My 5-String Banjos
One's banjo is an essential part of the enjoyment of making music. Beginning with my most current banjo I'll reveal some of the features that make each one unique and special. My tastes in banjo sometimes vary. A nice thing is that you can sell and replace it -- one banjo doesn't have to be a lifetime commitment. But banjo players still joke about BAS, Banjo Acquisition Syndrome!
The features I look for are playability, looks, tone, and weight. A playable banjo for me has low action (close strings to the fret) and has a neck that's not too long. Its tone is clear and bright, but also mellow and records well. It's beautiful to see and feels good to hold -- well-balanced and not too heavy. With each of the following descriptions I've tried to share what is special about each banjo.
The first custom banjo I've ever had made is also an artistic masterpiece. I asked Ryan Navey of Carolina Banjos to make a short-scale, hookless rim banjo with custom carvings. It has a hide head and nylgut strings. The wood is cherry from his native region and the tone ring is rosewood. It's beautiful and fun to play.
Dove by Carolina Banjo Co.
It may seem silly, but my banjos have a name. "Adah" was given its name by the luthier's daughter, meaning "Beautiful Addition" in Hebrew. Adah is a Doc's Banjo and the work Doc Pat Huff puts into his banjos makes them heirlooms. Here are the specs. He brought woods from Africa and harvested oak from his Oregon home. This video shows the possibility of playing both styles I like -- 3-finger picking and clawhammer. When I broke my shoulder bone Adah was the short scale banjo that let me keep playing during recuperation.
This banjo was built by Mac Traynham of Willis, Virginia, who I met at a jam. He trained under Kyle Creed and this 25 1/2" openback with hide head and nylgut strings is ideal for old-time clawhammer. It uses a Whyte Laydie metal tone ring, known for its brightness. In this video I'm playing a tune Mac himself might play, as it came from Albert Hash, a fiddler from Mac's locale. And here's a video with an original tune about a special place in my neck of the woods. You can hear the banjo's lovely tone and see the elegant simplicity and solid work by Mac. He used walnut and mahogany wood and the inlays show off abalone's beauty.