would like to hear

The gold tones are a sweet maple voice

Other woods express different qualities which may or may not help you get that sound or feel

If anybody sends you to the science lab, we know many of the qualities are totally subjective and valid to your ears, so keep an open mind
A better Banjo is not necessarily heavy
A heavy bronze tone ring has many good qualities, but newer builders and concepts can compete very handily and proven at every jam and gig

So who do you hang around with? Increase your need

I upgrade many times with the rim first, then later, some let me make their new neck. It’s very cost effective


Jun 2, 2020 - 7:17:36 AM

828 posts since 8/6/2004

Lot of discussion here about the ideal banjo. No doubt the better you play, the more you can get out of any banjo,
What originally made me want to play was an early Nitty Gritty recording of John McEuen on Symphonium Dream. (You all know the one....) I was never impressed by all those fifties recordings of people playing very fast on banjos with dead strings (and poor set up)
Recording equipment had to get a lot better and so did the musicality of the players for me start hearing what it was that I wanted to emulate on recordings. Now, if I had to pick one recording, it would be Hide Head Blues by Jim Mills. He is clean, precise, and the musicality is there.
Also I have reached the point where there is more than one “sound” I appreciate. I still love Jens Kruger, and think he is the finest picker in the world. But none of his recent stuff speaks to me.
A banjo is a tool. A good one is a better tool, and makes everything easier but by no means does it have to be your “only” tool. I also love well played claw hammer, and my personal favorite player is Henry Sapoznik.

Once you have a quality banjo, set up is almost everything. Most people can’t hear the difference out front between most of the major makers of master tone style replicas. They think they can, but blind tests say differently. There are some that can, but they have a well trained ear and extremely good hearing. This fades over time, and I don’t hear the minute differences I could pick up forty years ago.

If you travel a lot and really enjoy playing, I would not sell my original banjo at all. I would buy a good one to keep at home and take the cheaper one on the road. (Either that or get yourself a Gary Price case, an investment in itself) , and take the expensive baby with you.

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