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Thread: Open Back / Old Time Banjos - Comparisons to Mando Builders

  1. #1

    Default Open Back / Old Time Banjos - Comparisons to Mando Builders

    Hey Folks,
    I've been getting into clawhammer banjo lately and am considering some options for a move up instrument (hopefully a lifer). I'm looking at the following builders and wondering if any of you can make comparisons to some of the mandolin builders / companies out there, as I've been around the mandolin world for over a decade but am fairly green when it comes to old time banjo options and builder considerations.

    A few builders I'm looking at include:
    - Rickard (dobson model, or half spun dobson)
    - Pisgah (dobson model, or half spun dobson)
    - Bart Reiter (one of the more basic models)
    - Enoch (Tradesman)
    - Ome (Tupelo)

    Any thoughts / suggestions would be much appreciated, as I can't try any of these locally other than potentially a Rickard.

    If these builders / models were a mandolin, what could they be compared to in terms of quality / builder reputation / material / etc?

  2. #2
    Purveyor of Sunshine sgarrity's Avatar
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    Default Re: Open Back / Old Time Banjos - Comparisons to Mando Builders

    What mandolins do you own?

  3. #3

    Default Re: Open Back / Old Time Banjos - Comparisons to Mando Builders

    I own a Weber Galliton (Bruce Weber era) and a 1920 Gibson A0. For what it’s worth, I’m not really a catch and release guy, so hoping to spend some time finding what I’m after so I don’t end up flipping it in a year.

  4. #4
    Purveyor of Sunshine sgarrity's Avatar
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    Default Re: Open Back / Old Time Banjos - Comparisons to Mando Builders

    - Rickard — a friend called him the Bill Collings of the banjo world. He’s an engineer and problem solver. High quality, simply adorned banjos.
    - Pisgah — Weber. Lots of models to choose from and fully customizable within their specs. Awesome banjo building website tool.
    - Bart Reiter — Ratliff. he’s been at it for 30+ years and makes a very high quality, affordable product. No customization.
    - Enoch — Waterloo. Kevin is one of the most respected banjo builders and inlay artists in the biz. Tradesman banjos are his high quality budget line
    - Ome — Collings. My personal favorite. I own two. Super high quality and awesome tone.

    My own addition — Chuck Lee. Super high quality with a focus on the woods and unique inlay on the upper end models. His Lone Star model is in the same range as the Tupelo.

    New Pricing
    - Rickard $1,750 - $2,000
    - Pisgah $1,650 - $2,000
    - Bart Reiter $1,400-ish
    - Enoch $1,385
    - Ome $2,250+
    - Lee $2,400+
    Last edited by sgarrity; Jun-14-2020 at 11:16pm.

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    Default Re: Open Back / Old Time Banjos - Comparisons to Mando Builders

    We're in a golden age of luthery. I think these are all fine open backs, roughly in the same price range, maybe with Pisgah and Rickard (generally) slightly less. But you probably know all this. They're all great values and high quality, banjos one could have for a long time. I hesitate to compare them with mandolin builders, but would say they're all pro quality, comparable to pro quality mandolins.

    Makers like Seeder, Lee and of course Romero are more, and very fine. These may be the Nuggets, Dudes, Gils.

    At least as much of a decision about builder may be 11" or 12", and type of tone ring. I'd also recommend checking out Brooks Masten.

    My dos centavos.

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  8. #6

    Default Re: Open Back / Old Time Banjos - Comparisons to Mando Builders

    Thanks guys, I’ve checked out Chuck Lee as well but his stuff is getting a bit pricey for me. I’m into fairly plain looking banjos with limited or no ornamentation. From everything that I’ve listened to, I tend to like 12” models with spun over rims, but I’m not sure if the size and weight would be a problem. Again, I don’t have any shops within even a days drive that have many options other than Deering and Vega.

    Hard to explain the tone I like, but it would be a warm resonant tone with longer crisp ring to it, if that makes sense. Not too thuddy.
    Looking forward to more thoughts and suggestions.

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    Default Re: Open Back / Old Time Banjos - Comparisons to Mando Builders

    If buying a lifer banjo I would consider Ome, Seeder and perhaps Cedar Mountain. My lifer banjos were all built by makers who either have died or do not make banjos any longer. Each generation has their builders. Look to them. I would also include Buckeye banjos and Greg builds a very fine banjo. Kevin Enoch does as well but a Tradesman in a very basic banjo not like his high end work. Don't go cheap on a lifer, go long.

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    Purveyor of Sunshine sgarrity's Avatar
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    Default Re: Open Back / Old Time Banjos - Comparisons to Mando Builders

    What’s your budget?

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    Default Re: Open Back / Old Time Banjos - Comparisons to Mando Builders

    I went through all this banjo searching about 5-6 years ago, and came up with the same names and after listening to countless Youtube videos I narrowed it down slightly to Enoch, Barter and another I can't quite remember. Anyway, after considering the extortionate cost of shipping and inevitable customs duty, vat etc and handling charges to the UK, I decided to build my own. I built 3 which I felt were good enough to satisfy my BAS. Well this is a builders forum!

  12. #10

    Default Re: Open Back / Old Time Banjos - Comparisons to Mando Builders

    There are a lot of great builders in the banjo world. Pisgah, by the way also owns Balsam Banjo works which makes the hardware for a lot of builders. I’m not sure I’d liken them to Weber, because Patrick is unique in that he wants to use sustainable local woods. He supplies many builders, through Balsam Banjo with necks, hardware, etc. and this includes Cedar Mountain and Dogwood. Bill Rickard does the same and I must say, his tuners are #1. Rickard also makes some fancy instruments, crazy spun rims, half fretted necks for those who like a challenge and a unique resonator banjo design.

    Then there are folks like Riley Baugus who make a few banjos a year when not on tour. Will Seeders, Lukas Pool, all great builders, but with long backlogs. Open back banjos are seeing a lot of popularity. You can really go down the rabbit hole trying to understand the different heads, bridges, strings......

    To the OP, if you are looking for crisp, not too thudding, skip the Tupelo, as it has a wooden tone ring. Stay with a synthetic head, and maybe something with a Dobson tone ring, or rolled brass. Take a look at the Rickard website. He has a lot of nice videos for illustration. The Reiters and Enochs are also a good choice, but the 12” models sell quickly. You might also look at Ute, which is OME’s lower end model, which you can buy direct. If you are looking for crisp and clear tone, then make sure you buy a model with more hooks and nuts as these are what keep the tension on the head. The more hooks, the more focus and clarity the sound. Just so you know, Gryphon Strings actually gives the weights on the banjos they have in stock. Just scroll through the pictures.

    I have an 11” Rickard Maple Ridge and a walnut OME Flora 12”. Mike Chew is just finishing a 12” Dogwood for me. I also like Patrick’s banjos, especially the ones with persimmon fretboards tone rings. Paired with goatskin heads, they have that great old-timey chunk.
    There's nothing better than first-hand experience.

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    Default Re: Open Back / Old Time Banjos - Comparisons to Mando Builders

    This is all really great input! For what it's worth, I do really like the sound of a lot of Lukas Pool's banjos, but noticed the 2 year plus wait plus they would be above my price range. I was attracted to Pisgah's philosophy on the sustainable woods, as well as the customization options for a production builder, along with the prices. The ones where I've found the most discrepancy between videos and sound clips is Pisgah banjos, so my concern was that there might be consistency issues.

    Here's the thing, I live in Canada which means high shipping costs, pretty bad exchange rate and additional import taxes, so the prices are much more than they would be to a US buyer. Rickard, being a Canadian builder, has some advantages in that I can purchase locally without having to worry about import taxes, etc. Plus I like the sound of most of what I've heard.

    I also am trying not to go too far down the rabbit hole of options, as I don't have enough experience to know exactly what I'm after. I find in direct comparisons i tend to like 12" vs 11" tonewise, but haven't played them to know if there's a major difference in comfort.

    Best I think i can do is find videos and sound clips that i like and try to find out what it is they're playing (hoping that it's a fairly representative recording). I've heard many videos of the Tupelo which I think sound great, as well as many of the others mentioned.

    Chances are that I'll get what i think i want then after a few years my tastes will change, just like most of us with any instrument. The big one for me is that I don't want to keep adding to the 'wants' and expanding the budget (let's say $2000 give or take), because I can definitely convince myself to do that. For the most part, I don't see myself playing banjo out of the house, other than jams with friends.

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    Purveyor of Sunshine sgarrity's Avatar
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    Default Re: Open Back / Old Time Banjos - Comparisons to Mando Builders

    If you’re in Canada would be hard to go wrong with a Rickard. There’s also Pattison that makes some cool stuff. Elderly stocks a few of his banjos in the states.

  16. #13

    Default Re: Open Back / Old Time Banjos - Comparisons to Mando Builders

    Bill Rickard is a great guy, and an inspiration. He survived a terrible motorcycle accident twenty years ago, thousands of miles from home (in Italy). He lost an arm, and a leg, but has gone on to not only build great banjos, but innovate tuners, and inspire others to build. That said you might also look into Pattinson. Mark at Folkway Music carries these, along with Ome. If you don’t want to trade up later, buy an Ome. I could have been perfectly happy with the Flora I have.
    There's nothing better than first-hand experience.

  17. #14
    Purveyor of Sunshine sgarrity's Avatar
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    Default Re: Open Back / Old Time Banjos - Comparisons to Mando Builders

    Thinking about ordering his tuners for mine. They're getting rave reviews.

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    Default Re: Open Back / Old Time Banjos - Comparisons to Mando Builders

    i've owned something-or a few-from everyone listed. from the things you said, the tone you want, the price, i would highly recommend a Bart Reiter. Bart actually started out working at Elderly, then started making his line many many years ago. not sure when as its been floating around for some years now, but when Bart retires i think his banjos will soar in price. they are extremely well built. they are typically lighter in weight than most-around 6 lb or under, especially if you get a more recent year model that has the 1/2" pot rim thickness vs the prev years that had 5/8" pot rim thickness.

    Barts banjos adapt really well to tinkering for tone as well. most banjos can be changed with head tightness(brighter or tubby tone), head material, bridge weight, choice of strings, etc. i've felt for a long time Barts banjos come much across the board with the signature tone, you can take a little of the overtones off with an item stuffed under the head(placement for that will be reactive also, closer to the front vs closer to the middle vs closer to the rear).

    i really like Barts Dobaphone that has a dobson tonering, it just seems to have it all from the getgo.

    here's a 12", these typically weigh slightly under 6 lbs, balance extremely well(not headstock heavy). the other one i would suggest is the standard-also does everything really well, a little cheaper than any of the others but solid as a rock.
    Dobophone:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5vAkMWNYe0E


    Standard:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kUIqajyTE0E

    Last edited by darylcrisp; Jun-15-2020 at 9:23pm.

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    Default Re: Open Back / Old Time Banjos - Comparisons to Mando Builders

    here's Riley, listen to the whole start up, this is funny, Riley is funny, neat guy to hang around with
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YagpXvSn2iQ

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  21. #17
    Registered User Cary Fagan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Open Back / Old Time Banjos - Comparisons to Mando Builders

    I think it helps a lot if you can narrow down what you want in the banjo. 11 or 12 inch pot, type of tone ring, and scale length. I had a Bart Reiter standard (I'm in Canada too and found one in Ontario used on Banjohangout.org) and loved it. But it is 26 and a half (I think) which is the old standard. A lot of builders now use 25 1/4 inch necks (I might be off a bit). Bill Rickard uses the latter. His banjos sound great and are beautiful. If I were buying a new one now I'd certainly consider one. Just look up videos of Frank Evans (of the Slocan Ramblers) playing clawhammer on his. A lot of builders get their hardware from Rickard.

    You should also check the website of the Toronto store, the Twelfth Fret. The regular banjos they carry are ok but once in a while they get in something special. Very good people to deal with.
    Cary Fagan

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    Registered User Timbofood's Avatar
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    Default Re: Open Back / Old Time Banjos - Comparisons to Mando Builders

    Quote Originally Posted by Tailgate View Post
    Hey Folks,
    I've been getting into clawhammer banjo lately and am considering some options for a move up instrument (hopefully a lifer). I'm looking at the following builders and wondering if any of you can make comparisons to some of the mandolin builders / companies out there, as I've been around the mandolin world for over a decade but am fairly green when it comes to old time banjo options and builder considerations.

    A few builders I'm looking at include:
    - Rickard (dobson model, or half spun dobson)
    - Pisgah (dobson model, or half spun dobson)
    - Bart Reiter (one of the more basic models)
    - Enoch (Tradesman)
    - Ome (Tupelo)

    Any thoughts / suggestions would be much appreciated, as I can't try any of these locally other than potentially a Rickard.

    If these builders / models were a mandolin, what could they be compared to in terms of quality / builder reputation / material / etc?
    I might suggest looking into “Hornbeam” OT banjos, I think Elderly is the retailer of them. I’ve known the builder for many years and his work is really top notch!
    Jan can do pretty much any kind of customization that you might want of course, I think there might be a YouTube vid of Dan Gellert using one of his banjos “somewhere”.

    It appears Jan is using his own name now, so, look at Bloom banjos.
    Timothy F. Lewis
    "If brains was lard, that boy couldn't grease a very big skillet" J.D. Clampett

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    Default Re: Open Back / Old Time Banjos - Comparisons to Mando Builders

    If it were me, I'd be in the market for a 1920s Vega Whyte Laydie or Tubaphone openback. Might be lucky enough to find an original 5 string, or otherwise would want a custom 5-string neck, which are widely available from boutique builders. With nice setup these are lifetime instruments.
    -- Don

    "Music: A minor auditory irritation occasionally characterized as pleasant."
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    [About how I tune my mandolins]
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  24. #20

    Default Re: Open Back / Old Time Banjos - Comparisons to Mando Builders

    Thanks again for the input. Too many options and not enough cash, unfortunately. This is the sound I'm after. It's got some sustain and ring to it but still a bit deeper organic sounding voice. Most of the tone is likely in the player's hands, but i really like it. 11" goatskin head, walnut rim with whyte laydie tonering.

    https://www.facebook.com/10000465277...4447695720307/

  25. #21

    Default Re: Open Back / Old Time Banjos - Comparisons to Mando Builders

    Put a lot of that sound up to the goat’s skin head and the tone ring.
    There's nothing better than first-hand experience.

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    Default Re: Open Back / Old Time Banjos - Comparisons to Mando Builders

    I used to play with a skin head for the sound, but in the summer here it is humid. Meaning the banjo with a skin head is useless to play out as it won't stay in tune long enough to get thru a tune. This was a heavy calf skin that in the winter would hold tune very well, but in summer forget it.
    THE WORLD IS A BETTER PLACE JUST FOR YOUR SMILE!

  27. #23
    Registered User Timbofood's Avatar
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    Default Re: Open Back / Old Time Banjos - Comparisons to Mando Builders

    Yep, hide heads require a LOT of maintenance!
    Timothy F. Lewis
    "If brains was lard, that boy couldn't grease a very big skillet" J.D. Clampett

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