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Feb 28, 2021 - 1:39:05 AM

AndyW

UK

776 posts since 7/4/2017

Phil, around 13 years ago or so I picked up a second hand bottlecap (£50uk, new about £200uk) and attempted to learn banjo. I didn't really have much of a clue so was learning scruggs. The banjo was so tinny sounding I quickly abandoned picks, but even so after about 3 months when I finished the learn banjo book I had the bottlecap grated on me so much I tuned my guitar to open G and played the couple of tunes I had learned on that.

4 years ago I decided to learn banjo again, this time I thought clawhammer and a slight step up in instrument quality. I bought a Gretsch Dixie Special for £200 (a bargain should've been 3-400) and haven't looked back.

Although I wasn't aware years ago about the help you can give a cheap banjo, only a small uplift in price made a world of difference to me.

I believe the best thing you can do is get rid of the bottlecap and upgrade your banjo. You don't need to upgrade loads, buy second hand and sell off the bottlecap you'll hardly need to spend much at all.

Feb 28, 2021 - 3:25:20 AM

Ivor

England

52 posts since 11/18/2020

There’s some great advice there and even though I started playing forty years ago on a vintage Barnes & Mullins, with a pen knife blade jammed between the neck and the rim to keep the action down I had a thirty year break and have had to start again.
Like many, I bought a Chinese cheapie to get back on the horse, it’s not brilliant, but it ain’t bad and with a few tweaks it’s playing well enough for me not to lose interest and once I’m up to a good standard I’ll upgrade to a decent American or luthier made instrument...I’m sure old Wishy Washy can’t be that bad!

Feb 28, 2021 - 2:41:04 PM

1162 posts since 11/22/2006

Matthew,

I would take a close look at an openback Ute banjo, if my budget was less than $1K.

https://www.utebanjos.com/

Mar 2, 2021 - 7:16:37 AM

Alex Z

USA

4228 posts since 12/7/2006

"Its been an amazing experience so far learning the clawhammer style, I've made good progress and its very exciting."

That's great.  Now, since you asked, the "upgrade" that you'll be ready for at some point should be triggered by the desire to do more musically on the instrument than the present instrument can provide.  Tone, feel, response.  At only 3 weeks into playing, it is possible that your perception of tone, feel, and response still has to be developed to make a good choice on the next instrument that may cost a lot more money.

For example, the Gold Tone was rejected because you didn't want to tune the apparently old strings.

The "upgrade" you're looking for now is apparently a combination of higher price and perceived "quality," one of the main purposes of which is to make others take notice.

The diagnosis here is "BAS" -- Banjo Acquisition Syndrome.  smiley   We all get it from time to time.   That banjo over yonder looks a lot better than the one in my hand, and I deserve to have it, and it will do wonders for my playing.

The remedy is the ability to assess tone, feel, and response in comparison to the music you want to play, and to identify a budgeted amount.

You'll get there.  

Mar 2, 2021 - 8:34:04 AM

PHIL-

USA

49 posts since 2/26/2021

quote:
Originally posted by Alex Z

"Its been an amazing experience so far learning the clawhammer style, I've made good progress and its very exciting."

That's great.  Now, since you asked, the "upgrade" that you'll be ready for at some point should be triggered by the desire to do more musically on the instrument than the present instrument can provide.  Tone, feel, response.  At only 3 weeks into playing, it is possible that your perception of tone, feel, and response still has to be developed to make a good choice on the next instrument that may cost a lot more money.

For example, the Gold Tone was rejected because you didn't want to tune the apparently old strings.

The "upgrade" you're looking for now is apparently a combination of higher price and perceived "quality," one of the main purposes of which is to make others take notice.

The diagnosis here is "BAS" -- Banjo Acquisition Syndrome.  smiley   We all get it from time to time.   That banjo over yonder looks a lot better than the one in my hand, and I deserve to have it, and it will do wonders for my playing.

The remedy is the ability to assess tone, feel, and response in comparison to the music you want to play, and to identify a budgeted amount.

You'll get there.  


oof, THIS IS FANTASTIC.

At the time i wrote that, i was having a meltdown and wanted to smash the chinese banjo into a million pieces. The action is high, and its a pain in the neck learning chords. I got a good sleep that night, and the next day it wasn't so bad. I try to constantly remind myself to be patient, and to understand its not gonna happen when i want it to happen.

When them breakthroughs elude me, its ok. They will come tomorrow. 

I appreciate your wise input. Were gonna keep gunning for it, keep positive and were gonna get to where we want to go, but maybe not till tomorrow.

Edited by - PHIL- on 03/02/2021 08:34:46

Mar 2, 2021 - 9:18:15 AM
likes this

Alex Z

USA

4228 posts since 12/7/2006

Nothing inherently bad about a banjo made in China.  The difficulty is that an inexpensive instrument is often not finely adjusted.  You get the playability adjusted, and the head at a decent medium tension, it's going to sound pretty darned good for $300.

As a newer player, the action height will always feel high.  smiley  One of the places that it may actually be high -- and will make a big difference in feel -- is the height of the strings at the nut.  

Press each string down between the second and third frets, and look at how high the string is above the first fret.  It should be just barely above the first fret.  And "just barely" means on the order of a few thousandths of an inch, like the thickness of a dollar bill.  Higher than that, it will start to feel stiffer and stiffer.  

Any guitar tech is familiar with this adjustment, and if the nut slots are too high, can fix them in 10 minutes.  Might cost you $20.  You could do it yourself if you had the right tools (gauged nut slotting files) and a little experience in how fast the tools cut so you don't go too far.  There are short-cut tools such as welding torch cleaners, but you still have to know what you're doing.

Second thing is to measure the distance between the top of the 12th fret and the bottom of the strings, to the nearest 1/64".  Estimate the last 64th if needed.  A regular ruler is OK. If the distance is 1/8 inch, plus or minus 1/64, that's decent action.  Since a newer player is not doing much higher up the neck anyway, this measurement is less important than the nut slot height.

There are a lot of adjustments and tweaks for a banjo.  If a player can start looking at the instrument as an engineer smiley as well as a player, they'll end up with a fine sounding instrument at that price point.

Three weeks in, you're doing fine.  We've all been through the sore fingers and difficulty forming chords and playing the notes clearly.  On the positive site, you've been bitten by the banjo bug and absolutely have to play the thing and have the drive to keep going.   Every player has some form of that same story.   The banjo bug is a life-changing experience, as anyone on the BHO can attest to.

Mar 2, 2021 - 1:19:33 PM

AndyW

UK

776 posts since 7/4/2017

If the biggest pain is playing full chords, then don't bother with full chords. Use the RSB or Dan L method and you'll get away with single notes and partial chords right from the start. Only with bum-ditty method is there a need to 'brush' full chords at the beginning of learning.

Mar 2, 2021 - 1:35:33 PM

130 posts since 1/7/2019

quote:
Originally posted by AndyW

If the biggest pain is playing full chords, then don't bother with full chords. Use the RSB or Dan L method and you'll get away with single notes and partial chords right from the start. Only with bum-ditty method is there a need to 'brush' full chords at the beginning of learning.


RSB or Dan L method??

Mar 2, 2021 - 1:38:20 PM

AndyW

UK

776 posts since 7/4/2017

quote:
Originally posted by Gixxer340
quote:
Originally posted by AndyW

If the biggest pain is playing full chords, then don't bother with full chords. Use the RSB or Dan L method and you'll get away with single notes and partial chords right from the start. Only with bum-ditty method is there a need to 'brush' full chords at the beginning of learning.


RSB or Dan L method??


Rocket Science Banjo or Dan Levenson. Both of which Phil will know from earlier posts on another thread.

Edited by - AndyW on 03/02/2021 13:39:06

Mar 5, 2021 - 11:04:52 AM

10 posts since 10/22/2016

I had an opportunity to play an open back Deering tenor, and I wasn't impressed. I'll stick with my ancient (1927) Vega Artist. I don't know much about the 5-string market, but some of these older instruments are a great buy. Just another option!

Mar 5, 2021 - 11:47:27 AM

36 posts since 12/12/2019

January 2020, I bought a new Deering Goodtime Artisan Special with the resonator. I bought it at Sam Ash while they had some great sales going on. It wasn't cheap but the quality is good and it's made in America. I noticed they have gone up in price since then. It sounds good with the tone ring and frets great. My next banjo will be a Yates, I think the Gibsons are overpriced.

Mar 5, 2021 - 12:08:19 PM

KarlD

USA

1 posts since 6/26/2013

Hello Matthew. I've owned Bucks County Folk Music Shop outside of Philadelphia in Bucks County since 1966. Right now we have about 30 banjos in our store. I have also been repairing and setting up banjos since before I opened this shop. My advice: Proper set up is key. Trying out an instrument is key. If you can't try it out first, make sure there is a return policy. Best of luck in your search. Karl Dieterichs

Mar 5, 2021 - 12:08:26 PM

29 posts since 3/7/2006

I didn't read the whole thread, so some of this might be a repeat:
(1) Don't get one of those aluminum rim banjos ("bottle cap banjos"). The sound is metallic and other components will be very cheap.
(2) Although usually found on cheap banjos, there is nothing wrong with guitar-style tuners except aesthetics. In fact they are usually 12:1 and hold tuning better than the standard banjo 4:1.
(3) Get a good used banjo rather than a new banjo for the same price.
(4) Once you have your intermediate banjo, get it professionally set up before you decide you need something better. I was dissatisfied with my $500 (used) Fender FB-59 so bought a used JD Crowe Gibson (nearly $3000). I discovered that the head of the Gibson was much tighter than the Fender. When I tightened the head of the Fender it really came alive. Yes, the JD Crowe is a beautiful, rich sounding instrument but not better sounding by 6 times! Also, the Gibson is now a living room queen because I don't want to have it knocked around at jams.
(5) Everyone should own at least one Gibson so they can speak with authority about how much better other banjos are for the same price!

Mar 5, 2021 - 12:27:48 PM

11694 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by TheWoodBoss

My next banjo will be a Yates, I think the Gibsons are overpriced.


The only Gibsons you can buy are used, so blame prices on the owner-sellers.

Here's a final decade RB-250 for $2375, far less than any new Yates. If I were in the market, I'd be all over this.

Mar 5, 2021 - 1:23:49 PM

9 posts since 6/10/2020

Hey there Matthew,

I was a similar place to you a couple years ago. I had gotten my hands on a mistreated bottom of the line banjo (an old friend had left for a couple years in outdoor storage locker in Canada), which was just enough for me to realize that yes, I really did want to play banjo.

Went to my local shop where the repair guy recommended a Recording King OT25. The shop had a couple other banjo's in a similar price range – I remember a Deering in particular with similar features that was a couple hundred dollars more. The RK blew the competition out of the water – clearly sounded better within a few seconds of playing, felt comfortable and easy to play, had nice features like the scooped neck for clawhammer (the main style I was interested in playing) and cheaper.

If the Deering was in the same ballpark sound and feature-wise, I might have been tempted to swallow the price difference in the name of avoiding probably-exploited Asian labour, but the difference was so stark that didn't make sense to me.

There's definitely users on here with a lot more knowledge an experience than me, but I'd recommend at least looking at this banjo. I've been very happy with it so far.

Full disclosure: it has needed a few adjustments. I had to replace the bridge after the first one started cracking, there was a bur inside the first string tuner so the string kept breaking, and I eventually got a nut that held the first string closer to the others – it was so close to the edge it would occasionally slip off the fretboard. I was playing it a ton and am a bit finicky about my instruments, though.

Overall it's felt very playable and sounded gorgeous to my ears from the beginning – beautiful ringing sound and sustain – 'til now and I like it so much I'm thinking it'll be a keeper for life that can help me avoid Banjo Acquisition Syndrome. I imagine there are better banjos out there, but this one was in a range I could afford and I'd rather put my time and effort into practicing with a good friend than always looking for new ones to play.

P.S. I've made a couple recordings with the banjo, though I'm sure if you dig around you can find better recordings with the banjo isolated from other instruments. I used it more as an important accent rather than the main instrument:
https://wychwood.bandcamp.com/track/mail-myself-to-you
https://wychwood.bandcamp.com/track/in-the-bleak-midwinter

Edited by - Tim from Wychwood on 03/05/2021 13:38:13

Mar 5, 2021 - 1:26:10 PM

36 posts since 12/12/2019

Nice banjo, but I'm not in the market. It's still not a Yates ...lol

Mar 5, 2021 - 5:07:37 PM

1 posts since 2/26/2021

I was given a Washburn b12 by a friend to try and see if I liked it in 2008. I took a few lessons but liked the idea more than the sore fingers. I bought a Fender FB58 in 2011 and it was much better. I payed 599 cdn plus tax. Some new lessons a few years ago started things back up.
I have recently acquired a 1991 Stelling Red Fox. WOW. Easy to play, sounds better and did I mention looks amazing !
If possible spend the extra once you’re committed and you’ll see a big difference.
Thank you Jim Dauncey for my beautiful banjo !

Mar 5, 2021 - 5:09:44 PM

190 posts since 11/11/2020

quote:
Originally posted by Helix

My point is the Washburn is a pretty good hardware set, double acting truss rod, good neck and frets, mine has planetary tuners.
You can consider a $275 rim changeout to a wooden rim of Maple, Cherry, Mahog or Walnut.
Set up is part of the price, still less than 1k and no frustration.


Show him the spoons Helix! If I did clawhammer I'd have your spoons.. 

Mar 5, 2021 - 6:38:46 PM

3 posts since 2/10/2014

I started with guitar and quickly decided that was not for me. I took lessons for a year or so and learned some songs, but was not happy. In 1972 I bought a piece of junk called a "Conqueror". Nobody went with me to the store. I found a teacher who only taught clawhammer, so I studied clawhammer for a year and learned a few songs. My passion was Earl Scruggs Bluegrass. I was a recent college graduate (1969) and married in December 1972 after three years of a factory job. I then began a 38 year career as a tax auditor with the State of Virginia. The new career caused the new family to move to Virginia Beach and one year later to Lexington, VA. I bought a Japanese copy of the 1950's Gibson RB-250. It looked better than the Conqueror and played a lot better. I bought the Earl Scruggs Banjo Book, written by Bobby Thompson, while in Virginia Beach and spent hours trying to learn Bluegrass Banjo. After moving to Lexington, I met Freddie Goodhart at his Second Hand Store in Downtown Lexington. He showed me a very nice S.S. Stewart Banjo and I eventually purchased it. At that point I was playing from the Earl Scruggs Book and also from my clawhammer notes. It was slow going until in late 1974 the State of Virginia moved me again to my home county of Madison. There I met up with lots of pickers and went to jam sessions a couple of nights a week. To Be Continued

Mar 6, 2021 - 12:57:45 AM

Gunner

USA

17 posts since 2/13/2003

Phil- everything that's said here is good advice. The Goodtime's not a bad starting banjo. But I like the Gold Tone's better. For my new students starting out, I recommended the Gold Tone line. I'm sorry you got a crappy banjo to start. But it sounds like you're planning on staying with it and really want to learn to play. That being said, I wouldn't waste my time or money on an 'intermediate' banjo. Suck it up with the Washburn a little longer and save up for a good 'professional' banjo. I'm talking somewhere in the $2000 range or higher. A good banjo will hold its value. I own 2 Stellings. The first one I bought back in the mid 80's for $1600. It is now worth $4500 new. You don't need to go that high (and Stelling does have some lower priced banjos), but save up your money and jump up to a high end banjo.

Mar 6, 2021 - 3:39:05 AM
Players Union Member

Helix

USA

13964 posts since 8/30/2006

Set up is not always part of the price. The nuts and bolts you bought were set at the factory with +/- specs. Not set up.

I had a veteran customer who had given an eye in service to his nation and he had little vision in the other.

His set up was a stack of 3 coins, quarters at the 12th fret. He played on his porch and church, no capo no spikes, used maybe the first five frets. But it was HIS sound, his molecules, his pain and suffering calling us through his music.
It was my grand privilege. I traded his Gold Tone kit neck back for an ALVAREZ SILVER PRINCESS NECK. He and his friends stripped the Helix rim and restained it dark red like the neck.

My career was finding employment for disabled adults like a country doctor, the side dots on the Alvarez are tiny and out of alignment.

I changed his side dots to a series of signals using blue abalone dots.
The signal at the twelfth fret was black/white/blue/white/blue/white/black. two dots for the 12th. I adapted to him. He was already getting the "touch."

While you are at it take a look at Round Peak picking. It's a clawhammer derivative.

Spoons? I wouldn't know anything about adapting flatware for use as an audio passive distributor.

I play bluegrass with spoons, we'll never go hungry.    I wash dishes in my house and it was an accident of fate, I tell ya.


Edited by - Helix on 03/06/2021 03:42:23

Mar 6, 2021 - 4:28:11 AM

5 posts since 9/20/2017

Several years ago I bought a Gold Tone CC-100+. At the time, from Amazon, I think it was under $500 and seemed like a heck of a deal. I think it sounds really good. There is nothing about it that makes me cringe. It was shipped directly from the Gold Tone facility in Florida, and when I unpacked it in Maine it was still in tune. The setup was excellent. Worth a look, I think.
I also looked a the Deering Goodtime, but when comparing features the CC-100+ was clearly a much better deal.

Also worth looking at non-famous-name "good used." Hard to tell what you might find, but there are certainly banjos out there, possibly custom made by somebody you've never heard of, that are excellent. If they were made by Gibson, they would cost a fortune. Because they were made by Joe Schwartz or Bill Hoopty or whoever, they're bargains.

Just keep visiting music stores and seeing what there may be available. Someday you'll find THE banjo for you.

Mar 6, 2021 - 7:27:15 AM

4674 posts since 2/24/2004

If you want an excellent claw hammer banjo-/consider my Lame Horse . I'm thinning my herd & imho--this banjo's true value is twice of what I'm asking . If you truly love quality --you will love this banjo . $2300 with hard case --brand new gotoh tuners -firm plus shipping & handling $170 .00https://youtu.be/6Khu85M4xv8

Mar 6, 2021 - 8:16:42 AM

313 posts since 12/28/2014

I find the best bang for the buck on factory made banjos are the recording king and gold tones. For under 700$ you get truss rod dual co- rods planetary tuners and a nice sturdy rim and neck and most importantly they sound pretty good.
You can also always support a upstart builder, they tend to do amazing work for pittance. One of my first “nice banjos” was a used pot I got from burnunzios (with tone ring) for around 100$ And a neck made by zack Hoyt for under 300$.

Including the rubner tuners and some other assesories I put on, it cost me less than 600$ for a banjo that would have cost around 1400$ new easy.

Mar 6, 2021 - 10:44:28 AM

460 posts since 10/23/2003

quote:
Originally posted by GrahamHawker

The Washburn B9 is just another cheap aluminium rimmed bottlecap. Washburn don't make them. They are just rebadged by the factory with whatever name is required on the headstock. Washburn do ask for a better tailpiece which is the type that is always strung incorrectly by the factory. So it is cheap but it looks overpriced. New prices have gone up though. It wasn't long ago that a price around $200 for this type of banjo was a bit much.

I can't comment of the Artisan Goodtime although i still don't like the idea of not having a truss rod.


While at another stage of history a Wasburn banjo company existed (although even then they were an outlet brand for Lyon and Healy I do believe) the current company is not.  They buy banjos from various makers spread around the world, often with results like what you speak of.      I dont know much about inexpensive banjos because I have been inching my way up from my first good time for about 22 years.   My own experience is that entry level Good Time banjos are a good way into banjos and Gold Tone Banjos have been good to me.  I recently bought an entry level  Recording King "dirty 30s" banjo that has really surprised me how good it was, because I thought I would want to immediately replace it once I got the hang of it or got deeper into Finger picking      

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