A customer asked me a great question the other day when I was extolling the virtues of Goodtime banjos. I was talking about the classical purity of tone; the quiet metal parts; the three ply violin maple rim, etc.
The customer sincerely and quietly asked me, “does that stuff really matter?” Sometimes the simple questions are the most profound. While the answer is very definitely, “yes”, the question deserves more than a one word answer.
Beginners face far more challenges than advanced players. Beginners don’t know enough about playing to know whether a bad sound is the fault of their technique, or the fault of their banjo. Beginners who learn on better quality equipment, always learn faster and with a higher level of accomplishment.
There are several reasons for this.
1. Inter-limb Response
What you do with your right hand affects your left hand. So, when your banjo is responsive to your strum or pluck, your fretting hand is automatically more relaxed and learns quicker. When your fretting hand is not straining to reach frets, or straining to wrap around an incorrectly shaped neck, your strumming or plucking hand will be more tense and not move easily.
These are subtle responses of which you are not usually consciously aware.
Research has taken palsied children with one good hand, and after massaging and getting the palsied hand to relax and postured in an open relaxed position, one squeeze of a tennis ball in their good hand would instantly cause the once relaxed and open palsied hand to contract into the cramped position. Hence, the term inter-limb response. What happens in one hand affects the other.
The Goodtime banjo is both responsive to the picking hand and easy to fret for the fretting hand. This is one reason the Goodtime banjos are one of the most popular choices of teachers around the world. The relaxed right hand, helps keep the left hand relaxed.
2. Inspiration Of Beautiful Tone
The Goodtime banjo is built with a three-ply violin maple rim. While most high end banjo makers don’t use violin maple, they virtually all use three-ply maple rims.
The cheap import banjos with either soft wood or aluminum rims, can’t create the beautiful tone of a three-ply maple rim. After all, if these designs were so great, the top banjo makers would have abandoned the three-ply maple rim a century ago and everyone would be using soft wood and aluminum rims. These inexpensive banjos use these rims because they are cheap to make…. not because they sound good.
Too many beginners give up on playing the banjo because their instrument not only doesn’t inspire them, it becomes a drudgery to play because it doesn’t respond, it doesn’t ring out, it doesn’t fret well and just is not inspiring.
As a banjo teacher, I have seen poor instruments do more to discourage beginners than any other single issue. Conversely, I’ve seen more beginners succeed when they played a banjo with tone that inspired them.
3. Ease of Maintenance
If you talk to a Carpenter, dentist, auto mechanic, surgeon, plumber or any professional who uses tools for their work, you will hear an almost universal declaration that “poor tools are a constant source of frustration and can actually cause more time loss and damage than good tools.”
Goodtime banjos are not only a joy to play but they are a joy to adjust and maintain. One of our very successful dealers said they no longer rent cheap, import banjos because in attempting to maintain them, parts break, truss rods don’t work, heads are odd hard-to-find sizes, and all of this means more trips to the store for the student and less time to practice. This same dealer ONLY rents Goodtime banjos because “I don’t have to do anything but tune ‘em up and they’re good to go.”
Changing heads on a Goodtime is easy. Keeping the neck tightened is easy. Adjusting the string height is easy. Keeping the tailpiece properly adjusted is easy. Easy adjustments encourage students to keep their banjo in prime playing condition.
4. Ease Of Tuning
Deering has always used a geared 5th string tuner on the Goodtime banjos in addition to four geared tuners on the peghead. The current Goodtime models have rugged, sealed gear housings that have a smooth turns for precise adjustment.
The frets are cut into the neck of the Goodtime banjo with extreme precision so your notes on the first five frets are just as in tune as on the twelfth and twentieth frets.
Most imports have frets that are not placed accurately for good intonation. Sometimes the fifth string tuners are “friction” pegs which are desperately difficult to tune. This tuning difficulty when combined with a rim that is not resonant or responsive makes for a very disappointing experience for the beginner. This beginner is already struggling to accomplish a basic technique and almost always gives up thinking “I have no talent…. I can’t do this.”
Do all these “features” of the Goodtime banjo really matter…. I think it’s very fair to say…yes, yes, and yes!