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Jul 28, 2021 - 7:12:57 PM
35 posts since 7/26/2021

I have a background in guitar, so having removable parts (head, resonator, neck, etc) is pretty foreign to me. I've swapped out nuts, bridges, bridge pins, and strings on the guitar which, outside of the bridge pins I've been able to hear a difference, but being able to swap out more substantial parts like you can on the banjo seems to open up a world of possibilities.

I will be picking up an RK-R35 tomorrow (barring any unforeseen circumstances with the seller) but I prefer the sound of the RK-R36. The reason I went with the RK-R35 is that it was available, and for a what I think is a good price. Again, coming from a guitar background where there seems to be a limitless supply of used stock, it seems to me that you have to be quite a bit more patient with banjos, especially if you want a specific one. So I jumped at the opportunity to pick up the used RK-R35.

In any case, I know the RK-R36 has a mahogany resonator and neck, but I can't imagine the neck will have much of a discernable difference in sound (please correct me if I'm wrong). My question is, if I were to find a mahogany resonator that fits the RK-R35, would I be able to achieve a similar sound of the RK-R36?

Jul 28, 2021 - 7:29:25 PM
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61 posts since 5/8/2021

The only difference is in the outer veneer. I never thought that changing the resonator would have ANY influence on the sound.

Jul 28, 2021 - 7:36:04 PM

35 posts since 7/26/2021

quote:
Originally posted by struggle_bus

The only difference is in the outer veneer. I never thought that changing the resonator would have ANY influence on the sound.


I know they are completely different instruments so let me know if I'm totally wrong... With a guitar, the top (also known as the soundboard for the exact reason I'm talking about) has a HUGE impact on the sound of the instrument. With a resonator, I imagine the material the sound reflects off of on a banjo has a similar effect. Or maybe it's more similar to the back and sides of a guitar, which most people think has less of an affect than the top. If that's the case, would the head have more of an affect on sound?

Edited by - Nathan E on 07/28/2021 19:37:47

Jul 28, 2021 - 7:50:37 PM

28 posts since 12/2/2020

in your original post you want to replace a mahogany resonator with a mahogany resonator? i assume you mean maybe a maple of harder wood, yeah sure, it changes, may not be as noticeable as you would like, i believe the bridge has the greatest effect on a banjo's sound, but all the parts together is what defines its sound, the same way a chain is only as strong as the weakest link, an instrument cannot surpass in tone whatever its weakest part is. everything has some small effect.

you can find plenty of informaton searching for the effect wood has on instrument/banjo sound. maple is bright, loud. mehogeny can be darker, or more round, walnut is something else, etc. you can do that to find you're sound, consider the banjo itself neck and even resonator as a motherboard of a computer, you can switch out parts, gpu, ram, etc, like the bridge and nut and head of a banjo different picks etc. but you'll always be limited by the power and open slots of your motherboard, that part has to be right. so make sure you get the neck and resonator you want i would say, you can build out from there......i would consider both of those vital, the reason is

some may say the neck is more vital to get the one you want for your sound, but from what we see with conversion banjos it seems the resonator matters more to many

Jul 28, 2021 - 7:59:14 PM

35 posts since 7/26/2021

quote:
Originally posted by 5thstring_retainer

in your original post you want to replace a mahogany resonator with a mahogany resonator? i assume you mean maybe a maple of harder wood, yeah sure, it changes, may not be as noticeable as you would like, i believe the bridge has the greatest effect on a banjo's sound, but all the parts together is what defines its sound, the same way a chain is only as strong as the weakest link, an instrument cannot surpass in tone whatever its weakest part is. everything has some small effect.

you can find plenty of informaton searching for the effect wood has on instrument/banjo sound. maple is bright, loud. mehogeny can be darker, or more round, walnut is something else, etc. you can do that to find you're sound, consider the banjo itself neck and even resonator as a motherboard of a computer, you can switch out parts, gpu, ram, etc, like the bridge and nut and head of a banjo different picks etc. but you'll always be limited by the power and open slots of your motherboard, that part has to be right. so make sure you get the neck and resonator you want i would say, you can build out from there......i would consider both of those vital, the reason is

some may say the neck is more vital to get the one you want for your sound, but from what we see with conversion banjos it seems the resonator matters more to many


Sorry if I wasn't clear, maybe I made a typo somewhere, or I have my specs wrong. The RK-R35 has a maple resonator and the RK-R36 has a mahogany one. I prefer the sound of the RK-R36, so I was wondering if using a mahogany resonator on the RK-R35 would achieve a similar sound as the RK-R36 since as you say, wood can have a large affect on the sound.

I'll have to tinker with the bridge. I assume the RK-R35 and RK-R36 have the same one, though I could be wrong. I thought everything was the same on them except the resonator and neck material.

Edited by - Nathan E on 07/28/2021 20:01:29

Jul 28, 2021 - 8:08:20 PM
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12153 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by Nathan E
quote:
Originally posted by struggle_bus

The only difference is in the outer veneer. I never thought that changing the resonator would have ANY influence on the sound.


With a guitar, the top (also known as the soundboard for the exact reason I'm talking about) has a HUGE impact on the sound of the instrument. With a resonator, I imagine the material the sound reflects off of on a banjo has a similar effect. 

 

Let's try again. Scott told you that the mahogany on the RK-36 is only the outer veneer. It may be only 1/16 or 3/32 inch thick. The rest of the wood is the exact same as the RK-35. The resonator creates an internal air chamber where sound bounces around and maybe it reflects sound forward. No part of the resonator is the banjo's soundboard. And the veneer on the backside is not going to produce any effect you can hear.

 

quote:
Originally posted by Nathan E
Or maybe it's more similar to the back and sides of a guitar, which most people think has less of an affect than the top. If that's the case, would the head have more of an affect on sound?

The head is the banjo's soundboard: its sound-producing vibrating surface. Because it is adjustable and replaceable, It has tremendous effect on the banjo's sound. Type of head and tightness of head are the variables you can change. The bridge is probably the next most important variable in the banjo's sound. Bridges are available in many different wood types and weights. Most bridges are maple of varying age, grain and maybe hardness. Tops are mostly ebony. But there are lots of choices.

As to your previous comment about necks not having an effect on sound -- well, when people talk about maple banjos being bright, mahogany banjos being warm, and walnut being somewhat in between, they're talking about the necks!  That's because experienced banjo players know that the resonator veneer is neutral. There's widespread belief that different neck woods vibrate differently and therefore impart different characteristics into the instrument's sound.

I'm not sure this belief has ever withstood scientific A-B blind tests.

You can achieve a lot of tonal change with heads, bridges, tailpieces, strings and picking hand. 

Good luck.

Jul 28, 2021 - 8:22:41 PM

35 posts since 7/26/2021

quote:
Originally posted by Old Hickory
You can achieve a lot of tonal change with heads, bridges, tailpieces, strings and picking hand. 

Good luck.


Ken, that was an excellent explanation. Thank you so much! I thought the head would be the guitar equivalent to the soundboard, which made my guitar brain a bit confused at the differences in sounds from banjo to banjo regarding the resonator. I wonder why the video I linked had such a drastic difference in sound. Maybe it's just a matter of some combination of tweaks. 

So what I'm gathering is that the resonator material doesn't matter as much as other factors when it comes to tone and sound. 

Again, thank you so much, this was very insightful.

EDIT: Scott, sorry I didn't understand your explanation of the resonator veneer, I thought you meant veneer in more of a metaphorical sense than literal. I didn't know that was the case. I'm so used to the guitars anatomy and the importance of solid wood. I was a bit confused about the rims and resonators being made using plys instead of solid wood, but after researching a bit it seems like it's very intentional that they aren't solid so the shape can stay consistent instead of changing with the weather, so it were. I didn't know the resonators simply used a veneer for asthetics.

Edited by - Nathan E on 07/28/2021 20:29:24

Jul 28, 2021 - 8:43:24 PM
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Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

25143 posts since 6/25/2005

Resonators are plywood, which greatly diminishes any sound differece….Except for the top-tension style resos that are carved and are flat, not curved, on the inside. One of those, particularly in maple, would definitely give you a different sound. Whether you’d prefer it is another question. I think that would be your best chance for a different sound.

Jul 28, 2021 - 9:00:29 PM

tonwil

USA

790 posts since 8/28/2011

ive often wondered whether the deepness of a resonator makes a difference. i have several banjos, the width of the resonator rims are different, up to and maybe over 1/4 inch. im talking about the width binding to binding. i dont think the kind of wood on the reso makes a lot of difference. plywood.

Jul 28, 2021 - 9:05:32 PM

35 posts since 7/26/2021

quote:
Originally posted by tonwil

ive often wondered whether the deepness of a resonator makes a difference. i have several banjos, the width of the resonator rims are different, up to and maybe over 1/4 inch. im talking about the width binding to binding. i dont think the kind of wood on the reso makes a lot of difference. plywood.


Ken had mentioned that what the resonator does is create an air chamber for the sound to bounce around in, so perhaps the area (depth and width) of a resonator affects sound in that way.

Jul 28, 2021 - 9:39:04 PM
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1196 posts since 1/9/2012

With a given resonator, you can change its distance below the flange. There are sophisticated ways to do that (e.g., "raejusters" invented by PhD physicist Jim Rae who worked for years at the Mayo Clinic and was chief technical consultant to Steve Huber on his upgrades). Or you can place washers on the mounting screws. That does, indeed, change the volume of the resonator, but it turns out that the bigger effect is how it changes the area of the sound hole, which on a resonator banjo, is the space between the resonator and the outside world.

HOWEVER, the big pay-offs (HUGE effects) are in swapping bridges, swapping or adjusting tailpieces, and swapping or adjusting heads. These are easy and relatively inexpensive.

Jul 28, 2021 - 9:45:27 PM

3920 posts since 5/29/2011

The depth of the resonator would make a difference in sound. The type of wood would make little difference as others have said.
The setup makes a substantial difference, head tightness, bridge thickness and weight, height of action, height of tailpiece, etc. An inexpensive banjo that is well set up can sound better than a good banjo that is set up poorly. Differences in picks and strings can play a pretty big part as well. And the player's technique can't be emphasized enough.
I used to tape a sheet of tin foil inside the resonator but now I spray the inside with clear lacquer to reflect sound.

Jul 28, 2021 - 9:46:20 PM
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YellowSkyBlueSun

Virgin Islands (U.S.)

363 posts since 5/11/2021

I've got $20 to anyone that can show that they can hear the difference between maple and mahogany in a series of blind sound tests. 

People talk a lot about the difference they perceive. And maybe they do perceive a difference, when they already know there is one. The mind is a powerful thing. But I've never seen anyone actually prove that they can hear the difference. I think it's just marketing, personally.

Edited by - YellowSkyBlueSun on 07/28/2021 21:50:21

Jul 28, 2021 - 9:50:51 PM
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12153 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by Nathan E
Ken had mentioned that what the resonator does is create an air chamber for the sound to bounce around in, so perhaps the area (depth and width) of a resonator affects sound in that way.

Resonator depth definitely makes a difference. So does the depth at which the pot sits in the resonator, which can increase or decrease the volume of the air chamber, the distance from the head to the inside back of the resonator, and the clearance between the bottom of the rim and inside back. All of these can affect the banjo's sound. But in what ways and to what degree, I have no idea.

Someone on the Hangout is selling Banjo Tone-Justers a new version of Jack Hatfield's out-of-production Raejusters resonator hardware that lets you raise and lower the pot relative to the resonator. 

I think Roger Siminoff has written about adjusting the air chamber. Hangout member David Politzer has done extensive scientific research on the physics of banjo sound. He posts new findings here from time to time.  Edited to add:  I see David Politzer himself entered this conversation while I was offline composing. And other people said some of the same things. I'm leaving my message up despite the redundancy.

This photo from Gill Manufacturing shows a cross section of Steve Gill's "modern construction" resonator. This is probably typical. Look at how thin the veneer is. This should make clear that a mahogany, walnut or curly maple resonator is not made of mahogany, walnut or curly maple. It's mostly poplar.

Here's Gill's "pre-war construction"  resonator. There's a thicker outer/finish sidewall layer. But the visible outer wood is still in no position to affect the sound.

Edited by - Old Hickory on 07/28/2021 21:54:11

Jul 28, 2021 - 10:47:43 PM
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Foote

USA

518 posts since 3/25/2009

I always thought dealing with my banjo's setup was like trying to figure out what was wrong with my golf swing. There are so many elements that effect the sound of a banjo (type of bridge wood, height of bridge, head tension, string height/action, neck and reso wood, depth of cavity, what type and gauge of strings, etc.) it was always a matter of try this and see how it sounds. My biggest recommendation to a new banjo player wanting to get into setup is to get a drum dial. After 30 plus years of doing my own setup and thinking I was pretty good. I got a dial (thanks to BHO info) and was amazed. None of my banjos heads were uniformly tightened to the exact same pressure. When they were, each banjo sounded definitely better in tone and volume. To get back to the original question, I would make changing the reso the last thing I would try to improve the sound. Like golf, enjoy the process or it will drive you nuts. (Oh and get Steve Huber's DVD on Killer Tone from a banjo)

Jul 28, 2021 - 11:51:21 PM
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Eric A

USA

1281 posts since 10/15/2019

It's your first banjo. Learn about head tightness and different bridges first. These have the greatest effect and are easiest to putz around with.

Jul 28, 2021 - 11:54:56 PM

Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

25143 posts since 6/25/2005

quote:
Originally posted by YellowSkyBlueSun

I've got $20 to anyone that can show that they can hear the difference between maple and mahogany in a series of blind sound tests. 

People talk a lot about the difference they perceive. And maybe they do perceive a difference, when they already know there is one. The mind is a powerful thing. But I've never seen anyone actually prove that they can hear the difference. I think it's just marketing, personally.

Yep.  I call it "hearing with your eyes."  True for a lot of claims about banjos.

Jul 28, 2021 - 11:58:24 PM
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Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

25143 posts since 6/25/2005

Trust me, a pro player could take your banjo and make it sound just great. Those players use Mastertones, but they’d sound wonderful with an RB-100.

Jul 29, 2021 - 4:03:07 AM
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13870 posts since 6/29/2005

quote:
Originally posted by Nathan E


In any case, I know the RK-R36 has a mahogany resonator and neck, but I can't imagine the neck will have much of a discernable difference in sound (please correct me if I'm wrong). My question is, if I were to find a mahogany resonator that fits the RK-R35, would I be able to achieve a similar sound of the RK-R36?


In actual fact, the neck has quite a bit more affect on the sound than the rim (despite popular opinion) , which is analogous to the sides of a guitar— on a banjo, the head, which produces the sound, is analogous to the top of the guitar .  All Gibson Mastertones had maple rims—differences in the sound of maple, walnut, and mahogany models of similar construction are a result of the differences in the neck.

With resonators, and I think this has been said, the, maple, walnut or mahogany veneer is extremely thin and the rest of the resonator is a lamination of (usually) poplar. The resonator is really a reflector, not a resonator, and returning to the guitar analogy, is akin to the back of a guitar.  I know what you are thinking, and rosewood is denser and a better reflector than mahogany in terms of guitar backs, affecting the perceived difference between rosewood and mahogany guitar sound. Changing the inside of a resonator, even the way it's finished, would have a greater effect than changing the outer veneer.

Jul 29, 2021 - 6:03:12 AM

3568 posts since 9/12/2016

Lined with poplar softens the high overtones --if the banjo is in need of it. I learned that by swapping a couple of them back and forth.My regular 5s like to be softened =--the low tuned baritone takes no notice. It has a harder wood inside.

Jul 29, 2021 - 7:40:40 AM

35 posts since 7/26/2021

Old Hickory thanks for pointing me to David's reasearch, and davidppp that is some awesome and in depth info that I'll have to take a while to digest.

Jul 29, 2021 - 9:00:07 AM
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13870 posts since 6/29/2005

You can mimic the effect of the flat-bottom resonators on the old top-tension Gibsons by gluing a thin pine or spruce disc inside the resonator. This works on any resonator and does improve the sound (IMO), while not adding any weight to speak of (the old flat bottom ones were heavy).

Jul 29, 2021 - 9:56:30 AM

heavy5

USA

1818 posts since 11/3/2016

Didn't Earl himself change out resonators untill he got the sound he wanted ?

Jul 29, 2021 - 12:00:39 PM
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68 posts since 12/12/2019

If you are new to banjo just make sure the setup is good and just play it. It's pretty hard to hear differences in tone due to wood type, especially if you are comparing what you are hearing online. Different mics for recording can make them sound different as well.

Jul 30, 2021 - 8:01:24 AM

13870 posts since 6/29/2005

There is a story in (I believe) "Masters of the 5-String Banjo" in which Bill Keith and Bob Yellin were both playing at some large festival type venue.

Yellin had his 1929 original 5-string RB-4, and Keith had his top tension with the flat inside resonators, both iconic banjos, both great players.

While they were waiting backstage they decided to switch resonators and see what would happen, and they did that and played for each other.

Both of them agreed that both banjos sounded better with the flat inside resonator.

Edited by - Ken LeVan on 07/30/2021 08:01:52

Jul 30, 2021 - 5:25:49 PM

216 posts since 3/2/2013

A lot of tone is produced by players who by experience have learned to do so. Experienced players with a good ear can generally make a bright maple banjo sound sweeter if they want it to than a beginner can on a sweeter sounding mahogany banjo. I agree with those who say most of your sound difference is the neck wood, bridge and head. The story Ken related in above post is more about focus or clarity or lack of clarity and focus when a flat bottom resonator verses concave is used. I different shaped bottom in my opinion won't make a maple banjo sound like a mahogony or vice versa. 

Edited by - brententz on 07/30/2021 17:35:25

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