What is the ultimate 17 Fret Banjo?

What is the ultimate 17 Fret Banjo?

I’m thinking of getting back into the Banjo, after many years on the Fiddle. Not instead of, but as well as ……….. I hasten to add! πŸ˜‰

Anyway, rather than go back to the old standard length Banjo I have, I’ve decided to get myself a 17 Fret instrument, instead.

What do experienced 17 Fret players consider to be the ultimate short neck Banjo?

{ N.B. If I were going for a standard neck, my first choice would of course be a Paragon. }

Should I look no further than the best Vega 17 I can offord, or are there others out there I should be checking out?

Cheers
Dick

Re: What is the ultimate 17 Fret Banjo?

Are you buying a banjo as well as a new mandolin? You must be loaded!

πŸ™‚

Re: What is the ultimate 17 Fret Banjo?

It’s all about checking out my options, so more a case of … either or! πŸ˜‰

Re: What is the ultimate 17 Fret Banjo?

My one! http://www.flickr.com/photos/bakerart/sets/72157623293628194/
This was a lucky eBay purchase - it was listed with a bad out-of-focus photo and cursory description. I took a punt on it and it was sent all the way from California, arriving on my doorstep with no extra charges, all for about Β£80. It was filthy - looked like it had been hanging on the wall above a cooker, and it still looks very weathered but I’ve cleaned it up, replaced the 2:1 tuners with new Waverleys and fitted a lower bridge since these pics were taken. I don’t know if it still has the original tone ring but it sounds pretty impressive to me. It would have cost about $50 when made in 1927, compared to $900 for a top of the range Silver Bell (you could have bought a Stradivarius for that in the ’20s I think!)

Re: What is the ultimate 17 Fret Banjo?

Coyne’s Banjo sounds pretty good alright. Pity Boyle doesn’t have a website! ;-(

Nice little Banjo that Richard & certainly great value.

Not many 17 fretters in this line up though.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1p8HSw_t-G8

Re: What is the ultimate 17 Fret Banjo?

David Boyle’s banjos are wonderful

Re: What is the ultimate 17 Fret Banjo?

As new 17-fret banjos go, a Clareen is the nicest I’ve tried. (Actually, I haven’t tried a Boyle 17-fret. But I haven’t got on with his 19-frets that I’ve tried).

I have a nice little no-name 17-fret tenor I bought on EBay two years ago. It’s 1920s, I think, and, according to the seller, it is made from identical parts to a Slingerland, just not bearing the logo. I haven’t ever bothered to research it, as it’s lovely whatever it is. It has an unusual low-profile resonator, which screws straight on to the back of the rim - so it looks like an open-back from the front. You’d have a chance in a million of finding another one of these, probably, but quite a lot of nice vintage banjos pop up on EBay.

Re: What is the ultimate 17 Fret Banjo?

Dave Boyles, they are beautiful!

Re: What is the ultimate 17 Fret Banjo?

Dick,

There were not very many professional level 17 fret instruments made in the vintage days, but Vega Style M, Vega Style R, early Silver Bells, 1925 Gibson BB (actually an 18 fret banjo), Vega Professional model (similar but not the same as a Style M and occasionally found in 17 frets) were all made for professional musicians. Slightly lesser models include the Bacon C and B models, Vega Little Wonder, and some of the better Maybelles (although 17 fret instruments are a little hard to find.)

In addition you can find plenty of entry models in 17 frets. Bacon and Vega are all well made (the Bacon C is actually an entry model with a great rim - the same one as used on the Silver Bell.)

Vin Mondello likes the Strombergs (the one made on the east coast of the US, not the Stromberg-viosenet which is made in Chicago and became Kay.) The ones I have seen have made great ITM instruments. In addition, Vin points out that a number of entry level Vegas were produced by the same artisans that made the highest level banjos when they were not making the expensive ones. Those banjos are usually much better than the ones made by the apprentices. This is why you should play every banjo you can before you buy.

All of the modern makers plus a few more (check out Angelina Carberry’s banjo) such as Ome can be had in a 17 fret neck and you can have one made from available parts if you really need to. Eddy Davis (Woody Allen plays in his band), the great jazz banjoist, plays a custom made 17 fret Ome. They will cost more new, however.

Remember, even if the banjo you get is not so great at first, a good setup will make all the difference assuming the banjo is playable to begin with. I have had several Bacon Bs that were outstanding banjos once a new head and bridge (and strings) were put on. 17 fret banjos are a little more difficult to setup well, but they respond just like their 19 fret relatives when it is done correctly.

You asked if you should go with a Vega or look at others. Personally, I like Bacons especially if I was buying blind from ebay, but the better vintage makers had quality throughout their line. This includes Vega, Lange (Orpheum, Langstile, Paramount, etc.), Bacon, and Gibson (good luck finding one at a decent price) and the vintage banjos are a real value these days. In addition, 17 fret banjos usually go for less than the 19 fret ones do - just remember that they are not "Irish Tenor Banjos" just because they are 17 fret. That is a sales ploy of persons trying to get rid of their banjos.

Mike Keyes
http://www.banjosessions.com

Re: What is the ultimate 17 Fret Banjo?

I absolutely LOVE my Vega Model M! Thanks Mike. πŸ˜€

Re: What is the ultimate 17 Fret Banjo?

I’ve been playing a 17 fret Clareen Oyster for about 17 years now and I love it.

But i don’t think there is such a thing as an "ultimate". There are multiple really good choices.

- chris

Re: What is the ultimate 17 Fret Banjo?

I’ve always fancied the Vega Style X meself - Vin Mondello had one on his website a few years back and it looked a real beauty.

Re: What is the ultimate 17 Fret Banjo?

Thanks guys, plenty of food for thought there, especially from yourself Mike. Ta!

Usual problem for someone isolated from the madding crowd …. no big store full of 17 fret Banjos to go for a good try out! ;-(

Re: What is the ultimate 17 Fret Banjo?

Ptarmigan, take a run along to Tom Cussan’s in Galway and you’ll find plenty of banjos to try out, not just his own.

I woundn’t be surprised if other makers like Davie Boyle also kept a big range of other older banjos kicking about either.

- chris

Re: What is the ultimate 17 Fret Banjo?

Clareen & Boyle 17" fret banjers are really 18 fret instruments (minus a fret) having a 21 & a 1/4" scale length. So a little longer than the 19 & 3/4 Vega 17 fret shorties.

Why not give Dave a phone and or go to Tom’s shop, see whats cooking. Isolation should be no excuse to not get out and try.

Re: What is the ultimate 17 Fret Banjo?

What do you guys think of the Gold Tone models?

Re: What is the ultimate 17 Fret Banjo?

No doubt in my mind. Vega Style M with the oversized pot 11 &13/16" diameter. (Tubaphone tone ring)

Re: What is the ultimate 17 Fret Banjo?

there are relatively few professional-grade vintage short-scales apart from the various types of Vega Tubaphone - most of the other makers put their best efforts into longer-scale instruments

a good Style M is nice, a well-preserved #9 is lovely - but nothing beats a Tubaphone De-Luxe (even a custom-made shortscale Paragon, believed to be unique …. )

Vega sold a surprising number of "de-luxe" models (given how expensive they were) and they do turn up every now & again. let no-one tell you it’s only extra decoration - they picked out only the very finest banjos to put that amount of fancy work onto

not that you don’t occasionally get a Style M with an uncharacteristically "great" sound - but you have to go for the higher grades to get it reliably

if you simply looking for a good little "workhorse" banjo, these are not it (look at the Gold Tones) - but for the ultimate, it has to be this one!

Re: What is the ultimate 17 Fret Banjo?

I recently purchased a lovely 1920s Orpheum off Ebay, it’s a cracker. The Goldtones can be really nice if your after a new one, have a look at andybanjo.com , he can also advise you on any banjos.

Re: What is the ultimate 17 Fret Banjo?

Well, just for the record ~ money has now changed hands! πŸ˜‰

So I am now one step closer to owning my first 17 Fret Tenor Banjo.

In the end, I’ve gone for this Vega Style X No. 9:

http://bernunzio.com/products/1014492 πŸ˜€

I’m sure this Banjo will be well set up when it arrives, so it’ll be all down to me, to get back into shape for it.

Thanks again for all your helpful tips.

Cheers
Dick