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Thread: Banjo Help

  1. #1

    Default Banjo Help

    Please let me know if there is a better place to ask this.

    My wife is really looking for an open-backed, clawhammer style banjo, and I was hoping to get one for her. She plays three finger style on Samick copy of a Gibson Mastertone banjo, but she is looking to branch out and to play in smaller and quieter settings as well. I know she really likes the sound of the one that Maya de Vitry uses in the below video, but when it comes to even identifying banjos I'm hopelessly out of my depth. Any help you could provide, even if it is pointing to a more appropriate forum would be greatly appreciated.



    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5RxMn8OvYvY
    Last edited by Mandolin Cafe; Sep-14-2018 at 10:11am. Reason: correcting embed instructions

  2. #2
    Administrator Mandolin Cafe's Avatar
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    Default Re: Banjo Help

    Big fan of Pisgah Banjos, but there are a lot of really good open back builders. I say Pisgah first because they're just about the hottest thing going for awhile now and one just landed in the classifieds about an hour ago less than $1K which is a good price.

    Not a banjo player myself but I've had two different banjo players as best men at my weddings.

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    Default Re: Banjo Help

    Most knowledgeable person I know on the subject of banjos is John Bernunzio.

    website: https://bernunzio.com/

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    Registered User wellvis@well.com's Avatar
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    Default Re: Banjo Help

    Try asking on the Banjo Hangout.
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    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Banjo Help

    Bernunzio helped design the Eastman banjo, which is Vega clone, I believe.

    There are tons and tons of vintage open-backs out there, the aforementioned Vegas, also Stewarts, Fairbanks, Coles, Bacons, etc. etc. I'd go to a well-stocked dealer, and play everything that he/she has, see what you like. Cole Eclipse and Vega Whyte Laydie are among those most cited, but there's a wide choice.
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    Registered User Michael Neverisky's Avatar
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    Default Re: Banjo Help

    The Saturn inlay in the headstock would suggest that the banjo, or the neck at least, was made by Mike Ramsey. It was a sort-of trademark of his for a while. Here's a photo of the one I owned several years ago:

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Looking at the video, I can see that the banjo has a Renaissance head and a rolled brass tone ring. Two important components of the tone.
    Last edited by Michael Neverisky; Sep-14-2018 at 2:53pm. Reason: details

  8. #7

    Default Re: Banjo Help

    Thank you all for the suggestions, it looks like I may have to do some more leg work if I want to keep this a surprise. Or more prudently tell her I'm getting for her and have her do the picking.

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    Default Re: Banjo Help

    Quote Originally Posted by Mandolin Cafe View Post
    Not a banjo player myself but I've had two different banjo players as best men at my weddings.
    That's a record of some sort I imagine. I had a guy that did Myron Cohen better than Myron Cohen for one and my brother-in-law for the other. I'm positive that neither had ever seen a banjo.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

  10. #9
    Registered User Ivan Kelsall's Avatar
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    Default Re: Banjo Help

    Take a peek at the Gold Tone banjo website. The GT banjos that i've seen / heard over here in the UK have been excellent. They come in various styles & the price / quality ratio is pretty high = good quality for ''not so much''.
    https://goldtonemusicgroup.com/goldt...ring-open-back

    This Bob Carlin model seems pretty good to my eyes - $1,094 from Elderly Instruments.

    Another idea is to search 'used instrument' websites.You might be lucky enough to come across a good ''vintage'' open back banjo at a decent price,although banjos by the top makers can be a tad high priced,as most quality instruments can be. It depends on how deep your pockets are !,
    Ivan
    Click image for larger version. 

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    Weber F-5 'Fern'.
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    Tokai - 'Tele-alike'.
    Ellis DeLuxe "A" style.

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    Lurkist dhergert's Avatar
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    Default Re: Banjo Help

    Quote Originally Posted by onswah View Post
    Please let me know if there is a better place to ask this.

    My wife is really looking for an open-backed, clawhammer style banjo, and I was hoping to get one for her. She plays three finger style on Samick copy of a Gibson Mastertone banjo, but she is looking to branch out and to play in smaller and quieter settings as well. I know she really likes the sound of the one that Maya de Vitry uses in the below video, but when it comes to even identifying banjos I'm hopelessly out of my depth. Any help you could provide, even if it is pointing to a more appropriate forum would be greatly appreciated.
    Maya de Vitry is playing a very soft touch clawhammer style in the OP video. That is probably the biggest difference from what your wife is playing and what she is hearing Maya de Vitry do. As you've suggested, clawhammer style is most often played on an openback banjo, but it is also frequently played on resonator banjos. The banjo itself and even clawhammer style itself isn't what makes the banjo in this video quieter, rather it is the touch that Maya de Vitry is using.

    Learning to play lightly, dynamically controlling volume, is a sign of advanced playing in any style of playing banjo. It takes time to learn and appreciate the nuances involved with volume. As a ~50 year banjo player/teacher, I'd suggest before getting another banjo (1) that your wife invest in clawhammer lessons first, including specifically the way that Maya de Vitry is playing here; and (2) that she talk with her clawhammer teacher about the best banjo for your wife's style as she develops it.

    I wish you and her the best as she enters this adventure.
    Last edited by dhergert; Sep-15-2018 at 10:22am.
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    Default Re: Banjo Help

    There's another alternative that works well. Many years ago Jeff Huss made a 5 string neck for my Gibson trapdoor tenor. It's set up with nylon strings (the light gauge Nylgut seem to give the most balanced tone with a standard banjo bridge) and is very sweet sounding and has good volume just because it's a banjo. It sounds good with metal finger picks as well.

    The guys down south who make Calabash gourd historic banjos told me that the old Kay and Harmony banjos with the plastic pot work really well with nylon strings, played with flesh or metal picks and can be heard a couple of city blocks away. And you can tune them up to A if you like. Nylon strings have great longevity, take out that cheap tinny tone and are versatile. I wouldn't hesitate to play everything from Bach to old time to bluegrass with this set up...perhaps the be the best kept secret in the banjo world.

  13. #12
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    Default Re: Banjo Help

    I have a 5 string neck on a trapdoor tenor, it is a great sounding frailer. I have steel strings, but still a wonderful sound.
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  14. #13
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Banjo Help

    For what it is worth, I believe that Maya de Vitry is playing a Chanterelle banjo built by Mike Ramsey. I believe it has a planet inlay on the headstock. As others have noted you can also get an old banjo as long if it is set up properly.
    Jim

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    Default Re: Banjo Help

    I agree that Pisgah is a great value and place to start. Excellent banjos for the money and high quality to last.

    There are so many builders out there and if you're not familiar with them and banjos I suggest keeping it simple, starting with just one or maybe a couple reputably recommended brands. NFI. I don't have a Pisgah.

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