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Being a banjo player you are like me in certain respects, especially concerning the banjo. We can’t tolerate anything being out of sorts for the most enjoyable and confident playing. Even the look and feel of the instrument needs to be right for the experience to be its best. It’s my job to fulfill banjo dreams. Whether that means fixing those irritating problems through a professional tune-up or providing a whole new banjo, we can agree that it’s more fun to play with the right equipment.
When I dream, the banjo often recreates itself in my mind. Nothing about the instrument need be held as sacred in the fantasy world of recreational invention. But assuming we are bluegrass musicians, let’s start dreaming on the iconic image of “banjo” that for many of us may be a 1934 Gibson flathead five string. The old flat heads that have withstood the test of time, still sing with a timeless voice that defines the classic sound of the instrument.
In your dream let’s say you pick up this imaginary instrument a garage sale for $100 and you are thrilled. After playing it for a little while you notice that its weight begins to drag you down. Your dream instantly provides you with a lighter weight flat head of the same vintage with the similar character of sound. Your playing commences only to be interrupted by the thought that the neck was profoundly narrow for your style and hand shape. Poof! The neck widens into a shape that makes chokes and slides effortless.
The shape of the fingerboard raises up slightly down the center of the fingerboard almost to meet the strings. Your left hand is now more comfortable than ever, but you notice that the old bridge is saggy and certain notes don’t ring with the same pure sound. Poof! The bridge grows taller, especially in the middle and you find clarity of every note until you find the third string going sharp. Poof! The bridge reshapes to provide correct compensation and all is well again.
Suddenly one of the strings pops out of the bridge slot because the tailpiece is was apparently originally designed for a narrower 4 string banjo. Poof! The tailpiece widens so that each string has the ideal straight line break angle over the bridge, and your dream goes on until dark when the dew appears on the wildflowers.
In the moist air the fingerboard swells causing low action and string buzz, the one way truss rod suddenly becomes a dual action rod solving yet one more problem. Your dream calls you to fly to a foreign land to play. Poof! With one twist of a tool, the neck pops off and you carry your banjo through customs nestled safely in your suitcase. Upon reassembly you find that the neck has a range of adjustment adaptable to any height bridge or string height and you quickly find the perfect neck angle for buttery action, and the party begins.
Your dream is interrupted by a smart phone alarm. It is Al Price with some great news from Nechville. An all-original 1934 TB-11 one- piece flange pot was recently decked out with a matching new Nechville neck. This is a Pre-war flathead without all the weight of a full tone ring. The brass top on the 11′s old 3 ply maple rim is about 3 pounds lighter than other banjos in the Mastertone family. The wide radiused frets and compensated bridge remind you of your dream. You realize that your dream has come true when you hear about the flux-mounted neck and comfort bevel armrest provided on this dreamy hybrid of a banjo.
Please note that the same banjo with lesser necks have been sold for 3 to five times the price with the simple modification of adding a pre-war style tone ring. Nechville builds authentic pre-war spec tone rings and professionally installs them in our custom shop. Personally, I think it is better to keep this pot original but we have the know-how and the best tone rings to take it to that next level if you want.
If this banjo or one that pops into YOUR dreams tickles your fancy, please contact me or Al.
This story brought to you by the Banjo Revolution.
or Call 612-275-6602
See and hear and learn more at www.nechville.com
The general impression of what I have seen in my travels the past few years is that Acoustic music is flourishing in many parts of the world. While recorded music sales have undergone a huge change with the advent of digital music, handmade acoustic music has grown through presentation at live festival events, along with a widening of participation as “jammers” and hobby musicians.
Music has proven to be a fulfilling and fun social event for all ages and such acoustic music including folk and traditional continues to spread at the Grass roots level. While mainstream media does not highlight this music much, increasing awareness of folk and acoustic alternatives has a positive effect upon acoustic instrument sales. In particular, the banjo has been on an upswing, and sales of Nechville banjos have been strong through the slow economy of the last few years. Sales statistics show all fretted string instruments on the rise.
The vast majority of banjos are relatively low quality imports from the far east, and many players that stick with banjo are now in the market for a better banjo. Nechville is becoming a clearer choice due to their unique and sensible high quality designs. I see plenty evidence that participatory social music of Bluegrass, Folk and Oldtime is here to stay. As more and more people discover the enjoyment and challenge of learning to play, our jamming circle will soon extend around the world.
Making music is a great hobby. It’s a fun and creative outlet, It can be expensive if you collect expensive instruments. But compared to Cable TV, Golf, Boating, skiing, and driving, hunting, raising pets, or sky diving, it’s cheap. Especially if you are wise and purchase good instruments with high resale value.
One of the best things you can do for yourself is to buy the best instrument you can afford. I know many people who have wasted money on banjos that looked good, and even sounded pretty good for a while. Then the instrument starts needing continual adjustment, and unfortunately never delivers top-tier performance. Then people lose money on a trade for a slightly better instrument which still doesn’t measure up over time. Even after a player has lost money several times over on inferior banjos and settled on one he thought would be his last, invariably a picky player’s ear begins to seek alternate sounds.
Please don’t just go out and buy a banjo just because somebody said it was the best. Make your best choice by learning what really makes a banjo great. Here’s a practical checklist for those of you looking.
The following is a list ofthings that I find important as a player and a builder. You’ll have your own priorities however, like how it sounds and looks, but the following are banjo luthiers’ details that may not be obvious to you but are worth considering when looking for a banjo.
* Smooth dressed frets (wider frets wear slower)
* Ergonomically contoured playing surface (compound radius retains neck integrity while improving playability)
* No excessive weight (professional banjos can be 7 pounds or less)
* Neck angle adjustability (don’t expect coordinator rods to give you much if any adjustment)
* Evenly tensioned head (Helical mounting guarantees even-ness)
* Low enough string height with high enough bridge (taller bridges increase power and sustain)
* Beveled non-metal armrest (metal armrests cut down circulation in your arm)
* Bridge properly compensated for intonation and optimal action on each string (bridge should be custom fitted to each banjo)
* Easy head changing (Save time for more practice)
* Wide and generous Neck to body interface (for tuning stability and solid sound)
* Dual point anchoring for tail piece (tailpiece shouldn’t move from side to side)
* Easy string changes (avoid tailpieces with covers for quickest changes)
* Straight-line tailpiece design (keeps string energy directed straight into head)
* Flexibility of options (does it have adaptability for alternative tone components or necks?)