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Oct 19, 2020 - 10:59:13 AM
63 posts since 2/9/2015

Just recently I started trying to play clawhammer style on my BG reso banjo (a Deering Maple Blossom). I put a goatskin head on it, but other than that it's a fairly stock BG banjo. I'm finding I like the skin head a lot even when playing 3 finger Scruggs style. The Maple Blossom used to be so sharp and bright that at times I didn't want to play it. The tone of the skin head is much more enjoyable when just playing at home. And now the tone is tolerable for Clawhammer. The weatherking frosted top sounded horrible for CH.

I miss having a frailing scoop, and it's a bit of an annoyance to have to take off the resonator every time I need to adjust the head. But it seems to be a workable option. There are benefits to having only one banjo, IMO.

How have others made one banjo work for both CH and BG?  Do you think an open back banjo would be better suited for dual purpose use?  I suppose it all depends on what compromises you are willing to make, and what's most important to you.

Edited by - Paul Sutherland on 10/19/2020 12:53:33

Oct 19, 2020 - 12:33:28 PM

103 posts since 9/14/2019

I bought a Pisgah Woodchuck to learn CH on. I use it for both now. Sounds good at BG and its a lot lighter.

John

Oct 19, 2020 - 12:44:32 PM
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Emiel

Austria

9610 posts since 1/22/2003

Very classic great-sounding recording of clawhammer on a resonator banjo with a Remo top-frosted head:

 

Oct 19, 2020 - 1:17:37 PM

DRH

USA

564 posts since 5/29/2018

quote:
Originally posted by Paul Sutherland

SNIP:   The Maple Blossom used to be so sharp and bright that at times I didn't want to play it. The tone of the skin head is much more enjoyable when just playing at home. And now the tone is tolerable for Clawhammer. The weatherking frosted top sounded horrible for CH.

I miss having a frailing scoop, and it's a bit of an annoyance to have to take off the resonator every time I need to adjust the head. But it seems to be a workable option. There are benefits to having only one banjo, IMO.
 


I had the same complaint with my RK85.  It was so loud and bright that I found it irritating.  In my case it just made bad playing sound worse.  Stuffing it with rags or foam rubber didn't work for me.  I got the volume down using a bridge mounted mute.  That made it sound like an autoharp - not bad - and the volume was acceptable.  But it was still too heavy for me.

Buying a lightweight openback with a frailing scoop solved the weight and sound problems.  I haven't played the RK85 since the openback arrived so it will eventually end up in the classifieds.

Oct 19, 2020 - 1:22:23 PM
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2371 posts since 12/31/2005

Plenty of great players have used one banjo for both. Ralph Stanley played clawhammer on the same arch top he used for three-finger playing (oh, the horrors!) Lynn Morris set up her Ode D for clawhammer. One thing she did that you might want to try is to use a Fiberskyn head, which would eliminate your constant adjustment issue (which every picker dealt with back in the day). Other option would be to save up for a top tension, but that is a chunk of change.

Whatever gets you the sound you are looking for is the right answer.

Oct 19, 2020 - 1:38:16 PM
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Bart Veerman

Canada

4748 posts since 1/5/2005

Archtop banjo, setup for BG, works great for clawing - my ears like it.

Oct 19, 2020 - 1:38:39 PM

63 posts since 2/9/2015

I live in the fairly dry foothills of Northern California so the goatskin head hasn't been too much of a problem. Think fires!! But when I had the skin head on an open back, that I've since sold, I was adjusting it almost every day, mostly just because I could. I've read about top tension banjos, but that's pretty much out of the question right now. The lighter weight of an open back is a plus for sure. I miss the frailing scoop, but then some pretty famous people don't seem mind not having one.

I'd love to have a Bart Reiter, or Rickard, or Pisgah, or .... But I'm having a hard time justifying it, or raising the cash.

Edited by - Paul Sutherland on 10/19/2020 13:39:54

Oct 19, 2020 - 6:35:20 PM

31 posts since 8/20/2019

After too many years without a banjo, last year I bought a nice open back banjo - a Pisgah Wonder - to try clawhammer. I recently tried my finger picks and some Scruggs style and found that I really liked the sound on this open back banjo. I just wish it didn’t have the scoop when I’m playing BG. I’ve been looking around at lower-end resonator banjos (like the Recording King RK-R35), but I think I’d be fine with just this Pisgah for both styles if I didn’t have to give up those high frets lost to the scoop.

Oct 20, 2020 - 5:51:49 AM
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hbick2

USA

275 posts since 6/26/2004

You can any style on any 5-string banjo if you're just playing the notes. There are, however, vast differences between Bluegrass and Old-time banjos.

For the most part, Bluegrass banjo players are looking for one specific sound. That sound is what Earl's or J.D.'s banjo sounded like. In order to get that specific sound, you are pretty much limited to a Gibson flathead banjo with a one-piece flange, etc. That said, a lot of people who own very expensive Gibson flathead banjos still don't get that sound. A good friend of mine, Harry Sparks, had built a banjo for a fellow but he wasn't happy because it didn't sound like J.D.'s banjo. They went to hear J.D. one night and took the banjo with them. During a break, Harry handed the banjo to J.D. and amazingly, it sounded like J.D.'s banjo. A great deal of how a banjo sounds in in the hands of the player.

Old-time banjos, however, enjoy a much wider range of sounds, Some like them deep sounding. Some muddy. Some piercing, some muted. Some like plastic heads, some skin. Some like steel strings, some nylon. There are some who prefer the sound of a Gibson-style resonator banjo. Some prefer the sound of Fairbanks/Vega banjos. Some want no tone ring at all.

I guess what I'm saying here is, if you want to play Bluegrass banjo your range of sounds is somewhat limited. If you want to play old-time, the possibilities are unlimited.

Oct 20, 2020 - 6:09:28 AM
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2371 posts since 12/31/2005

Forget labels, brands or what someone else sounds like. Play your music and get your sound. That's what Bill Monroe and every innovator after him did, including Scruggs.

Ralph and many others didn't worry about not playing a flathead. If all bluegrass was all played on a Gibson flathead, explain Geoff Stelling. Different artists look for different sounds. Willie Nelson flatpicks jazz runs on a classical guitar and became a country star. Think he ever said, "I can only play a Gibson?" or a dreadnaught? Eddie Van Halen cobbled together different guitars, some which worked and some that didn't. He never worried that he couldn't play rock without a '59 Les Paul or vintage Strat.

The people who develop their own voice and style are far more interesting to listen to than the person who can perfectly replicate Earl or JD's break on a 60-70 year old son. I'm not putting down traditional style at all. I love it. I just don't like the notion that everyone has to conform to some standard that was itself an effort at artistry.

Edited by - Brian Murphy on 10/20/2020 06:09:58

Oct 20, 2020 - 6:27:56 AM

103 posts since 9/14/2019

quote:
Originally posted by Brian Murphy

Forget labels, brands or what someone else sounds like. Play your music and get your sound. That's what Bill Monroe and every innovator after him did, including Scruggs.

Ralph and many others didn't worry about not playing a flathead. If all bluegrass was all played on a Gibson flathead, explain Geoff Stelling. Different artists look for different sounds. Willie Nelson flatpicks jazz runs on a classical guitar and became a country star. Think he ever said, "I can only play a Gibson?" or a dreadnaught? Eddie Van Halen cobbled together different guitars, some which worked and some that didn't. He never worried that he couldn't play rock without a '59 Les Paul or vintage Strat.

The people who develop their own voice and style are far more interesting to listen to than the person who can perfectly replicate Earl or JD's break on a 60-70 year old son. I'm not putting down traditional style at all. I love it. I just don't like the notion that everyone has to conform to some standard that was itself an effort at artistry.


This is where I'm coming from.  I'm in a band and we do what we want.  We play some BG straight up but we put our own flavor on everything we do.  I like the sound of my Pisgah when I use fingerpicks so I go with it.  It has a scoop so I just don't play up that high (truth is, I never did much anyway so who cares?).

Nobody I play with is professional grade.  We are above average musicians and we enjoy what we do.  I have friends who sunk $5,000 in a BG banjo but they can't really play it.  I just sunk $1,300 into the Pisgah Woodchuck and I love it.

Oct 20, 2020 - 6:49:45 AM

2371 posts since 12/31/2005

quote:
Originally posted by watercarving
 

Nobody I play with is professional grade.  We are above average musicians and we enjoy what we do.  I have friends who sunk $5,000 in a BG banjo but they can't really play it.  I just sunk $1,300 into the Pisgah Woodchuck and I love it.


That's what it's all about.  I don't get people who can't make a living playing music and still can't make it fun.  Why do it?  There are fish that can be caught.  You'll be surprised how good you get as a band quickly if you keep playing and having fun.  Things start to get really tight and the repertoire grows.  I have seen people who get together "to have fun," and, because they don't take themselves too seriously, they actually progress far more than wannabe pros.

If you do find that you need to shred up the neck, one option might be to have Patrick make you a non-scooped neck that you can swap out (or send the pot to him).  Or there are many great luthiers here who can make one for you.  Or go all Eddie Van Halen and create your own Frankenbanjo.  

Oct 20, 2020 - 6:51:55 AM
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7856 posts since 8/28/2013

quote:
Originally posted by Brian Murphy

Forget labels, brands or what someone else sounds like. Play your music and get your sound. That's what Bill Monroe and every innovator after him did, including Scruggs.

Ralph and many others didn't worry about not playing a flathead. If all bluegrass was all played on a Gibson flathead, explain Geoff Stelling. Different artists look for different sounds. Willie Nelson flatpicks jazz runs on a classical guitar and became a country star. Think he ever said, "I can only play a Gibson?" or a dreadnaught? Eddie Van Halen cobbled together different guitars, some which worked and some that didn't. He never worried that he couldn't play rock without a '59 Les Paul or vintage Strat.

The people who develop their own voice and style are far more interesting to listen to than the person who can perfectly replicate Earl or JD's break on a 60-70 year old son. I'm not putting down traditional style at all. I love it. I just don't like the notion that everyone has to conform to some standard that was itself an effort at artistry.


Well said!

Oct 20, 2020 - 7:00:02 AM

raybob

USA

13494 posts since 12/11/2003

I live in CA up near the OR border. Our weather isn’t the same as Placerville but it’s pretty close. I’ve been using skin heads on open backs for some time now without messing with the tension hardly ever after they’re installed. I get pre- mounted heads. I got some from ‘banjoseen’ and treated them myself with shoe waterproofing spray on both sides. The last ones I’ve got were goat skins from John Balch, and I had him treat them for me as he puts them together.
This works well for me. I get nice sound, it looks great, and I never have to mess with it.

Oct 20, 2020 - 9:40:42 AM

Helix

USA

13065 posts since 8/30/2006

Ah yes, the elusive universal
Top down in a hardtop world

I play claw at the 19th with picks and without a scoop

I play 3- finger choruses and leads

I can remove my magnet mount Rez in 2 sec

So I started building tube rims so there would be no holes in the rim @ 6.75 pound including the tone ring

To help Maple be not so harsh, try a Cherry bridge. Change frequency filters.

Truly that is the biggest chasm in the music community: how to fit that resonator in your back pocket, when truly, it makes a darn fine hat


Edited by - Helix on 10/20/2020 09:41:18

Oct 21, 2020 - 8:34 AM

1533 posts since 1/13/2006

My son plays both styles and has several banjos which have been tweaked to easily play both (bluegrass, clawhammer). One is a Vega Tubaphone conversion with scoop and resonator I built in 1982, and the other is a recent banjo he put together using misc parts, including a Gold Star GF-100 neck that I scooped for him. It has a hide head and has had both nylon and steel strings on it. He has dubbed it the "Old Star". Example below: youtube.com/watch?v=DywRFjFzyb0

Oct 21, 2020 - 9:38:34 AM
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7836 posts since 1/7/2005

quote:
Originally posted by GSCarson

My son plays both styles and has several banjos which have been tweaked to easily play both (bluegrass, clawhammer). One is a Vega Tubaphone conversion with scoop and resonator I built in 1982, and the other is a recent banjo he put together using misc parts, including a Gold Star GF-100 neck that I scooped for him. It has a hide head and has had both nylon and steel strings on it. He has dubbed it the "Old Star". Example below: youtube.com/watch?v=DywRFjFzyb0


Glenn, I think Russ's picking would sound great on any banjo.

His clawhammer style is remarkably similar to your own. I wonder how that happened. :->

DD

Oct 21, 2020 - 11:17:04 AM

63 posts since 2/9/2015

I would really like to hear the "Old Star" played with steel strings, in both clawhammer and bluegrass styles.

Oct 21, 2020 - 1:17:57 PM

13258 posts since 6/29/2005

I've always made "dual purpose" banjos, and never really thought much about it.  I played my 1927 Granada for 15 years without the resonator.

I think, really, it's an aesthetic thing—you are not going to appear up on the stage at the County Fair in a bluegrass band with an openback banjo—it just wouldn't look right—even a cowboy hat couldn't fix it—likewise, you are not going to appear old-timey in an old-time venue with a Mastertone, although that would be more plausible than the "openback in a bluegrass band" scenario.

Here are a couple of sound comparisons "resonator vs no resonator"—some of these recordings go back a while, so may not be so great, but they are "apple-to apples"

Ken


Edited by - Ken LeVan on 10/21/2020 13:22:07

Oct 21, 2020 - 1:41:16 PM

63 posts since 2/9/2015

Ken: Am I correct in assuming that the same banjo was used for every track, and the only difference was whether the resonator was on or off?

Oct 21, 2020 - 2:14:14 PM

13258 posts since 6/29/2005

quote:
Originally posted by Paul Sutherland

Ken: Am I correct in assuming that the same banjo was used for every track, and the only difference was whether the resonator was on or off?


Different banjos were used for the three comparisons, but in each comparison, it was the same  banjo— reso or no reso.

Oct 22, 2020 - 8:16:51 AM
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71 posts since 8/9/2007

quote:
Originally posted by Ken LeVan

you are not going to appear up on the stage at the County Fair in a bluegrass band with an openback banjo—it just wouldn't look right—even a cowboy hat couldn't fix it

Ken

 


That right there is one of the truest , and bestest lines I ever read on the Hangout ! Thanks Mr.LeVan

Oct 31, 2020 - 1:12:29 PM

185 posts since 2/17/2004

I've done fly-in-gigs where I brought only one instrument.
In my set, I do old-timey, finger-pickin' and (when retuned) chord melody 1920's jazz.

Vega-Fairbanks #9

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