Q: How long does it take to make a banjo?
A: I have no idea! This is the question that I'm most commonly asked and one that I still can't answer, even after doing this full time for almost 15 years. It just depends on the banjo and every banjo is different.
Q: What are the tonal differences between woods?
A: I typically use Black Walnut, Sugar Maple (Hard Maple) and Black Cherry. Of these, Walnut is the softest, therefore the mellowest, Maple is a harder wood so it is brighter, and cherry is somewhere in between.
Q: Where do you get your wood?
A: All my wood is sourced from local Virginia saw mills...the Walnut comes from near Richmond, Va, the Maple is from the coal fields of far Southwest Virginia, and the Cherry is from the New River Valley.
Q: What are the tonal differences between an 11" rim and a 12" rim?
A: An 11" rim will have a more focused, brighter tone, and a 12" rim will be bassier and have a warmer tone, and also just have a bigger more complex sound.
Q: What is Rocklite, and why are you using it?
A: Rocklite is an engineered wood that is made from fast growing, sustainably harvested trees - the wood is compressed with resin to mimic the hardness, durability, and color of ebony. It is produced in Europe and has been used as fingerboards for years with good results. I was using Richlite, an ebony substitute made from recycled paper, but Rocklite feels much more like wood and even has grain. Ebony is becoming increasing scarce due to overharvesting. Check out The State of Ebony from Bob Taylor, owner of Taylor Guitars, for a detailed rundown of the situation...it's really sad.
Q: What are the tonal differences between a natural goat skin head and an artificial Renaissance head?
A: A skin head will have a warmer, rounder tone than a Renaissance head, which will have a sharper, brighter sound. A Renaissance head will also generally have more volume and not need as much attention as a skin head.
Q: How much trouble is a skin head?
A: Skin heads are porous, so will absorb moisture and lose their tone when it is humid. You will need to occasionally adjust the head tension when this happens, so skin heads do require a little more forethought and maintenance. They're really not as much trouble, as most people think, although they're probably not your best bet if you 're playing a lot of outdoor square dances in the summer when the humidity is high.
Q: Does a slotted peghead or slotted 5th affect the tone of a banjo?
A: Of course every little detail affects the tone to some extent, but I think that the choice of a slotted peghead or slotted fifth is more a matter of aesthetics.
Q: What's the story with the Buckeye peghead?
A: It is based off of a rare Cole peghead that I saw years ago, and have never seen again. I modified it slightly and it has since become my favorite peghead, so I decided to refer to it as the Buckeye to avoid confusion with the more common Cole peghead shape that I occasionally use.
Q: Why are your banjos called Buckeye Banjos?
A: Our little homestead, and the banjo shop, is located at the base of Buckeye Mountain...and we have a ton of Buckeye trees growing on our property. Also, Buckeyes were traditionally thought to bring good luck back in the day - my mom tells me that my grandfather always carried a Buckeye in his pocket for good luck.
Q: Can I just make one tiny modification to one of the Standard Models that's not on the approved list and still call it a Standard Model...please?
A: No, in an attempt to streamline the building process and get more banjos out into the world, I would really like to keep the custom options limited. As soon as I've worked through my new Custom List I hope to start doing full-on, anything goes, Custom Banjos again.
Q: What's the story with the stickers?
A: I designed the stickers myself in black and white and then my buddy Nancy Jurek digitized the design and came up with the color combinations. I ripped off an old Verve Records label for the original design, and then Nancy had the great idea to also used old Verve Record color combos, so we did four different combinations. I think they're all super cool.
Q: What kind of cases do you offer?
A: I currently offer Saga Brown Bump cases, which are nicely balanced, sturdy hard shell cases. They are able to handle the deeper rims I like, as well as the slotted fifth string tuners on the S100 that aim backward as opposed to sideways like the standard Gotohs do...some cases (TKL) don't offer enough space below the neck for the Waverly tuners and have to have a hole cut in the accessory compartment to work. These cases are a brown instead of black so are a little easier to find in a giant pile of black banjo cases and absorb less heat than a black case if inadvertently left in the sun. I get them at wholesale pricing and I'm currently offering them for $100. I can also ship banjos without cases, if you already have plenty of banjo cases.
Q: What are the differences between the three Standard Models?
A: If you look closely at the specs, the basic three Standard Models are identical except for their pegheads and tone rings. I wanted them all to have the same overall look and feel but also to each have its own unique look and sound. The B100 has a wood tone ring so will have a mellower, woody tone, the C100 has a rolled brass tone ring so will have a nice balanced tone, and the S100 has a Dobson tone ring, which is similar to a Rolled Brass tone ring but with slightly more shimmer and sustain.
Q: How do you setup your Dobson tone rings?
A: I sit my Dobson tone rings on a 1/4" rolled brass ring in order to mimic the original Dobson tone ring setup. The original Dobson tone rings were typically used on a spun over rim - the outer metal cladding was typically spun over a rolled brass ring on the top and bottom of the metal rim which then had a wooden strip inserted. Theoretically, placing the Dobson tone ring on a rolled brass ring should get closer to the original Dobson sound , and create more brightness, than sitting the tone ring directly on top of a wooden rim.
Q: Do you make fretless banjos?
A: Sure - any of the Standard Models can be made fretless, as can Custom Banjos.
Q: Do you make Left Handed banjos?
A: Sure - any of the Standard Models can be made Lefty, as can Custom Banjos.
Q: How are your banjos set up?
A: I believe that the playability of a banjo is just important as its sound, maybe even more so, because the tone can always be modified. I push the necks of my banjos up slightly, in relation to the rim, which creates a nice low action over the frets but also creates a fairly high action over the scoop and the head so there is plenty of room for your thumb when playing clawhammer. I also like a fairly tall bridge and a medium length tailpiece which both increase the pressure of the strings going over the bridge leading to more projection from the banjo. I typically I set my banjos up with an 11/16" bridge, located 7/8" behind the center of the head, with an 1/8" action at the 12th fret, and 5/16" action over the scoop and head.
Q: Where do you get your hardware?
A: I designed the cast Buckeye Tailpieces and Butterfly L-shoes and have them cast for me, and the rest of my hardware is made by Rickard Banjos.
Q: Why do you have your tailpieces and L-shoes cast instead of machined?
A: I prefer the look and feel of cast hardware because they have a much warmer, more organic feel than machined hardware.
Q: Do you sell your banjos through any retailers?
A: No, I've never sold through retailers.
Q: How do I order a banjo?
A: If you are interested in either one of the Standard Models, just hit one of the Contact buttons to send me an email letting me know what you have in mind and I'll add you to the list. There's no initial deposit to get on either list. When it looks like I can get to your banjo I'll contact you to see if you are still interested, and if you are, we will then ask for a $1000 initial payment to get the build started. Once the banjo is done we will ask for the remainder of the money prior to shipping. Once we receive the full payment we will ship your banjo and then send you a final bill for the shipping.
Q: What do you mean by "a simple heel inlay" in the Standard Model options?
A: I know I might get into trouble with this one, but I'd like to give people the ability to slightly customize the Standard models without dramatically increasing the build times. The heel is a great place for a small personal inlay, that won't distract from the simple elegant look of the front of the banjos. I see it as a simple silhouette, or even a simple engraved ornament, that might take a few hours work. If you are interested in classic banjo ornamentation, I have lots of small ornaments that would work great on the heel.
Q: Can you put the slotted 5th string bump at the 7th fret instead of the 5th?
A: Sure, I know some people really prefer it at the 7th like a lot of the old Dobsons were.
Q: Can I make additional payments during the building process?
A: We prefer that payments stick to the prescribed timeline - $1000 initial payment to start the build and the remainder upon completion of the banjo...but, I doubt we would ever refuse someone sending us money if it makes it easier for you.
Q: Can I work out a payment plan?
A: Possibly. Get in touch with us and we'll see what we can do.
Q: Can you send update photos during the building process?
A: Sure. I always try and send update photos as your banjo progresses, but always feel free to ask for more if I forget or am not sending enough.
Q: Do you make custom banjo bridges?
A: Sure. I can make tenor bridges, gitjo bridges, bridges with a 5th string bump, radiused bridges, 6-string bridges, nylon string bridges, 7-string bridges, super short (3/8") bridges, super tall (7/8") bridges, bridges with custom string spacing etc... There is a slight custom fee (+$10) for these unusual bridges, though.
Q: Can I return a bridge if it is the wrong height or weight?
A: Sure. As long as the bridge isn't damaged you can return it and I'll send you another one that will hopefully work better.
Q: Do you offer special pricing/discounts to working musicians?
A: I know how hard it is to try and make a living through music, so yes, I do like to offer special pricing to full time musicians - just let me know if you think qualify and I'll see what I can do. I'm also a sucker for vinyl and like bartering, so if you have an album out, I might be into trading for a bridge, or knocking some money off of a tailpiece.
Q: Why are the Standard models so expensive?
A: When I was designing the Standard models I realized that I simply couldn't compete with the under $1000 factory banjos, or even the nice $1500 basic banjos of some makers. I decided that instead of designing the least expensive banjos that I could, I would design the coolest banjos that I could - simple with minimal ornamentation, but also earthy and elegant with emphasis placed on the wood and hardware.
Q: What kind of finish do you use?
A: I use Tru-Oil, which is a polymerized linseed oil. I use about 5-6 coats that I then rub out to a nice satin finish. Tru-Oil was original made as a finish for gun stocks so is highly durable.
Q: What kind of skin heads do you use and how do you treat them?
A: I prefer goat skins, and for the Standard models like to slightly stain them with walnut husks so they aren't super white and match the darker feel of the aged brass hardware.
Q: What kind of frets do you use?
A: I use narrow gauge gold EVO frets. They are made of a copper alloy which is much harder, and therefore lasts longer, than standard nickel/silver fret wire. They are also a gold color which looks great with brass hardware. I normally use the narrow gauge, which is more typical on older banjos and allows for smoother slides, but I can use larger banjo fretwire on your Custom Banjo, if you prefer.
Q: What kind of tuners do you use?
A: I use Gotoh tuners for banjos with standard pegheads, and Waverly open geared tuners for slot head banjos. Both of these tuner options are extremely high quality. I like to match the Gotohs to the hardware choice , whether it's nickel, brass, or aged brass. Waverly's aren't available in brass so I use aged nickel when pairing them with brass hardware. If getting a Custom slothead banjo with a standard 5th string peg, you will end up with both Waverlys and Gotohs - in this case I like to use aged nickel for all of the tuners.