​Buckeye Banjos

Handcrafted by Greg Galbreath


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 15 years.  It just depends on the banjo and every banjo is different.

Q: Why are your banjos called Buckeye Banjos?
A: Our little homestead, and the banjo shop, are located at the base of Buckeye Mountain...and we have a ton of Buckeye trees growing on our property.  Also, back in the day, buckeyes were traditionally thought to bring good luck  - my mom tells me that my grandfather always carried a buckeye in his pocket for this reason.

Q: How do I order a B100?

A: If you are interested in a B100, just hit one of the Contact buttons to send me an email letting me know. 

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: What is Blackwood Tek, and why are you using it?
A: Blackwood Tek is an engineered wood made from sustainable, fast growing trees (Pinus sp.) - the relatively soft wood is dyed black and then compressed with organic resins to mimic the hardness, durability, and color of ebony.  Unfortunately, ebony has become increasing scarce due to years of overharvesting, which to me justifies the slight compromise of using an engineered wood.  Check out The State of Ebony from Bob Taylor, owner of Taylor Guitars, for a detailed rundown of the sad situation.

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, richer more complex sound.

Q: Where do you get your hardware?
A: I designed the Buckeye Tailpieces and Butterfly L-shoes and have them cast for me, and the rest of my hardware is made by Rickard Banjos, who are based out of Canada and do fantastic work.

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: What kind of finish do you use?
A:  I use Tru-Oil, which is a polymerized linseed oil.  I use about 5-6 coats which 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 frets do you use?
A: I use narrow gauge gold EVO frets.  They are made of a copper alloy which is much harder than standard nickel/silver fret wire, so they last longer before needing to be redressed or replaced.  They are also a gold color which looks great with brass hardware.  I like the narrow gauge, which is more typical on older banjos and allows for smoother slides.

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. 

Q: Where do you get your wood?
A: All my wood is sourced from 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 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 that aim backward as opposed to sideways like the standard Gotohs do...some cases 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: Do you sell your banjos through any retailers?
A: No, I've never sold through retailers.

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 or modified 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, especially in our current times, so yes, I do like to offer special pricing to full time musicians - just let me know if you think you 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: 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, which are all super cool.

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: What are the tonal differences between a natural goat skin head and an artificial Renaissance head?

A: A goat skin head will have a warmer, rounder tone than a Renaissance head, which will have a sharper, brighter tone.  A Renaissance head will generally have more volume and punch and not need as much attention as a skin head, though.

Q: How much trouble is a skin head?

A: Skin heads are porous, so will absorb moisture and lose some of 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, though, and I try to take out as much "stretch" as possible when mounting them, so hopefully they won't need much adjustment at all.

Q: What kind of skin heads do you use and how do you treat them?
A: I currently use Pakistani goat skins, which are generally white to off-white with some slight mottling, and I lightly stain them to give them an aged look.

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: 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.