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What are the actual advantages of an open back over a resonator?

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Jun 24, 2024 - 12:19:26 PM
34 posts since 12/27/2023

So up until quite recently I’ve had this idea that open backs are primarily for old time, and resonators for bluegrass. And while the open backs for old time I still agree with and see many others agree with, I’ve seen a bunch of people say that’s it’s very easy to get a good old time sound on a resonator, less so a bluegrass sound on an open back. So why would anyone get the open back unless they had to be quiet? They’re quieter, they’re naturally gonna have more neck dive due to a lack of counter balance (I mean, even my resonator struggles with neck dive), and can only really do one of the styles well, so what’s the actual advantage? Am I missing something?

Jun 24, 2024 - 12:56:05 PM
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Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

28097 posts since 6/25/2005

Weight; variety of configurations; size of the shell. Different tonal quality (beyond that controllable by setup). I have several openbacks, each different in construction and basic sound. I have one resonator banjo for the rare occasions I play bluegrass. It’s a Huber. I don’t need a second bluegrass banjo. I probably don’t need several openbacks either, but they are different. You can get different-sounding resonator banjos too, but the tonal differences are less distinct and the construction of the banjos tends to be similar. 

Edited by - Bill Rogers on 06/24/2024 12:56:43

Jun 24, 2024 - 12:59:18 PM
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4396 posts since 12/3/2008

My first banjo had a resonator. From the get-go, I was fascinated with the differences in timbre - having the resonator on and off - going back and forth frequently, getting my ears acquainted with the very different tonal colors that each produced.

Jun 24, 2024 - 1:07:50 PM
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splunge

USA

425 posts since 6/8/2009

Open backs are cheaper for a given model!

Jun 24, 2024 - 1:24:44 PM
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Dean T

USA

141 posts since 4/18/2024

Weight, weight weight. I played a Gibson ES for years with a small local band. Thing was, only a small portion of our music was bluegrass, with much more being folksy, country, gospel and cover stuff. That thing killed my back, and that took a lot of fun out of it. Then I got an open back, and a 12” er at that. It was quite surprising how quiet it wasn’t. Plenty of volume for a small jam, and with a microphone, it was just as capable as the Mastertone for playing gigs. And it was still plenty punchy for the grassy tunes, but pleasantly surprised that it even worked better for the non grassy stuff. Its hard to describe the difference between the metallic piercing resonated tone, and the sweeter woodier open back tone, but it wasn't as drastic, or opposingly different as I had imagined. I fell in love with it so much, that the heavy tone ringed reso banjo sat in its case for 3 years until I let it go. As for neck dive, I get none. Since my open back is a run of the mill non collectible mass produced low value instrument, and seeing how I aways hated the hassle of traditional banjo straps and strap attachment, I put a guitar strap button on the neck heal, and one the rim, and now I can use all my wide comfy guitar straps. The banjo stays where I want it. The enjoyment level of my open back is much higher, than it ever was with the old Gibson. It’s only real drawback, is the lack of teeth rattling, filling removing volume for all out large bluegrass jams, which is something I haven’t done in many years.

Edited by - Dean T on 06/24/2024 13:38:45

Jun 24, 2024 - 1:46:38 PM

127 posts since 9/1/2020

Quite a bit more compact as well as everything mentioned above.

Jun 24, 2024 - 2:24:10 PM
Players Union Member

Helix

USA

17588 posts since 8/30/2006

Some attempt to drive top down in a hardtop world

Yes weight has been an issue

Then a radial pipe cap “reflector” of maybe 30% (?) efficiency in addition to over 7 paounds of bronze and another 5 or 6 pounds.
Those resonators reflect only once




 

Edited by - Helix on 06/24/2024 14:39:15

Jun 24, 2024 - 2:41:47 PM
Players Union Member

Helix

USA

17588 posts since 8/30/2006

Signal degraded

but the spoons vibrate tangentially on both the cup and back of each spoon simultaneously and to pitch and frequencies 

so then to use the spoons as

a perfect 5 Bender gives you some shake whether clockwise or other at the end or during each phrase or solo, works up high, too

Six spoons weigh 1/4 of a big pipe cap resonator
You didn’t ask about spoons just weight
that's why the Maple remembers what the gold forgets.  Used as few as 4 and many as 12
What about Quartz???

Edited by - Helix on 06/24/2024 14:54:30

Jun 24, 2024 - 2:44:40 PM

13170 posts since 10/27/2006

My Vegas convert from open to resonator in a few seconds as did my Bacons before.

The tone is different and sustain is generally longer. Resonator banjos are rarely louder, however.

Jun 24, 2024 - 2:57:31 PM
Players Union Member

Helix

USA

17588 posts since 8/30/2006

I concur O Roadmaster of the ON RAMP


 

Jun 24, 2024 - 4:21:29 PM
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15440 posts since 6/2/2008

Open back or resonator, a banjo is a musical instrument. You can play any music you want on it. The reasons that players might prefer open back over resonator are probably as many and varied as the reasons a player might prefer one specific maker and model of open back or resonator over another. And let's add flathead or archtop, or rod or tube, or woody. And chocolate and vanilla while we're at it.

Bluegrass on an open back? Sure. Why not? In a performing band, loud stage, environment, put that open back though a good microphone or pickup into a sound system, and it really doesn't matter that there's no resonator.

Jun 24, 2024 - 6:17:08 PM
Players Union Member

Helix

USA

17588 posts since 8/30/2006

I like that the quality of the mix keeps getting better and better
Young people are good for things….

Crooked Still for instance

neck dive:  I solved this with two cradle straps for longnecks one flathead with Rez and another openback, so it worked for me

by hooking the strap under the heel of the neck, it should tilt the banjo toward you

the other strap end should come around over the tailpiece and make the balanced cradle that should stay put with both types -male or female  

I hate little bendable clips on hooks: I saw an artist just blow it in front of a full house by dumping the banjo and almost hitting the floor through a pa. An open back artist using claw should perhaps avoid such stress and cradle up.   just my thoughts (. ):)===='= : :}

Edited by - Helix on 06/24/2024 19:41:15

Jun 24, 2024 - 6:48:15 PM
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KCJones

USA

3115 posts since 8/30/2012

A lot of it has to do with tradition. Most contemporary banjo players and banjo-adjacent genres are attempting to recreate music of the past. Adherence to tradition is very important in a lot of banjo spaces, and that influences what types of banjos are desired by players, which in turn influences what banjos get made.

From a functional standpoint, most comparisons in this thread are of a Gibson-style (Mastertone) resonator banjo vs. a Vega-style open back banjo. That's hardly an apples to apples comparison. You could just as easily have a Tubaphone or Whyte Laydie with a resonator, they do make them, and you can have a flathead tone ring on an open back (e.g. Deering Eagle).

Weight isn't an issue when you're talking specifically about resonators, that issue comes from a flathead tone ring and heavy hardware, not the resonator. Tone is much the same, resonators move the needle but not nearly as much as people imagine.

Ultimately, just my opinion, but the decision on open-back vs. resonator is primarily driven by perceived tradition. There's very little technical reason to use one over the other. That and price, as mentioned before.

Jun 24, 2024 - 8:00:19 PM
Players Union Member

Helix

USA

17588 posts since 8/30/2006

Quartz ??

Jun 25, 2024 - 11:24:54 AM

15440 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by KCJones

Weight isn't an issue when you're talking specifically about resonators, that issue comes from a flathead tone ring and heavy hardware, not the resonator. 


Yep. I think a three-pound tone ring and one-pound flange equal about half the weight of a typical open-back. I'd expect a pot metal flange to outweigh the 24 shoes and bolts. it replaces.

FWIW, a Deering one piece flange is noticeably heavier than a Gibson-style. I weighed one many years ago. I think it was 6 to 8 ounces heavier.

Jun 25, 2024 - 11:27:33 AM
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824 posts since 5/29/2015

Quicker to be constantly tightening and loosening that skin head.

Jun 25, 2024 - 11:40:32 AM

KCJones

USA

3115 posts since 8/30/2012

quote:
Originally posted by Banner Blue

Quicker to be constantly tightening and loosening that skin head.


Top-tension solves that issue, along with a couple other options. It's not specifically related to the presence of a resonator. 

Edited by - KCJones on 06/25/2024 11:45:12

Jun 27, 2024 - 2:22:02 PM
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382 posts since 2/22/2019

An open back is soft and warm like a great bourbon.

A resonator can sound like a clanging firetruck rolling down the street, wheels ready to fall off.

Jun 30, 2024 - 5:45 AM
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209 posts since 2/16/2015

In case you haven't thought of this.
If you have a beer belly, it fits better in an openback.

Edited by - Claude Grassley on 06/30/2024 05:45:29

Jul 9, 2024 - 6:52:57 PM

1237 posts since 11/22/2006

quote:
Originally posted by Fungal Harmony

So up until quite recently I’ve had this idea that open backs are primarily for old time, and resonators for bluegrass. And while the open backs for old time I still agree with and see many others agree with, I’ve seen a bunch of people say that’s it’s very easy to get a good old time sound on a resonator, less so a bluegrass sound on an open back. So why would anyone get the open back unless they had to be quiet? They’re quieter, they’re naturally gonna have more neck dive due to a lack of counter balance (I mean, even my resonator struggles with neck dive), and can only really do one of the styles well, so what’s the actual advantage? Am I missing something?


Quiet? I have a Romero 13", no tone ring, and a Chuck Lee 12",  Dobson, both with skin heads. Neither are anywhere near quiet at full volume. Louder than any guitar or mandolin, easily. Cut through any jam, with multiple guitars, mandolins, violins, and drums. If I did not practice with headphones I'd have continual tinnitus. No one would call either of these quiet.

Jul 13, 2024 - 9:56:51 AM

Hey R

USA

2 posts since 7/13/2024

Good Info

Jul 18, 2024 - 6:02:42 PM
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1096 posts since 10/23/2003

There is no fixed advantage of an open back over resonators to play old time music, except the same banjo might be a little lighter without a resonator than with one, and might be easier to hold.  On the other hand, my two Tubaphone banjos are as heavy as any RB I have ever picked up,

There is a mythology in the old time music world that old time players did not play resonator banjos, but as soon as resonator banjos of the modern type became available in the 1920s, the dominant players in old time music like Dave Macon, Charlie Poole, Wade Ward, Roscoe Holcomb, Clarence Ashley, Gus Cannon and others switched to resonator banjos. This was especially true for two finger and three finger pickers but also for frailers.

About 10 years ago I did a presentation for the Banjo Collectors Gathering about the Black old time banjoists on the Digital Library of Appalachia.   I found that almost every single one of them played a resonator banjo when they were playing their own banjo. Often when if someone like Dink Roberts or Odell Thompson is pictured playing an open back banjo, it is a banjo loaned to them for a concert or a recording by an old time revivalist, including banjos owned by friends and colleagues of mine that I have played.

I was friends with the late great Mike Seeger.  Mike confided to me once that in most of the recordings he made with the original New Lost City Ramblers on the banjo he used a Gibson RB that he had owned for years, sometimes with the resonator off, but often with it on.

The idea that old time players play only open back banjos is ahistorical. I say that as an old time player who owns six open-back banjos and only one resonator banjo.

If you watch those old Flatt and Scrugg TV shows which can be found on YouTube, you will notice that when Fiddler Paul Warren puts down his fiddle and plays an old time banjo tune, he just takes Earl's RB from Earl, and Earl picks up a guitar.  He doesnt go off to find some 19th century Fairbanks or early 1900s Vega.

On the other hand, if anyone feels that they should not be playing an RB to play old time, and they want to donate a good RB to a deserving senior citizen,  I am willing to expedite that process by taking the banjo off your hands.

Find what YOU FIND EASIER.

Edited by - writerrad on 07/18/2024 18:12:30

Jul 18, 2024 - 6:21:55 PM

1096 posts since 10/23/2003

While there were experiments with external resonators from the 1840s and 50s on, the standard type of external resonator that think of when we say resonator was not perfected until Paramount started putting them on their banjos in the early 1920s.  Before that many resonator like devices that were internal to banjos started to be widespread.     
So, of course, older forms of banjo playing are usually associated with open back banjos, though many banjos seen in pictures we would see in a picture and think they had no resonator, had internal resonators inside the pot.  There were a number of different internal resonating devices.  People sharper and more knowledgeable than I have pointed them out to me.
Again,  when old time music was currennt in the 1920s, and the current type of external resonator was introduce by Paramount and the Paramount external was emulated by Gibson, and Vega,  Bacon and most other banjo companies, those who could afford the newer more expensive banjos got resonator banjos.    However,  my research shows that old time Black and white banjoists were eager to obtain the new resonator banjos once they became available.
The idea that old time is played on open backs only is a fashion and a myth perpetraded 1960s and 70s old time revivalists, rather than what old time banjoists actuallly did.
 
 
Jul 18, 2024 - 6:29:39 PM

1096 posts since 10/23/2003

quote:
Yes, a large number of the Vega, Gibson, and Bacon banjo of vintage orgin that old time players play were actually resonator banjos.   Most conversions are.  I have a Vega Tubaphone that I obtained from Bernunzios with a serial number for 1923 or 24, that most in the know folks think was original built as a guitar banjo with a resonator, that Bernunzio put a 5 string neck on.
All the premium and many of the mass market makers of five string banjos refitted both their five string and the various 4-string and 8-string banjos with external resonators in the 1920s.
Besides that, internal resonators continued to produced and extended, with the height being the operation on the famous Van Eps Recording banjo with works side it that look like the brakes on a 58 dodge, and those banjos sound like artillery even fitted with gut or nylon strings.
 

Originally posted by mikehalloran

My Vegas convert from open to resonator in a few seconds as did my Bacons before.

The tone is different and sustain is generally longer. Resonator banjos are rarely louder, however.


Jul 18, 2024 - 6:34:43 PM

1096 posts since 10/23/2003

quote: If you ever come to Florida,  let me show you how unsoft, and unwarm my 1924 Tubaphone sounds even without a resonator.    I will also illustrate how strong and strident, my 1893 Fairbanks Electric sounds.
Old time Revivalists unlike banjoists who come out of the tradition tend to mistake the bad sound on old records to believe banjos back in the day had the mushy thumpy wimpy sounds some think are old timey.  But the great banjo designers of the late 19th century like the Great David Day who worked for Fairbanks, Vega, and Bacon, as in Whyte Ladye, Tubaphone, and Silver Bell aimed at LOUD RINGING TREBLE, that can make even a Masterone sound mellow!
Originally posted by HighLonesomeF5

An open back is soft and warm like a great bourbon.

A resonator can sound like a clanging firetruck rolling down the street, wheels ready to fall off.


Edited by - writerrad on 07/18/2024 18:35:17

Jul 18, 2024 - 6:54:06 PM

13170 posts since 10/27/2006

quote:
Originally posted by HighLonesomeF5

An open back is soft and warm like a great bourbon.

A resonator can sound like a clanging firetruck rolling down the street, wheels ready to fall off.


Not my experience. 

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