In this part of our website we try to provide continuously improved information about the instruments you are interested in. This will include something on their construction, types and suitable playing styles, wood and sound as well as maintenance. Some links may lead you to websites with further details, discussion forums or makers. This is a newly established, growing service - reality mixed with opinion. So please understand that it is not possible to include everything from beginning on.
is a well known banjo maker from the Czech Republic where there is a long tradition in Bluegrass and also in instrument building. You can learn more about him and his instruments by visiting this link.
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5-string resonator banjos are the hall mark of Bluegrass banjo players using the three finger picking style. Their body consists of a metal so called "tonering" sitting on a wooden rim. The head is held by brackets going through a flange or fixed to the rim by individual "shoes". The resonator is attached to the flange by screws.
Tonerings: The most desirable tonerings are of the flathead type, meaning that the surface of the banjo head is flat using the total diameter of the tonering to vibrate. With this big area they have more bass notes than an archtop tonering which forms an inner circle leaving a smaller head area to vibrate. There are other tonerings with specific profiles like the wedge fitted Stellung tonering, the "Texas Bell" of Gary Price pruducing brilliancy and sustain, or the often positively discussed ring designed by Steve Huber. Former constructs like the "ball bearing" rings are less desirable as they were constructed to maintain head tension of genuine calf skin heads, replaced by mylar long ago. These tonerings are cast from bell bronce in "secret" alloys - some have 20 or 40 holes drilled into the inner surface. Aluminium and wooden tonerings will not produce the typical bluegrass banjo sound. If you do not want to experiment, a cast bell bronce flathead tonering is recommended.
Rims: There are two constructs for wooden rims in banjos. One is made from lots of wooden pieces, glued together and turned on a lathe, the other one is made by bending (steamed) wood to a three or more ply rim. In the long run, the three ply rim seems more stable (I have seen other rims to separate after years) and recommended for the best sound. It should be made of very hard rock maple.
Flanges: They can be made as one or two piece cast flanges or from multiple metal parts. Together with a flathead tonering a cast one piece flange from the same material (bell bronce) gives very nice tonal results. Some makers also use zincal alloys with good results because it is easier to work with when casting complex patterns. Too much weight may produce a lot of sustain an hinder tone separation in fast tunes. When using a very heavy tonering, a lighter (thinner) flange may be better.
Tailpieces: The heavier, the more sustain. Thus, this is your chance to select the tailpiece to match/counteract the existing sustain of your banjo resulting from the other metal parts to your liking. If you use Keith tuners for tuning effects, a "Price" tailpiece may be advantageous as strings pass straight over the bridge. Most (traditional) players use a "Presto" tailpiece.
Wood: For many players the most desirable banjo wood is curly maple as it produces the "cutting" sound seeked after. On the other end is Mahagoni with a mid-rich warm tone for those who feel that banjos "cut" enough anyway. The hardness of Walnut is somewhere in between and produces a beautiful sound often underestimated. This may be because it is hard to get (expensive) with nice figure. Whenever fretboards are mostly made from Ebony, very nice tonal effects are obtained with rosewood fretboards (yes, the fretboard affects the sound).
Setup: This discussion is endless. Just a few things: If you obtain a new banjo take your time and donīt be frustrated if it will not sound as you like right away. Banjos are sensible, they must settle to fully develop their sound. Check tightness of all screws once in awhile, do not over tighten the head, and NEVER touch the truss rod in the neck to adjust action (do it by using the coordinator rods inside the rim or ask a craftsman).
Strings: For Bluegrass banjos there are many brand names of good strings on the market among you will have to experiment to find your favorite. I play "ghs" "Sonny Osborne" strings on my banjos.
For playing banjo with nylon strings, e. g. for Old Time fretless or classical banjo styles, there are no string "sets" on the market at this time. You can use nylon classical guitar strings with heavy gauge or better listed with "high tension". The problem is that you will need sets with two high "E" strings (used for "D" and "G" of the 1st and 5th strings, respectively) and discard the lower "E" and "A" strings from a guitar set. Thus it may be wise to get single strings which you can combine as necessary for a banjo. It seems that players like Savarez "yellow card" strings most for this purpose whenever other brands may well do which include "Chris Sands" (heavy gauge, rougher surface finish, nice for frailing) and dīAddario (extra hard). It may be worth a try to replace the 4th or "C" string with a bronce would string instead of the pure nylon. What you finally use depends on what you can get as single strings. On fretless banjos strings of a lower tension may work well as there is no putative string damage by the frets.
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5-string open back banjos are used for Old Time Music in playing styles called "Frailing" or "Clawhammer". The construction, volume and tonal requirements are clearly distinguished from Bluegrass resonator banjos.
Tonerings: Common open back banjo tonerings are called "Tubaphone" or "White Lady" after famous instruments of the former Vega company. Other banjos use just wooden rims covered by nickel plated brass and no tonering or a very simple one. These may also produce a very nice tone especially when combined with a calf skin head.
Tenor banjos are used by Irish Folk Music and Jazz players in Dixieland Music. Their principal construction resembles that one of the 5-string resonator banjos despite the shorter 4-string neck (for more details see 5-string resonator banjos). As a significant further difference an archtop tonering is preferred as well as a head which has the "frosting" inside. Plectrum banjos could be called a "hybrid" between Tenor and 5-string with a longer neck than the Tenor but just 4-strings tuned in open "G" with a low "C".
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