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Thread: What are your thoughts on Deering Tenor Banjos

  1. #1
    Registered User mbruno's Avatar
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    Default What are your thoughts on Deering Tenor Banjos

    Hey all

    I think I'm going to purchase a Tenor Banjo because, well I'm entirely sure why - but I've wanted one since I went to Ireland a few years back and figure now is a good a time as any. To start, I'll have no reason to play this for gigs and etc - but I'm hoping to incorporate that sometime in the future.

    I'm looking at Deering's line because I live in SD and they are nearby and they aren't super expensive.

    The big question right now is 17 vs 19 frets - what are your thoughts? I have a friend that said "I would get the 19 fret, tune down a whole step and capo 2 most of the time. That low range can be nice.". He's a pretty fantastic musician so I lend a lot to that advice and will be leaning towards 19 frets probably - but anyone have experience with both?

    Any other suggestions of things to look into regarding a Tenor Banjo?
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    Registered Muser dang's Avatar
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    Default Re: What are your thoughts on Deering Tenor Banjos

    Are you tuning GDAE? 19-fret

    At least that’s what I want
    I should be pickin' rather than postin'

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    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: What are your thoughts on Deering Tenor Banjos

    What Deering models are you looking at? I'm guessing the Goodtime because they come in 17- and 19-fret tenors, and at ±$600 they're not "super expensive." In my experience -- I don't own one, but have played them at dealers' etc. -- they're decently made, sturdy, not an exceptional sound, definitely playable.

    As to the scale length, it's easier to "get around" playing melody on a 17-fret neck. The expedient of capo-ing on the 2nd fret -- well, that just means you're buying a 19-fret instrument, to play like a 17-fret. I'm not sure how much of a "low range" you'll get -- tune your C string to B-flat, capo at the 2nd fret to get C, and the only difference is that the string is slightly more slack.

    Couple of "10" BanjoHangout reviews of the Goodtime here. Emphasize that this is steps below a "gigging" instrument, and the Elderly blurb says the same: good for taking to the beach, throwing in the back of the car for a camping trip -- and for beginners.

    If you are open to considering imports, the Gold Tone "Cripple Creek 'Irish Tenor'" 17-fret instruments would save you a bit of money, and get generally good reviews. And there are a slew of used mid-level tenors on the market, both 17- and 19-fret. If you can find a nearby-enough dealer who has a few in stock, you might want to do some hands-on comparisons.

    Good luck!
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  6. #4

    Default Re: What are your thoughts on Deering Tenor Banjos

    Quote Originally Posted by mbruno View Post
    ... anyone have experience with both?

    Any other suggestions of things to look into regarding a Tenor Banjo?
    I've had 17s and 19s. Generally prefer the tone of the longer scales. But it sure is fun to whip out a little 17er and chop out some ragtime.

    I found that, with banjos as with all things strings, I like the longer scale .. ultimately went for plectrum banjo, myself.

    On the second point, I prefer vintage banjos (from online auctions - pretty easy to assess a banjo online..)

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    Registered User Jill McAuley's Avatar
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    Default Re: What are your thoughts on Deering Tenor Banjos

    I'd always vote for a 19 fret tenor banjo meself - I started out playing 17 fret tenors and once I switched to 19 fret I far preferred the string tension on them and I find it facilitates playing triplets more easily. I actually didn't find there to be that big a difference going between the 17 fret tenor and the 19 fret tenor as far as ease of playing goes. If you're thinking of going for a Goodtime tenor they're fine from a playability standpoint but sound wise not real inspiring. You'd have to get the Goodtime Special to get a banjo with a tone ring - the other Goodtime models below it don't come with one, probably the reason they're marketed as being so light in weight and also the reason the sound is on the meh side.

    If you're looking at the Deering models higher up the food chain (The Boston, The Sierra), I had a Deering Standard (the precursor to the Sierra) and while it was a nice enough banjo I found it to be a wee bit "over built" - it was one of the heaviest banjos I've ever played and I moved it along fairly quickly and replaced it with an open back Ome Juniper, which was a lovely banjo.

    If you're planning on tuning your tenor GDAE and open to buying a vintage banjo then I would highly recommend checking out my pal Dan's site: https://tradbanjo.com - he restores old tenor banjos and sets them up for GDAE tuning. He's also a great source for strings, accessories and parts for tenor banjos.
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  10. #6

    Default Re: What are your thoughts on Deering Tenor Banjos

    Also, scale lengths vary - you can find vintage banjos with 19 frets and a 22 inch scale length which is a nice compromise. I have a Weymann and Abbott with this scale length.

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    Default Re: What are your thoughts on Deering Tenor Banjos

    i would suggest checking out Bob Smakula's shop in WVa also. a well regarded shop that does rehab on old instruments and it gives you something with built in mojo, but plays as nice as a modern made piece. fair pricing imo also.

    scroll down for some Tenors
    https://www.smakula.com/Banjos.html

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    Default Re: What are your thoughts on Deering Tenor Banjos

    I bought my first tenor banjo, a 17 fret Goodtime, from Bedford Banjo about three years ago. I think I paid $300 for it. It was a great starter after several years of five string. It had heavy strings on it when I bought it, which probably contributed to a lot of forward bow. So I planed the neck, installed a heel-adjustable truss rod, and fitted a persimmon fretboard. I also installed Gotoh tuners from Bob Smakula. Somewhere along the way, I found an original Goodtime resonator for it. Most recently I added a small brass tone hoop which sits nicely on the wooded rim, making it a slight archtop. It now has an official Deering gigbag. I know this is a ridiculous amount of time and money to put into a Goodtime banjo, but it's been a great banjo to experiment with. I use the Deering tenor banjo strings, but install a heavier G string which helps a lot with intonation. I don't play it much anymore, having migrated to longer scale banjos, mandolin, and octave mandolin. All these mods have made it a better banjo....for me at least. I've considering selling it (accepting a certain loss) but most buyers would probably prefer something a little more original.

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    Paul Wheeler
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    Default Re: What are your thoughts on Deering Tenor Banjos

    I have a 17-fret Sierra which I like very much, tuned CGDA; I have a 19-fret Gibson TB3 tuned GDAE, which I'm more likely to reach for for my usual Celtic melodies. I use my CGDA instruments to play same tunes, same key, and benefit from the different ear/muscle training which actually improves my GDAE playing. Oddly, I find the longer-scale CGDA instruments less confusing to finger cleanly than my 16-inch mandola, particularly on the C-string 5-6th fret region where (on mandola) I'm always conflicted with ring/pinky-finger options; the longer scales (tenor banjo and tenor guitar) seem to solve that problem for me. -- Paul
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    Paul Wheeler
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    Default Re: What are your thoughts on Deering Tenor Banjos

    I should add: yes, it's heavier than any of my other banjos though the neck is not at all chunky. The mass is all in the pot, and there's no wasted energy to support the neck while playing. -- Paul
    Last edited by twaaang; Oct-12-2021 at 11:00pm. Reason: typo
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    Default Re: What are your thoughts on Deering Tenor Banjos

    Another option is to look at Gibsons and other makers that are converted from tenor to 5 string and the tenor necks are available pretty cheap on forums/ reverb/ other selling sites, or the 5 string comes with original tenor neck. I did this, then you can switch back and forth but you have to know difference between one piece flange, tube and plate, flat cut neck heels (there may be other styles, I can't remember)
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    Default Re: What are your thoughts on Deering Tenor Banjos

    Deering's upper line banjos are well made instruments. In the lower price ranges, you can find instruments both new and used with a much better quality of construction than those in the Deering Goodtime line.

    A best buy in tenor banjos are the old Vega Tubaphone tenors. They were professional grade banjos, and a Tubaphone style M can be found for $800. My preference for a tenor is for the shorter scale instruments.

  22. #13

    Default Re: What are your thoughts on Deering Tenor Banjos

    Barney McKenna of the Dubliners used a Roy Smeck tenor on their first LP. I bought one a year or so ago, for less than $200, the neck had a slight bow but a dose of vinegar poured into the slot holding the steel bar truss rod freed the fretboard, I fitted an adjustable truss rod and ended up with a tenor fit for the next 50 years.
    Listen to 'The Dubliners' LP if that's sound that will suit you buy a Roy Smeck, they crop up on EBAY regularly for not very much.

  23. #14
    Registered User mbruno's Avatar
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    Default Re: What are your thoughts on Deering Tenor Banjos

    Thanks all - I'm fairly set on the Deering in large part because the main factory is nearby and I'll be able to play / visit before I buy. Plus a bunch of musician friends wanna make the trip with me there, so field trip!!

    I've heard from just about everyone that the 19 fret is the way to go. Since I'm not entirely sure how I'll take to the instrument, I'm thinking of starting with the low end model for $600. Maybe I'll pony up for the Artist model, but probably not more than that. I'll let y'all know what I end up with!!

    Thanks!
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  24. #15

    Default Re: What are your thoughts on Deering Tenor Banjos

    Thanks for checking back to let us know what you've decided. Looking forward to hearing more!

  25. #16
    🎶 Play Pretty 🎶 Greg Connor's Avatar
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    Default Re: What are your thoughts on Deering Tenor Banjos

    I have a 19 fret Ome Irish Tenor. I have never encountered a 17 fret. My Ome is a beautiful instrument with a tone that encourages me to keep playing.

    I also have two 5 string Deerings, Golden Era and Senator. Those are beautiful instruments too. I suggest going with the 19 fret.

  26. #17
    Registered User Jill McAuley's Avatar
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    Default Re: What are your thoughts on Deering Tenor Banjos

    Quote Originally Posted by mbruno View Post
    Thanks all - I'm fairly set on the Deering in large part because the main factory is nearby and I'll be able to play / visit before I buy. Plus a bunch of musician friends wanna make the trip with me there, so field trip!!

    I've heard from just about everyone that the 19 fret is the way to go. Since I'm not entirely sure how I'll take to the instrument, I'm thinking of starting with the low end model for $600. Maybe I'll pony up for the Artist model, but probably not more than that. I'll let y'all know what I end up with!!


    Thanks!
    Tips for when you go try banjos out: bring a lighter pick - for tenor banjo playing something in the range of .60mm - .72mm works well, and pick down near the bridge (good rule of thumb is 1-2inches away from the bridge rather than up near the neck. Enjoy the field trip!
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    2015 JP "Whitechapel" tenor banjo
    2018 Frank Tate tenor guitar
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    plectrist Ryk Loske's Avatar
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    Default Re: What are your thoughts on Deering Tenor Banjos

    What Jill said ... plus .. have the different banjos played for you as well as trying them out. Everything sounds different "out front" and it might make a difference when deciding between instruments.
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  30. #19

    Default Re: What are your thoughts on Deering Tenor Banjos

    Am I correct that, as I recall from investigating them a few years ago, the Goodtime banjos all have frets installed directly into the neck (no separate fretboard) and no truss rod? I quite liked the feel and sound of it but had concerns about longevity with that construction style. (And if I did have one, I would tend to baby it rather than haul it to the beach and campfire scenes, or toss it into the car every time I went out just in case…which is all beside the point of having an econo-model).

    Personally, I really want a short-scale 17-fret tenor. At the same time I tried the Goodtimes there was a Gretsch Ladie Belle which Absolutely checked all my boxes-light very comfortable, short scale, great sound, no apparent cost-cutting construction shortcuts but it was a few hundred more than I wanted to spend. They were promptly discontinued and seemed to thoroughly disappear from the marketplace. In retrospect I wish I’d bought it because I haven’t found anything closer to my ideal since then.
    I eventually got a vintage Ludwig, nice instrument but longer scale than I like. Loud though. ;/=
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    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: What are your thoughts on Deering Tenor Banjos

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Cameron View Post
    Am I correct that, as I recall from investigating them a few years ago, the Goodtime banjos all have frets installed directly into the neck (no separate fretboard) and no truss rod? I quite liked the feel and sound of it but had concerns about longevity with that construction style...
    Yeah, "hard rock" maple neck with no fingerboard and no truss rod. Lotsa banjos lack truss rods, though some have non-adjustable steel reinforcement under the fingerboard. Banjo strings don't apply the same stress to the neck as mandolin or guitar do; fewer, lighter strings, less string tension.

    However, the lack of a fingerboard could pose more of a problem. Maple's gonna wear faster than rosewood or ebony. I don't see as many banjos with neck "divots" as I do guitars, but consider the look of those maple-fingerboard Fender Strats and Teles after a few years' play.

    Were I in the tenor banjo market, I'd still go for a used US model; plenty of them around. I have a Bacon Orchestra Model 17-fret that does fine by me.
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  32. #21

    Default Re: What are your thoughts on Deering Tenor Banjos

    If you play jazz and jazzy pop and what not, the longer scale works much better, imo. A lot of the chordal work that's done utilizes the upper range - right up to the top frets, quite often, particularly in early jazz styles, improvising, etc. And if you're playing solo, you're orchestrating pieces on the fretboard - so having as much range as possible is desirable - Why I went for plectrum banjo .. Eddy Davis and others play jazz on 17s.. I like the longer - I often play octaves up there and think, "Ahh, I'm glad I have this long neck."

  33. #22
    Registered User northfolk's Avatar
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    Default Re: What are your thoughts on Deering Tenor Banjos

    I recently played the Goldtone 17 fret Irish Tenor with the 12 inch pot...around $650 with nice gig bag, brass tone ring, planetary tuners and quite pleasing to the eyes and ears as well...

  34. #23
    Quietly Making Noise Dave Greenspoon's Avatar
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    Default Re: What are your thoughts on Deering Tenor Banjos

    Nice range...depending on your windup.

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  35. #24

    Default Re: What are your thoughts on Deering Tenor Banjos

    Hello, I'm new to the forum, wanted to say something here. My Dad was an old Scot who played fiddle mandolin and tenor banjo. I got his instruments when he passed. It was my job as a kid to keep his banjo in tune when I went through our music room. He had a 19 fret Fender Concert tone archtop from around 1970, and he had a 20s Slingerland 17 fret if I'm spelling that right. I had a love hate relationship with the tenor but now I love them and the traditional music. I now have four tenors including those two. I'd go with the 19 fret as you can capo it up as mentioned. It is a stretch on a 19 but also on a 17 fret. Then you can tune octave mandolin GDAE and get that low end growl and the best of both worlds. I get the John Pearse Irish tenor strings for the 19 fret .013-.04. I'm sure the Deering would be a fine banjo and if it just had guitar tuners on it I'd replace those with planetary banjo tuners. That's kind of an expensive upgrade but I did that on a Recording King dirty thirties and it made a big difference. Best wishes.

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