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Who's Building the Best 12" Woodies These Days?

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Jul 14, 2020 - 1:28:57 PM
364 posts since 9/4/2007
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The title above pretty much says it all.

Two years ago I made a big mistake and sold my 12" Ramsey Woody to help fund another (non-banjo) instrument purchase. It's the biggest selling mistake I've ever made, and a sale I have regretted. It was just a great clawhammer banjo, easy to play, with that outstanding woody (plunky) tone for clawhammer playing.

Used Ramsey Woodies are now very scarce and hard to find. So who among current builders are making some of the best 12" woody (rosewood / bubinga / or other tonewoods) banjos (and for clawhammer) now? Just interested in doing a little looking and comparing.

Edited by - hayesdt on 07/14/2020 13:30:53

Jul 14, 2020 - 1:35:24 PM
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PaulRF

Australia

3095 posts since 2/1/2012

You are lucky that there are quite a few good builders on this site and I have always been a fan of Ken Levans banjos.
 

https://levanbanjos.com/levanbanjos.levandesign.com/Home.html

Jul 14, 2020 - 1:36:18 PM
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blazo

USA

220 posts since 5/16/2017

Ken Levan - levanbanjos.com/levanbanjos.le...ome.html. I have two Levan woodies, an 11 and a 12. The 12 is semifretless. I love 'em both.

Jul 14, 2020 - 2:58:50 PM

Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

23785 posts since 6/25/2005

Chuck Waldman, imo. About as woody as you can get:

https://shop.gryphonstrings.com/products?q=Waldman

Jul 14, 2020 - 4:26:44 PM

629 posts since 6/6/2007
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Pat “Doc” Huff makes great, albeit expensive clawhammer banjos; check docsbanjos.com (I think) for info. I’ve bought three banjos from him, and he really puts a lot of thought into marrying different kinds of woods together, and they’re really beautiful. He’s in Oregon.

Steve

Jul 14, 2020 - 4:50:57 PM
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2271 posts since 12/31/2005

https://www.cedarmtnbanjos.com/ It' just best to call Tim and tell him what you want.  The models on this site are a guide, but he does custom.  THe L models are (or used to be) rosewood rings

Jul 14, 2020 - 5:40:46 PM

127 posts since 12/7/2007

I’ll second Mr. Murphy’s recommending Cedar Mountain Banjos. My experience, both with Tim Gardner and his wood tone rims, has been second to none.

Jul 14, 2020 - 10:04:43 PM

6414 posts since 4/7/2003

Pisgah possum!!

Jul 15, 2020 - 8:27:19 AM

342 posts since 5/29/2015

I have not played and compared all the 12 inch woodies available, so I have no recommendation.

Jul 15, 2020 - 9:56:01 AM
Players Union Member

Helix

USA

12721 posts since 8/30/2006

Jul 15, 2020 - 12:51:35 PM
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13054 posts since 6/29/2005

quote:
Originally posted by blazo

Ken Levan - levanbanjos.com/levanbanjos.le...ome.html. I have two Levan woodies, an 11 and a 12. The 12 is semifretless. I love 'em both.


Thanks, Blaise!

I should mention that the first banjo I made for you, the 11", had a brass tonering, and the semi-fretless was one of the first SuperWoodies  I sent you a SuperWoodie tone ring to try, and you swapped that one for the brass tonering.  I had the same experience with a very good player in North Carolina who switched.  The SuperWoodies are becoming my most popular tone ring, and I will be introducing a bluegrass banjo with that tone ring shortly.

I made a light-weight 12" Superwoodie with some aluminum parts, for a player named "Cathy" in California, and I believe you saw her play it at the Topanaga Banjo and Fiddle Contest, which she won last year.

This year, the contest is being run virtually, and someone sent me her virtual entry—I hope she wins again!!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ykOA3s4Oafg&list=PLdrp0B2PcwGFOF_LQ9VviMAtX9GIL2ggo&index=5

I have made a number of Cathy banjos since I made hers, and have three in process at the moment.

Edited by - Ken LeVan on 07/15/2020 12:52:24

Jul 15, 2020 - 1:35:52 PM
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bigleaf

USA

34 posts since 5/5/2019

Got to put in a word for Kevin Enoch. I’ve got a Tradesman 12, and it’s a consistent delight. Not just that it sounds better than other banjos... I find it easier and more comfortable to play.

After playing guitar or a different banjo, playing the Tradesman is like putting on sunglasses on a bright day or having that first swallow of beer. Shoulders go down and everything is wonderful.

Jul 15, 2020 - 1:36:49 PM
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hayesdt

USA

364 posts since 9/4/2007
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quote:

I made a light-weight 12" Superwoodie with some aluminum parts, for a player named "Cathy" in California, and I believe you saw her play it at the Topanaga Banjo and Fiddle Contest, which she won last year.

This year, the contest is being run virtually, and someone sent me her virtual entry—I hope she wins again!!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ykOA3s4Oafg&list=PLdrp0B2PcwGFOF_LQ9VviMAtX9GIL2ggo&index=5

I have made a number of Cathy banjos since I made hers, and have three in process at the moment.


That banjo sounds great.  Nice woody tone I'm looking for.

Jul 15, 2020 - 1:55:34 PM
Players Union Member

blazo

USA

220 posts since 5/16/2017

quote:
Originally posted by Ken LeVan
... The SuperWoodies are becoming my most popular tone ring... 

For good reason I say. I liked the brass ring as well but the SuperWoodie put the banjo you made for me over the top. It's a winner for sure. 

I didn't see Cathy at Topanga, never been. I think I met Cathy at American Banjo Camp in Washington. At the time, she asked about my Levan and told me about the one you were building for her at the time.

Jul 15, 2020 - 2:06:23 PM

13054 posts since 6/29/2005

quote:
Originally posted by blazo
quote:
Originally posted by Ken LeVan
... The SuperWoodies are becoming my most popular tone ring... 

For good reason I say. I liked the brass ring as well but the SuperWoodie put the banjo you made for me over the top. It's a winner for sure. 

I didn't see Cathy at Topanga, never been. I think I met Cathy at American Banjo Camp in Washington. At the time, she asked about my Levan and told me about the one you were building for her at the time.


OK, I thought you said you had met her somewhere, or maybe she told me she had met you—I can't remember exactly.  I just sent her an email complimenting her on that video and thanking her for making that banjo sound so good—no matter what we do and say as builders, the music is what you hear.

Jul 15, 2020 - 3:34:12 PM

Jelle

Netherlands

224 posts since 5/28/2012

My Ome Tupelo arrived about a month ago, it sounds as woody as it gets! It has a maple "tone-ring" attached to the rim, and less brackets to give a very earthy tone.

Jul 16, 2020 - 6:33:12 AM
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hayesdt

USA

364 posts since 9/4/2007
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I did want to mention that I have a Zach Hoyt 12" Woody that's also a great banjo. One of the loudest openback banjos I've ever owned. Not quite the same sound as the Ramsey Woody I once owned, but an excellent value banjo.

Jul 16, 2020 - 1:09:54 PM

2275 posts since 7/20/2004

I have one of Ken's "Cathy" banjos. I don't play as well as she does, but mine has that same tone. I love it.

Jul 16, 2020 - 1:41:09 PM
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18 posts since 5/2/2019

I recently uploaded a piece playing three finger style on an Ome 12" Minstrel woodie, if you wanna compare. This was recorded straight to an iPhone:

Ballad of Arch Stanton


Jul 20, 2020 - 3:46:25 PM

129 posts since 3/25/2016

I do not consider myself an expert on 12-inch woodies by any means, but based on my 12-in Flesher Jubilo with an ebony tone ring, I would suggest looking into the wood-ring banjos from Bob Flesher [www.flesherbanjos.com].  He is combining several unusual features (such as slightly deeper than typical rim, for example) with his ebony tone ring.  My other banjos are Omes dating from 1972 to about 2006 (and a very old Tubaphone); the Jubilo is an interesting and pleasing alternative, showing very fine workmanship.

Jul 23, 2020 - 8:48:19 AM
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nwambue

USA

1 posts since 12/31/2018

quote:
Originally posted by hayesdt

I did want to mention that I have a Zach Hoyt 12" Woody that's also a great banjo. One of the loudest openback banjos I've ever owned. Not quite the same sound as the Ramsey Woody I once owned, but an excellent value banjo.


I will second a recommendation for Zach Hoyt's banjos.  I have one of his 12" walnut wood tonering banjo's.  It has amazing tone, especially in A or D.  

Jul 25, 2020 - 12:07:18 PM

2 posts since 2/1/2012

quote:
Originally posted by Helix

A flathead or archtop woodie?


Pls excuse my ignorance:   I checked the date and it isn't April 1st,  so what the heck do the spoons do?

Jul 26, 2020 - 9:08:01 PM
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10 posts since 7/20/2020

From what I hear, the guy who married my ex wife :P

Jul 26, 2020 - 9:12:44 PM

10 posts since 7/20/2020

Thank goodness you had captions under the pictures. Without those captions, my question would have been, "Why does it look like you have giant sperms under your banjo head" based on the picture alone :P
Cheers,
JFLicks
quote:
Originally posted by Helix

A flathead or archtop woodie?


Jul 27, 2020 - 2:50:52 PM

8 posts since 5/5/2015

5ondahead: They're kind of pricey, but I like my Chuck Lee 12 in. Lone Star Deluxe.

Aug 5, 2020 - 5:45:33 AM
Players Union Member

Helix

USA

12721 posts since 8/30/2006

The spoons help you mix it up a bit. Some innovations are right there in your hand.

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