I have a Recording King RK36 banjo that I bought new about a year ago. If you're not familiar, the RK36 is a Chinese knock of a Gibson Mastertone. It did not cost what the Gibsons sell for, of course, but it was not free either.
I like the banjo. It has good tone but, especially as a guitar player too, I have determined that I would prefer a banjo with a radius fingerboard.
I have been considering selling the RK36 and buying a different banjo that has a radius fingerboard. I would take a financial hit if I did that even though the banjo is in excellent condition, since I bought the RK36 new.
It occurred to me that, rather than replacing the banjo, I may be able to replace the neck with one that has a radius fingerboard and get a radius bridge. Alternatively, I could remove the fingerboard from this neck and replace it (and, of course, the bridge) with a radius fingerboard (and bridge). Neither replacing the neck nor removing and replacing the fingerboard is a job I'm inclined to try myself.
Do the more experienced folks on this site, especially any banjo builders or repairers, believe the remove and replace the fingerboard option would be viable and cost effective? Would it be better and more cost effective to replace the neck and bridge or, for that matter, the entire banjo? Are you or do you know anyone who could capably take on such a project? How long is it likely to take to complete? This could be a factor, since I don't want to be without a banjo for too long a time.
You might talk to Zach Hoyt, who’s not too far from you, in upstate NY. Not sure he does that kind of work, but, if so, I’m sure he’d do a good job with it, at a reasonable price, and in good time. (At least that’s been my experience.) Also, Zach is a stellar person with whom to deal. Hope this helps.
The radius that I've seen on banjo necks is so little of a radius that it isn't worth the difference in my opinion. Removing the fingerboard and replacing it would take time and patience. You may come out better (money wise) by getting another Neck if you still want a radius one. I've made new Necks from broken RK-36 and RK-35 Necks that I bought on ebay, but I usually cut the finger board off the broken neck to reuse it. I've sold a radius RB-7, or RB-12 (same inlay pattern) a while back, that I made from a Gibson RB-7 that the peghead was broken off. I set it up on a Recording King pot with a radius bridge and I could see any benefit of it to me. If they had the radius like a fiddle fingerboard then I might could notice a difference.
Edited by - roydsjr on 03/31/2021 08:25:35
I suggest buying a good quality neck from a top-notch builder. In the future when you're ready to step up from the RK-36 you can just bolt the original neck back on and buy a pot. As long as you stick with the standard one-piece flange Mastertone design, you'll at most have to do a minor recut of the heel, and maybe not even that. And you'll have a complete RK-36 to sell to fund your upgrade.
Think of it as upgrading on the installment plan.
Option 1: Replacing the fingerboard entails removal, clean up, binding and inlaying the new board, gluing it on, touching up the finish, and installing frets and a fifth string nut. That's a lot of labor. $600 or $700 worth of work in my shop.
Option 2: Pulling the frets on the existing board, radiusing the board, and installing new frets is much less labor, more practical, and 50% or 60% the cost of installing a new radiused board. The cost would be perhaps $300 - $350 in my shop.
Option 3: New necks of good quality are expensive. And even if you can find a new neck in completed condition, it will have to be fitted and mounted to the banjo by an expert. This would be at least as costly as option 1, probably a lot more unless you can get the new neck for $300 - $400. You'll have a hard time getting a nice neck for that amount.
Practically speaking, option 2 is the most practical and the least costly.
Also, consider what Roy said-- many people would not recognize very much of a difference in the way a radiused board feels on a banjo. I would recommend playing a banjo with a radiused board to see how much difference you can feel before you spend hundreds of dollars on your instrument,
Edited by - rcc56 on 03/31/2021 08:52:39
If Bob -- a luthier -- says an existing flat fretboard can be radiused, I'd believe that. BUT since radiusing an existing board would lower the outsides relative to the center line, I'd be concerned that parts of the fretboard might then become too low relative to the bottom of the tension hoop notch when the head is tightened to your preference. If the frets are lower than the bottom of notch, the strings might not clear when notes are played up the neck.
If this problem can be avoided, then yes it's an economical approach.
I think an all new neck makes the most sense, for several reasons.
1 - The pot on an RK-36 is the exact same as on Recording King's most expensive banjos. The tone ring holds its own vs many rings on the market. The flange has been been used by other builders. Quality stuff. Only the resonator is different from RK's higher-up models and even though its mahogany (or sapele?) veneer is fairly plain, I've always found it to be very good looking with its stain and gloss finish.
So, in my opinion, the RK pot is well worth being mated to a custom neck if you're seeking a different type of playability.
2 - You can save the original neck and return the RK-36 to original should you ever decide to sell it and have a new pot custom-made to fit your neck. Or in case you score a pre-war or other pot that you perceive as better or more valuable than the RK.
3 - You can sell the RK neck for several hundred dollars and recoup some of the cost of the custom neck. This would not preclude your selling the RK pot later should you decide to upgrade that (as just mentioned above). Truth is, selling the neck and pot separately could get you more than the price of selling the banjo whole.
Bottom line, I think this is worth doing if you really want a radiused neck and know what one can do for you. I don't think I'd spend money on a radiused neck until I'd played one.
Something else to consider before you spend hundreds of dollars on a banjo that costs $1150 new:
There are 2 used Nechville banjos in the classifieds with radiused necks in a modest price range; an Aries for $1999 and a Classic for $2450. If you dig for an hour, you may find some other choices also.
Originally posted by Banjo Barry
If you're not familiar, the RK36 is a Chinese knock of a Gibson Mastertone.
That makes it sound like one of those standard banjo factory Mastertone type banjos rather than made by Recording King's own facility and for some years overseen by ex Gibson man Greg Rich (as in Greg Rich era...). And of course highly regarded.
Edited by - GrahamHawker on 03/31/2021 09:58:53
Lots of good advice here, if you decide to purchase an after-market neck you might want to reach out to Ron Coleman down in GA. (He's a member here.) Very affordable, good work. And, personally, I'd hold onto the original neck for when you want to sell the banjo. Good luck.
If it were me...
I agree with the idea of getting a new neck made with a radiused fingerboard and keeping the original. That is the most feasible as far as resale value goes. Having a radiused neck made might cost as much as a new RK36 but your banjo can be put back to original condition for resale and you can transfer the neck to another pot. I think someone already said that, didn't they?
I'm making a six string neck for my Vega Little Wonder but I am keeping the original five string neck for exactly the same reason. If I decide to change it back then it will only require a neck swap. No permanent alteration will have been done.
Edited by - Culloden on 03/31/2021 11:02:31
I currently play a cheap Chinese banjo with a standard flat fretboard and a ‘59 Hofner guitar with a radiused fretboard and in my opinion, the difference in playability is minimal, I switch from one to the other without a problem, but that might just be me.
My first move would be to try a banjo with a radiused fretboard and see if it really does ring your bell...sorry if I’m stating the obvious!
As a guitar player of 55 years who also plays banjo I have also chased this dangling carrot with my own RK-36. All things considered I believe it wise to leave the RK-36 as it was intended to be and upgrade to a higher grade instrument with fretboard radius if desired.
It is important to note that a radiused fretboard is helpful when chording (especially barre chords) but can be detrimental when picking lead and bending strings as it tends to choke out the string on a bend. Then we have to consider fretboards with a straight radius as opposed to a compound radius. A can of worms to be sure.
The neck width of a banjo is much less than that of a guitar especially when considering the fifth string G is used primarily as a drone. A radiused fretboard that affects only four strings of light gauge is not as noticeable as one affecting six strings of heavier gauge at the same string spacing in my opinion.
I have been shopping for months to find a radiused fretboard banjo of high grade such as Nechville but have yet to pull the trigger because I really like my RK-36 as I have hot rodded it with Gotoh tuners, Clamshell tailpiece, Snuffy bridge, as well as completely disassembling it and doing a spot on setup with low action. The more I play it the more I like it just as it is.
If I do buy another banjo it would be a radiused fretboard non-Mastertone sounding instrument such as a Nechville and I would get a woodie for the lighter weight. Trouble is I might have to sell a guitar (which I don’t want to do) to make room in my house so there is that double edged sword.
More info here:
Edited by - Pick-A-Lick on 04/01/2021 04:55:04
I'm in the play a radiused 'board first camp. If you feel it makes a difference, I'd have the original neck mod'ed by someone with experience.
A used RK R36, as nice as it is, is a commodity banjo. Were you to resell it later, having a radiused 'board is unlikely to make much difference in resale value.
Buy a Gold Tone radiused neck for $250 and see if you like it. It should install with minor adjustments to the heel.
My old codger advice:
Leave it alone.
Replacing the fingerboard isn't worth what it's going to cost.
Learn to play "what you have".
If you really want a radiused fingerboard, then BUY a banjo with one.
Either sell the RK or keep it as your second banjo...
Thnx so much to all who responded to my post. I really benefitted from and appreciate your input. What
a great community! This truly is a case study in the wisdom of crowds.
On balance, I agree with those who have advised me to sit tight for now, look for an opportunity to try a radius fingerboard banjo and decide what to do afterward. Kind if the banjo players' version of the Hippocratic oath. First, do no harm.
Either have Bob Chuckrow do it or get the Gold Tone Maple neck. Can't lose.
Another thought. The relatively new gold tone ob150 can come with a radius fretboard . You might find the manufacturer sells them or if there is a damaged one with a good neck sometimes these come up as seconds or parts. They seem really good banjos for around 1100$
I had a Nechville phantom. It was beautiful and the neck was just wonderful.. I'm pretty sure you won't find a better radius neck than a Nechville.. I simply didn't take to it. Went back to flat neck.
In response to my recent post about a radius fingerboard, one option suggested was to get a Goldtone neck with a radius fingerboard. At the time, Goldtone was out of stock but now they have them. I can get a Goldtone neck with a radius fingerboard for about $250. A luthier who is well-regarded on this site will build a neck with a radius fingerboard for about $500. The Goldtone neck is maple. The neck currently on my banjo is mahogany. So is the resonator. I believe the pot, however, is maple. This raises the question whether it is a good idea soundwise to replace my mahogany neck with a maple neck. Will it affect the tone and, if so, how much and in what way(s)?
In my experience based on years of guitar playing and more recently banjo, they share an aspect of woods that are common to stringed instruments.
Generally mahogany instruments will have a warmer earthy sound with less overtones and less sustain and with good midrange.
Maple and rosewood have some similarities in that they generally have more treble and sometimes brash types of sound and greater sustain.
On guitars the whole of the body and neck materials contribute to the sound, but on a banjo the neck material is the factor that has the most impact while the resonator material has little impact especially on inexpensive banjos that have laminated resonators.
Since my original post above I have come to own a new Nechville Classic Deluxe with a compound radiused fretboard. I must say that I really enjoy the radius over that of my flat fret RK-36.
The RK banjos are a great value especially for the money spent, but I must say the Nechville is really in a class by itself. I’m glad I accepted the RK-36 for what it is and spent my money on the Nechville upgrade. I will keep the RK and play it occasionally and use in situations where I might be uncomfortable exposing a higher price instrument.
Whatever you decide to do will be a good learning experience.
Good luck with your project.
Edited by - Pick-A-Lick on 04/21/2021 08:36:01
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