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Jul 28, 2021 - 7:08:46 AM
28 posts since 3/2/2021

Since repairing an Appalachian banjo earlier this year, I've been casually looking for a banjo to learn on. I'm a long-time guitar player rooted in various styles of rock music.

So that said, I found a Univox banjo for sale near me. The price is well within my budget. I assume it's made in the 70s... but I can't seem to find anything on open-back Univox banjos.
 

I guess my questions are:

  1. Is this a good price for this banjo?
  2. Would it be a good banjo to learn on?
  3. What I should look for when going to look at it?
  4. Is there anything else I should know?

Jul 28, 2021 - 7:27:31 AM
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14198 posts since 10/30/2008

The brand name is kind of meanginless. I've seen countless examples of this banjo in bluegrass format (with flange and resonator) with all kinds of names on the peghead. One came up for sale here this week with the brand name "Aria" on it, in bluegrass set up.

In general, these were Japanese made, and "OK" beginner/intermediate banjos for that time period. $300 with a gig bag seems OK if nothing is broken or awkwardly repaired. Can you look it over in person?

The neck looks identical to the necks on the bluegrass versions of this banjo. It's a sort of close copy of the Gibson RB 250 "bowtie" fingerboard. That unique peghead shape is the mark of the Japanese maker of these banjos.

I must say, this is the first time I've seen an open back. Hopefully some expert here can warn if that's a cobbled up job with an open back pot and a mismatched bluegrass banjo neck -- in case the fit is poor.

If you can look it over and try it out in person, offer less than $300 and see what happens.

The new tuners are a valuable upgrade to the originals. The new head is not "skin", it's a good brand of plastic head. I note it also has a sliding 5th string capo, which some people like. Some don't like it, and it's easily removed (2 little screws).

What to look for? Make sure the neck is reasonably straight and that the frets aren't worn out. Make sure the neck is a good tight fit to the pot, with no wobble or looseness. Make sure it feels and sounds good to YOU.

Jul 28, 2021 - 7:45:07 AM

28 posts since 3/2/2021

Thanks The Old Timer - The ad does say "price is firm" so I doubt they'll move.

Good to know that the neck might be mismatched from the body. I wonder what the seller means by "Original head and fretboard" though...

The sliding 5th string capo seems like a neat idea. I didn't know it was a thing!

If I go look at it, I'll look at the frets and neck, and check the fit. But I'll wait for more experts to weigh in here.

Jul 28, 2021 - 7:51:27 AM
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6433 posts since 9/21/2007

You would be able to tell real easy if the neck was made for that rim by looking at the heel connection. These were usually cut for flange banjos (or bottle cap rims).

Jul 28, 2021 - 7:57:51 AM
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12160 posts since 6/2/2008

Made in Japan by Kasuga in the 1970s. Imported into the US under several different names. I bought an "Aria" resonator model in 1972.

Like Dick, I don't recall an open back model. So I can't say whether this was made this way or if it's a parts project. One look at the heel of the neck will reveal if it was made to go on an open-back rim or if it was built to accommodate a resonator flange.

$300 is probably on the high side, but not terrible if everything is in good condition and it sounds good. People ask hundreds more for the resonator model, but I'd never pay more than $300.

Necks are comfortable in first five frets. Borderline clubby above that, but you may like it. I did fine with mine for the year I owned it.

Good luck.

Jul 28, 2021 - 8:00:39 AM

58106 posts since 12/14/2005

I check for neck bow by fretting the 4th string at the 2nd and last frets, and looking to see if there's much gap between the fretboard and the string at the middle.

Jul 28, 2021 - 8:00:57 AM

28 posts since 3/2/2021

Thanks Joel Hooks and Old Hickory - what would I be looking for specifically at the heel?

Jul 28, 2021 - 8:24:04 AM
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14198 posts since 10/30/2008

If, from the outside view, the heel is a solid monolithic block of wood, it is more likely to have been made specifically for this pot.

If you see scroll-like "cut outs" in the heel, about 3/4 of the way to the bottom, that means the neck was made for a bluegrass resonator banjo. The flange of the pot would have fit into the cut out. It looks sort of like a quarter-round space inlet into the heel.

Here's a link to a photo of the bottom of an old Gibson heel, in a resonator pot.  You see there's a cut out near the bottom of the heel, in the face where it touches the pot, for the flange to pass through the heel.  The bottom of the cutout looks like a "slot".  The top portion (viewed from the side) looks like a quarter-round.  Scroll down to center photo, bottom row of pg. 1.

http://earnestbanjo.com/wp/gibson-tb-3-mastertone-9524-5/

Edited by - The Old Timer on 07/28/2021 08:39:30

Jul 28, 2021 - 8:42:10 AM
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12160 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by automattack

what would I be looking for specifically at the heel?


Here's a template for cutting a heel to fit one-piece flange. If the heel had been originally fitted to a resonator + flange model, it would have a notch similar to the lower one. The upper notch is for tension and flesh hoops:

If the neck was always intended for an open back, the heel would look more like these (no break in rim contact to accommodate flange):

Jul 28, 2021 - 8:58:56 AM

28 posts since 3/2/2021

Old Hickory & The Old Timer Got it! I understand. Thank you.

Jul 28, 2021 - 8:59:50 AM
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3920 posts since 5/29/2011

Thanks, Ken. I was trying to find photos to explain the difference in heel cuts but you can't find anything online when you are looking for something specific. I thought I had a picture of the different heel cuts for a straight rim, a OPF, and a TPF but I couldn't find it either. Youe pictures made the point.

Jul 28, 2021 - 9:19:24 AM
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Bart Veerman

Canada

5023 posts since 1/5/2005

The neck looks like one of the higher Kasuga model necks.

Yup, Kasuga made openbacks, I used to have one with a with a 3/4" multiply rim and actual tone ring, not a rolled tone hoop - making me guess it's not a Kasuga pot.

If the neck is straight then $300, to me, still is totally worth it.

Jul 28, 2021 - 9:51:15 AM
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12160 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by Culloden

I thought I had a picture of the different heel cuts for a straight rim, a OPF, and a TPF but I couldn't find it either. Youe pictures made the point.


And I just remembered I actually had photos right here on the Hangout of flange-cut heels mounted on pots. Such as this one:
 


Jul 28, 2021 - 10:06:45 AM
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12160 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by automattack

Old Hickory & The Old Timer Got it! I understand. Thank you.


Some comments on what I see or think I see in the photo, and what it implies to me:

> Planetary tuners and geared fifth string with pearloid buttons: upgrade/replacement from the all-metal, boxy imitation Kluson peghead tuners and friction fifth that were original on 70s Kasugas

> Two coordinator rods: I think I see a second rod, the upper one closer to the head. 70s Kasuga had only one rod, in the lower position. Upper lag bolt had an acorn nut and washer. Second rod would be an addition that adds to stability and provides a way to adjust tone. (See a Warren Yates YouTube video on bridge placement for Donnie Little's demonstration of tweaking sustain with slight rod tightening)

> Possible 3-ply rim. Original rims in 70s Kasuga resonator models were multi-ply or maybe even plywood painted black. Hard to tell from this photo, but I think I see the lap joints of a 3-ply rim. I definitely don't see lots of lines of multi-ply. And this one is clearly not painted black. This suggests replacement/upgrade.  Of course, since I'm not familiar with Kasuga open backs, I don't know for a fact what kind of rim they came with.

> Presto tailpiece. These originally came with a type of adjustable tailpiece that was widely used in the 60s and 70s. May have been a Grover. It was cheap. Presto, though not very adjustable, is probably better.

Bottom line: There's a good chance nothing you can buy new for $300 is going to be as good. And what else you can find used may not be much better. This could well be a better value than a used Deering Goodtime open back. The neck has a truss rod and a true fingerboard.

Jul 28, 2021 - 10:10:14 AM
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2670 posts since 12/31/2005

Looks like the owner wrote his Google password down on the shelf and then published it. Hmmm . . . . For $300 I'd have him thrown in the desk chair. Score!

Aug 3, 2021 - 8:15:15 AM

28 posts since 3/2/2021

UPDATE:I thought it sold, but now it's available again for $180!

I'll likely go look at it this weekend.

Aug 3, 2021 - 8:26:58 AM

Bart Veerman

Canada

5023 posts since 1/5/2005

quote:
Originally posted by automattack

UPDATE:I thought it sold, but now it's available again for $180!

I'll likely go look at it this weekend.


run Matt run!

Aug 5, 2021 - 6:20:44 PM

74 posts since 5/20/2020

quote:
Originally posted by automattack

Since repairing an Appalachian banjo earlier this year, I've been casually looking for a banjo to learn on. I'm a long-time guitar player rooted in various styles of rock music.

So that said, I found a Univox banjo for sale near me. The price is well within my budget. I assume it's made in the 70s... but I can't seem to find anything on open-back Univox banjos.
 

I guess my questions are:

  1. Is this a good price for this banjo?
  2. Would it be a good banjo to learn on?
  3. What I should look for when going to look at it?
  4. Is there anything else I should know?

seems good from the picture. The thickness of the wood ring and number of flat pulls was thing back then.

Aug 6, 2021 - 5:45:38 PM
Players Union Member

Helix

USA

14498 posts since 8/30/2006

24 flat hooks, hex shoes, even thickness to the nicely rounded bottom edge of the rim.  People glue cookies in the peghead and recut the shape. 

It looks like a one piece neck.

I think I see two rim rods. 

Look down the neck from the peghead to the heel and check for twist.

My wife has the same neck on her Madiera by Guild.

I have a practice neck I've done everything to, new inlays and all.

Those necks are cut upside down with the peghead flat, thus the 90 degree cut.

Banjo necks have characteristic and unique champher.

But this is a good looking candidate. the rim is upgradeable later.

Happy Hunting, Buy the Banjo

Edited by - Helix on 08/06/2021 17:53:45

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