Recommendation for a TB, please?

  1. AnneFlies
    Hi everyone, I'm looking for a tenor banjo, and see lots of used ones for sale. The older ones seem to have a lot of character in their details. Vega, Orpheum, Slingerland, etc. Any preferences? Recommendations? Plate on the back or not? I'd like to keep the price under $750, if possible.

    Thanks for your help, and if this has been discussed before, would you please direct me to the thread?

  2. Jill McAuley
    Jill McAuley
    Is there anywhere you can go to try a few banjos out perhaps? One of the things that has coloured my decisions regarding my tenor banjos has been the physical aspect of actually holding them and what I find comfortable to play on - I had a beautiful restored Bacon & Day Silverbell #1 tenor with a resonator but the scale on it was a bit long for my liking plus the resonator made it a bit awkward for me to hold - this is all personal preference stuff, but I knew something was up when I wasn't playing it that much (because it just felt like the "fit" of it was wrong for me) So I sold it and now have an AWESOME Fairbanks-Vega Style M open back tenor banjo that has a really short scale so it's lovely and compact and very easy for me to get around on. I also have a Lange made "Triple X" tenor banjo as a back up - it's slightly longer in scale length than the Vega, but still comfortable to play.

    If you wanted to look at modern tenor banjos I have played a few of the Gold Tone open back "Irish" Tenor banjos (meaning 17 fret tenor banjos) and found them quite playable and they usually can be found used in the $450-ish range.
  3. John Kelly
    John Kelly
    I'd endorse everything Jill says here. The fit of the banjo is all important and you need to feel comfortable playing it. Before I had my Vega (thanks for your kind comments today re the tune in that thread) I had a cheap tenor, an SX branded one, ro try out whether I'd want to adopt the banjo as an instrument. The Vega is just so different to play and to handle - heavier body, scale length suits me and I generally feel at home with it. I vary my playing from mandolin to octave to bouzouki and the tenor and they all ask different questions of one's playing style. Pinkie becomes more and more important, in my opinion anyway, the longer the scale length you play, so fingering has to be adjusted to suit.
    As Jill says, ideally you want to try out a few to see just what suits you, and being over here in Scotland I cannot offer you any real advice on where to go or what to pay.
    Hope you get something that suits and you grow to love it.
  4. AnneFlies
    Jill & John, thanks for the advice. It sounds like there's an adventure in my future, looking for the right instrument.

    Jill, who's in your videos?
  5. Jill McAuley
    Jill McAuley
    The only person in my videos is me - or one of my dogs. I'm a tattooed aging mixed race punk rocker so needless to say I might not look like what some folks think a "nice Irish lass" looks like....
  6. John Kelly
    John Kelly
    But you certainly play like a real Irish lass! Maybe we need to start including our faces too in our video clips, though I can't get enough soft lighting set up to include mine.
  7. Jill McAuley
    Jill McAuley
    Cheers John!
  8. AnneFlies
  9. Barbara Shultz
    Barbara Shultz
    Jill.... aging mixed race punk rocker? An interesting description! You are an awesome musician... maybe someday I'll make it out to California and meet my west coast musician friends!
  10. Chris Hasty
    Chris Hasty

    My first question to ask would be what you play now, if anything... Scale length is a huge factor for the tenor banjo. Also find some to play, which I know from experience is not easy. I had a heck of a time finding any to play around on. I actually had the best luck at my local session. I would swap my mandolin with a few of the banjo players for a set or two. This let me try out different scale lengths and pot depths. I also got to play some fantastic tenors... S.S. Stewart, Orpheum, Paramount, and Vega. If that's an option I would say go for it. I saved tons of grief going that route. I also received some fantastic advice from them regarding banjo shopping. They turned me off a few craigslist finds that looked good to the uninformed (like me) and they turned me onto two great sources... Bernunzio Uptown Music and Vinnie Mondello. Both very reputable dealers who will treat you well.

    By the way... Jill, the only person I see in your videos is Jill. I've never thought of it any other way, and I love your playing. I've spent hours playing along with you emulating your triplet attacks... I even had a more experienced player at the last session tell me I needed to give him triplet lessons!
  11. Jill McAuley
    Jill McAuley
    Cheers Barbara and Hastyman!!
  12. Eddie Sheehy
    I sold my Bacon B 17-fret TB and now I'm looking again... there are a few interesting ones in the classifieds. I'm leaning towards a 19-fret CGDA so I can capo 2 to get DAEB... and a shorter scale...
    I also endorse Jill's skill on the TB. You should figure out a way to give online lessons Jill.
  13. Chris Hasty
    Chris Hasty
    And Eddie, you should open a museum to display all those wonderful mandolins you own. I am frequently envious of the ones you sell... especially the Flyde single malt and that three-point you're offering now. Man I wish you were my neighbor... I would be at your house all the time.
  14. AnneFlies
    Well, after listening to Jill play, I jumped right in and acquired a 1923 Vega Style F from someone on the BanjoHangout site. For around $300, it seemed like a reasonable way to try a TB. Been having fits with the friction tuners, so may order some Five Star tuners from Stew-Mac, unless there's some better suggestions around. The D-string won't hold tune at all.

    I also bought a Kalamazoo banjo-mandolin, which is a riot to play! Since I'm not much of a true musician, it's just plain fun trying out new sounds. Same tune, different instruments, different sounds. My dog is going crazy.

    edit: Just noticed the discussion on jordandvm's thread on the small shaft tuners. Any recommendations between those & the 5-Stars?
  15. Jill McAuley
    Jill McAuley
    the small shaft ones from Bob Smakula are great on vintage tenors because only a minimal amount of reaming out of the existing holes is needed to accomodate them - I have them on both my Style M and my Triple X and they're the business.
  16. AnneFlies
    Thanks, Jill!
  17. AnneFlies
    Well, I just picked up my Vega from Herb David's in Ann Arbor, where I had the small shaft planetary tuners (from Smakula Instruments) installed, along with octave mandolin strings. I pretty much had to go with the small-shaft tuners due to the limited real estate on the peghead. They did a great set-up, and as soon as I got home I started playing it. I'm in love with my "new" banjo! Joyous noise!

    Thanks for everyone's advice!
  18. John Kelly
    John Kelly
    Looking forward to some clips of you playing it now, Anne!
  19. AnneFlies
    Oh, I still haven't figured out how to make or post videos. May be for the best...for everyone.
  20. Mike Snyder
    Mike Snyder
    I've just purchased a 17-fret Orpheum from a Care member and could not be more pleased. The scale is do-able for my smallish hands and the tone is more mellow and plunky than bright and in-your-face. I'm an old-timey player who dabbles in ITM and the instrument just fits in all respects. It only needed minor tweaks which I did myself initially, then a no-charge hour on the luthiers bench. Up and running, easily heard in session, plays easy. Not easy to find, not nearly as numerous as a Vega or Stewart. Also not known for their volume but it certainly seems loud enough.
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