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May 19, 2024 - 3:58:06 PM
119 posts since 9/5/2021

So in my search for the next great banjo, I've come across a store in Mo, which has a beautiful slightly used Sullivan and an Archtop Hatfield. I know nothing about either ion these banjos except that they are both made in America by small banjo makers.
I did find a bit about Mr. Hatfield , but when looking at the Sullivan website couldn't find a single banjo. Have they gone out of business?
Is there a big difference between the two?

May 19, 2024 - 5:36:59 PM
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Bill Rogers (Moderator)


28053 posts since 6/25/2005

Both quality banjos. Choose by whether you want an archtop or flathead.

May 19, 2024 - 5:54:08 PM
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16111 posts since 12/2/2005

This is a difficult question to answer in an online forum. Beside the usual disclaimers on "setup is vital," the simple fact is that we don't know when the Sullivan was built and what the components were.

I am the proud owner of a custom Hatfield, and I cannot say enough good things about the banjo - or about Arthur. But given that you are obviously looking at a used instrument (and neither Arthur or Eric Sullivan will make a dime on either sale), I can say this: Arthur favors flatheads. He started making archtops due to a pro request, and while he still offers them, I doubt he's built many of them.

Your best bet would be to contact Arthur and get his thoughts. If you have the serial number of the banjo, so much the better - Arthur has a pretty good memory of interesting banjos that have gone through his shop, and my guess is that that includes most of the archtops.

You should know that archtops are more trebly and less warm than flatheads. If you like the ferociously aggressive and percussive sound of Ralph Stanley, that might work for you.

If you like warmer tones, maybe you should reach out to Arthur and commission one of his flatheads. It most likely won't break the bank, and you'll probably be well pleased by both the banjo and the transaction.

Edited by - eagleisland on 05/19/2024 17:55:14

May 19, 2024 - 6:12:35 PM

119 posts since 9/5/2021

I once again was not clear with what I write. The Sullivan is slightly used, the Hatfield is brand-new. I do have a look I am searching for and haven't been able to find. Maybe commissioning a banjo would work for me. That is something to think about.

May 19, 2024 - 6:31:05 PM
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5790 posts since 5/29/2011

Between Hatfield and Sullivan, it's six of one, half a dozen of the other. Both makers offer fine instruments. And Sullivan is still in business. Eric is kind of a one-man shop, so he spends more time building than he does updating his website.
If you are thinking about commissioning an instrument, check out Hunter Lemon at Lemon Banjos and Supply, or Chris Sorensen at Companion Banjos. There are quite a few other banjo makers on here as well but those two come to mind first since they are fairly new in the business.
All the makers listed are members here and can be contacted through the Hangout.

May 19, 2024 - 7:26:18 PM
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144 posts since 1/23/2012

As others have said, you can't go wrong with either one, quality-wise. If you truly don't have any basis for deciding, the Sullivan, being a flathead, is somewhat more desirable than an archtop. It is also used, which means the value won't go way down as soon as you "drive it off the lot" like a new banjo will.

Eric Sullivan is indeed very much in business, but is a one-man shop and isn't good at updating the website, etc. I pester him about this every chance I get.

Full disclosure: Sullivan sponsors my podcast, but I have owned and played my custom Sullivan for about 20 years. That being said, I've never heard anything negative about Hatfields.

May 19, 2024 - 7:39:30 PM
Players Union Member



208 posts since 9/14/2017

I have a Hatfield neck on one of my banjos and lots of Sullivan parts on others... both great builders and really fine instruments. That being said, I personally would choose the flathead, not because it's better built but because that's the tone I prefer. It's really up to your preference and playing style.

May 20, 2024 - 4:42:42 AM

5463 posts since 11/20/2004

Both are great builders and either is a good choice. If the Sullivan is a V35, I would favor it, but otherwise, it is flathead vs archtop and how it looks.

May 20, 2024 - 5:39:12 AM
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Bart Veerman


5725 posts since 1/5/2005

Keep in mind that when it comes to setups for tonal preferences: it's fairly easy to make an archtop sound like a flat top, the other way round not so much.
If the budget permits it, get both!

Edited by - Bart Veerman on 05/20/2024 05:40:01

May 20, 2024 - 5:59:22 AM

5043 posts since 9/12/2016

The old growth rims on some sullivans can be a perk to some--I built my masterclone flathead with one and work it every day--but can't really say if it made a difference--but a nice hatfield arch-top has to be right up there also--Tommy Brown inspired Arthur to make arch -tops and between the 2-- I am sure they got them zeroed in--

May 20, 2024 - 7:53:20 AM

6942 posts since 10/13/2007

both are quality banjos and the makers are good friends. If you are there at the shop play them both. which sounds better to you? Which feels the most comfortable? If looks are important to you, but I imagine both look great.



May 20, 2024 - 12:02:18 PM

119 posts since 9/5/2021

" If the Sullivan is a V35"
There is a Sullivan V35.

Also I had a huge mistake. It is not Hatfield Archtop but a D P Hopkins. I had been watching Hatfield videos and made the mistake. When I originally posted I had been up far too long.

I've asked the music store for videos of both the Archtop and the V35 playing. And will go from there. I had almost decided to just drop it for a few months as choosing the right banjo has been a challenge and I've been stressing about spending so much money on a wrong or regretful choice. There are soooo many options.

May 20, 2024 - 12:08:30 PM

6942 posts since 10/13/2007

Wow, Sullivan all the way!

May 23, 2024 - 10:45:55 PM
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5790 posts since 5/29/2011

There's nothing wrong with a Hopkins banjo either. They make very fine instruments.

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