A Site Dedicated to all enthusiasts of Classic Style Banjo
My CE Weaver arrived early doors this morning. It is absolutely superb! The workmanship is of the highest standard. The hand carved mahognay neck is beautiful. The inlays are just right - just as Alfred liked them. The 12" wood hoop gives the 'jo power and tone.
This is going to be a hard one to put down ....and it's 3 hours to home time.
Well said, Joel. I agree completely. I feel the same about ways of playing the banjo and fiddle that are new and presented as old. Being new and creative is excellent. Fraudulence is unseemly and unnecessary.
Also I learned a new word from your post : "presentist".
Joel Hooks said:
Now that there is a market for it the small builders have been very observant to the wants and needs of "old time" banjoists. And that is fantastic. It is modern and when presented as such that is fine. When presented as a historical sound it is presentist and irresponsible. But as relatively recent development I am a supporter of it.
Right. And that is why the scale on my ES "tuber-foam" is 28 inches.
Chris Cioffi said:
The only other solution to 22 frets on a large pot with proper bridge placement is a VERY long scale.
Jody, no it's not (correct bridge placement from your previous post on page 1). You didn't read my post with measurements. You have 2 more frets for the same scale and on a larger pot than an original Tubaphone. That moves your bridge more than an inch towards the center of the head than an original Tubaphone platform.
28'" is not long enough on a 12" pot with 22 frets for proper bridge placement/voicing. This is why Vega had 20 frets and the CE Professional had 19 (the CE has a head that is 3/16" bigger than the Vega, and this extra space ends up between the bridge and tailpiece side of the head, hence, one less fret...PLUS the CE Prof has a shorter scale). I meant like 29-31" would do it for your banjo...I haven't done the measurements, but it may actually need to be longer. Re-read my measurement on original 11 13/16" head Vega/Fairbanks in the previous post. You totally missed what I said and how to compare it to your banjo...or this Weaver of David's.
THIS is the issue...with yours and the "Clifford Essex Weaver"....which is neither. I'm pretty sure the original CE designers and Mr. Weaver would not approve of the new banjo with their name on it. Of course they are dead so no objections are heard. This is my point.
As Joel said, if someone wants something and wants to change historical presentation, fine...get what you want, but don't think nor claim it is "according to Hoyle".
My way of thinking is that if you what the original musicians got/did, use what they did the way they did.
If you don't care, fine, but don't present it as historically accurate or the same as an old banjo. It's simply not....look at pics or measure things yourself if you don't believe me.
By the way, Joel, the "Gibson system" you mentioned is just almost about exactly like a 3 octave SSS T'bred. I've had/worked on several. They are 11x27 with 22 frets. Bacon and Day banjos that were made BY Fred and David are 11 x 26. A Gibson is 11 x 26 3/16. I'm pretty sure all the banjo makes fell behind SSS with the 3 octave neck and @ 11x26-7, since I THINK he was first on this and of course, it basically became the standard, which is why Gibson used it...not directly because of SSS...they may not have even known who he was....but the precedent was long in place before Gibson's first banjo in 1918. For this "standard" blueprint platform, the bridge is pretty close to 1/3 the distance across the head from the tailpiece.
As heads get bigger, they act a bit different, and as Joel and Rob M were talking about elsewhere, the original players needed projection and cutting power. Even Jody has said elsewhere that he thinks large pot WL's can sound muddy (I disagree personally)...but the proportion of where their bridge is from the tailpiece side of the head is MUCH less than 1/3.
Personally I have no issue with coordinator rods....it's pretty much a superior connection to the pot unless you have a shallow pot like a Vega or Bacon and there just is not room for rods where the heel cannot be tall enough. The Lyon and Healy "Star" model of the 1890's used a coordinator rod....not universal but I consider that historical precendent.
Block rims are another taboo. There is a reason Gibson made them from 1925-1927 and quit....it's a poor glue joint and doesn't not allow for wood movement. and will disintegrate if used with coordinator rods to adjust action. Read the glue bottle and some woodworking books. It's not my opinion, it's just true. Also, the grain orientation of the blocks vs. a laminated rim are totally different, being interrupted by the blocks in the block rim....this goes to another discussion or post recently where I talked about resonances with you, Jody...the whole marimba thing.
NO early classic banjo that I know of had a block rim. None. And VERY few after WW1 at all.
My intent and issue here is not to criticize Jody or Dave or anyone else for what they like or want or the music they want to play or the tone they want while doing it.
BUT for the new "Clifford Essex" company to purvey a banjo like this under the guise of it being a throwback to the old CE company or Weaver himself and as a new classic "reissue" sort of banjo is very, very misleading.
These new CE banjos are basically like the other new builders of "old time" banjos with the bridge in the middle of the head and made to look like some old banjo (that never existed). It is not a properly voiced classic banjo whether it has the Weaver shield in it or not, has nylon/gut strings or not, or has an 1890's style floating tailpiece or not.
To take 1890's concert stage banjos played by and listened to by people in tuxedos and put wire strings, geared tuners, forced neck shims, horrid bridges on them and then, since of course they sound horrible like that, stuff all manner of diapers, towels, foam, and duct tape against the head so it "sounds right" is the worst form of denial for someone wanting to play "old time" music and at the same time convince themselves and everyone else they are historically accurate.
I never heard of Vess Ossman or Ruby Brooks nor any other period classic player stuffing a diaper in their banjo, nor anything even remotely similar.
I wonder why.
What the new "Clifford Essex" company is doing is no different than what Gibson did. The original company, company name, doctrine, knowledge, designs, etc...were sold....quite a few times in Gibson's case....the new people/owners have a name now. In both cases very little if any of the original dies, fixtures, jigs, or knowledge of the old designs or assembly practices is left. So the instruments are NOT the same.
Neither CE nor Gibson are anything like their namesakes and have not been for many decades.
I'm sure the new Weaver is a nice banjo, just like a new reissue Granada is a decent banjo.
But neither is very close to the original....but the name and marketing makes everyone think it is...or at least, aids in the same sort of denial one of their customers must go through for wanting to buy the product that the old time people do when they stuff diapers in their banjos....both so they can "live the dream" that either they can't afford or never existed in the first place.
None of my banjos leave droppings behind, so I have no need of putting diapers on/in them.
As I said earlier in my neck position and scale length post, I was pretty sure few if any would understand my point, and it sounds like that is the case.
Obviously Gibson copied the SSS formula, that was "voted on" by the Guild of Banjoists Mandolinists and Guitarists of which Gibson was a participating member.
BUT, when people today make banjos and they are 11" x 26-3/16" with co rods it is not based on SSS but on Gibson because that is what all the off the shelf parts are. Also what all the "how to build" books are based on.
Sure, of course. My point was, as is in my whole reason for posting on this thread, the.....
1-Number of frets
4- How the first 3 interact to position the bridge at a particular place on the head across it's diameter under the lie of the strings.....which is.....
5-How a banjo is "voiced" (along with string break angle over the bridge as well as soundboard/head thickness)
It's not tough. There is either some math, or a few banjos on your kitchen table with a ruler to compare.
I may be an idiot, but not on this subject....as this relates to classic banjo in particular, and for banjos in general (it's my job and has been for some decades) I have probably measured, thought, and compared actual banjos for this reason more than anyone else breathing, and apparently no one else is either even aware of this interaction of design or doesn't care.
Originally, I tried to do this to figure out why the old banjos were voiced this way and how they came up with the combinations of items in my above list. Now my interest is to convert some old tenor banjos and restore some original 1880's/90's pots I have with irreparable/nissing necks in the correct fashion. So figuring this out is and has been very important to me.
I appreciate you clarifying the history of Gibson/SSS, Joel. You have studied that history much more than me. As a kid, I just looked at T'breds and Gibsons and the years between and thought...."hmmm....wonder about that...must not be a coincidence".
You are also right, it's cheaper to buy an original than make a good/accurate replica....and there is "NIL" market for new classic banjos...or really old ones for that matter. I also challenge you or anyone else to find someone who a) has a spinning lathe, b) knows how to use it, or c) even knows what the heck we are talking about. This is how spun pots are made....it's a lost art.
Jody has said before and elsewhere that buying a new one is "better" than buying an old one since an old one needs work or has suffered the ravages of time, etc....
I VIOLENTLY disagree since that does not figure in the ability of the makers of new banjos and the quality of their product. There is MUCH MUCH MUCH left to be desired in that regard, which customers SELDOM think about, or are usually qualified to judge.
On my workbench, I am constantly appalled at the name brand banjos I work on and how they were made.....If I mentioned brand names here everyone would recognize all of them, and maybe own a few of each. But it is an absolute travesty and just plain bad ethics.
But if the customer base does not know the difference, so be it....let them eat cake.
There is another factor in the sound of this Stefanelli banjo. The walls of the pot were made thinner than the usual Tubaphone thickness. The banjo was designed to play ragtime. The purpose of the thin walls was to shorten the sustain in order to make the individual notes articulate. A similar effect would be gotten by bridge placement closer to the tailpiece but something else would lost: sufficient hum from the lower end to be pleasant sounding. So given this unusual pot I think the bridge placement and the 22 frets might have been a good idea after all.
I don't recall Eric Stefanelli claiming that this banjo was a replica of anything earlier. I don't think I made that claim either. As for my saying that new banjos are better, surely there was a context. I have personally owned exactly One new banjo in my entire life. I have had several dozen old banjos. Lack of clarity in what I said is my fault. I probably meant that for the average beginner who does not know if they will ever really be a banjo player a new banjo is a better bet. Not everyone has a competent luthier nearby. So many old banjos have gotten warped necks and pots that have gotten out of round, and worn frets and divots in the fingerboard etc etc etc. This is not the best thing for a newbie.
Here is a photo of the bridge placement on my Stefanelli banjo. It is approximately 8 inches from where the neck meets the pot. That's around 2/3 of the way. I have noted your comment that bridges on larger pots need to be closer to the tailpiece. On this banjo that would reduce the response to the lower midrange and make the banjo sound unattractive to me. I am a poor mathematician but a good enough listener to know that this banjo plays in tune when the bridge is there and that I like the sound.
I should add that my original comment about the bridge being in the golden age position was based on it being about 2/3 of the way toward the tailpiece. That large pot original Tubaphones or Whyte Laydies had the bridge still closer to the tailpiece was something I did not realize.
For me at least, this has become quite an educational thread. Thanks to all the participants.
the position of the bridge showed on this picture on éric / Jody 's banjo is , i think , the ideal position , almost 2/3 , 1/3 . Some old banjos are designed to have the bridge too much closer from the tailpiece ( i have at least one , a 11,5 inches ' Luscomb ) , impossible to have a good & round sound with the regular C/G tuning ; i tuned it in the old E tuning , and so , it 's OK ; may be they were designed for these old tunings
Jody-In your mind's eye/imagination, visualize your banjo from the front with the peghead to your left.
This distance between the nut and bridge is your scale length, and is 28". This is the same scale as an original 11 13/16" Fairbanks/Vega's "standard" 12" pot size plectrum or 5 string that we are comparing to. More on this later.
28 inches is 28 inches, which is the distance between the nut and bridge. This will not change whether you have no frets, 3 frets, 20, 22, or 29 like some Farland banjos with extensions.
Magically take a saw and cut the neck of your banjo off the same distance past the 20th fret as the distance from the last fret to the end of the fingerboard (this distance from the last fret to the end of the fingerboard varies from banjo to banjo and is inconequential for the most part for this visualization....what we are doing is removing everything from the end of the neck the EXACT distance of the last 2 frets).
Re-attach the neck.
Where did the bridge go?
The same distance towards the tailpiece of the length of wood from the neck you removed.
Other than the fact that your pot is 3/16" larger in diameter than the original Tubaphone/WL/Little Wonder we are comparing to as our standard, your bridge is now properly voiced to period spec.....
....OTHER THAN the fact that your pot is larger than the original....where is this extra 3/16" difference in head size that your bridge sits upon between yours and the original example????
It is now behind your bridge, meaning your bridge is still proportionately closer to the middle of the head than the original example.
28 inches is 28 inches. It's fact, math, and physics. It does not change. When you add frets to the end of the fingerboard with the same scale and pot sizes, you are moving the bridge closer to the middle of the head because the nut is moving further from the pot/head.
An example: The Scott Vestal "Stealth" banjo is a Gibson Mastertone blueprint design phsyically, EXCEPT that it has a 25.5" scale....which is about 5/8" SHORTER than a "real" standard Gibson design.
This is less distance that we are talking about with your example (which is about 1" or slightly more), and it makes a HUGE HUGE HUGE difference in the voicing...the Stealth is much more subdued and less distinct than the Gibson.
This is the same effect this scenario will have on any banjo.
The 11 13/16" originals were voiced, as the catalog says, to project in a concert hall. Your banjo will not do that like the original or one constructed similarly because of this voicing/bridge placement.
It will also sound muddier, and less distinct, with less "banjo ring" than the original.
The thin rim has nothing to do with what we are talking about. Many banjo players have things that they THINK will do certain things, but in reality, don't.
The original 11 13/16" WL's and Tubaphones had a thinner rim to start with and about 1908 or so (my thin rim large WL is a 1907)....just like your banjo in question here. You yourself said you prefer the thicker later rims they changed these models to...I forget which post and where, but you said that on this site.
Any changes to a banjo design have compound and multiple/multi-stratified affects on overall sound and projection, and generally are not predictable and need to be tested on actual banjos to see what happens. The interrelated system/assemblage we call a banjo has many things/facets that one is changed, it is a chain reaction/house of cards in how other things, whether you suspect or realize or not, will be changed....you can experience that just in basic set up, let alone design and construction.
Marc-You may have a banjo like that...there are several examples of old banjos like that and I specifically brought up the Fairbanks and Cole and Fairbanks Imperial models, which were notorious for this. The reason I speculated earlier still stands in my mind....these banjos had fretboard extensions, and relatively long ones. If the bridge was not moved towards the tailpiece, your right hand would not have enough room on the head between the bridge and end of the extension to play...I personally do think these bridges on these models are too close to the tailpiece. Some early 1890's Gatcomb banjos, even the 11" ones are this way too, but no fretboard extension.
These scenarios in my observations of thousands of banjos while paying attention to this subject for about 25 years lead me to believe some makers were trying to milk more volume and projection from these "bridge too close to the tailpiece" banjos at the expense of tone. I did not say all old banjos were perfect or even voiced in this way exactly the same, but if you look at the larger cross section of the originals, my argument stands, and there is a basic precendent, which is why I brought this up in noticing the design of the 2 banjos involved.
But, far and away, most old banjos are not voiced like that (Fairbanks Imperial, some Gatcombs, and Marc's Luscomb), but similar to my example/argument.
This whole scenario is no different than the 12 and 14 fret flat top guitars. You will notice on these, the 12 fret guitars have more body from the soundhole to the neck side of the body, and less top/vibrating soundboard from the bridge to the endpin. The 14 fret guitars are the opposite in both directions. What changed? the position of where the neck was mounted on the body, and therefore the body design, but the scales are very similar if not the same.....many 12 fret guitars have a different scale to make all of this work so there is enough vibrating soundboard behind the bridge and yet the body can still sit comfortably in your lap).
The scale length is set in stone and cannot be changed once you decide upon it and is the same length independant of anything else.
THE ONLY WAY to move the bridge or voice the banjo is to either......
1-change your number of frets/at which fret the neck meets the body
2- have as many frets as you like past the body joint over the head by using a fretboard extension.
#2 means you will raise the neck on the pot vertically to allow the fingerboard extension to be high enough to go over the head, and this compromises string break angle over the bridge which decreases down pressure from strings, through bridge, to soundboard/head, and has a similar effect as the Vestal banjo example above, which makes the banjo less distinct and more rubber band string sounding, and have less projection/cutting power.
I've tried to be more clear in this explanation, which is really just repeating what I have said earlier....please try to go to the top of this post and do the visualization exercise so you yourself can visualize this in your mind to understand it.
For a #3 option to the immediately above list, you CAN SHORTEN the scale length, which will move the bridge further toward the center of the head, or lengthen it, which will move the bridge towards the tailpiece....WITH THE SAME NUMBER OF FRETS TO BODY JOINT AND THE HEAD SIZE BEING THE SAME.
As I said earlier, larger and smaller pots act differently, so a 1/3 proportion placed bridge on an 11" head will NOT act the same way as 1/3 on a 12" pot....there is too much vibrating membrane on the 2/3 side on a 12" head. For this discussion, the soundboards are basically the same material and thickness. Tension could even be "the same", but as with a small or large trampoline, the larger one will tend to sag more.....same as a long or short tightrope.
This is just physics, not my opinion, and the world indeed is not flat.
You may like your banjo, but it is not what you originally thought is was just because it has a 28" scale as you said earlier. If Eric did not call your attention to this when you ordered it, then none of this is in his mind which tells me he is not aware of any of this, and if this is true, I'm very surprised. If you ordered your banjo this way, as a responsible and knowledgeable classic banjo luthier, he should have at that time said "ok, but you realize this moves your bridge out of the classic voicing and will change the tone of the banjo possibly for the worse for what you want".
I'm not knocking Eric and I don't know what was said or what you wanted/ordered.
But what I have said in this thread about this subject is just plain math and physics, and to be consistent with older designs that were perfected by professional luthiers and musicians during a time when this music was extremely popular with lots of competition for luthiers and musicians, I suspect this subject was absolutely addressed, experimented with, and perfected to the extent of the goals in mind, which as a musician, I would think would involve tone, volume, and projection, as well as balance, especially given the written accounts in periodicals and banjo catalogs that say these things. This process obviously went on in that industry for about 40 years and involved all of the banjos most of us regard today as the "holy grails". I seriously doubt that kind and extent of serious and widespread experimentation and proving/beta testing was done by the modern CE company for the Weaver or by Eric. Heck, there are fewer of us on ning than at one night of the Madison Square Garden engagement in 1896 of Ossman and Glynn, which lasted for 6 weeks and admission lines over a block long.
This is no different than any other discipline. When that kind of large industrial activity is applied to design for that long by the established makers and users of the product, it is wise to think VERY CAREFULLY before changing the design because you are outsmarting/second guessing the original and well tested paradigm.
As I say, USUALLY, the original engineers and designers and feedback/beta testing loop of the original users during the height of the design and use stage, is something that should be very carefully thought out before changes are made/accepted that are outside of R & D as the original scenario represents a complete culture/paradigm of coming to a certain result for a certain reason.
Even the greatest luthiers like Bob Benedetto, TJ Thompson....pick one.....stick to established designs and exhort students of the lutherie in question that many years go into proving a new design or design change.
You may like your banjo, and so may David, but I'm pretty sure Vess Ossman or Joe Morely would not, and that's based on what they played, and who they endorsed (In Vess's case, a large 11 13/16 thin rim WL with 20 frets and a 28" scale exactly per my examples....very appropriate to the discussion as it compared to your banjo, Jody)....leading players and endorsers frequently offer advice to makers for what they want, and makers frequently solicit this from them as well.
My job is to honor the original makers intent; it is the code of any luthier who has ethics and is serious about his craft (MANY today are not). I was under the impression that since this sight is named for and dedicated to classic banjo that as musicians we were here to do the same thing, as well as discuss it.
I am not against experimentation. But I am for clearly understanding what is true to precedent and what is not.
Jody, you are under the impression that your banjo is voiced properly in this context and it is not. I'm not sure what Clifford Essex intended for their Weaver model, but either they don't understand old banjos or were trying to sell to clawhammer players and snag a few classic banjo customers as well, but their banjo is not within properly voiced precedent either.
If I have caused anyone consternation for my posts, that was not my intent.
As one of the very few banjo luthiers that is a long time serious student of this subject within the classic banjo realm, I was trying to point out that many of the comments on this thread about the David's Weaver being very nice and Jody's banjo being properly and accurately voiced the same as an old original it was modeled after, are simply not true from the standpoint of the original design platform.
I thought this would be useful information to those interested, and I thought that would be all of us here.
I do apologize for the long posts and potentially unpleasant (to some) reality check.
And Marc D....
That is a very good observation and hypothesis about the E tuning and bridge placement! I'm really glad you mentioned this and have tested this on your Luscomb.
I have 4 Luscombs and 4 Gatcombs here now, only one is playable. Varied pot sizes/scale lengths. I'll have to get them out and plot the bridge locations.
I do have a feeling Luscomb and Gatcomb were closely associated from various observations over the years, and so now in this discussion and your E tuning observation, more interesting to me to go back and examine these and think about this.
Thank you for that.
1) Chris, it seems you are right about what is ideal for projection without microphones. I just now moved my bridge in various positions closer to the tailpiece and played, ignoring the bizarrely tuned pitches that ensued. I found a small increase in volume and clarity with surprisingly little loss of warmth. Then I moved the bridge back in place so that the frets gave the right pitches and I found that for my taste the sound and projection was equally viable.
To put it succinctly: just as 28 inches is 28 inches the "nearly 2/3 position" is the "nearly 2/3 position". The banjo sounds great with the bridge there.
Perhaps it is so that my banjo does not project as well as properly set up old ones. That said it is *more* powerful than any other open backed, nylon strung banjo I have played. I have played it without a microphone accompanied by a Vega guitar-banjo and another 5-string banjo in the lobby of Davies Symphony hall for an audience of hundreds and the sound of this banjo soared and sang. It is *very* loud and articulate.
2) I already did the visualization you described. I did it last night, as if I had already read your post, which I actually did not see until this morning. Although my technical understanding of lutherie cannot begin to equal yours, my hearing is sufficiently well developed to discern sonic detail. It is not that I don't understand what you would like me (and everyone else) to understand. At least I don't think so. As I see it, the situation is that we do not agree as to what is "best". Replicating historic sounds when I play would be enjoyable for me as a curiosity. I like knowing historic truth and prefer it to fantasy. But as a musician I am not a historic re-enactor. My music is now and in the moment. I don't mean it is polluted by ugly modern influences. I mean it is an expression of my internal state and an expression of my relationship to my audience. Each audience is different and my internal state differs from day to day. I play St Louis Tickle differently every time I play it for instance. I don't even use the same fingerings each time. I am Jody Stecher for better and for worse. I am not Vess Ossman.
One time in the mid 1960s Babe Stovall showed up at the Union Grove North Carolina fiddlers convention. I remember him attracting quite a crowd, and no wonder. He was the only black person there, was playing the only metal bodied guitar there, was the only one playing ragtime and blues, and the only one playing a guitar behind his head. A few years later I played mandolin and fiddle on Jerry Jeff Walker's first LP. He told me a story about meeting Babe Stovall and what he told him. It was something like this: "There's good and there's better, but there's only one Babe Stovall". In other words, you can't go wrong playing music being yourself. Being someone else doesn't work as well. I was barely out of my teens when I heard those words and I took it to heart and have lived by it ever since.
I love Ossman's timing and verve. I am influenced by him and also by Van Eps and Bill Ball too and by Olly Oakley and Cammeyer and John Piddoux and others. But in the end I am bound by my personal limitations and I am assisted by my unique strengths.
3) I did not ask Eric to make me a banjo that was voiced like an old one. I asked him to make me one like the one that Rob MacKillip bought from him, a banjo that now belongs to Bill Evans. When I heard Eric play it I thought the sound to be unusual and pleasing and unlike any banjo I had or had played. No claim was ever made about replicating the proportions of historic banjos. No claim was made about replication of the sound of historic banjos. Eric did not fail in making a historic banjo. He succeeded in making a banjo that proved that there is good and there is better but there is only one Eric Stefanelli— even though as a player he would love to actually BE Fred Van Eps :-)
4) As for the things you are reminding me I have said in the past that seem to contradict what I am saying now, I can only say that when taken in context my present and past opinions probably don't contradict each other. ( I also have the right to change my mind. ) I did say that I prefer later thick rims on Whyte Laydies. I don't think I ever said that about Tubaphones.