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Advise for 19 Fret Open Back Irish Tenor Banjo

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Jun 4, 2020 - 3:07:33 PM
14 posts since 5/10/2020

I'd like to buy an Irish tenor banjo: open back with 19 frets.

I'm looking for something with a warm mellow sound and under $800.

What would you recommend?

Thank you!

Jun 4, 2020 - 3:33:30 PM

741 posts since 2/19/2012

I have a 19 fret Vega Little Wonder open back that I really enjoy, and I probably have about half that in it. I'm using a Remo Renaissance head, which I think is a little more mello than typical bottom frosted or clear heads. I love the neck on it.

Jun 4, 2020 - 3:55:05 PM

12970 posts since 10/30/2008

I agree with Parker135! A vintage Vega tenor open back should fit your requirements just right. They are relatively plentiful.

Jun 4, 2020 - 5:30:32 PM

91 posts since 3/21/2005

I have a Vega style M tubaphone open back as my Irish tenor. Great banjo- and you can find these for under $1k- dont ask what i paid for it 12 yrs ago. before tenors got hot again and no one wanted one.

Jun 4, 2020 - 6:39:34 PM

24 posts since 12/2/2006

You basically have two options....a vintage one, Vega probably being the most available. Or a Gold Tone. They’re making a 12” Open Back now that’s in that price range. If you go vintage, make sure it’s been gone over and is ready to play. I have a 17 fret Little Wonder and it’s been a pain. Needs tuners after having the old ones worked on multiple times.

Jun 5, 2020 - 7:56:03 AM

741 posts since 2/19/2012

Since the Little Wonders are rather plentiful and mine already had new Stewmac hooks and nuts, I went straight to Gotoh tuners from Bob Smakula. They're not that expensive and are easy to install.

OP, depending on your desires and abilities for tinkering, you may want to check in with Smakula Fretted Instruments. Bob usually has or can get lots of vintage banjos and they'll be ready to play when they leave his shop.

Jun 5, 2020 - 8:18:07 AM

3125 posts since 5/29/2011

Generally speaking, open back tenors usually have 17 frets and resonator tenors have 19 frets. Not always, but as a general rule.
Early tenor banjos were developed before resonators were commonplace and had shorter scales with fewer frets. When the Dixieland era came about the resonator was becoming more popular to increase sound projection so a banjo could compete with brass instruments. With the longer scale a couple of frets were added and the scale was lengthened.
This is a generalization, not an absolute. I hope it made sense.

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