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Apr 23, 2024 - 11:24:27 AM
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451 posts since 4/26/2007

Thought I'd have a little fun and experiment with capturing how stark the differences between a maple neck and a mahogany one can be if everything else is quite similar.

I used my two Huber banjos, Ax & Smash, for this video. Both are Huber Lancaster Vintage models, set up with 5/8 Huber bridges and GHS PF155 strings. Heads set right around a G#. Same picks. Recorded through my iPhone.

Ax has a mahogany neck, while Smash has a maple neck. Very interesting to hear the differences in tone, note separation, and attack.

The picking leaves something to be desired, and it was hard to splice the changes from banjo to banjo perfectly, but it's entertaining nonetheless!


Apr 23, 2024 - 12:09:06 PM

5013 posts since 9/12/2016

btw the high arm rest is the maple--the maple has a bit more treble to my ears --I'd like to hear a kinda slow melodic tune on them--cool old tune and fine playing

Apr 23, 2024 - 12:52:26 PM
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Players Union Member

rbfour5

USA

1261 posts since 11/9/2010

You are the bomb Andy Lowe- great picking!

IMHO: I can hear the crispness of the maple; the mahogany has a bit more depth. The mahogany has more note separation and decay.

Now my banjo nerdiness has an observation. The maple neck has very little fret board past the 22nd fret. This puts the bridge ever so slightly closer to the tailpiece. Does this make a difference? Who knows. I just catch little details like this. (Yes I know- it's a disease!)

Very cool (and well done!) comparison. Thanks!

Apr 23, 2024 - 1:47:45 PM
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15023 posts since 1/15/2005

quote:
Originally posted by rbfour5

You are the bomb Andy Lowe- great picking!

IMHO: I can hear the crispness of the maple; the mahogany has a bit more depth. The mahogany has more note separation and decay.

Now my banjo nerdiness has an observation. The maple neck has very little fret board past the 22nd fret. This puts the bridge ever so slightly closer to the tailpiece. Does this make a difference? Who knows. I just catch little details like this. (Yes I know- it's a disease!)

Very cool (and well done!) comparison. Thanks!


Great observation Dean!  Actually there is a fairly significant difference in the boards past the 22nd fret.

Apr 23, 2024 - 6:32:56 PM
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1673 posts since 1/9/2012

Bridge closer to the tailpiece increases the break angle of strings over the bridge -- if all else is the same. Increasing the angle increases the central frequency of the main formant. (That's a nerd word. It's a very broad region of enhanced sound production -- maybe centered around 800Hz on the banjos in question.)

Apr 23, 2024 - 7:41:21 PM

28 posts since 2/20/2021

To my ears, the maple sounds brighter, more dynamic, and the notes are distinct. The mahogany sounds less bright, slightly compressed, and the notes seem to blend. Both are great tones, but I prefer the maple sound.
Great playing, Andy!

Apr 23, 2024 - 8:14:26 PM
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15228 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by rbfour5

Now my banjo nerdiness has an observation. The maple neck has very little fret board past the 22nd fret. This puts the bridge ever so slightly closer to the tailpiece. Does this make a difference?


You bet.

FWIW, both my wife and I hear the mapl neck as brighter.

But since the length of the maple neck requires a bridge location that's inherently brighter sounding, we can't know how much of the audible difference is attributable to the wood.

Apr 23, 2024 - 8:40:28 PM

Owen

Canada

15062 posts since 6/5/2011

I think it's a trick question ... I see two banjos [thanks to Dean], but only hear one. sad

Edited by - Owen on 04/23/2024 20:53:52

Apr 23, 2024 - 9:13:08 PM
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1673 posts since 1/9/2012

In an act of shameless self-promotion, I mention for the second time in a couple of days a comparison I did a little while ago.  I had four necks of four different wood species (maple, white oak, walnut, and mahogany) CNC machined to as close to the same dimensions as possible.  I attached them in turn to a single pot, with no changes in any set-up aspect.  I recorded and computer analyzed individual plucks and played short tunes.  Even non-banjo players could hear differences and identify which was which.  My write up is here:  https://www.its.caltech.edu/~politzer/neck-wood/neck-wood.pdf, and it includes links to all the sound files.  The non-players also described the sounds much the way banjo lore characterizes the different woods.

Only one neck per species was considered.  The write-up emphasizes that different pieces of the same wood will vibrate differently.  The most obvious reason is non-uniformity of the grain and its orientation relative to the overall shape.  Nevertheless, it's plausible that the four necks were vaguely representative.  (They certainly passed the manufacturer's quality controls.)

However, I agree with the many players and builders who contend that there are so many set-up adjustments and parts issues (e.g., bridge, tailpiece, head, strings) that can produce much bigger differences over a much bigger space of variables that the neck species issue is not really a big deal.

These days, I have the mahogany on a plain rim strung with Nylgut Historic 1892 Sized (developed jointly with Joel Hooks) and the walnut on a rim with an internal resonator and a faux Bacon tone ring  (and steel strings).  I love 'em both.  The maple found its way onto a reso/banjo hybrid (https://www.its.caltech.edu/~politzer/resonator-guitar/resonator-guitar.pdf), and the white oak is between jobs.




Apr 23, 2024 - 9:51:38 PM

3051 posts since 2/12/2005

I like the mahogany sound better personally. I think one pot for both necks would eliminate some more variables.

Apr 24, 2024 - 5:29:45 AM
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451 posts since 4/26/2007

Appreciate the responses! Forgot to mention in the original post that the tailpieces are set to the same height and both resonators are mahogany (standard Lancaster specs).

The extra wood at the end of the fretboard is also a factor I hadn't considered, although I've heard about the effect it can have before.

I go back and forth over which sound I prefer.....very blessed to have both of these fives in my arsenal.

Apr 24, 2024 - 6:35:22 AM

phb

Germany

4062 posts since 11/8/2010

Each time the other banjo starts playing, I change my mind and think that one is the better sounding one. I guess they both sound great. And your picking makes those fine instruments justice!

Apr 24, 2024 - 7:18:26 AM
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451 posts since 4/26/2007

quote:
Originally posted by phb

Each time the other banjo starts playing, I change my mind and think that one is the better sounding one. 

 

That is the curse of most every banjo player, myself included lol. 

Apr 24, 2024 - 9:39:57 AM
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5013 posts since 9/12/2016

the type and model of microphone makes a lot of changes to the sound--
I really doubt(but ask no agreement) that changing the break angle a-bit-- would make one much more like the other--
what is being said is ---generally the usual view---maple adds treble tones but that can be called crispness I like to call it zing
the mahogany on the good ones seems to have more surprises at a bit lower frequency band
just my 2 cents
maple has less mineral build up in it's cells according to wood data base--

Apr 25, 2024 - 4:27:26 AM
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banjoez

USA

2802 posts since 7/18/2007

To me the maple has slightly more punch and clarity with fewer "artifacts". The mahogany is a tiny bit sweeter but loses some of that note separation from maple. Pretty much what you would expect. Great job !!

Apr 25, 2024 - 6:53:49 AM
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42 posts since 1/20/2011

Here you can see Scruggs's banjo when it sounded so good. Barely any wood on the last fret.
IMHO: I can hear the crispness of the maple; the mahogany has a bit more depth. The mahogany has more note separation and decay.

Now my banjo nerdiness has an observation. The maple neck has very little fret board past the 22nd fret. This puts the bridge ever so slightly closer to the tailpiece. Does this make a difference? Who knows. I just catch little details like this. (Yes I know- it's a disease!)

Very cool (and well done!) comparison. Thanks!


 

Apr 25, 2024 - 7:07:04 AM

3051 posts since 2/12/2005

quote:
Originally posted by Gary Sosebee

Here you can see Scruggs's banjo when it sounded so good. Barely any wood on the last fret.


Wow! I never noticed that. All my banjos have about 1/4" of fingerboard down there. It has to be intentional since it take 30 heelcuts to remove that much material during routine maintenance. 

Did you shorten any necks on your banjos to test this?  Anybody else?

Note: the photo on the cover of his instructional book shows the same!

Edited by - randybartlett on 04/25/2024 07:08:15

Apr 25, 2024 - 8:47:30 AM

1673 posts since 1/9/2012

A DIY internal resonator added a lot of "bottom" to a standard Goodtime. Careful comparisons were made with "standard set-up"  (https://www.its.caltech.edu/~politzer/bacon/internal-res.pdf).  However, it certainly is a factory "limited edition" in that I had them install a Bacon tone ring, having failed to do a satisfactory job myself.  (The configuration in the photos is the banjo in retirement, played at home with great pleasure.)

Curiously, when I went ahead and installed internal resonators on three other very different instruments, all four had the added side effect of increased sustain.  It was so dramatic that in each case I installed a significantly lighter bridge.  Details of the physics behind that unexpected internal resonator effect remain beyond me.


Apr 25, 2024 - 12:19:53 PM
Players Union Member

rbfour5

USA

1261 posts since 11/9/2010

Gary Sosebee and randybartlett Yes- that Gower mahogany neck had very little real estate past the 22nd fret. That's the one detail I forgot to have done when Steve Huber built my Gower replica neck. But I won't forget it on the next build! wink

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