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Oct 2, 2022 - 12:25:48 PM
2 posts since 9/7/2022

I confess to being a VERY new player of the bluegrass banjo, although I've appreciated the music for decades.
It appears fairly obvious that most players drool over pre-war Gibson Mastertones, something that I can understand; they are divine-sounding works of art.
I just wondered if players these days prefer some of the more modern banjos?
Whilst I love Gibsons, I also REALLY like the banjos made by Stelling, Ome, Deering, Bishline and a few others.
So...what do you love...and why?
Who are the real quality makers today?
I'm lamentably an English picker, without much real interaction with other players. (There aren't many other hillbillies in London).
So educate me.
Aaaand...go...!??

Oct 2, 2022 - 12:54:54 PM

Jbo1

USA

1187 posts since 5/19/2007

Pieter, welcome to the HO and the fun world of bluegrass music. You'll find there are several English hillbillies here. And to bring you up to speed, there ain't no new Gibsons being built. They stopped making them several years ago due to a disastrous flood that destroyed their shop (as well as internal management issues). Many players here love the other maker you mentioned, as well has Huber, Nechville, etc. Don't let a brand name steer you in one direction. Although it may be hard to try other banjos, if you have the chance, play different brands. There are great building out there filling the void that Gibson left. And great players playing those banjos.

Oct 2, 2022 - 12:55:02 PM
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beegee

USA

23121 posts since 7/6/2005

There are plenty of quality makers today. Most are selling variations of the Gibson banjo. There are those who revel in the Gibson Mystique. The psychological motivation for owning a "genuine" pre-war Gibson varies with each individual. I have a pw Granada, which is the only Gibson I own. I have 3 RH Lane banjos, 2 Fender Artists fom the 60's-70's, 3 Recording King Elites, and a Sullivan Festival Deluxe and a couple more Japanese banjos. I have options in my choice of a banjo to play regularly. My Lane Model D and my Sullivan and My RK-75 are my daily go-to banjos. I seldom play my PW Gibson these days. If I had to choose a new banjo today, it would be the one that "spoke" to me in playability, tone and design, and affordability no matter the maker.

Oct 2, 2022 - 1:00:10 PM
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RB3

USA

1491 posts since 4/12/2004
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For a new instrument, I'm a fan of Huber banjos.

Steve Huber has dedicated himself to trying to produce a banjo that reproduces the sound of the original, pre-war, flat-head Gibson banjos. I think he has come as close as anyone in achieving that goal, and the quality of workmanship of his instruments is second to none.

Oct 2, 2022 - 1:29:42 PM
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Players Union Member

TN Time

USA

406 posts since 12/6/2021

To answer your first question, "What do you love and why?" my answer is a 60's - 70's Fender Artist. Why? The quality (from what I have read) is as good as or better than the Gibsons made during that time. To my ear, the sound is really phenomenal, bright as a walnut banjo should be. I also like the narrow neck which fits my hands perfectly. Also, they are not extremely rare and they do come up for sale fairly often, and they are usually bargain priced.
Robert

Oct 2, 2022 - 2:05:56 PM
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Texasbanjo (Moderator)

USA

27990 posts since 8/3/2003

I'm a fan of Stelling, so I'll sing their praises: the ease of fretting and picking, stays pretty well in tune, even when you capo it up, sounds fantastic, is just a beautiful piece of work.

Gibson is a great banjo, however, it's sound is too in your face for my liking. Some prefer it and that's okay, personal preference is what it's all about.

I've played Hubers, Deering, Prucha (sp?), Recording King and several others and they all have their good points.

I think it comes down to what plays best and sounds best to you, that's the one you'll prefer.

Oct 2, 2022 - 2:06:18 PM
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4658 posts since 5/29/2011

Warren Yates, Tim Davis, Tom Nechville, Eric Sullivan, Arthur Hatfield, Frank Neat, Steve Huber, Chris Sorenson, Osborne Chief Banjos, as well as a number of fine banjo builders on here, Clancy Mullins, Ken LeVan, Randall Wyatt, Ron Coleman, Hunter Lemon, give you quite a list to choose from.
The one thing I see as a problem is most of the bluegrass banjo makers today want to continue the same old design instead of branching out and making something completely different. Most designs on the market are Gibson copies with flat head tone rings, one-piece flanges, double cut pegheads, and, for many, even the same old inlays that Gibson used. I realize that the makers are striving to recreate the sound of prewar Gibsons because that is the sound that most people prefer these days. But seeing the 7000th banjo with a flathead tone ring, double cut peghead and Flying Eagle inlays makes things seem a little repetitious.
Enough of this rant.

Oct 2, 2022 - 2:23:54 PM
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2021 posts since 5/19/2018

I am a collector. Almost all of my instruments are Pre-WWII instruments.

That being said, the top builders today, those who make custom and top end instruments, those mentioned above by Mark Harper, and others, make instruments that are far superior in materials, fit and finish than any made by Gibson prior to WWII. Also, for a short while after the war, under the guidance of Greg Rich, Gibson put out some exceptionally fine banjos, guitars and mandolins.

You don’t need a Gibson, or a vintage instrument in order to have a top level, professional instrument. You mentioned some very fine instruments that would do perfectly for bluegrass and other styles no matter what your playing level.

It’s been said time and time again, 99.9% of an instruments sound comes from what is behind the instrument.

Get an instrument that you fall in love with and does not break your bank. Play the heck out of it and enjoy the journey.

Oct 2, 2022 - 5:11:26 PM

beegee

USA

23121 posts since 7/6/2005

quote:
Originally posted by beegee

There are plenty of quality makers today. Most are selling variations of the Gibson banjo. There are those who revel in the Gibson Mystique. The psychological motivation for owning a "genuine" pre-war Gibson varies with each individual. I have a pw Granada, which is the only Gibson I own. I have 3 RH Lane banjos, 2 Fender Artists from the 60's-70's, 3 Recording King Elites, and a Sullivan Festival Deluxe and a couple more Japanese banjos. I have options in my choice of a banjo to play regularly. My Lane Model D and my Sullivan and My RK-75 are my daily go-to banjos. I seldom play my PW Gibson these days. If I had to choose a new banjo today, it would be the one that "spoke" to me in playability, tone and design, and affordability no matter the maker.


Oct 2, 2022 - 5:14:47 PM
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ChunoTheDog

Canada

1869 posts since 8/9/2019
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quote:
Originally posted by Culloden

Warren Yates, Tim Davis, Tom Nechville, Eric Sullivan, Arthur Hatfield, Frank Neat, Steve Huber, Chris Sorenson, Osborne Chief Banjos, as well as a number of fine banjo builders on here, Clancy Mullins, Ken LeVan, Randall Wyatt, Ron Coleman, Hunter Lemon, give you quite a list to choose from.
The one thing I see as a problem is most of the bluegrass banjo makers today want to continue the same old design instead of branching out and making something completely different. Most designs on the market are Gibson copies with flat head tone rings, one-piece flanges, double cut pegheads, and, for many, even the same old inlays that Gibson used. I realize that the makers are striving to recreate the sound of prewar Gibsons because that is the sound that most people prefer these days. But seeing the 7000th banjo with a flathead tone ring, double cut peghead and Flying Eagle inlays makes things seem a little repetitious.
Enough of this rant.


enter: the 2pf raised head, fiddle cut pegheads.... haha

Oct 3, 2022 - 2:38:36 AM
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Bill H

USA

2015 posts since 11/7/2010

I have a Vega VIP and a Vegaphone conversion that I love, but recently I mostly play my two Nechville banjos. Tom Nechville has re-invented the banjo by eliminating the hooks and creating a system that makes adjustments to neck angle and head tension super easy.

Oct 3, 2022 - 6:00:56 AM
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4031 posts since 9/21/2009

If I was looking to buy a banjo, It would be hard to pass this one up. I have a V-35 Sullivan and can truthfully say, it suits me better than any banjo I have played.

banjohangout.org/classified/95455

Oct 3, 2022 - 6:10:14 AM
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3198 posts since 9/5/2006

I've had several banjos over my lifetime playing bluegrass. A Fender Artist that was my go to banjo thru the 70's was great. Perhaps one I wish I hadn't let go. Later a Gibson parts banjo that was good, a Sullivan parts banjo with neck issues but great sound. Today I have a Gold Star which occasionally I use for teaching or scaring children. Mostly I play old time banjo, back to where I started out. Gibson is a name who's time has come and gone IMHO. There are great ones out ther but Huber makes the primo banjo today.

Oct 3, 2022 - 6:52:44 AM
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KCJones

USA

1826 posts since 8/30/2012

I'll be bold: The banjos being built by the top makers today are better than anything Gibson ever offered at any point in time in the history of the company, including the fabled pre-war mastertones.

Oct 3, 2022 - 7:38:52 AM
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13691 posts since 6/2/2008

Has Gibson been improved upon?

Seems to me very few builders are trying to do that. In pro-level bluegrass banjos only Nechville is doing something truly different. Nechville's pot assembly, head adjustment and neck attachment are nothing at all like the Mastertone standard. They are real improvements in how banjos are put together. Deering's flange fit improves on, and makes way more sense than, the Gibson 1-piece design, but that's a small detail.

Deering's Eagle II -- maybe popular among young players thanks to Mumford & Sons -- reflects older pre-Mastertone banjo design and delivers beautiful sound. It's more throw-back than improvement.

Stelling's wedge-fit construction was an improvement, in my non-expert opinion. But I don't know about his solid tone ring that lacked an underside air chamber. There will be no more Stellings, and unless someone buys Geoff's tooling there will be no more banjos built like Stellings. His patents ran out years ago, but no one ever chose to copy his design.

Most builders as far as I can tell are still trying to recapture or continue what Gibson started about 100 years ago. My guess is they believe that's what most buyers want.

Oct 3, 2022 - 7:48:39 AM

bill53

USA

440 posts since 3/26/2004

Why do you think there are more Gibsons for sale this brand will never die out as some already have some that just dont sell.

Oct 3, 2022 - 2:21:43 PM
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2 posts since 9/7/2022

I really appreciate all the erudite replies I've received to my rather naive post.
Thank you all; I'm awed at the breadth and depth of knowledge contained within these forums.
As a greenhorn, it is very gratifying to be made so welcome here. You guys are amazing!
Thank you all!

Oct 3, 2022 - 5:44:40 PM

13691 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by bill53

Why do you think there are more Gibsons for sale this brand will never die out as some already have some that just dont sell.


Considering the Gibson banjos players still want were introduced just under 100 years ago,I assume there are more Gibsons for sale because there are more Gibson than any other brand of banjo. I'd count both factory originals and conversions of authentic pots.

Compare this to 7500 or so total Stellings over the life of the brand. It's my understanding Deering has made and sold over 100,000 banjos, but I'm pretty sure that number includes Goodtimes.

Oct 3, 2022 - 5:52:14 PM

15004 posts since 10/30/2008

Well, the typical Gibson fret pattern/placement sure has been improved upon. Just about all Gibsons fret sharp on the 3rd and 4th string when you up to the 12th fret and above. Gibson lovers mostly learn to live with it.

I just spent the weekend at Monroe Mandolin Camp in Virginia and the banjo instructor there was the great Alan Munde. Such a great player, and nice guy. He was playing a complex piece on his Stelling, way up the neck, and when he got done, I asked him how he got such perfect intonation way up the neck. He said "Well, it's a Stelling..." The Baldwin/Ode banjos were popular with the melodic players back in the 1960s, 70s and 80s for the same reason. I have no experience with Deering. I have a 1967 Vega Earl Scruggs with near-perfect intonation up the neck.

Yet, the Greg Rich Era and later Gibson reissues all fret sharp up the neck on the middle strings. I guess they stuck with the old Gibson scale and fret placement.

I listened in on a conversation about Lloyd Loar mandolins and apparently nearly all of them suffered from poor fret placement and considered "impossible to tune" unless the fingerboard is replaced or whatever, with the "modern" fret placement used by all the current top luthiers. All I know about this is my 1988 Gibson F5-L mandolin is a pluperfect puzzlement to 1. tune and 2. get good intonation up the neck.

So, I would offer in reply to the OP's question, Gibson banjo fret placement has certainly been impoved upon!

(I am not a believer in "compensated" bridges and the like. The most I'll do is slant my bridge a little to help the 3rd and 4th strings a bit.)

Oct 3, 2022 - 6:43:48 PM
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rcc56

USA

4504 posts since 2/20/2016

"Has Gibson been improved upon?"
It depends on your point of view. I know that there are some very fine banjos being built today. I also know that not all old Gibsons were created equal, and a few were much better than all the rest.

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And Dick is right about intonation problems on pre-war Gibson instruments.  I've measured quite a few of them, and they apparently had some peculiar ideas about their fret layout, in conjunction with some problems with their tooling.  How far off they are depends partly on the period, and partly on the individual instrument.  The worst I ever encountered was a 1932 A-4 mandolin.  The fret placement on that one was so far out of tolerance that I had to scrap the original fingerboard and install a new one.

Martin has also produced many thousands of instruments with intonation problems since the 1970's, mostly due to mis-placed bridges.  They've finally straightened out at least some of their problems, although I'm not yet sure they fixed them all across the board.  Ask me again next year after I've played more of the brand new ones . . .

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Sorry for the thread drift.

Anyway, I guess the answer to your question is that the best of the old Mastertones can be hard to beat, but some of the best modern banjos certainly give them a run for the money.

Most of us can't afford an original Gibson flathead anyway.  While Huber and the other best modern brands aren't exactly dirt cheap, most of us could find a way to get one sooner or later, even though we might have to squirrel away our pennies and eat peanut butter and potatoes for quite a long time.

Edited by - rcc56 on 10/03/2022 18:47:18

Oct 5, 2022 - 8:07:59 AM

8163 posts since 9/5/2006

the gibson one piece flange flathead banjo was the treadmill for sound that everyone wanted. so since then as private builders got up and going they always used that as the pattern (except for nechville,,tom is a genius) .
and basically its still the norm for banjo builders today,,,maple rim 3 ply. brass bronze alloy tone ring. your choice of maple, mahogany or walnut resonator and neck,,and choose you headstock and pattern. when you break it down to the basics ,,they are about the same build as they were 80 to 90 years ago.

Oct 6, 2022 - 2:29:05 PM

2976 posts since 4/5/2006

Twenty some odd years ago, I had Gregg Deering build a neck & resonator to replace the Stelling's broken neck. From talking with Gregg & what I saw when there, I suspect he may have some CNC equipment, at least for cutting the fret slots. The neck he made for the Stelling notes true, all the way up the neck.

Edited by - monstertone on 10/06/2022 14:30:21

Oct 6, 2022 - 2:46:48 PM

2158 posts since 11/17/2018

quote:
Originally posted by monstertone

Twenty some odd years ago, I had Gregg Deering build a neck & resonator to replace the Stelling's broken neck. From talking with Gregg & what I saw when there, I suspect he may have some CNC equipment, at least for cutting the fret slots. The neck he made for the Stelling notes true, all the way up the neck.


Greg started out with Geoff making necks.

Oct 6, 2022 - 5:37:38 PM

2976 posts since 4/5/2006

quote:
Originally posted by OldNavyGuy
quote:
Originally posted by monstertone

Twenty some odd years ago, I had Gregg Deering build a neck & resonator to replace the Stelling's broken neck. From talking with Gregg & what I saw when there, I suspect he may have some CNC equipment, at least for cutting the fret slots. The neck he made for the Stelling notes true, all the way up the neck.


Greg started out with Geoff making necks.

 


Stelling had relocated to the East by then, which was why I went to Deering.

Oct 8, 2022 - 8:27:15 AM
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11 posts since 11/6/2019

During the pandemic, I went a search for the best banjo for me, that I could afford. I've always had a Gold Tone White Laydie that I loved, but thought that's it's not a "premium" brand, so premium makers must be better, so off I went, buying, selling, trading my up to a Deering John Hartford. Beautiful banjo, not a million pounds, solid! I also really loved the Deering Eagle 2, the full throated tone ring is the best I've ever heard, but it was just too damn heavy (I stand when I play- sitting makes me feel crunched up and unable to move with the music). But you know what? I just had Gold tone put a radiused neck on my White Laydie, and it's become my number one again. Sometimes your first live is still your only love. Also, a musician friend whose not a banjo player, said the sound of the WL- pretty, warm, clear but not blasting, was my best sounding banjo- so there you go. Find the one for you!

Oct 8, 2022 - 5:18:43 PM

2976 posts since 4/5/2006

Most banjos are most suitable for different styles of banjo music. Some will say no such thing as having too many banjos. smiley 

FWIW: the radiused fretboard neck on the Stelling has a straight, non compensated nut, although I suspect the nut to be set forward a bit from theoretical true position to compensate for fretting. Be that as it may, that banjo has a radiused, compensated bridge, as well.

Edited by - monstertone on 10/08/2022 17:30:47

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