So what is an old banjo doing on a guitar site? Well the Banjo was one of America’s most popular instruments before guitars got larger and loud enough to compete. Much of “ole time music” features the Banjo like Dixieland, old Jazz and especially early Bluegrass. I always wanted to try learning how to play a couple of tunes on the banjo. I came across this one and loved the look and figured let me give it a new home. This is a bit of a one-of-kind banjo made from quality parts.
I bought an old banjo that has been restored and had pro setup by Tom Nechville. So Tom Nechville had the neck in his basement for quite a while, dug it out a couple months ago, and used the parts they have in their shop to construct it. The body is made of the same parts as the body on Nechville Flex-Tone model. The tone ring is a pre-war alloy that they manufacture. The bridge is also hand made. The ornate resonator was imported from a maker many years ago. So the Epiphone neck probably belonged to a different pot originally. This banjo was very recently rebuild with MUCH better parts…
Features binding on the fingerboard and headstock and a resonator that will make you say “wow!”. Dot position markers. 3/4″ Nechville bridge. Nechville armrest. Nechville pro tone ring (the same one they use on their Vintage and Classic banjo models) that has a pre-war alloy. Plays and sounds well (if someone else is playing it, I am a total beginner on banjo).
This is a 5-string resonator banjo which means it is a closed back that is meant to be louder for the audience. Resonator banjos are most popular for bluegrass music. In bluegrass music, you need to be able to play loud enough that the other band members and your audience can hear you. Therefore, practically all bluegrass-based banjo players prefer a resonator banjo with metal strings for their higher volume and twangier sound. Closed back resonator banjos are very heavy and playing without a strap is difficult even when seated as they are round. This resonator banjo weighs in at 12-lbs 2.5-ozs.
Open-back banjos are not as loud as the sound gets a bit muffled into the players body. Open-back banjos generally have a mellower tone, weigh less, and can be less expensive than resonator banjos. They are popular for ole time music and usually have a different setup than a resonator banjo, often with a higher string action. Open-back players use metal, nylon, or gut strings, depending on the style of music they’re playing and the sound they want to get.
There are 4-string and even 6-string banjos as well. Generally the most popular banjo used for bluegrass and dixieland is the 5-string banjo. Banjo is not just for hillbillies. Artists such as Béla Fleck have taken the banjo far beyond its musical roots by using it in classical, jazz, and fusion contexts. Modern acts including Mumford and Sons, The Carolina Chocolate Drops, and The Avett Brothers have helped rekindle interest in playing banjo among younger players. Where it was once thought of as a strictly hillbilly instrument, the banjo is enjoying newfound popularity today.
Some History of the Banjo
The origins of the banjo is a bit murky. The banjo resemblances West African instruments such as the kora with its plucked strings and skin head stretched on a gourd body. But unlike the banjo, the kora has a stick neck and metal loops that function similarly to frets. Obviously the banjo we know today evolved into the an instrument considered American by many. Banjos and banjo-like instruments have been seen in different parts of the world in several forms.
This banjo in particular only has an Epiphone neck and is really more of Nechville Flex-Tone model. But still interesting to learn that Epiphone like other old musical instrument makers produced mandolins and banjos before guitars became as popular as they are today.
Some Epiphone History
Before there were Epiphone guitars and Epiphone basses, the Epiphone musical instrument story started back in Greece in 1873 where Anastasios Stathopoulo crafted quality lutes, violins and traditional Greek instruments. Stathopoulo moved his family to New York City in 1903 where sons Epimanondas and Orpheus joined him in the family trade.
The Stathopoulo family arrived in America at the height of a mandolin craze. The production of mandolins and other stringed instruments provided a good living, and when Anastasios died in 1915, his son Epimanondas, known as Epi, took over the business.
Just 22-years-old at the time he became head of the family business, Epi was blessed with an acute business sense and pride in the musical instruments he created. As a musician, he was keenly aware of the changing times and how they could affect the popularity of his stringed instruments.
Mandolins fell out of favor by 1917 and Epi joined the growing jazz boom by exploiting the new popularity of the banjo. He refined banjo design with innovations in rim construction and tone ring configuration.
In 1923 Epi came up with a new name for his company based on a combination of his nickname and the Greek word for sound: “Epiphone.” 1924 saw the release of the Epiphone Recording Banjo series. The popular Artist, Bandmaster, Concert, Deluxe, and Emperor banjo models soon followed. By 1928 Epiphone had bought out other banjo manufacturers to keep up with their own expanding business and had changed the company name to the Epiphone Banjo Company.
The first production of Epiphone guitars coincided with the stock market crash of 1929, when the banjo boom also went bust. Epiphone Recording Guitars of spruce and laminated maple helped take up the slack for the declining banjo demand.
One of Epiphone’s main competitors at this time was Gibson, whose guitars offered greater volume and projection than Epi’s. But by 1931 Epiphone was producing archtop guitars that could compete with Gibson, including the Epiphone Broadway, DeLuxe, Masterbilt, Tudor, and Windsor Series of guitars.
The Epiphone and Gibson rivalry led to the production of ever bigger, better, and more luxurious guitars. Epi brought out his top-of-the-line Emperor, a wide-body guitar with a provocative advertising campaign. In 1936, Epiphone increased the size of its Broadway, DeLuxe, and Triumph guitars to make them larger than similar Gibson models.
Along came World War II, and with it, the death of Epi. After the war, without Epi at the helm, the company fell on hard times and was purchased in 1957 by its former archrival, Gibson. Gibson intended to resurrect the respected Epiphone basses for their own product line.
Ted McCarty, Gibson’s general manager, aware of the intact reputation of the Epiphone name, and having acquired a stockpile of high quality tone woods with the purchase of the Epiphone brand, decided to revive the Epiphone name.
Comparison of Resonator and Open-back Banjos – Banjo Playing Styles
4-String Banjos – Tenor and Plectrum
Types of Banjos