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Experienced frailer deciding on first bluegrass banjo

Jun 13, 2024 - 7:16:04 PM
4 posts since 9/16/2020

Hoping to get a couple opinions before I make a purchase on my first bluegrass banjo. I’ve been playing old time banjo for about 15 years and own a 2007 Bart Reiter Regeant and a couple other open backs. Earlier this year I began learning bluegrass style on the Bart Reiter and pretty happy with my progress.  I’m hooked. Looking to buy my first proper bluegrass banjo. I’m deciding between a few vintage ones I’ve seen in shops in my area .

1. A late 60s Fender Artist, this one is a cannon and I really like the slimmer neck. It’s also in amazing shape for its age. $1,000. My only qualms with it are aesthetic (oh the vanity ). I don’t like the circular flange holes ha.
2. 70s Vega VIP (martin branding on back of peghead), with 5th string sliding capo and 2 permanent installed cam style d tuners $700. This one has some cool mojo but doesn’t play or sound as good. It seems like it’s been a bit neglected and could use a setup. The neck may be a little cockeyed. I like the way it looks over the artist, but again it would probably take some work to get it sounding as good and playing as nice as I want.
3. A 1979 Saga Bella Voice made in Japan for 1 year apparently in the same shop Gold Stars were made. In great shape. These are rare masterclone banjos and feels closer to the ideal traditional bluegrass banjo to me. $900

What do ya’ll think? The artist probably wins as far as tone and playability. The Saga is close , but is just also damned cool and not common. Anyone have a Vega Martin VIP they really like?

Edited by - clockwise on 06/13/2024 19:20:30

Jun 13, 2024 - 7:33:16 PM
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15407 posts since 6/2/2008

The Fender is the best deal of the bunch, in my opinion. $1000 is a killer price.

Learn to like the flange holes.

But it really doesn't matter what anyone here thinks. Choose the one that sounds and feels the best to you.

Depending on the market, you could sell the Fender for more than the $1000 being asked for it.

Jun 13, 2024 - 7:45:15 PM
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Bill Rogers (Moderator)


28085 posts since 6/25/2005

The Fender—not close. It will likely hold its value, too.

Jun 13, 2024 - 8:49:14 PM
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109 posts since 4/19/2014

“The artist probably wins as far as tone and playability.”

If you think one sounds and plays better  than the rest, that's the winner. I think you answered your own question. 

Edited by - paulhealey on 06/13/2024 20:51:50

Jun 13, 2024 - 9:04:04 PM

4 posts since 9/16/2020

Thank you for all your input! Yeah I was thinking the fender was probably the one. I had a feeling when i wrote it out that folks here would think the same ha. I just needed a little push in the right direction.

Jun 14, 2024 - 7:14:15 AM

15747 posts since 10/30/2008

No question for bluegrass, the Fender. It's the closest (but not identical) to a flat head Gibson Mastertone.

The VIP is a well made and respected banjo, but even its day it wasn't popular for bluegrass very much at all. It would be a tough, slow resell in the bluegrass market. It would be bright and clangy and loud once it's set up well. But it won't "cut through" the noise of a bluegrass jam like the Fender. (Grandpa Jones played a VIP on Hee Haw)

The Saga Bella Voce is a very well made banjo too. My guess based on the year, is it's probably an arch top??? Regardless it's a very very good Masterclone. Folks played arch tops in bluegrass for decades with acceptable results. Again, it limits its resale value to the "Ralph Stanley style" pickers if it is an archtop.

I'd rank them Fender 1, Saga 2 and VIP 3. Choose the one that speaks to you.

Jun 14, 2024 - 8:15:46 AM



2650 posts since 11/29/2005

The only plus the VIP would have over the Artist is in case your plan doesn’t make it to fruition. I believe, but haven’t seen one so I could be wrong, you could easily remove the VIP flanges, resonator and set it up for clawhammer open back use.
It is odd, I’ve never seen anyone setup a VIP like that, because it’d basically be a more modern tubaphone, which is well respected in old time circles?

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