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Intermediate banjo buying advice

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Jul 5, 2022 - 6:10:26 PM
1 posts since 4/5/2022

Hello all,

I begin playing banjo six months ago on an Oscar Schmidt by Washburn banjo. This banjo worked fine for my first six months of lessons, but now I’m joining a bluegrass band and plan to take these lessons a little more seriously.

Ultimately, the sound of this banjo is kind of weak, and the instrument is nothing to be impressed by. My banjo teacher help me install railroad spikes in it, and I’ve been using a gig bag as a case, as I have no hard case.

Locally, there are two used banjos up for sale. Both of these banjos are $300, and come with a hard case.

If you guys could help me by providing any feedback as to these banjos, or point me in a new direction, I would appreciate it.

My first option is a fender FB 58 deluxe banjo up for sale, with railroad spikes at 7 & 9.

My other option is a Bradley five string, with what appears to be a sliding capo installed on the fifth string.

I can’t find much on the Bradley, and I’ve had mixed reviews as to the fender. Ultimately, I’m hoping to not spend too much money, as I don’t need many banjos / this isn’t a professional endeavor for me.

Because they are the same price, both used, and both potentially providing similar accessories, I wanted to ask for feedback.

In short, I need responses to the following questions:
One: which banjo would you recommend?
Two: would you recommend other banjos over these two banjos?

Any help would be appreciated.


Jul 5, 2022 - 7:15:03 PM
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13450 posts since 6/2/2008

Welcome to the Hangout.

$300 is a great price for either of these banjos. They are both very good next-step banjos from the beginner instrument you've been playing. They could actually be all the banjo you ever need, unless you get into serious performing or jamming.

There's a chance they're essentially the same instrument: made in the same factory, structurally similar, cosmetically different. If that's not the case, they're still comparable instruments.

Depending on age, the Fender was either made in Korea in the late 80s to 90s (probably by Samick) or in China in the 2000s. Bradley was the house name for Asian instruments imported by Veneman Music, a Washington, D.C., area retailer that no longer exists. I remember seeing lots of Bradley guitars (Gibson and Fender knock-offs) and mandolins hanging in their stores in the '70s. I don't remember banjos, but this one doesn't surprise me. I would guess 1980s to '90s for the Bradley. Veneman was acquired by Guitar Center in 2002.

The main criticism of instruments like these -- and I've expressed it myself -- is they're generic instruments made from off-the-shelf parts. Recording King, Gold Star and the newest Gold Tone banjos (OB-150, OB-3 Twanger, and Bela Fleck Bluegrass Heart, are Asian-made to higher standards. And they cost several times the $300 you're looking at here. The Bela Fleck banjo costs ten times as much!

Used OB-150 or Recording King RK-35 or 36 might be available for $800-$900, but I'm not going to tell you to wait for one of those and spend three times the Fender or Bradley.

In the past, I never recommended new banjos like these because the offerings from Gold Star and RK were so much better at comparable prices. But used is a different story. And, to be honest, these two banjos could easily sell these days for $500 or so -- because there's nothing comparable at that price new or used.

If I had to choose, I'd go for the Bradley, mainly because I like its lesser amount of wood beyond the 22nd fret. This allows the bridge to be positioned a bit further back. I would change the head to a top-frosted one and replace the sliding fifth capo with spikes. That would require filling holes in the side of the neck. That's what I'd do. Doesn't mean you have to. The excess wood on the Fender isn't as bad as some.

These banjos can be set up to sound great and have playable action. I played one of these Fenders in a shop a long time ago and thought the neck was playable enough.

If you can try both, choose the one that sounds and feels better to you.

Good luck.

Jul 5, 2022 - 7:49:13 PM
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Blackjaxe47

Canada

1655 posts since 6/20/2014

Excellent advice from Ken Norkin, Never tried a Bradley but I did set-up a Fender-58 for a student. It was a decent banjo once it was tweeked. Either one would be a good step forward from what your playing now and a really good price when you consider the case is worth around $50 to $75. Small things like a good bridge from one of the many available ( I am partial to the Tim Purcell bridges ) can make a huge difference in tone. The same goes for a top frosted head tightened up to 90 to 92. Tail-piece set parallel to the head, string height at the 12th fret about 3/16" and bridge sitting at 13 3/8" from the 12th fret.

Personally I would grab either one, those prices are very good.

Jul 5, 2022 - 8:41:50 PM
Players Union Member

Helix

USA

15728 posts since 8/30/2006

Thanks Ken Norkin

The Fender can be easily upgraded along the way
Enjoy the ride

I have new intermediates for $777 with case

Jul 5, 2022 - 9:16:48 PM

13450 posts since 6/2/2008

This archived Hangout discussion dates the "Deluxe" model as 1999-2006, made in Korea. The earliest 1980s version was the Asian-made Leo Deluxe. Then Fender re-named it the Fender FB58 Deluxe and eventually dropped that word. The final ones were made in China. And for a short while before they were discontinued they were rebranded as Fender Concertone, bringing back that name from the Fender California banjos.

One participant in the linked conversation agrees with my dislike for the Fender's excess wood beyond the 22nd fret.

I disagree slightly with Ken Forbister's setup preferences described above. Where he likes 3/16-inch action at the 12th fret, I prefer 1/8-inch or a hair less at the 22nd -- which implies about another 1/32 less at the 12th. I believe 1/8-inch at 12 is the most common string height. But that doesn't make it right or best. Some like lower, some like higher.

I forget how many years ago, but I played with strings at 3/16-inch at 22nd fret for a while. I had read or heard that many top pros liked higher action. Turns out that wasn't necessarily true. Anyway, it was too much work for me up the neck. One local player I know has his at about 1/4-inch and he can play all kinds of intricate stuff no problem. When I tried his banjo about 8 years ago, I could barely play it.

Jul 6, 2022 - 8:29:58 AM

14846 posts since 10/30/2008

Play them both. Take home the one that looks, feels and sounds better to YOU. Quickly.

Jul 6, 2022 - 9:12:32 AM
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beegee

USA

23022 posts since 7/6/2005
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I had an FB 58 that I bought to review. I'd rather have the Bradley, but I'd replace the clear head with an AMB. If you can spend more money, buy an RK-35. The other banjos use metric hardware, while the RK uses SAE, ergo easier to deal with here in the USA. The RK is also higher quality and has a better tone ring and a better-feeling neck.

Edited by - beegee on 07/06/2022 09:13:21

Jul 6, 2022 - 10:10:40 AM
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Players Union Member

Blackjaxe47

Canada

1655 posts since 6/20/2014

quote:
Originally posted by Old Hickory

This archived Hangout discussion dates the "Deluxe" model as 1999-2006, made in Korea. The earliest 1980s version was the Asian-made Leo Deluxe. Then Fender re-named it the Fender FB58 Deluxe and eventually dropped that word. The final ones were made in China. And for a short while before they were discontinued they were rebranded as Fender Concertone, bringing back that name from the Fender California banjos.

One participant in the linked conversation agrees with my dislike for the Fender's excess wood beyond the 22nd fret.

I disagree slightly with Ken Forbister's setup preferences described above. Where he likes 3/16-inch action at the 12th fret, I prefer 1/8-inch or a hair less at the 22nd -- which implies about another 1/32 less at the 12th. I believe 1/8-inch at 12 is the most common string height. But that doesn't make it right or best. Some like lower, some like higher.

I forget how many years ago, but I played with strings at 3/16-inch at 22nd fret for a while. I had read or heard that many top pros liked higher action. Turns out that wasn't necessarily true. Anyway, it was too much work for me up the neck. One local player I know has his at about 1/4-inch and he can play all kinds of intricate stuff no problem. When I tried his banjo about 8 years ago, I could barely play it.


Your absolutely correct in string height, I checked and mine is slightly lower by maybe 2mm than 3/16". In my case I found I had better tone up the neck with my preferred set-up but what works for me is not what may work for others including yourself Ken. I have also moved to a .656 Purcell Bridge for the same reason, so hahahaha guess what happened when I switched back to a 5/8" it was just a hair over 1/8" actually 5/32"....interesting. This is what I call the fun part of working on a 5 string. I do a lot of back-up picking so having a bit faster action comes in handy.......thanks for pointing that out Ken.

Edited by - Blackjaxe47 on 07/06/2022 10:12:18

Jul 8, 2022 - 7:52:23 PM
Players Union Member

TN Time

USA

312 posts since 12/6/2021

I have a Fender FB58, 2006 Korean model and I love it. I put a Snuffy Smith bridge on it, replaced the tailpiece with a Price, and replaced the tuning keys with Schallers. This banjo is a beast and it really rings. some will disagree, but I see no reason why one could not use it for "serious performing or jamming." I certainly would. A Fender FB58 for $300 is a super good deal. You should go for it, never look back, and use it in your bluegrass band.
Robert

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