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Aug 2, 2021 - 6:30:01 PM
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timacn

USA

571 posts since 7/30/2004

I like the sound of "mountain banjos." They are interesting looking, primitive, inexpensive, and accessible.

In terms of sound quality, one could argue, however, (and I do) that they take a back seat to more technically/technologically sophisticated banjos made by master luthiers and designers.

But the "mountain banjo" is still around and is still popular. What is the attraction? Is it sort of analogous to the attraction of using a black powder muzzleloader to hunt with instead of a modern repeating rifle? Or using a 1950s Danelectro guitar instead of the latest cutting edge /Fender?

I'm curious.

Aug 2, 2021 - 6:59:05 PM
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1074 posts since 1/26/2011

I think you answered your own question! smiley

I have friends that only play tube style amps. And other friends that only want vinyl albums, with the associated cracks and pops. I know a guy that won’t touch a powered wood splitter. And another that loves to build furniture only using hand tools. I own a 1976 MGB filled with Lucas electrical parts that marks its territory with 20w50 motor oil. I believe it’s about love for the classic more than anything else.

Edited by - jdeluke137 on 08/02/2021 18:59:33

Aug 2, 2021 - 6:59:32 PM

61 posts since 5/8/2021

If you like the sound, then isn't that enough? I don't understand needing to analyze it further.

I love finding recordings of Baroque music played by period ensembles, even though they're playing REALLY primitive instruments by today's standards. I think sometimes that we need to be reminded that not everything needs or should sound like a Mastertone.

Aug 2, 2021 - 7:08:28 PM

Heady

USA

108 posts since 4/25/2021

I was really attracted to the mellow sound, but opted for a more basic open back since I'm a newb. More how-to stuff newbs need out there for a less exotic mass manufactured starter banjo.

But the sound ?? those mountain banjos are divine imo.

Aug 2, 2021 - 7:45:33 PM
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675 posts since 8/14/2018

Given that any ‘mountain banjo’ you buy today may have actually been made by a skilled woodworker, with a modern head, whether hide or synthetic, modern strings, etc. it isn’t necessarily less technically sophisticated than any other kind of banjo.

Aug 2, 2021 - 7:48:09 PM

240 posts since 12/10/2008

I'm actually really wanting one right now myself for several reasons. One I like the way they sound but I am also attracted to them because of their unique design and there is a bit of mystery around them because they are pretty much unique to a certain area of Appalachia and nobody knows definitively when or who was the first person to come up with the design I find that interesting. It is also a type of 5 string banjo I have never owned an example of. There are a lot of great contemporary builders but I would really love to own an actual pre revival mountain banjo that is still playable.

Aug 2, 2021 - 11:26:26 PM
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Oldtimian

Czech Republic

49 posts since 5/26/2019

I can answer your question as a big fan of mountain banjos, up to the point that I am not interested in any other kind of banjos... For me, mountain banjos is fully adult instrument, not only some bizzare ofshoot of banjo family.

Yes, they can be primitive, inexpensive and accessible, but that applies for any other banjo type. Openback, resonator, gourd or tackhead can be made primitive and cheap or more proffesional and expensive and that gives its sound and comfort for playing.

Original mountain banjos were made mostly out of neccesity. People of Appalachia knew how banjo should sound, how does it work and how it looks. If not from personal experience, then they seen it in cataloques and so. But some of them were too poor to order professionaly build openback, so they used what skills, tools and materials they had and built their own banjo. Sometimes they were very skilled, sometimes less skilled and therefore their banjos reflected it. Some old banjos are very well built, some are very primitive. Mostly they were happy to have just any kind of banjo, regardless of quality of sound from today perspective.

There is no really set standard for what is mountain banjo. There are so many types, shapes, construction styles. There is more common and known type that is considered THE mountain banjo, but that is only tip of an iceberg. For me, any homemade banjo made in Appalachia (talking about old banjos) could be considered "mountain banjo" regardless if it is round, hexagonal, octagonal, rectangular or what other shape. Regardless of if head is stretched over tin pot, tacked to top or if it have skin head at all (wooden top banjos). I know many will not agree with me, but I think that "mountain banjo" term is for quite wide array of homemade banjos, not only one style of how it is build...

I kinda went off original trail, so back to it. For sound - it is what it is and that depends on how its builder makes it and what materials he will use. That count of ANY banjo type. You can have very cheap bluegrass resonator banjo that sound like sh... and you can have very expensive one with superb and balanced sound. Many mountain banjos have "primitive" and unbalanced sound, but well made (and therefore expenisve) banjo can have adult, balanced tone that can compete with well made openback or resonator banjo. Of course it will alway keep it own typical sound and only matters if player likes that sound or not. Same reason why some choose openback and some choose resonator banjos, it all depends on what you preffer...

Nice example of expensive nowdays mountain banjos with adult, balanced tone are banjos made by Ryan Navey from Carolina Banjo Company. He got his unique style of construction, uses quality materials and get high quality sound.

Carolina Banjo Company

But I believe there are more talented mountain banjo builders who can make high quality banjo (by todays standards). For example Noah Cline have some beautiful sounding banjos... But that will always depends on their own approach and of course how expensive it wil be - as for any other banjo or instrument in general...

Aug 3, 2021 - 4:38:14 AM

339 posts since 1/26/2020

I have a gourd and a mountain banjo (both made by Clif) and I would attest that they're the most similar to a minstrel era banjo, without the minstrel banjo pricetag. I have a Dobson 1867, and those are becoming expensive. You get the same lovely minstrel era tone in a mountain banjo, for about 1/5th the price. Plus, I like playing a banjo with zero neck angle. Most modern banjos aren't built that way.

Blaine

Edited by - tbchappe on 08/03/2021 04:39:07

Aug 3, 2021 - 5:05:17 AM

YellowSkyBlueSun

Virgin Islands (U.S.)

363 posts since 5/11/2021

quote:
Originally posted by timacn

In terms of sound quality, one could argue, however, (and I do) that they take a back seat to more technically/technologically sophisticated banjos made by master luthiers and designers.


Define "sound quality" and "sophisticated". It seems like you're conbnfusing subjective preferences with objective facts. As far as I can tell, mountain banjos sound great and the design isn't any less sophisticated than most other banjos. I'm open to hearing why I'm wrong though. 

Aug 3, 2021 - 5:07:28 AM
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csacwp

USA

2906 posts since 1/15/2014
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quote:
Originally posted by tbchappe

I have a gourd and a mountain banjo (both made by Clif) and I would attest that they're the most similar to a minstrel era banjo, without the minstrel banjo pricetag. I have a Dobson 1867, and those are becoming expensive. You get the same lovely minstrel era tone in a mountain banjo, for about 1/5th the price. Plus, I like playing a banjo with zero neck angle. Most modern banjos aren't built that way.

Blaine


I don't think mountain banjos sound anything like the early banjos played by professional minstrels. Those banjos had 12" - 15" pots and tended to have long scale lengths. They are incredibly loud/powerful when set up properly and are brighter than modern players let on. 

As for mountain banjos, while some certainly do like the way they sound, I think nostalgia is one of the main driving factors behind their appeal today. 

Edited by - csacwp on 08/03/2021 05:08:44

Aug 3, 2021 - 5:11:06 AM

339 posts since 1/26/2020

quote:
Originally posted by YellowSkyBlueSun
quote:
Originally posted by timacn

In terms of sound quality, one could argue, however, (and I do) that they take a back seat to more technically/technologically sophisticated banjos made by master luthiers and designers.


Define "sound quality" and "sophisticated". It seems like you're conbnfusing subjective preferences with objective facts. As far as I can tell, mountain banjos sound great and the design isn't any less sophisticated than most other banjos. I'm open to hearing why I'm wrong though. 


Though I'm not the one that answered it, I can say that modern banjos are more complicated to make, ie the necessity of machined or cast metal parts, and some that use specially designed tone rings. 

If a bright and crisp sound is the desired "sophisticated" sound of one's banjo, then yeah, a mountain banjo would be "primitive."

Just my 2 cents. 

Blaine

Aug 3, 2021 - 5:44:04 AM

339 posts since 1/26/2020

quote:
Originally posted by csacwp
quote:
Originally posted by tbchappe

I have a gourd and a mountain banjo (both made by Clif) and I would attest that they're the most similar to a minstrel era banjo, without the minstrel banjo pricetag. I have a Dobson 1867, and those are becoming expensive. You get the same lovely minstrel era tone in a mountain banjo, for about 1/5th the price. Plus, I like playing a banjo with zero neck angle. Most modern banjos aren't built that way.

Blaine


I don't think mountain banjos sound anything like the early banjos played by professional minstrels. Those banjos had 12" - 15" pots and tended to have long scale lengths. They are incredibly loud/powerful when set up properly and are brighter than modern players let on. 

As for mountain banjos, while some certainly do like the way they sound, I think nostalgia is one of the main driving factors behind their appeal today. 


The pot size is a good point. And I definitely don't dispute the power and shear volume of those minstrel banjos. They do have a similar hollow tone to each compared to a later classical era banjo , or the "old- time" banjos that people play these days. It was really the best analogy I could make based on what I've played. 

That's a good excuse to get my hands on a 13" minstrel banjo. 

Blaine

Aug 3, 2021 - 6:57:26 AM
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1498 posts since 5/19/2018

You answered your own question in your own post.

As someone who shoots flintlocks, drive a vintage sports car, and reads books, like in paper made books, it’s a form of perceived nostalgia or creative anachronism.

Or maybe it’s just fun once in a while.

The old original ones are a testament to mankind’s ability to innovate. I personally do not equate or compare mountain banjos to contemporary manufactured instruments. They are their own thing and beautiful in their own right.

Aug 3, 2021 - 7:03:49 AM
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1805 posts since 7/4/2009

quote:
Originally posted by jdeluke137

I think you answered your own question! smiley

I have friends that only play tube style amps. And other friends that only want vinyl albums, with the associated cracks and pops. I know a guy that won’t touch a powered wood splitter. And another that loves to build furniture only using hand tools. I own a 1976 MGB filled with Lucas electrical parts that marks its territory with 20w50 motor oil. I believe it’s about love for the classic more than anything else.


In the case of vinyl, some people are no doubt drawn to it purely by nostalgia (even for artifacts like cracks and pops), but vinyl is still considered the audiophile medium because its technical limitations ( too much bass can bump the needle out of place, and too much high end can destroy the printing needle when creating a record) prevent the maxed-out audio and dynamic range compression that's often used on CDs and digital media.

Similarly, I think other than nostalgia, so-called mountain banjos are popular for people looking for a different or possibly, real or imagined, more authentic sound for a certain type of music.

Aug 3, 2021 - 11:50:29 AM

509 posts since 2/8/2003

I wanted a kick around fretless to play on. I’ll take it anywhere, except a jam. My DIL thought it was for my grand daughter. I laughed over that, no hon, it’s a real grown up banjo.

Edited by - JollyRogers on 08/03/2021 11:50:45

Aug 7, 2021 - 10:47:43 PM

1824 posts since 4/10/2005

There's been lovely, haunting music made on this banjo config. On the other hand, it's undeniable that Mountain banjos (along with gourds, minstrels, and Dobsons) are having a Moment with a certain subspecies of old-time hipster. They're often bearded retro bois simpering around in little Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn outfits. How sufferable this particular sub-species may be, as opposed to insufferable, will just have to be one of those imponderables.

Edited by - ceemonster on 08/07/2021 22:50:43

Aug 8, 2021 - 5:46:58 AM

339 posts since 1/26/2020

quote:
Originally posted by ceemonster

There's been lovely, haunting music made on this banjo config. On the other hand, it's undeniable that Mountain banjos (along with gourds, minstrels, and Dobsons) are having a Moment with a certain subspecies of old-time hipster. They're often bearded retro bois simpering around in little Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn outfits. How sufferable this particular sub-species may be, as opposed to insufferable, will just have to be one of those imponderables.


Not sure how I feel about this. I just thought they sounded really good the first time I heard a minstrel Dobson.

 Even when I record myself on YouTube (for my own posterity) I'm wearing gym shorts and playing a Dobson 1867. 
 I suppose that's only circumstantial, though, not meant to insult.

Edited by - tbchappe on 08/08/2021 05:48:40

Aug 8, 2021 - 7:33:40 AM

1824 posts since 4/10/2005

:)

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