View Full Version : Advice on mellow, melodic tone banjo

May-01-2016, 2:11pm
Hi everyone,
I've been playing guitar professionally part-time for 30 years. Started playing banjo a few weeks ago. I love the old time style.
When I first started playing resonator guitars around the year 2003, I noticed that the metal guitars like my National Delphi were hard on the eardrums (mine and others) whereas the wood body resonators were much more pleasing to the ears.
I'm having that same feeling about banjos.
I first purchased a Fender FB-58 Concert Tone then realized that an open back banjo would be more appropriate for me.
I bought a Deering Americana Scooped and find it to be more to my liking.
I want to purchase a high-end banjo. I'm doing really well learning the banjo and want to buy one that has a nice full mellow sound with plenty of sustain.
I keep reading that the new Vega Old Tyme Wonder is " the most mellow of banjos"
Any advice on other models that may suit me?
I live in Bluefield, WV so there are very few banjos around for me to try.
A dealer near me has a Mike Ramsey Student model. That's pretty much it.
There's a Vega #2 for sale in Knoxville, TN
(3 hour drive)
Smakula has a Vega Old Tyme Wonder in Elkins, WV (4 hour drive)

May-01-2016, 5:15pm
Here's David Holt reviewing 5 Vega~Deerings ... included is the Old Tyme Wonder. If you can't play before you pay this might help.


Have fun and good luck,


May-01-2016, 7:47pm
I've watched that video a hundred times....lol

May-02-2016, 8:26am
Any advice on other models that may suit me?
There are a LOT of banjo makes/models out there that would work for you. But the big question here is what kind of budget you are trying to stay within. Are you looking only for "name brand" major builders, or are you open to smaller shops and custom builders? New only, or would you consider used/vintage?

The biggest things to look for in a banjo if you want a mellow tone are the head, the rim type (tone ring options, or lack thereof), having a neck scoop to play over the 19th fret zone, and string type (steel versus nylon). The mellowest tone you'll probably find in a modern banjo (i.e. not a gourd banjo, etc.) is a calf skin head on a 12" wood rim with no tone ring, using nylgut strings. That can actually be too mellow, depending on what you want to do with it or if you'll be playing with others.

A Fiberskyn head or Renaissance head will usually do nicely for a good balance between mellow tone and volume/clarity, without all the fussiness of a skin head. On a "woody" rim with no tone ring, it can be quite mellow indeed, and 12" rims tend to be more bassy and mellow than 11" rims. Although I don't necessarily think that metal tone rings should be avoided. I can get a very sweet mellow tone from my Ome Jubilee custom that has a "vintage" brass tone ring, as long as I play over the neck. But it can certainly project volume and I can brighten up the notes by moving back over the head and frailing more firmly when I'm in a jam situation.

The sheer amount of choices in options, as well as makers and models, can be overwhelming.