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Jul 15, 2020 - 4:24:02 PM

beegee

USA

21760 posts since 7/6/2005

I just finished setting up another bottlecap, and I must say that I did not like it any better than the previous one I just worked on.

Somebody had done some work on this, The screw in the heel was badly bent from over tightening the bolt and the nack angle was all screwed up. The nut was filed really deep and the strings were too close together, as well as the bridge slots. The action was way too high. The rim where the nck mounts had been ground down and the hole for the mounting bolt had been re-drilled sorta crooked to enlarge it.

I made a new bone nut, tightened the head slightly, added a 5/8" bridge and leveled and dressed the frets. It had been re-fretted before and the frets are really too short, but they were not badly worn, so there is no point in replacing them.

It actually belongs to a student and I loaned him a real banjo for a week while I worked on this. Hopefully, he will be working toward an upgrade as he progresses.

But, I am still not fond of working on these things. Everything is poorly-fitted and things move around too much.

Jul 15, 2020 - 5:15:54 PM
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56 posts since 9/23/2019

I started on a Fender bottlecap. I always blamed grad school for putting an end to my first attempt at learning banjo, but looking back, I think it was mostly that instrument's fault.

Jul 15, 2020 - 7:00:42 PM

beegee

USA

21760 posts since 7/6/2005

quote:
Originally posted by szbassoon

I started on a Fender bottlecap. I always blamed grad school for putting an end to my first attempt at learning banjo, but looking back, I think it was mostly that instrument's fault.


I have been teaching banjo for a long time. Time and again, I have seen students struggle with a "beginner banjo." It comes as a great revelation when they play a serious banjo and they find it easier and more pleasurable to play. A starter banjo doesn't have to be really expensive, but it should be quality enough to be easy to play, easy to tune and sound good. The Goodtime, for example, is such a banjo, but daggone if their prices just don't seem a little too high for what they are, especially considering th enumber of them out there.

Jul 15, 2020 - 9:57:39 PM

Edwards

USA

106 posts since 3/26/2014

I just fixed my buddies Japanese bottlecap, and I tried to explain to him afterwards how it impedes efforts towards favorable learning outcomes. He has a Real banjo, though he is Animate about playing the bottle cap. I shake my head.

Jul 16, 2020 - 2:49:22 AM

AndyW

UK

535 posts since 7/4/2017

Ten years ago I attempted to learn on a second hand bottlecap. I was trying Scruggs at the time, and didn't really even know that any other style of banjo playing existed. Well the tinnyness of that banjo really hurt my ears to the extent I ditched picks and played bare fingered, but I was reasonably determined and worked my way through my beginner book (Jack Hatfield) which worked up to Cripple Creek as it's final tune. The banjo got put away soon after and subsequently sold, though I did play Cripple Creek on my guitar tuned open G for quite a while after.

It took seven years till I decided to play banjo again. This time I opted for a better banjo and clawhammer style and haven't looked back still playing after 3 years.

That bottlecrap banjo almost put me off forever.

Jul 16, 2020 - 3:33:59 AM

55095 posts since 12/14/2005

I sigh in sadness when I imagine how many THOUSANDS of potential banjo players gave it a go on a badly set-up cheapo banjo, and gave up, never to resume.

Jul 16, 2020 - 5:24:47 AM

7411 posts since 8/28/2013

Bottlecaps always need work, but if they are set up properly, I don't realy believe they are that big of a detriment to learning. I've worked on a few, and although they tend to be difficult due to poor craftsmanship, they can, in fact, be greatly improved.

The real problem, to me, is that people don't know about proper set-up, and because they don't, they wind up struggling.

Another thing that I've seen is that some people just don't have the determination to learn in the first place once they find they have to really practice to get good, would quit playing even if they owned a prewar Mastertone. I think sometimes we should lay some of the blame on the student rather than the banjo itself.

Jul 16, 2020 - 5:43:14 AM
Players Union Member

RioStat

USA

5237 posts since 10/12/2009

I started on a "Lyle" bottlecap back in 1973-74, and around 1978, a buddy mine bought an Alvarez (Kasuga) "Masterclone", and even that thing seemed like Earl's Granada after blistering my fingers (and ears) for 4-5 years on that damn bottle-cap....

A decent playing/sounding banjo is a must, even (especially?) for beginners.

However, as George noted in his post above, set-up is important....I still have the Lyle bottlecap, and over the years have done set-up, tweaked it, etc... to where I will occasionally get it out and pick it, just for old time's sake. I'll admit, knowing "how" to play a banjo now, probably makes the bottlecap a little more tolerable.

Jul 16, 2020 - 6:32 AM
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1319 posts since 11/15/2010

The problem is that a lot of beginners shop at places like Guitar Center or shops that specialize in electric guitars. It would be better if they went to a reputable acoustic-instrument shop. Those acoustic shops send back the banjos that arrive with manufacturing defects, and they do a set-up on every banjo they sell. That gives the beginner a fighting chance of getting an entry-level instrument that he/she can actually learn on.  Sure, the price might be a few dollars more than at a big-box store, but it's well worth it. 

My tirade is based on personal experience. My first guitar was a used one that I bought at a shop run by an accordion player who knew about as much about guitars as I know about accordions. 

Jul 16, 2020 - 7:29:24 AM
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1211 posts since 2/4/2013

I remember seeing a video linked on here of someone playing a bottlecap that had been setup and it sounded OK. I thought there is hope as long as you know a setup genius.

The other thing I wonder is why the Saga aluminium rims sound so much better than the cheap bottlecaps. The rims are deeper and they have what is described as an integrated tone ring. My Rover RB40 sounds not far off my 2 and 3 ply open backs and certainly better than my multiplys. It is brighter but doesn't have the metallic harshness of the bottlecap.

Jul 16, 2020 - 9:07:38 AM

17 posts since 12/26/2018

quote:
Originally posted by GrahamHawker


The other thing I wonder is why the Saga aluminium rims sound so much better than the cheap bottlecaps. The rims are deeper and they have what is described as an integrated tone ring. 


Totally agree -- I would have bought a bottlecap as my first banjo without knowing any better, but ended up lucking out with a Saga aluminum pot with the individual flanges. Sounded and played way better than the other beginner banjos I tried including a steel pot Deering Basic I owned for a while!

Jul 16, 2020 - 9:17:21 AM

AndyW

UK

535 posts since 7/4/2017

Yes I owned a no name aluminium pot banjo (saga pot I think) for a few months as a second banjo, and it was head and shoulders above the tinny bottlecap I once had. Probably 8/10ths of the way to my 'proper' banjo. The bottlecap was probably 3/10ths.

Jul 16, 2020 - 10:27:05 AM

7411 posts since 8/28/2013

"The problem is that a lot of beginners shop at places like Guitar Center or shops that specialize in electric guitars."

The problem, at least in too many cases, is that the PARENTS of a beginner are the ones doing the shopping. Many parents seem to have no problem spending hundreds of dollars for their kid's athletic equipment, but go the cheapest route possible when purchasing musical instruments, using the "logic" that "Little Johnnie or Suzy might give up after a short time and I don't want to be stuck with an expensive banjo/guitar/clarinet/piano." The ironies are that the cheap instruments won't sell as easily as the good ones, and also that a bad instrument can be the real cause of "Little Johnnie or Suzy" quiting in total frustration.

I've known kids who knew far more than their parents did about where to get a decent instrument and why one is important than their clueless penny-pinching parents. A beginner who really wishes to play generally checks things out beforehand, whereas many a parent just looks at price tags.

Jul 16, 2020 - 5:44:22 PM

1221 posts since 2/9/2007

I've set up loads of those for students. Some had much better-made and better-fitted necks than others, but I can't recall any that were all that difficult to make quite reasonably playable (unlike some of the even cheaper new wood-rim jobs which need washers added to every bracket shoe before the head can be tensioned).

You'd think, though, that someone would have come up with a few little tweaks to that pot design to improve its sound... very few of those bottle caps came close to sounding as good as my old asian dime-store beater with a plain cylindrical aluminum rim, and of course the Saga kit cast rim is much better.

Jul 16, 2020 - 10:27:47 PM

7411 posts since 8/28/2013

quote:
Originally posted by Dan Gellert

I've set up loads of those for students. Some had much better-made and better-fitted necks than others, but I can't recall any that were all that difficult to make quite reasonably playable (unlike some of the even cheaper new wood-rim jobs which need washers added to every bracket shoe before the head can be tensioned).

You'd think, though, that someone would have come up with a few little tweaks to that pot design to improve its sound... very few of those bottle caps came close to sounding as good as my old asian dime-store beater with a plain cylindrical aluminum rim, and of course the Saga kit cast rim is much better.


These banjos (bottle caps) were built to a price point, and because they did sell, there was never a reason to improve them.

The Saga kit banjos were made to a somewhat higher price point, so more thought had to be given to both sound and material quality.

I've played a few "plain cylindrical banjos." Some were okay (barely) and some were just as bad as any of the bottle cap models.

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