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Thread: I want to buy a banjolin, but know nothing about them...

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    Default I want to buy a banjolin, but know nothing about them...

    Hello, fellow mandolinists.
    I've been wanting to get a banjolin for a while now, and found one on Craig's list today for $100. The guy's dad unfortunately died and I think he's just trying to make a little cash. He believes it was made around the '20s (which, to the eye only trained by Google images, seems about right) and it has a skin head. The neck needs to be reset, which I know can be pretty pricey, but it doesn't look too bad.
    My question is, is it worth the $100 plus maintenance costs? Should I try to negotiate?
    The picture he sent me can be found on my home page.
    Thanks!
    -Beth

  2. #2

    Default Re: I want to buy a banjolin, but know nothing about them...

    Hi Beth,
    The 20's sounds about right for the age. $100 is fair, they don't bring a ton of money unless they are something really rare. Depending on how handy you are, neck resetting can be something as simple as loosening the neck from the rim and installing a small shim of wood in order to get the strings to follow the neck, OR if the neck has issues, then it might need a professional adjustment. As far as negotiation is concerned, sometimes a phone call will tell you what the seller expects, often they will drop their price over the phone even before you come to see it. Or sometimes not. To me, it would depend on how much work it needs to be playable. Good luck.

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    Default Re: I want to buy a banjolin, but know nothing about them...

    Jeff, thank you so much for the help! I'm really excited to get the instrument, and learn and put to use some new skills on such a beauty.

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    Default Re: I want to buy a banjolin, but know nothing about them...

    Grandpa's WWI-era banjo-mandolin, a nameless make with a massive Guckert Duplex tone ring, was already in good shape when I inherited it. New strings and a minor bridge adjustment were all that was needed. A slightly newer Varsity banjo-uke I bought on eBay for US$30 shipped was literally in pieces -- but nothing was broken. Reassembly was pretty obvious and it's quite a satisfactory little noisemaker now. My newer 5-string and Turkish banjos are even less trouble; banjos are pretty simple bolt-together machines. Solid-body axes (like all my guitars, mandos, 'ukes, et al) are much more bothersome to work on.

    Little issues: Is the hardware there? Brackets, nuts, bolts, screws, tuning machines, tension rod. These need to all be there, and not corroded or damaged; but such parts can be replaced as needed. Action, intonation, and head tightness are easily adjusted. Big issues: Are the neck and fretboard straight? Look down the side of the neck to judge that. Is the neck warped or cracked? If so, it's a deal-killer.

    Here's a quick anatomy lesson of banjos in general. http://www.deeringbanjos.com/blogs/b...jo-anatomy-101 I sure hope this one works out for you!
    Mandos: Coleman & Soviet ovals; Kay & Rogue A5's; Harmonia F2 & mandola
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    Default Re: I want to buy a banjolin, but know nothing about them...

    I have a 1920's vintage banjolin. It's definitely very loud! Also hard to keep in tune and intonated. The luthier I took it to after I bought said most banjolins are that way, I forget the reason why. I don't really perform with it, it's more of a curiosity that I will pull out at a party occasionally. They sound cool and like I said, loud!
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    Default Re: I want to buy a banjolin, but know nothing about them...

    Thanks a bunch! This is super helpful. I've been playing banjo, guitar, uke, etc for years...the mandolin is still pretty new to me and especially the banjo mandolin, so anything I can learn about the anatomy and how to fix/upkeep it is great. Thanks again!

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    Default Re: I want to buy a banjolin, but know nothing about them...

    Thanks for the warning... I'm pretty sure my family already hates me for the noise I call music on the banjo, and of course mandolin now I'll have a new toy to drive them crazy with. I'm mostly interested in something to just have some fun with, so it sounds like just what I'm looking for (well to us musicians at least)
    Thanks, Chuck!

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    Default Re: I want to buy a banjolin, but know nothing about them...

    It's the devils instrument, they only sound good played with a 14lb sledge hammer.

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    Default Re: I want to buy a banjolin, but know nothing about them...

    Quote Originally Posted by Dave Hanson View Post
    It's the devils instrument, they only sound good played with a 14lb sledge hammer.
    They sound better when played with a growler of beer.

    I inherited Grandpa's WWI-era banjo-mandolin. I have adopted Grandpa's playing / practicing style: sit someplace comfortable with the axe on my lap and a cool bottle nearby. Grandpa's fave was Ranier Ale; I prefer Anchor Steam. Prosit!
    Mandos: Coleman & Soviet ovals; Kay & Rogue A5's; Harmonia F2 & mandola
    Ukuleles: 3 okay tenors; 3 cheap sopranos; Harmonia concert & baritone
    Banjos: Gretsch banjolin; Varsity banjolele; Orlando 5-string; fretless & fretted Cümbüs o'uds
    Acoustic guitars: Martin Backpacker; Ibanez Performance; Art et Lutherie; Academy dobro; Ovation 12-string
    Others: Maffick & First Act dulcimers; Mexican cuatro-menor; Puerto Rican cuatro; Martin tiple; electrics
    Wanted: charango; balalaika; bowlback mando

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    Default Re: I want to buy a banjolin, but know nothing about them...

    Quote Originally Posted by chuck3 View Post
    ...hard to keep in tune and intonated. The luthier I took it to after I bought said most banjolins are that way, I forget the reason why...
    Not exactly so, but mandolin-banjo bridges can be even more "movable" than regular mandolin bridges, since they're held by string tension alone to a flexible membrane -- the banjo head -- rather than to a sold wooden top, as on a mandolin.

    I have speculated that this may be why some early mandolin-banjo bridges are quite long and thick, more so than bridges for tenor and five-string banjos -- but of course those share the same characteristics as the mandolin-banjo, so the larger bridges may be to get different tonality from the instrument.

    Mandolin-banjos do tend to be raucous, but can be muted by a cloth stuffed between the head and the dowel stick (assuming the instrument has a dowel stick). Also, head tension can be adjusted, as a somewhat looser head, especially since you're dealing with a "skin" head rather than plastic, will be "plunkier" and less shrill. And, a lot depends on how you play it.

    Ascertaining the make of the instrument would make sense. "Name brands" like Gibson, Vega, Paramount, Bacon & Day etc. command decent "collectors'" prices, but there were scads of these instruments made at the "trade" level, often unmarked, sold for $5-10 through catalogs, and commanding less than $100 today. Don't be reticent to bargain if you feel it's appropriate.
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    Default Re: I want to buy a banjolin, but know nothing about them...

    Thanks for the advice, Allen. These are definately some good tips I'll keep in mind when buying and playing.

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    Default Re: I want to buy a banjolin, but know nothing about them...

    Another factor regarding chuck3's post: any type of banjo has an inherent tuning issue, in that when you re-tune a single string, that changes the pressure of the bridge feet on the banjo head, and thus affects the other strings. This is much more of an issue with banjos, with their flexible heads as the main vibrating surface, than with a wooden-topped instrument -- guitar, mandolin etc. When I re-tune the 4th string on my 5-string banjo, going from "C" tuning to "G" tuning, I have to also adjust the adjacent 3rd string.

    So, if you're raising the pitch of your 4th course of strings on a mandolin-banjo, odds are it will affect the tuning of the 3rd course, and so on.

    Old banjo joke: "If there were a way to tune a banjo, someone would have figured it out by now."
    Allen Hopkins
    Gibsn: '54 F5 3pt F2 A-N Custm K1 m'cello
    Natl Triolian Dobro mando
    Victoria b-back Merrill alumnm b-back
    H-O mandolinetto
    Stradolin Vega banjolin
    Sobell'dola Washburn b-back'dola
    Eastmn: 615'dola 805 m'cello
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    Default Re: I want to buy a banjolin, but know nothing about them...

    Quote Originally Posted by allenhopkins View Post
    Old banjo joke: "If there were a way to tune a banjo, someone would have figured it out by now."
    Another old line: "Hell, there ain't no notes on a banjar. Ya jest PLAY it!"
    Mandos: Coleman & Soviet ovals; Kay & Rogue A5's; Harmonia F2 & mandola
    Ukuleles: 3 okay tenors; 3 cheap sopranos; Harmonia concert & baritone
    Banjos: Gretsch banjolin; Varsity banjolele; Orlando 5-string; fretless & fretted Cümbüs o'uds
    Acoustic guitars: Martin Backpacker; Ibanez Performance; Art et Lutherie; Academy dobro; Ovation 12-string
    Others: Maffick & First Act dulcimers; Mexican cuatro-menor; Puerto Rican cuatro; Martin tiple; electrics
    Wanted: charango; balalaika; bowlback mando

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    Default Re: I want to buy a banjolin, but know nothing about them...

    Haha that's a great joke and completely true. Being a banjo player myself, I know the pain all too well!

  19. #15

    Default Re: I want to buy a banjolin, but know nothing about them...

    I've been playing my banjolin a lot for the past couple of years, mostly traditional Irish music, but also for jamming. It has a skin (not plastic) head, which really gives it a great tone. Because it has such thick, complex overtones, I've found that I have to play it like a heavily fuzzed out electric guitar: single notes work best, double stops and chords are too distorted, and I need to mute the unused bass strings while playing on the high strings.

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