(updated February 2008)
1 - Raven
Sorry, no pictures for this one as I sold it many, many moons ago. It was my very first banjo, an Asian aluminum pot jobbie that stared me in the face from the window of a music store on Yonge Street in Toronto. The name Raven was just a sticker and I had rubbed off the R and the N. I sold it a few months later through a music store in Brantford so if you happen to have a plain jane with a crack in the heel and it says AVE on the peghead - yup, that used to be my banjo and I hope it'll inspire you to keep playing.
2 - Framus Nashville (ca. 1975)
I bought it around 1977~78 and after putting on a new neck to replace the too-skinny-for-me original one and a lot of tweaking this is a real nice sounding banjo. The volume is nothing like the Stelling but it's got a fair bit of crack to it and it sure holds its own in a jam without getting drowned out. To this date, this is by far my favourite banjo to play. This banjo has an aluminum tone ring over a cheezy plywood rim and one of these days I'll be treating it on a new rim as soon as I have a chance to get to making one. The neck angle is completely adjustable making it very easy to dial up the proper string length for max sound and tone. The picture on the left still shows the Fyberskin head I used to have on it for a number of years. I never liked the sound, or lack thereof, and after the head yellowed too much I finally put a regular frosted head on it making the sound a whole better to my liking. The pic in the middle shows it waiting patiently in the basement until I get cracking on the new rim. The pic on the right shows the little housing with the bolt that lets you adjust the neck angle. It's a real treat to work this thing as you can hear the sound getting "bigger" when it's at the right angle.
3 - Homebrew all wooden banjo
One day in the late seventies I started whittling a 2X4 and somehow ended up with a hunk of wood that looked like a neck. Hmmm, could be the start of something? I glued up a couple of pieces of 2X8 pine, picked up a roll of veneer that was to become the head and waddaya know, a home made banjo. Fretless of course, and not much sound. Real sweet and mellow though and if you take a close look you'll see my very first ever bridge, talk about yer museum piece. I shouldn't have burnt the decorations in the neck as the strings buzz over the dimples. Yeah, sure, I can fill them in and smoothen them out. OK ok, I promise, one of these years. The 5th string hooks over a screw into the neck (bottom left) and goes to the tuner at the bottom of the pot (top right). Weird. True, but what the heck did I know back then (or now for that matter...).
4 - S.S. Stewart, Special Thoroughbred
An awesome player with a bright and snappy sound, plenty of punch when you need it. One of these years I need to replace the head as the tension hoop sits too low on the rim to my liking. Mind you, it's strictly cosmetic and seeing as I'm not in any kind of hurry... Some inlays are missing too and well, seeing as they've been missing for some time... Check out the gorgeous carving on the heel. There's also a close up of the weird turnbuckle thingie that is supposed to let you adjust the neck angle. If you have one like it don't ever get tempted to crank it around as you're pretty much guaranteed to crack the heel. (pics to come)
5 - S.S. Stewart, Lady Stewart
This is a short scale banjo with an nine inch rim. When I bought it all bits and pieces were in a shopping bag. Whomever owned it before was trying to put a new head on it to replace the busted one and couldn't do it. I couldn't quite get a new head on myself, the tension hoop was just way, way too tight. I stewed over it for quite a while and came up with some ideas. Made up a funky tool, a special jig and ooooh yeah, I no longer care how impossibly tight they are, they go on just like that. The head on this one was a transplant from a cheapo tambourine. I don't play it much at all, the small pot makes for too tinny a sound to my ears.
6 - Windsor Popular (ca. 1910)
A sparky, rough and tumble old-time bluegrass sound with its skin head, the kind you hear on them good ol' elpees from the fifties and sixties. The neck still/again needs some surgery as it doesn't like being straight, it keeps returning to it's badly bowed position. I might just have to take the fretboard of and install a truss rod.(pics to come)
7 - Little Guy
This is a real sweet heart and I love playing it. The head on it is real old, probably original and it's quite finicky about humidity levels. It's more than likely a low end model that somebody decorated with their own inlays. The neck is dried out real good, to the point actually where the wood between frets is sunken down, scalloped really. The bridge on it is an original five legged S.S. Stewart jobbie. Take a look at the pic on the right, the "tone ring" is simply stapeled to the top of the rim and yeah, it don't quite line up so good, does it. No worries, it doesn't rattle or buzz. I have no idea about the make but it looks like approx 1890 to 1905 vintage. I recorded some of the tunes on my CD with this one, sounds real "old."
8 - S.S. Stewart, no-frill model
A fine playing banjo, not a great looker, but a teriffic player. There's no model designation on it and the fingerboard has several crack that developed on the years. A good weather beater clawhammer banjo. The lower end S.S. Stewarts used a sticker inside of the rim instead of the fancier models with the ivoroid name tags plates on the rim and the dowel stick. The dowel stick, besides the serial numbers, is stamped GRE2 - if anyone has any info what that designation stands for I'd be looking forward to your email.
9 - Homey
This one's another favourite and I play it a fair bit. I made it from scratch in 2005, my first real banjo not counting the two-by-four jobbie above. Some classical mistakes that'll get sorted out next time I'm in the mood to make another banjo. Some things still need final-finishing, the action for one as it's kinda high. Very playable, not a problem there, but higher than my fingers like. The biggest classical mistake was to not pay attention when I put the head on. It was pretty high up and I kept cranking and cranking till the backets started to bend and the loud snaps I heard, well, they made me stop cranking. The glue had let go on a few of the block rim's segment. I finally took a closer look (4th from left) and yeah, the head was a low crown, way low... Anyway, the colour of the wood you see is the real colour of the wood. No stain, just an oil finish, that's what I like.
I had thought to neck and rim wood was jatoba but it turns out it definitely isn't. Harder than all get out though and why not, lets call it Enigma. The fretboard and peghead overlay is teak and the top layer of the rim is ebony (bottom right). Forget about the little bowl in the middle of the rim, that's just something I turned and it happened to get in the picture. I really like the subtle contrast between the teak and the enigma on the peghead. At the botom left, check out one of the glue joints that let go eh...
10 - Stelling Bellflower (1991)
This is one fine instrument and without a doubt, the nicest banjo I've ever owned. A mind blowing volume but no just loud, the tone is incredibly clear and balanced. Except for the bridge, everything is all stock. No fancy upgrades, even the tail piece is standard - this banjo just doesn't need any upgrading, it's perfection as-is.
11 - Mann
This is an early eighties Japanese made RB250 clone. A nice tone ring and the inlays, all but the name, are just like the RB250. It didn't sound very good when I first got it but with a bit of tinkering this thing now kicks up quite a storm. The gold plating is starting to wear off pretty good, especially on the arm rest but that was a common problem with banjos of this era. The geared 5th string tuner must have been added later and the area around it was touched up. A pretty cool looking resonater but an adjustable, no-frill tail piece. The tuners take a bit of getting used to, they all turn the same direction. No problem, you can put the 3rd and 4th string on the wrong way round and that'll make them work my fingers have come to expect over the years. If you're looking for a darn decent banjo gimme a holler as it's available.
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