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Volume Difference: Open Back vs. Resonator

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May 31, 2020 - 4:59:37 PM
14 posts since 5/10/2020

I currently own and Irish tenor resonator banjo. However, I'm thinking of switching to an open back since they are a lot lighter and I prefer their sound (a mellower sound imho).

I've never played an open back and am wondering if the volume difference is that significant. I would only need volume when I'm jamming with friends who play acoustic guitar. Will an open back get lost while playing with an acoustic guitar?

What are your thoughts?

Thank you!

May 31, 2020 - 5:08:23 PM
Players Union Member

Eric A


648 posts since 10/15/2019

I think it depends on the open back, setup, etc. An open back can be hollow and woody and plunky. can peel the paint off the walls.

(I like the paint peelers!)

May 31, 2020 - 5:41:23 PM

957 posts since 1/9/2012

This might be more than you want to know.  Then again, it might be what the doctor ordered: 



Actually, you might fare better going to  and scrolling down to May and June 2015.

The take away is that it depends on what you mean by "loud."  Most reasonable interpretations would be that the resonator sound (on the same banjo) is not louder, but the attack of each note is more sharply defined and the sound of that attack is more sharply beamed in the forward direction.

May 31, 2020 - 6:40:21 PM
like this

12970 posts since 10/30/2008

Oh let's not beat around the bush. The entire point of a resonator is to make the banjo louder.

All things being equal, an open back is NOT going to be as loud as an equivalent resonator banjo.

May 31, 2020 - 6:40:57 PM

3125 posts since 5/29/2011

I don't play Irish tenor but I have a Slingerland tenor that I built from all vintage parts. (Ihope that made sense.) It is an open back with a hubcap style Elton spin-on resonator attached. There is a world of difference in the volume with the resonator on and with it off. That may be a route you would consider if you find a vintage open back that suits you. Hubcap resonators pop up for sale regularly on eBay and once in a while in the classified ads here.

May 31, 2020 - 6:52:05 PM
Players Union Member

Eric A


648 posts since 10/15/2019

I would like to explore the world of those magnet attached pop on, pop off resonators for my open backs just for those times when I really need the neighbors across the street to hear me. 

(Trust me, they don't want to hear me)

Edited by - Eric A on 05/31/2020 18:54:46

May 31, 2020 - 7:29:25 PM

7253 posts since 8/28/2013

I don't really hear much change in volume, and suspect that a resonator mostly modifies the tone quality and aims the sound forward. I do believe that a resonator can make a slight difference, though, because some vibrational energy of an open back is lost by being absorbed into the soft flesh of a person's abdomen.

Jun 1, 2020 - 4:30:31 AM

741 posts since 2/19/2012

Open back tenor for Irish is great, and I bet you'll be fine with acoustic guitars. Have a look at some videos by Angelina Carberry.

Jun 1, 2020 - 5:38:07 AM
Players Union Member



12687 posts since 8/30/2006

A pipe cap resonator clips frequencies and lets others through. Much of the sound of an openback reflects off the head back and forth.
Any alternatives in mind.?


Jun 1, 2020 - 5:45:33 AM
Players Union Member



12687 posts since 8/30/2006

Magnets? OK


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