What is the best tenor banjo

What is the best tenor banjo

Hi All,

Reluctently I am trading in my old majestic banjo in order to get a banjo that will see me through to the end of time. I’m thinking of going for either an epiphone b or a clareen setanta but I’m not sure as I’ve heard mixed reviews about the clareen banjos. What I want to know is in everyone’s humble opinion what is the best tenor banjo money can buy. Of course I want to play my banjo and get a feel for it before I commit to buying it but what are peoples thoughts so I have an idea of what to look out for.

Thanks, Barry

Re: What is the best tenor banjo

Man, that’s a tough one to answer, because it’s such a personal choice for each individual. I like the Clareen banjos in general, but they’re often set up a bit to bright and ringy for my taste. A lot of people like the Emerald banjos, but the only one I have played was extremely bright. Ome makes some really fantastic banjos, including the one John Carty plays nowadays. But in general, I like vintage banjos better than new ones for a few reasons. First off, they hold their value well, whereas new banjos depreciate the minute you buy them.

I tend to prefer a nice bright ring, but a lot of times brightness is all you hear, which can sound thin or tinny. I play an Essex New Paragon Artist, which has a wonderful balance of tone, and responds quite well to both soft and loud playing, without becoming too brash. (And I really love the little side holes that act like little personal monitors, so I hear myself much better than with most resonator banjos).

The Epiphones are nice, as are most of the William Lange banjos (Paramount, Orpheum, Langstile). I have played a few Vega Tubaphones that I thought were great for Irish music. I also have a beautiful Bacon & Day Silver Bell that is pretty awesome.

So I would say just try out some banjos until you find one that speaks to you. (I realize that’s hard to do during a pandemic…)

Re: What is the best tenor banjo

Whatever one Angelina Carberry plays.

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Re: What is the best tenor banjo

Oakwood, I think, Kenny. No longer making…

Re: What is the best tenor banjo

I have a older custom-built Sully Session King that I’ve always enjoyed playing. I don’t think they are being built any more.

Re: What is the best tenor banjo

Vega Style X no. 9 either open back or with a resonator.

Re: What is the best tenor banjo

I don’t think you’d go far wrong with an Epiphone, of all the vintage tenors they’re me favourite - every time I hear one it gets me wanting one! For new tenor banjos I quite like the Emerald banjos meself, especially the Emerald Paragon. If I was in the market for a second banjo (one of these days!) I’d go for one of those two. Also, if you can find a second hand Dave Boyle those are lovely banjos as well.

Re: What is the best tenor banjo

Emerald - speak to them and they can talk you through all the choices

Re: What is the best tenor banjo

I have 3 great banjos. My 1923 vega stylex9 short scale is my standby. Easy to carry and fits in overhead on planes. A short scale Setanta has clear bright sound, easy to play and as loud as you need, and an old Clifford Essex Paragon with lovely short scale neck made to fit. Great sound with the Paragon sound. Also my wife plays a little Weyman 17 fret, no tone ring. Clear sound nice and quiet for quiet times. I like a banjo that can give the sense of time you get from concertine like Mary Macnamara. Keep trying banjos till you find your match. I had a nice Majestic I sold to a young French Canadian Lad . He was great and could do fine tappage while playing. Good Luck

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Re: What is the best tenor banjo

Andy Perkins make some pretty fine banjos. I play one of his lower end models and i love it (short scale Grafton clipper). Having played many banjo I’d say it’s as good as anything that is usally many squids more. https://www.andybanjo.com/

Re: What is the best tenor banjo

Yes, I can endorse Andy Perkins banjos - I have a Gibson Kalamazoo that I brought from him years ago, eventually the neck warped and cracked, so it was replaced by a slightly shorter scale Oriole neck [Oriole were another Depression era budget brand] and it plays like a dream, lovely throaty ‘plunk’ to it - I dislike that thin, brittle noise that you get with some cheapo banjos. You don’t have to take out a 2nd mortgage to find a decent vintage instrument, just a bit of luck!

Re: What is the best tenor banjo

I bought a Clareen Elite about 8 years back and am very happy with it. I should add that I know Tom personally and his quality control is of the highest order. In many respects your question is about personal taste. By definition a high end banjo will be well built an at the end of the day it comes down to personal preference.

Re: What is the best tenor banjo

I’ve owned a pile of them, some new, some old, some very old. I am at that point now where I believe the best banjo is one that requires the least TLC on a daily basis. I’m largely done with the ancient, 20s and 30s heirloom banjos (which btw can be had for great prices).

I have a 60s bottle cap that I just love. Harmony made it. "It isnt loud enough…" is bollocks. I sit the behind the thing. To anyone else I am sure it is plenty loud! Also enjoy my Gold Tone with the tone ring, whichever model it is, I forget. Easy to set up and plays nicely, different tone.

Re: What is the best tenor banjo

This is such a subjective question🤔 for Irish Trad, I do not want a bright zingy sound so I love the relative mellow sound of my Dave Boyle banjo.
The only problem is I have yet to aquire the skill level to do it justice.

Re: What is the best tenor banjo

Entirely up to the individual sampling the different instruments - very subjective. Try the top range of banjos from different makers and let one of them sing to you - you’ll know a nice banjo - for you, when you hear it!
Seek advice from experienced players who will point you in the right direction. Have a personal preference for vintage Bacon & Day’s myself - very distinctive tone. Silver Bells are nice.
Playing a B&D Super, Style A, short scale at present.

Re: What is the best tenor banjo

And not one banjo joke! - yet

Re: What is the best tenor banjo

So many choices… This is a pretty subjective thing as we all have different tastes and expectations of what we want from our instrument. Much of the vintage stuff from the ’20s — the so-called golden age of tenor banjos during the big band era — are very solidly made, sound great, and highly sought after by trad players: Epiphone Recording, Paramount, Gibson, Weymann, Bacon & Day, etc. More recent banjos such as Clareen, David Boyle, Emerald, Ome, etc. are also top-notch — and there certainly are many more. At the lower end of the price scale, my first tenor was a 17-fret Gold Tone with tone ring and resonator, and it was an excellent banjo for the price. Also, older Framus banjos can be real killers! I had a very nice used 17-fret Clareen Oyster — good sound and well made — but grew into preferring the 19-fret scale. I’ve flipped a lot, but finally now settled into three keepers that I really like: a new JP by Jim Patton (which unfortunately are no longer available), a ‘23 Paramount Style F, and a ‘27 Epiphone Recording A.

Re: What is the best tenor banjo

I’m not sure there is such a thing as the Stradivarius of the banjo world. I bought my 1927 Gibson TB-1 a little more than thirty years ago. It has been stable and playable. After playing around with head tension and neck angle during the first year of ownership, I found a sound I liked: not hidden but not jarring to my neighboring musicians; sustain when I let it, and easy enough to mute through right hand position. Its only weakness is direct-tuning pegs. I sometimes wish it had fine tuners like a fiddle.

The TB-1 has almost no visual ornamentation. Hence, it’s a sleeper.

I know what a cheap banjo sounds like, and that there’s not much to be done about an instrument made with all the wrong materials. I’ve owned banjos with unstable necks or sonically dead resonators. But a well-made instrument: I would always suspect there are ways to bring more to the table via instrument setup and playing technique. There are not many instruments as adjustable as a banjo. I am not familiar with the Majestic. But they seem to be highly regarded.

With all that said, and seeing that you are planning your infidelity a mere two days away from St. Valentine’s Day, I wonder if you might be having a midlife crisis?

Re: What is the best tenor banjo

Maybe not as popular in Europe, but Deering makes a few amazing tenor models; Sierra, Calico, etc.

They also own the Vega trademark and make a couple nice Vega tenor models.

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Re: What is the best tenor banjo

I’m here in San Diego, about 10 miles from the Deering factory. For the longest time they didn’t make short scale tenor banjos, finally a few years ago, they started building a bunch of 17-fret models for Irish players:

https://www.deeringbanjos.com/collections/tenor-banjos

Re: What is the best tenor banjo

Yes, Deering makes really nice banjos. They’ve become the most common new banjo brand that you’ll see people here in the states playing at Old Time and Bluegrass festivals/jams, IME.

I’m a long time guitar player that switched to tenor banjo last year to play Irish and Scottish folk tunes. I bought a Deering Goodtime Artisan 19 fret. I love it, for an entry level model. It’s a really well crafted instrument, and sounds great compared to other comparably priced entry level banjos.

Their factory is sort of in between large scale production and hand crafted. The higher $$ you pay, the more hand crafted it will be.

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Re: What is the best tenor banjo

Agree with Steve Wilson: Vega, Style X, No. 9.

My preference is the short (21") scale, which makes playing melody easier. The large, 11 13/16 " head size helps compensate for the shorter scale length, so the tone is more mellow, and doesn’t sound harsh or metallic, especially if played open-back.

I think that any short-scale, large pot, Vega tubaphone would make a good session instrument. They’re not that uncommon out there, and sometimes a good deal can be found. Good luck.

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Re: What is the best tenor banjo

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again…

Oxymoron…

Bye xXx

Re: What is the best tenor banjo

Titch … Did I tell you I’ve ordered a Stroh 21" banjo? Might be nagging you for the best pickup for it.

Re: What is the best tenor banjo

The best banjo is the one you love the sound of, and find comfortable to play. Forget about the name on the headstock. You might find a Frankenbanjo in a barn somewhere that suits you perfectly.