Buying a Tenor Banjo

Buying a Tenor Banjo

Hoping to buy a tenor banjo very soon. I was looking at a Barnes and Mullins, listed on Amazon at £250 but now £199.
It’s the short necked one.
I’ve also been looking at Clareen’s "The Bridge" model priced at £279.99 (I think)
Can anyone advise me on which way to go please?
I have a Barnes and Mullins 5 string which I bought second hand and it’s ok.
I’m fully aware that they come from Korea (probably) but I know as per Clareen website that they import The Bridge readymade and set it up.
Should I go 279 as against 199?
Alex.

Re: Buying a Tenor Banjo

I’m not sure you should seek and take advice from strangers on the internet on how to spend your money.

Re: Buying a Tenor Banjo

@allan21: Hi allan21. Can you suggest any other site where I could find relevant advice please?
I’ve been hauled over the coals before now by Jeremy for comments he disagreed with my having made, so I’ll restrain myself from giving you a mouthfull. Your comment may be well intended, but it doesn’t read that way to me.
Thank you, and may you never break a string at a crucial moment.
Alex.

Re: Buying a Tenor Banjo

Is the cheaper one set up well? What is the reputation of the seller, and how does it compare with Clareen’s?

As with all beginner-grade instruments, the setup and function is key. I have very little banjo experience, but based on fiddle experience, I would buy from a reputable shop first. String height, angle, bridge, etc are all of primary concern. IMO, go with the seller that can give you good playability, even if it costs a little more.

Best of luck!

Posted by .

Re: Buying a Tenor Banjo

I second what allan21 says (so don’t listen to what I’m about to say 😉 ).

Given the choice of a mass-produced instrument straight out of the factory and one set up in the workshop of a well known banjo maker and technician, I would choose the latter for an extra £80. You *might* strike lucky with the Barnes & Mullins, but there’s no guarantee of the quality of the set-up, so you might end up having to spend more money on it to get it playing nicely. Even if the Clareen ‘The Bridge’ model comes off the very same Korean production line as the Barnes & Mullins (which is possible), you are guaranteed a good set-up, which could make all the difference.

X-posted! ^

Re: Buying a Tenor Banjo

I have, or have had, 4 banjos. They’re all over the map for age, initial price, reputation…and loved them all. The one thing they all had in common was my longstanding relationship with a banjo-savvy luthier. But Alexander, I bet you know that already. I have no direct knowledge of either the Bridge or the Korean made instrument. If you’re still playing it a couple of years from now will you even remember what you paid for it?

Re: Buying a Tenor Banjo

What Ross says. You can’t go to school to learn this stuff.
You have to take a chance. That’s how you learn.
Ask around, like you’re doing, but know that there’s no guarantee.
I would not buy an inexpensive, new, low-end instrument.
Look on eBay, read local ads, go to thrift shops, flea markets.
Ask people at sessions. Find a real banjo player and ask him.
I’d sooner buy a better used banjo for a bit more money.
Cheap new instruments are harder to learn on and less fun to play.
If it’s not for you it will be easier to sell a better instrument to get your money back.

Re: Buying a Tenor Banjo

Clareen is the way to go. As pointed out above you’d be guaranteed an expert set up and sound advice about all aspects of banjo playing/construction etc. How a banjo is set up is so important.

Re: Buying a Tenor Banjo

Tenor banjos are not NORMALLY constructed to handle the low irish tuning. That is the struggle we fight 🙂

Re: Buying a Tenor Banjo

Hi Alex, my advice would be to go for a used banjo for your budget. I think that were it me I’d be looking for a used Framus tenor online from ebay or reverb, they an be found for about £300. Also check out Hobgoblin.com. Another site that’s always interesting for vintage instruments at good prices is instrumentspast.co.uk.
Of course buying online is always a bit of a gamble unless there’s a returns policy.

(I started out on a used Grafton 19 fret tenor and a vintage slingerland I found online for about £200 each, I got lucky as they were both set up ok, but there’s a lot about setup that can be learned online too)
But if you really want a new one, the one from Clareen is probably a safe bet. Good luck

Re: Buying a Tenor Banjo

"Tenor banjos are not NORMALLY constructed to handle the low irish tuning."

It’s more in the setup than the construction. The good thing is that banjos are very adjustable.

Re: Buying a Tenor Banjo

i’ve owned 2 tenor banjos tuned for irish trad for 10 years. i’ve had no problem tuning them GDAE. the banjos were bought used from a reputable local shop known for its fine repairs. both are old Vegas.

Re: Buying a Tenor Banjo

"Tenor banjos are not NORMALLY constructed to handle the low irish tuning."

Other than possibly widening the slots at the nut and bridge for larger gauge strings, if one chooses the proper string gauges at GDAE for the same tension as the CGDA tuning, I think there is no problem “handling” the low Irish tuning.

Re: Buying a Tenor Banjo

I would spend the extra cash and get the one from Tom. He will for sure have it set up properly and playing well, or he wouldn’t sell it to you. And you’ll be developing a relationship with him for the day you decide you want to upgrade (heck, he might even buy it back from you if you’re upgrading to a Clareen…)

"Thank you, and may you never break a string at a crucial moment." LOL, Alexander, a nicely worded hex - I like it! While it’s true that asking advice about how to spend your money on an internet forum may not be the best idea, one of the reasons its not a good idea is because you might get snarky rude replies. Lighten up, people! Folks are asking for advice like this here all the time, and there’s usually good advice being proffered in at least some of the replies! So calling someone out like that is really not helpful, and possibly damaging to your own reputation amongst the other members on this site (even if they agree with you).

Re: Buying a Tenor Banjo

All you need is the wisdom to pick out the good advice from the bad, or misguided, or malevolent.
I think a person needs to try instruments out, sit and play them, talk to the person selling them, get real expert advice: the internet is not expert, amazon is not expert.
Thanks for the hex. What is that and when will it arrive?

Re: Buying a Tenor Banjo

Lol! Hopefully many years after my banjo does allan21!
I’d had a long day, up from 5.30am travelling home from Tenerife. Sorry for being abrupt, and yes, I understand your comment completely.
I’ve had a chat on the phone with Tom at Clareen and ordered one, which he thinks I should have by Friday.
Many thanks to everyone who replied.
Alex.

Re: Buying a Tenor Banjo

Look for a 2nd hand Grafton. I’ve got a "Little Gem" that I picked up used for £150 and it’s tremendous.

Re: Buying a Tenor Banjo

I’m not sure spending money on a banjo is a great idea either unless you have prepared yourself for the mental and social challenge of wielding a banjo, especially if you can’t handle a few banjo jokes. Most people don’t know that, when you buy a banjo, you also buy all known 271 banjo jokes with the instrument.

Re: Buying a Tenor Banjo

Buy something cheap until you’re sure you’ll keep playing it (insert banjo joke here). Don’t waste your time on a 17-fret (insert banjo joke here) as it’s impossible to keep in tune (insert banjo joke here), and it restricts your play (insert banjo joke here). Good luck and have fun!

Re: Buying a Tenor Banjo

You can pick any one of these 271 banjo jokes.

http://www.bluegrassbanjo.org/banjokes.html

Then again, the tenor banjo is a gateway instrument. You might think that buying a banjo is nothing, but you’ll agree with me when you find yourself buying a banjo-uke.

Re: Buying a Tenor Banjo

I brought a very cheap $200 AUD banjo when I was starting out. I didn’t know much about them so to me it sounded fine.

As I was learning, I found good strings made the most difference to the sound of it. Tinkering with the bridge, tail piece, head tension, action height, etc, all a learning experience.

I brought a Clareen a while later which was more than 10x the price but I can’t say it sounds 10x better.

You’ll probably be fine with whatever banjo you choose, unless you’re used to or looking for a particular type of sound.

Posted .