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How do I even start narrowing down options in the $1500-3000 range?

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Sep 17, 2021 - 9:01 AM
7 posts since 4/25/2021

Hey all, Long time lurker, first time poster. I spent a lot of the past year shifting playing from guitar to banjo, and finally feel like I'm capable enough at three finger to buy a banjo in the same price range as some of my nicer guitars. Just looking into what's out there, I'm totally overwhelmed. So many awesome looking instruments from so many cool builders. How do I even start narrowing it down and deciding what I want to buy?

A little more context: I prefer a bit mellower sort of a tone as opposed to something with really harsh attack. I'd be most interested in finding a good used option but can definitely spring for something new. The best banjo I've had a chance to play was a Deering Hartford model at the NAMM show a few years ago which I absolutely loved but the new ones are a bit out of my price range. Hartford is sort of my banjo playing idol, so I guess that tracks. I also enjoy playing one of my current cheaper banjos with a contact mic through my pedalboard and getting weird from time to time.

Anyway, I guess if anyone has any suggestions on how to narrow down the search or any particular builders or styles to look at, that'd be fantastic. Happy picking, all.

Sep 17, 2021 - 9:43:47 AM

ChunoTheDog

Canada

1031 posts since 8/9/2019

First step on narrowing the choices is to decide what tone you're after.

Used Hartford Deerings can be had in the 3k neighborhood.

Sep 17, 2021 - 10:20:22 AM
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RB3

USA

1096 posts since 4/12/2004

John Hartford used to play a Baldwin Model D. Model D and Model C Baldwins and Odes are good quality banjos and they often show used at prices that are within your stated budget.

Sep 17, 2021 - 10:54:40 AM
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Jbo1

USA

1050 posts since 5/19/2007

If you like the Hartford (it is a really nice banjo) what helps give it its distinctive tone is the Grenadillo tone ring. You can look for other banjos that have that type of tone ring.

Sep 17, 2021 - 11:00:34 AM

40 posts since 7/15/2013

Try to attend some jams and trade shows (pandemic willing) to get more hands-on experience. If you aren't in a huge rush try to attend something like IBMA so you could literally play dozens of models in a weekend. NAMM is fun but typically only Deering and Gold Tone bring a real selection.

Folks are typically more than willing to let you try their banjos if you are polite, though the difficult part for you will be the set-up as Hartford had a rather unique style and setup. I've liked some of the OME models i've had with their longer scale downtuned but ymmv. Best of luck

Sep 17, 2021 - 11:00:58 AM
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2704 posts since 12/31/2005

Your range will get you amazing choices. An excellent banjo can be set up to achieve different voices. Cheaper banjos are more limited. For example, listen to Bela Fleck's trusty old RB-75. Doesn't sound anything like Don Reno's 75. It's the setup and the players that make the difference. If you can be patient, there are some great deals that come up in the Classifieds here.

IMO, the best bang for the buck for pro level banjo is Tim Davis' stuff. Underpriced compared to the other top builders.

With what is available right now, here are a couple of good looking deals:

Frank Neat banjo    You don't say if the Hartford you played was a woodie (wood tone ring), but if you like that sound here is one from another great builder:  Hopkins Woodie
 

Sep 17, 2021 - 12:14:39 PM

7 posts since 4/25/2021

Awesome, guys. thanks so much for the tips. I'm definitely going to do some more research into what sorts of tone rings achieve different sorts of tones. That seems like a good starting point.

Sep 17, 2021 - 12:43:53 PM
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tstew

USA

80 posts since 7/6/2012

Rob Bishline will build anything you want. Great banjos built by a great guy. Check out his website. Lots of information and videos of his different models or he will custom build.

Sep 17, 2021 - 12:51:05 PM

557 posts since 6/2/2011

You may also contact Chris Sorenson from Companion Custom Banjos I have one of his woody models and the set up allows me to change the tone to a mellp tone or even a brighter tone which ever one I’m seeking at the time I change the heads from a to
Frosted, toa renaissance maybe even a fiberskin. and that also affects the outcome of tone.

Sep 17, 2021 - 2:35:14 PM

12274 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by tstew

Rob Bishline will build anything you want. Great banjos built by a great guy. Check out his website. Lots of information and videos of his different models or he will custom build.


I heard Danny Barnes live playing his Bishline, which I believe is a woody. He did a John Hartford song in each set. His voice and playing are perfectly suited to that.

Nit sure Bishline can build something for Danoverb's $3,000 budget. Maybe a $2495 Cimarron with a wood tone ring instead of metal could come in at $3K or less.

Edited by - Old Hickory on 09/17/2021 14:37:41

Sep 17, 2021 - 2:53:08 PM

683 posts since 11/21/2018

I will second (third?) a recommendation to talk with Rob Bishline. He was fantastic working with me, super communicative and pleasant to speak with on the phone or via emails. You can find my review of his work on my banjo in the BHO reviews archives.

Sep 17, 2021 - 3:02:15 PM

12274 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by danoverb

Anyway, I guess if anyone has any suggestions on how to narrow down the search or any particular builders or styles to look at, that'd be fantastic.


Suggesting ways for other people to spend their banjo money is my second favorite indoor sport!

As Brian already said, your budget gets you amazing choices. I'd say it gets you something from every manufacturer in the world. Some new, some used. But I think every maker is available to you. And so are choices in full weight metal or lighter weight wood tone rings.

I'm going to start with an off-the wall suggestion. If you really like the sound of a Deering Hartford, but can't afford the $4800-$5200 for a new one, you could buy a used Sierra -- preferably post 2010 with the fancy inlay -- for $1800 - $2200, and have someone make a wood tone ring -- maybe even out of grenadillo like the Hartford. Then sell the Deering '06 ring to recoup some of your investment.

Or just wait and jump on the best deal on a woody that comes along.

As others have said, it really depends on the sound you want.

If you want to sped closer to your $1500 (and up to $1800) you can get a new Gold Star GF100JD replica of JD Crowe's Bluegrass Album Band banjo (officially endorsed by JD Crowe, I believe) or the Gold Tone OB-3 Twanger version of this (marketed using JD's name without his official participation, I believe). These are imports.  You can also get used Ode Style C or D -- C for $1500 or less, D for $2000 or more. These were US-made in the 70s and early 80s.

$2000 to $3000 gets you used Greg Rich Era Gibson RB-250 and maybe RB-3. Several models of used Deering such as Maple Blossom (sometimes ever under $2K) and Calico. New and used Hatfield and Bishline will be in that range. Used Huber, Yates and Stelling.

All sorts of nameless Gibson copy parts banjos that might actually be good can be had for $1500. Under $2000 should get you a 1970s Gibson RB-250 in good condition. But why, when you can afford so much more?

Too many options to list or get more specific.

Sep 17, 2021 - 3:09:07 PM

12274 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by Brian Murphy

You don't say if the Hartford you played was a woodie (wood tone ring), but if you like that sound here is one from another great builder:  Hopkins Woodie


That is a great deal on the Hopkins! $100 less for cash. But local pickup only in Frederick, Maryland.

Sep 17, 2021 - 4:16:14 PM
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7 posts since 4/25/2021

quote:
Originally posted by Old Hickory
New and used Hatfield and Bishline will be in that range. Used Huber, Yates and Stelling. 

 

Such great advice, thanks gang!   But yea, this is sort of where I've been looking: used listings for some of the recognizable builders. This bishline in particular had my eye, thinking that the walnut rim would suit me better than maple:  https://reverb.com/item/42495097-bishline-patriot-2014

Sep 17, 2021 - 4:27:29 PM

2704 posts since 12/31/2005

quote:
Originally posted by danoverb
quote:
Originally posted by Old Hickory
New and used Hatfield and Bishline will be in that range. Used Huber, Yates and Stelling. 

 

Such great advice, thanks gang!   But yea, this is sort of where I've been looking: used listings for some of the recognizable builders. This bishline in particular had my eye, thinking that the walnut rim would suit me better than maple:  https://reverb.com/item/42495097-bishline-patriot-2014

 


I believe that has a tone hoop rather than tone ring.   Matter of preference, but a tone ring is more versatile in terms of setups.

Sep 17, 2021 - 5:14:30 PM
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14242 posts since 10/30/2008

Check this out, just listed in BHO Classifieds.

Standard disclaimer, I have nothing to do with this banjo.

banjohangout.org/classified/89221

Sep 17, 2021 - 7:27:08 PM

12274 posts since 6/2/2008

 danoverb:

What are the chances? A Hartford for $2500 plus shipping. If you want to spend less, make an offer.

See how easy it is for me to spend your money?

Sep 17, 2021 - 7:37:02 PM
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2704 posts since 12/31/2005

quote:

See how easy it is for me to spend your money?


Somebody should run for Congress

Sep 17, 2021 - 9:34 PM
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csrat

USA

865 posts since 9/14/2008

Don't make this too complicated. You know what you like, find it. Don't go all FOMO on this. You're buying a banjo, not marrying one. If your playing your banjo and come across one that suits you better, sell and buy. Don't let the "tone ring of Valhalla" or "magical fretboard of Sauramon" fog up your glasses. You like the sound of the wood tone ring? Great, get to looking. You like a radiused neck? Have at 'er!

Like the girls of online dating like to say, "You can always trade-up!"

 

PS: I really like the Hartford with the pop-off resonator, but they can be pricey and I wouldn't ever buy an instrument I couldn't lay my hands on first. So maybe I'll end up with one, maybe I won't. Till then, my Alvarez, Epiphone and a few others are fine company.

Edited by - csrat on 09/17/2021 21:45:15

Sep 18, 2021 - 10:14:05 AM

14242 posts since 10/30/2008

NOTE: Re: the Hartford banjo that I mentioned that appeared so fortuitously during this thread. Member "35planar" has identified the poster of that ad as a scammer!  https://www.banjohangout.org/topic/377828.   I don't know anything about "35planar" but I thought I should mention it here in this thread.  Perhaps a Moderator would speak to this?

I too was recently contacted by a suspected scammer after I posted a Want ad for a certain model of banjo on BHO Classifieds.

I guess we who identify that we "want" a certain banjo have to be mighty careful when one turns up.

I'm sorry I posted the link now.

Edited by - The Old Timer on 09/18/2021 10:19:11

Sep 18, 2021 - 11:09:01 AM

1 posts since 12/1/2019

Same situation here. One thing is for sure, you have to try out as many as you can to compare sound then narrow it down. I pay attention to the way the neck feels too. It just gets down to what sound suits you.

Sep 18, 2021 - 1:24:26 PM

7 posts since 4/25/2021

quote:
Originally posted by The Old Timer

NOTE: Re: the Hartford banjo that I mentioned that appeared so fortuitously during this thread. Member "35planar" has identified the poster of that ad as a scammer!  https://www.banjohangout.org/topic/377828.   I don't know anything about "35planar" but I thought I should mention it here in this thread.  Perhaps a Moderator would speak to this?

I too was recently contacted by a suspected scammer after I posted a Want ad for a certain model of banjo on BHO Classifieds.

I guess we who identify that we "want" a certain banjo have to be mighty careful when one turns up.

I'm sorry I posted the link now.


 

Thanks for the flag. I noticed that listing seemed a little too good on the timing, so glad I didn't get too far with it

Sep 22, 2021 - 5:33:26 AM
Players Union Member

Helix

USA

14592 posts since 8/30/2006

I prefer a bit mellower sort of a tone as opposed to something with really harsh attack.

danoverb: where are you.  Welcome to the hangout.

Your sentence up above is the beginning of your specs.  You don''t know what your specs. are yet. 

I volunteer at an acoustic music showcase, we see traveling and touring bluegrass.

The "Remedy" banjos with wooden exotics used as tone rings are "TINNY" to my ear on stage or through a PA.

They avoid bronze weight by offering you hype and their stance as opposed to others.  They are competing. 

I suggest you look at the whole banjos from the rim on up and how the parts as assembled will perform for you.

A 3-ply rim is now being bullied as the industry standard.  In concert, I've seen limitations to tone and volume whatever strings and set up you will choose.

Attack = Snap

Sustain = Crackle

Decay = Pop

Old Time is Dry.  Bluegrass is wet.  This means you control your own sound with these three variables


 


Edited by - Helix on 09/22/2021 05:35:21

Sep 22, 2021 - 3:41:50 PM

111 posts since 7/22/2012

Since looking at Bishline models, why not call Rob, tell him what you're thinking, and see what he thinks could be done within your price range. He will definitely tell you what he thinks is realistic one way or the other. (Number is at the bottom of the Bishline Banjos site.)

Sep 22, 2021 - 5:19:34 PM

6264 posts since 10/13/2007

Play them and see what is comfortable and what sounds good.
ken

Sep 23, 2021 - 5:44:08 AM
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34 posts since 7/16/2013

When I bought my Deering Sierra about 10 years ago, it was essentially Deering's entry level professional model. Just about everything else up the price curve used the same essential components, and pretty much added embellishments that, while visually attractive, didn't add much to tone and playability. Not sure that is still the case, so others with more current knowledge should weigh in. That said, I don't see any reason to upgrade from the Sierra, especially after an extraordinary setup and fret replacement by Mike Munford. It's tone and playability match or exceed any other banjo I've played, regardless of price. In the end, however, once you get into the $2000+ range, setup and player seem to make the real difference.

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