What do these two things have in common? More than you might think! Why do we even buy new shoes? I have a friend who has a terrible time finding shoes that fit properly. When he finds them, he buys multiple pairs so he has a spare when they get worn out. While I am not suggesting you buy multiple banjos all at once (though I would NEVER try to stop you), finding a banjo that “fits” properly can be an issue.
What even constitutes a “good fit” on a banjo?
Well, in a shoe we look for comfort, right? So, how “comfortable” is your banjo to play? Is the neck nice and slender and can you reach around it to fret the strings on the fingerboard?
At Deering we recognize the fact that all hands are not created equal. Did you know we have 3 neck profiles to choose from?
a. The standard Deering neck shape/profile is a “D” shape with a 1 3/16” nut. While the neck widens as you go up the neck as usual, it does not have a tapered effect but is even throughout. Noted for being a slender and comfortable to play, the Deering neck shape is found on the majority of the banjos produced at our factory. The Goodtime Series and the Boston, Sierra, and on up line have this time-tested, slender, comfortable neck shape.
b. You say you have a larger hand? The Tenbrooks banjos have a 1 ¼” nut with a subtle “V” shape and are known to be just a bit “deeper” in the hand but still even, with no tapered effect as you move up the neck.
c. The Golden Series banjos have necks made in the pre-war tradition. While they still have a 1 3/16” nut and a “D” shape, there is more of a taper to the neck, with the neck thickening slightly as it reaches the heel area. Folks who are used to this neck profile feel the differences right away thanks to the mechanics of the body’s own muscle memory.
Not only are hands not created equal, neither are bodies. Some folks are big, others petite, and just what IS “average” anyway? What I am referring to is the comfort of openback versus resonator banjos.
a. I love an openback banjo because it fits my body shape. I can “wrap” myself so easily around the banjo and everything just blends together so nicely…all “my parts” fit with the banjo’s parts. J With my trusty strap on the banjo, a good chair, and a quiet space, I can play companionably with my Goodtime openback banjo for hours on end. Smaller frames, like children and women, often find an openback banjo to their liking.
b. Some larger framed individuals find the diameter of an openback inadequate. There is more of them than the 11” diameter of an openback banjo can comfortable support. This is a good candidate for a resonator back banjo. As the resonator has a diameter of 13 7/8” and sits out from the pot assembly by about 1 5/6”, it gives a larger framed individual more “banjo” to support their frame, thus making it easier to play.
Please know that I have seen petite framed women play resonator banjos with great ease and big strapping men do the same with an openback. My previous reference is just an example of how body size can reflect on ease of play and choice of banjo.
Shoes that support our activities, like tennis shoes for the gym, heavy boots for hiking; we want to choose the shoe that gives us the best response for the activity, right? And we want them to last. You would not want to hike the Sierras with a pair of $20 boots unless you want to have blisters. You wouldn’t wear just any pair of tennis shoes to the gym. They have to fit well, be responsive, right? The same is true of your banjo.
Proper fit is important in a shoe and proper fit of banjo parts is massively important for you to have the most responsive instrument.
a. The frets have to be cut at the right location on the neck or no matter what you do, it will not sound musical.
b. The frets need to be properly installed; not high in one spot, low in another; but nice and even and STABLE on the neck so you can depend on them to do the job of helping you make music. Depending on the banjo model, the frets at Deering are hand pressed or glued in for stability.
c. Our frets at Deering have the same crown height as those that are used on the Martin guitars of today. This makes them more comfortable to play. Frets on vintage banjos were often lower and skinnier and not as easy to play.
d. The neck is nice and snug against the pot assembly to help you get better sound production.
e. You can adjust the action of the strings on the neck on all Deering banjos so that you are not working harder than you have to when fretting your banjo neck.
f. We have changed our rim wood to violin grade maple to improve the overall sound quality of the banjo. Now all the members of the pot assembly can vibrate and are not choked by too stiff a foundation.
g. The head tension is set properly (between G/G#) to give you a nice, even, balanced sound from treble through bass.
h. We have chosen the string gauges and manufacturer to make your efforts more successful and give you better durability on your strings. . We have our own private label packaged strings online so our customers can duplicate the set up from the factory at home.
i. The tuning machines are tight and responsive; geared tuners, not friction tuners are used on all Deering banjos.
j. Fingerboard inlays and side dots (on most models) are in place to help you find your positioning with greater ease.
k. We offer over 9 tone rings to choose from for your banjo here at Deering. If character of sound is an issue, then you want to take the time to learn how each of these will affect the final voice of your banjo.
l. Banjo heads - we have 8 at Deering to choose from. While they look different, it is how they affect the sound of the banjo that is the important factor in choosing the right banjo head for your instrument.
m. Warranty - At Deering we have a 6-year warranty on Goodtime banjos and a lifetime warranty against factory defects on the upper line. We believe if you make it right, you shouldn’t have to use this warranty but isn’t it comforting to know if you need it, that we are happy to offer this service?
“These boots are made for walking…”
Just like the old Nancy Sinatra song says, if you are going on vacation, you want to be sure that you have shoes made for travel. The same can be said of your banjo.
Deering makes many light weight banjos that can be easily transported to your vacation spot or accompany you when you travel on business.
a. Among the most popular are the Goodtime series. Made in resonator and openback styles, these banjos weigh from 4 to 7 ½ pounds and fit handily in our gig bag made of backpack material and proudly embroidered with the Deering name.
b. We make the vintage Vega banjos as an openback; the Vega Little Wonder, the Vega Old Tyme Wonder, and the Vega Senator with a light weight tone ring. These weigh no more than 8 pounds and will fit in that same Deering gig bag.
c. You can order any of our tone ring upper line resonator Deering banjos in the openback style. While they will be a bit heavier because of the bell bronze tone ring (9 pounds or so), they can still be carried in a gig bag and be ready for travel.
d. Our Hartford grenadillo wooden tone ring banjo is only 8 pounds and a beautiful sounding banjo.
“The weather outside is frightful…”
You wouldn’t necessarily wear a pair of open-toed sandals out in the snow, right? Weather is an issue in our outer wear and can be an issue with banjos as well. Being made of wood, banjos should not be played out in the rain without some kind of protection that is just common sense.
Deering’s popular Boston banjo is one that is about as “weather resistant” as any banjo might be considered. Because the pot assembly is made of 3/16” steel, the banjo is more stable in hot or cold than any of the wooden rim only banjos might be.
Still, we don’t really recommend you treat any banjo too cavalier when it comes to weather. I always say, “If you are uncomfortable, then your banjo will be too.” Never leave it in the trunk on a hot day or when traveling in very hot/cold weather. Keep it in the back seat of the car and keep it in the case for added protection.
So, new shoes, new banjos? Bet you didn’t think I could make THIS MANY connections on what would seem to be two diametrically opposed objects. Wouldn’t you like a shiny new banjo to go with your new winter boots? Visit www.deeringbanjos.com to see what “fits” the best!