Also posted in Shopping Advice, in hopes of replies. Sorry if that was a mistake. I have wanted to really try a Stelling for a long time. I have played a couple that were set up with the “typical” really tight setup and were maple. They were awesome banjos, but not to my taste. I have heard Alan Munde play his at camps a handful of times in the last year, and it’s beautiful, and I have been looking for a mahogany Stelling and found a 1977 Starflower at an acceptable price for a try. I played old time on open backs for a number of years, and switched to more 3 finger playing (again) about a year ago. If I play ”professionally” in the near future, it would be hybrid - a tiny bit of bluegrass and old time, and a lot of newer string bands (Trampled by Turtles, CAAMP, Avett Bros, Bothers Comatose, String Cheese, Yonder, etc.) and folk/bluegrass adaptations of other genres all together (I enjoy that as much as the “pure” stuff, and it’s what the couple of bands I play with are doing).
My general taste would be a fairly open, warm sound. I have: 1926 Gibson ball bearing (which is beautiful, but the narrower traditional spacing neck has it near the auction block); a 1929 Gibson pot with Hatfield Crowe spaced neck and Huber Vintage ring, which is my daily player; and I have Steve Huber building a Crowe spaced neck for a 1927 Gibson pot and turning it down for the HR-30 ring - but won’t have it for a while. When I find the couple that really speak to me, I’ll need to thin that heard, along with an open back Vega or two; but for now, I have a 2 week trial window on the Stelling Starflower.
So, with that info, the question is: does anyone with experience with mahogany Stellings, ideally Starflowers, but I know that’s rare these days, have any tips on setup to get close for tweaking and demoing the Starflower I will be receiving soon. I ask, because this group knows everything, and it should help shorten the time messing with setup, so I can really run it for a while before making a call about keeping or returning it.
All help greatly appreciated!
Unless it has been upgraded, a 1977 Stelling is not going to sound like the latest mahogany models from Stelling due to their being swapped over to the block rims that Stelling switched to. I don't recall the exact year of the switch but do know it was well after 1977. Just be sure you are aware of what the one you are looking at is wearing as to the rim configuration. It could have been upgraded I suppose.
I'll have to look it up, but in 1977 Stelling might have still been using block rims. They were standard until they switched to 3-ply rims, they were very heavy and at least to my ear were powerful almost to the point of sounding harsh sometimes. (I thought the 3 ply rim was an improvement.
It is not easy to get a good loose set up on a Stelling. They tend to need more head tension that we expect sometimes, but give it a try, it might be what you are looking for.
OK, looks like 1981 was the year for the three ply rim switch, so the '77 should have a heavy block rim. Also, it looks like 1975 was the year Alan Munde's Staghorn was made so the '77 might be similar.
Yes, that’s what I saw before buying, and Mr. Munde’s is the reason I thought that if he could sound that mellow with a walnut banjo, I might be able to do the warmth and openness - not the tone or technique, of course - with mahogany. I am a mere mortal, after all!
I do know Alan’s tailpiece has light pressure. On my Gibsons, I have the tension just tight enough not to rattle. I’ll tighten it if I’m just playing bluegrass, but that’s never the case for unless I travel to a camp.
To answer a probable question, I’m interested in the Stelling, because of the reputed (and observed) quality, the neck, the volume, and all of the other things for which people praise Stellings. I’m not trying to make it sound or feel like a prewar Gibson - I’ve scratched that itch as much as I’m willing to, monetarily, at this point. My hypothesis was that I might be able to have the best of all worlds for my taste with a mahogany Stelling, and I’ve read a good number of positive reviews about the Starflower; but they are old and rare. I thought some of you might have tips as to head tension, string height, etc., that may save some fiddling time. I am fairly new to the idea I have for sound and setup - may be a pipe dream.
You'll need a frosted 5-Star/Ludwig head set to at least an A or around 91 or so on a drum dial. That's a good starting point. You might need to go even higher. Your ears will tell you.
I also recommend a fairly thick bridge. A thin bridge will sound too bright and thin, even on a mahogany banjo.
You are correct about the mahogany Stellings. Last one was made in '78 until around 2003 or so when the Crusader was introduced.
Edited by - texasbanjos on 12/05/2022 22:11:32
Thank you. I hadn’t seen the Blog. I’ve found similar info in the past, but hadn’t seen that one. I’ll admit, I need to figure out tuning the head. For Gibsons, I generally set mine at 90 on the drum dial. I don’t actually know what note that is, but it generally works. I have found other threads that say 90 is G or G#. Does that translate to all 11” heads, or does the head note vary based on rims, hardware, etc.? I haven’t ever taken a banjo all the way apart. I did build an open back from lumber, made a skin head, and the whole 9, back when I was playing a lot of old time and before our first born (now 11) - but I’m sure nobody would love it but me, and it isn’t as good as my Vegas, without question. I’ve never gotten a clear reading on a tuner with strings muted, and I’ve read threads about it and need to re-read on that, I guess. Head note has always been a mystery to me, to be honest.
Thanks, Danny. Your reply came in as or while I was typing that last response. I assume the minimum starting point at 91 is what John was addressing.
Obviously, I can try to hear it for myself, but what happens if they are set at a more “normal” low tension, like 89-90 - just dead and poor tone, or something else?
"My general taste would be a fairly open, warm sound"
That isn't the "base sound" that comes from Stellings.
They tend to be loud, powerful, and sometimes a bit brash. They can be "toned down" a little, but I'm thinking it will be akin to puttin' a muzzle on a big dog.
Just something you should realize right up-front...
I received it today, and am extremely pleased. With the tailpiece pressure light, and the head tension right at 91, it sounds beautiful. The neck is all I hoped it would be, and the warmth of that almost 50 year old mahogany is just right. Thank you all for the tips; and I started at 91. I haven’t tried any looser, but don’t know that I care to - not now anyway; it sounds and plays like a dream. Thank you!
Interesting post, I have an 88 Whitestar with three ply rim but it's a maple banjo. I get a fairly mellow tone for a Stelling with the tailpiece just over half bridge height and around 89 on the drum dial. It has an 11/16 bridge other than that all original. I like it's sound but often ask myself if I'm really just trying to get a more Prucha type sound from a Stelling. Good thing is they hold value and no doubt there will be a renaissance at some point.
Yeah, I’ll try to get up the courage to post a side by side comparison - I’m only revisiting 3-finger style again for the last year, after a 20 year diversion into other instruments and clawhammer; so I’m not great, as for technique. My daily player has been the parts banjo - ‘29 pot, Huber Vintage ring, Hatfield neck. The neck on the Stelling is the bee’s knees, and the tone is great. Im still between them, and wouldn’t kick either out of bed for eating crackers! Both amazing instruments. The same is true of the ‘26, but it’s first to go, because I like the wider spacing, if I can part with one.