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Jan 15, 2022 - 5:54:54 AM

DWFII

USA

70 posts since 1/9/2022
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In many respects it is hard for a newbies to sort out all the banjos and makers on the market. I know names like Gibson and Deering are well respected. But for some reason I had this notion that Gold Tone,  Recording King and Gold Star were Asian knock offs and often compromised in tone and build quality. 

Yet I see used Gold Tones in the Marketplace selling right at the same price level as Deerings and so forth. Clearly price is not an indicator of quality.

On the other hand, the other day I followed a link down a rabbit hole and came across Pisgah Banjos, I particularly like their Possum model but probably for all the wrong reasons. I really like their use of Persimmon--which among some woodworkers is known as American Ebony.  Might be my dream banjo. On the other hand, I seldom see Pisgah Banjos mentioned or being sold in the Marketplace  (two there now). I suspect that might be because they ar a new company (relatively speaking) , don't produce many per year or are so highly regarded that people hang on to them.

If someone were looking to buy a used  (or even new) banjo, what should a person be looking for? Aside from history, blue sky and vintage cachet, IOW?  Is there a list or some way/where banjos are ranked or reviewed for build quality and tone? Or just somehow to know which makes are "dream worthy"?

Jan 15, 2022 - 6:39:33 AM

BobbyE

USA

2996 posts since 11/29/2007
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>>But for some reason I had this notion that Gold Tone, Recording King and Gold Star were Asian knock offs and often compromised in tone and build quality.<<

A few months back before I bought a Vintage Gold Star I was considering a new one of the brands you mentioned. They may be Asian but they are not 'knockoffs,' given the negative understanding of the word.  I don't know of any lists that rank banjos.  There are plenty of YouTube videos one can consider,  reviews on the HO of banjos, many posts by people who have just acquired a particular banjo and want folks to know about it, and the list goes on.  Most music stores are online and it is easy enough to learn about good banjos by reputable companies from them.  Elderly Music is a good one to check out.  Again, a lot of resources to learn the truth behind the brands you mention and also those you didn't. 

Bobby



 

Edited by - BobbyE on 01/15/2022 06:48:42

Jan 15, 2022 - 6:56:48 AM
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4074 posts since 5/29/2011

Gold Tone and Recording King make some lower end banjos but their higher end instruments are as good as they come. They are not compromised in quality. Gold Star banjos made in China are not as well respected as the older ones made in Japan but they are still nothing to sneeze at.
However, you mentioned the Pisgah banjo as being one that caught your eye. Pisgah banjos are made for Old Time playing. Are you looking for a clawhammer banjo? If so, then the Pisgah would probably be better than anything you can get from the three makers you mentioned. If you are looking for a Bluegrass banjo the Pisgah won't quite fit the bill. It was made for a whole different sound.

Jan 15, 2022 - 7:12:44 AM

DWFII

USA

70 posts since 1/9/2022
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quote:
Originally posted by BobbyE

Elderly Music is a good one to check out.  Again, a lot of resources to learn the truth behind the brands you mention and also those you didn't. 

Thanks for your time. I have visited Elderly and was impressed by the selection. But again, I feel like I'm looking at 'Banjo Porn," as who should say. Pretty pictures but no way of knowing what is really and truly magic. Not even weight...which may or may not be a significant consideration but interests me. Lot of 'brands' that I have never heard of (but then I'd never heard of Deering until recently) and seemingly nothing except name or maybe age to distinguish them.

i am drawn to Pisgah because I have a smattering of knowledge about wood and love the idea of persimmon and native woods. But even there it's a bit superficial, isn't it.

Jan 15, 2022 - 7:42:24 AM
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BobbyE

USA

2996 posts since 11/29/2007
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Well Mark made a good point as to what type of banjo music you are wanting to play. I agree that Pisgah's are more for old-time banjo playing that what would usually be chosen for bluegrass. That is not to say that both styles could not be played on either, just won't give the sound that is normally associated with it. I would suggest keep reading and go to the YouTube channel and just search for >banjos< or whatever type of banjo music that you are most interested in and put in a search for that. And yes, most players are looking for a certain sound and they select a wood that is most likely to reproduce that sound. Just liking a particular wood for no other reason than liking it is probably not high on their list. The more you learn the music and the instrument, the more refined you likes and not-likes will become.

Bobby

Jan 15, 2022 - 8:02:16 AM
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4228 posts since 10/13/2005

" I seldom see Pisgah Banjos mentioned or being sold in the Marketplace (two there now). I suspect that might be because they ar a new company (relatively speaking) , don't produce many per year or are so highly regarded that people hang on to them."

I am guessing that you don't find many Pisgah banjos for sale because they are actually quite successful high quality banjos that people hang on to. I believe they make quite a few banjos per year but I am suspecting that is direct from them to customers without using a middle man store in-between. Maybe someone here actually knows. banjered

Jan 15, 2022 - 8:11 AM

DWFII

USA

70 posts since 1/9/2022
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quote:
Originally posted by banjered

" I seldom see Pisgah Banjos mentioned or being sold in the Marketplace (two there now). I suspect that might be because they ar a new company (relatively speaking) , don't produce many per year or are so highly regarded that people hang on to them."

I am guessing that you don't find many Pisgah banjos for sale because they are actually quite successful high quality banjos that people hang on to. I believe they make quite a few banjos per year but I am suspecting that is direct from them to customers without using a middle man store in-between. Maybe someone here actually knows. banjered


Thanks.

I kind of figured the same thing. I am trying to learn clawhammer (I have no desire  (or talent) to play in public or in a band).  So I am looking for an old time sound mostly to amuse myself on the front porch. I have a really good banjo...better than I am worthy of. My only reservation is that it is heavy and a little loud/brassy. I may...when I learn enough to not be taking potshots in the dark... go to a new tailpiece and nylgut strings. And maybe, eventually, and the crik don't rise, look for another banjo that is more suited to that style.

Jan 15, 2022 - 9:12:35 AM
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1705 posts since 2/9/2007

a quick few off the top of my head:

bloomsbanjos.com/

enochbanjos.weebly.com/#/

rickardbanjos.com/

Bart Reiter has retired, but made a lot of good ones. Worth a look if you see one for sale.

romerobanjos.com/ -- ....if you can wait 5+ years...!

Jan 15, 2022 - 9:28:41 AM

175 posts since 1/7/2019
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Stone banjo makes some nice ones as will and they seem to be priced a little more reasonably. Look up banjo lemonade on YT. She has had 2 of them, I believe and she does a nice review of her most recent custom banjo.

Just another thought.

Jeff

Jan 15, 2022 - 9:48:44 AM
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37 posts since 12/23/2019

I highly recommend Zack Hoyt. His work is really nice, and his banjos sound good. He uses a variety of wood to make a few "stock" banjos, or will make 1 to your specs. His prices are very reasonable. Give him a look.

Jan 15, 2022 - 10:00:14 AM

1705 posts since 2/9/2007

Jan 15, 2022 - 10:08:41 AM

4074 posts since 5/29/2011

A heavy, resonator style banjo is more for Bluegrass music and three finger picking. If you are wanting to learn clawhammer style then some good suggestions have been made. I might also add Mark Hickler to the list of people who make fine Old Time banjos. He is based in Arizona and is a member here. He uses a variety of woods which might appeal to you.

http://hicklerbanjo.com

Edited by - Culloden on 01/15/2022 10:10:01

Jan 15, 2022 - 10:33:05 AM
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DWFII

USA

70 posts since 1/9/2022
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Thanks, lads. Some nice looking banjos there.

While tone and build quality are important, looks must have something to do with it. Of all the banjos I've seen...on Elderly or Marketplace or in these links, the Pisgah still looks the best to me. I dunno why. Tbh, I'm so new and clueless, with no other real standards for comparison,  I guess I'm just 'window shopping.' 

Jan 15, 2022 - 10:39:03 AM
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377 posts since 4/14/2014
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I have to second Zachary Hoyt. He uses persimmon a bit as well. He is extremely nice, patient, and his banjos are worth every penny. He also has a prodigious output for just one guy. I know he is in the middle of a move right now, but still, I recommend reaching out. I have a number of builds he made for me. They are all different, all wonderful, and all clearly from Zach's hands.

Jan 15, 2022 - 10:44:19 AM

91 posts since 12/27/2019

Consider Pisgah especially for their spunover rim models. They own that niche as far as the quality/value spectrum goes.

Jan 15, 2022 - 10:52:35 AM

DWFII

USA

70 posts since 1/9/2022
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quote:
Originally posted by Silver_Falls

Consider Pisgah especially for their spunover rim models. They own that niche as far as the quality/value spectrum goes.


What does "spunover rim" mean? and how does it differ grom other rims?  I know nothing about rims...nothing.

Jan 15, 2022 - 11:21:34 AM

129 posts since 10/3/2012

I would suggest you head out to as many physical music stores as are in your area, and actually play some banjos. If you playing isn’t as good as you would like, you can ask someone in the store to play it for you so you can hear what it is capable of. You can still pick it up, do what you can and see how it feels to you. Sound may be paramount, but feel isn’t far behind. Looks come in third, at least in my book, and I like bling as much as the next guy.

Jan 15, 2022 - 11:58:52 AM

4868 posts since 5/9/2007

IMHO, I say go with the Pisgah Possum.
I owned one in the past and was not disappointed.

The persimmon tone ring gives a wonderful tone.

Jan 15, 2022 - 11:59:39 AM

91 posts since 12/27/2019

quote:
Originally posted by DWFII
quote:
Originally posted by Silver_Falls

Consider Pisgah especially for their spunover rim models. They own that niche as far as the quality/value spectrum goes.


What does "spunover rim" mean? and how does it differ grom other rims?  I know nothing about rims...nothing.


Means the rim has a metal sheath around it.  May be in steel, brass, copper.  See the "Rambler" and "Rambler Special" models on the Pisgah website for examples.

Jan 15, 2022 - 12:02 PM

DWFII

USA

70 posts since 1/9/2022
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quote:
Originally posted by mrphysics55

IMHO, I say go with the Pisgah Possum.
I owned one in the past and was not disappointed.

The persimmon tone ring gives a wonderful tone.


Thanks for the reply. Will you tell me what made you choose the Possum and what you liked about it once you started playing it regularly?

Jan 15, 2022 - 12:04:17 PM

DWFII

USA

70 posts since 1/9/2022
Online Now

quote:
Originally posted by Silver_Falls
quote:
Originally posted by DWFII
quote:
Originally posted by Silver_Falls

Consider Pisgah especially for their spunover rim models. They own that niche as far as the quality/value spectrum goes.


What does "spunover rim" mean? and how does it differ grom other rims?  I know nothing about rims...nothing.


Means the rim has a metal sheath around it.  May be in steel, brass, copper.  See the "Rambler" and "Rambler Special" models on the Pisgah website for examples.

 

 


Thank you. How does that differ from other rims? I believe my Hartford has a metal rim...??? Or am I simply confused?

Edited by - DWFII on 01/15/2022 12:10:33

Jan 15, 2022 - 12:29:19 PM

4868 posts since 5/9/2007

quote:
Originally posted by DWFII
quote:
Originally posted by mrphysics55

IMHO, I say go with the Pisgah Possum.
I owned one in the past and was not disappointed.

The persimmon tone ring gives a wonderful tone.


Thanks for the reply. Will you tell me what made you choose the Possum and what you liked about it once you started playing it regularly?


You are welcome. I'm happy to respond.

Years ago I picked up an early Patrick Heavner build (SN 6 ?). It was produced  during his college days in Boone, NC. It was a "woody". Fit and finish were a bit lacking but it had a great tone and a smooth feel in my hands. The action and intonation were both very good.

His skills have only continued to improve as evidenced by his Pisgah instruments.


The Possum is another great example of a woody tone ring openback. As you know the Possum utilities locally sourced persimmon in the tone ring as well as the fretboard. Once again he nailed my preferred action. The intonation was great ... and this time excellent fit and finish.

Good luck and enjoy your quest.

Edited by - mrphysics55 on 01/15/2022 12:30:09

Jan 15, 2022 - 2:20:28 PM

12575 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by DWFII
How does that differ from other rims? I believe my Hartford has a metal rim...??? Or am I simply confused?

What "Hartford" banjo do you have? A Deering John Hartford?  That has a wood rim. And is a very high-end instrument. Is there some Asian-made aluminum-rimmed beginner's instrument called a Hartford?

Anyway, as others have said, the type of banjo music you want to play will drive the type of banjo you should buy. Since you're talking about clawhammer, that implies an open back.

Gold Tone and Recording King, while both making some open back beginner instruments that are not "knock offs of anything also make well-respected open-back instuments for all levels of old-time/clawhammer players on a budget. I believe those would include the Gold Tone "Bob Carlin" and "White Ladye" models and the Recording King RK-OT25 ("OT" for "old time").  These are not as elegant as the other models discussed above, but they get the job done.

If a Pisgah or another instrument with interesting wood and artistic aesthetics appeals to you, by all means get that.

Saga never made a low-end Gold Star, and while all Gold Stars were copies of certain Gibson banjos, it would be unfair to call them "knock offs." The original Gold Stars were every bit as good as -- if not better than -- what Gibson was producing at the time. The Gold Stars were all bluegrass banjos, so not what you're looking at anyway.

Jan 15, 2022 - 4:04:50 PM

DWFII

USA

70 posts since 1/9/2022
Online Now

Yes, it is  Deering John Hartford. And I know it is a very high end banjo. Someone here called it a "Hartford" in responding to another post. So I did not think it would confuse anyone to call it a Hartford myself. 

That said, despite having come with an illustrated brochure depicting the parts, I, frankly, still do not know what a "rim" is.  After looking at the Pisgah site, I am assuming it is the bottom edge of the pot (?)

In fact, tbh, despite those illustrations, I am not sure what or where the 'tone ring' is. For a while I think I was confusing the tension hoop with the tone ring.

I'll get it, eventually (I hope). In the meantime, please accept my apologies for any exasperation or impatience I might cause.

Jan 15, 2022 - 6:06:37 PM

1573 posts since 4/29/2013

Rim is just another name for the "pot," typically the wooden shell portion of the banjo body. The tone ring sets on the top edge of the rim, and the head rests on that. 

Banjos with a wooden or with no tone ring are usually lightest, unless a thick (as in wall thickness) wooden rim (of a dense wood) and lots of heavy metal hardware is used. 

Maybe it's the simple/plain yet attractive aesthetic that draws you to the Pisgahs? I get it, as I've had that, too. Well, with several banjos. 
 

Jan 15, 2022 - 6:12:28 PM
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170 posts since 12/7/2007

I would add Cedar Mountain to the list of respected makers of open back banjos. I’ve found CM’s Tim Gardner to be an excellent craftsman, and very helpful during the build process. And, again in my personal experience, his banjos are good sounding, high quality instruments. (I’m also a big fan of Zach Hoyt’s instruments, and agree wholeheartedly with comments relative to Zach and his banjos, above.)

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