The Goodtime Banjo Idea

by Barry Hunn

A customer asked me why the Goodtime banjo was made of blonde wood and why the inlays were so simple.  He was comparing the Goodtime to an imported banjo that had dark wood, thick shiny finish and some larger, more prominent inlays.

What he didn’t know was, on that particular import,  the inlays were made of paper, the neck was made of a kind of “pressed” wood with a photographic wood grained covering that was covered with an extremely heavy finish and rim was a photographic wood grained covering over a very soft, porous grained wood.  (I know because I had taken one of these apart)

The Goodtime banjo has a rock maple neck, a three ply violin maple rim with inlays made of solid exotic hardwoods and three light and consistent coats of protective finish.  These are features common to $4,000 professional banjos and are known to instrument makers as “tonewoods” and “not killing the tone with too much finish.”

But what his questions brought to my mind was the “idea” of the Goodtime.  The “idea” behind the Goodtime banjo was to create a banjo that had the comfort, playability and the serviceable qualities of a professional level banjo at a price that everyone could afford.

This was accomplished by focusing on the tone, the playability and keeping the cosmetic adornments at a minimum so the final goal was a banjo that sounded great, played easily and the customer didn’t pay for inlay work that doesn’t help the banjo play better.

By breaking down what is important for playing a banjo, focusing on that, building that in, and NOT focusing on anything that doesn’t help the banjo play better, the Goodtime banjo design focused on these important qualities that new banjo players need:

  • Easy playability
  • Tone with both fullness and brilliance
  • Easily responsive
  • Easy serviceability (and by building it in our southern California shop so we can control every aspect of building the banjo that we design into it.)

Many of our dealers now rent Goodtime banjos in addition to selling them.   When I’ve asked why they chose the Goodtime, the responses have been almost universally the same:

  •  The easy playability ENCOURAGES students to continue playing; not get frustrated and quit because “they don’t like the way they sound.”
  •  The Goodtime requires almost no service before sending them out for rent.
  • The beautiful banjo tone “inspires” the student and keeps them inspired for years.
  • Imports take too much time (and too many broken parts) to fix before they are playable for renting.

We make “work of art” banjos for $34,000 so making a cosmetically fancy Goodtime could be done, but that would defeat the purpose of what the Goodtime was designed for.  By saving money with simple cosmetic appointments, we put our entire focus on a design that encourages and inspires the player’s technique and musical sense.

The Goodtime is “made to be played.”  It is made to sound really great for a low price.  It is made to have a neck that makes reaching chords and fingerings easy for virtually every hand size. It is made to be easily disassembled for care and maintenance.  It is made to sound brilliant and clear to inspire new players and KEEP them inspired for years.

The import banjos seem to have the opposite focus.   They build decorated banjos with thick, heavy finishes.  They build neck shapes that don’t allow some hands to reach the frets easily.  The rims are made of soft aluminum; soft and porous wood covered with veneers of maple or photographic paper; with none of the time proven materials or building techniques that the top banjo makers have historically used to make a banjo that sounds good and plays easily.

Ask yourself, if every top end American banjo maker uses some kind of three ply maple rim (like the Goodtime) and the imports use soft aluminum or soft porous wood, what is their reasoning?  Why don’t professionals play banjos made with these materials?

The imports sell “eye appeal”.  Deering sells tone and playability.  Now ask yourself; what’s important to you?

With new building techniques, Deering has added some cosmetic “flourishes” to the Goodtime banjos over the years, but the tone and playability have always and WILL ALWAYS remain the top priority for the company.

Beginners actually need a high quality banjo just as much, or even more than a virtuoso player or professional. Beginners can’t know if a banjo has a problem or if their technique is the problem.   They just don’t have the experience yet, so it is always best for a beginner to own a banjo that doesn’t frustrate them by being hard to play, or confuse them with poor tone.

Hence, the Goodtime “idea”:

  • a banjo that inspires with beautiful sound
  • is easy to play because the neck has an ergonomically designed, professional banjo neck shape
  • is made with time tested “tonewoods” for the most professional tone production
  • is easy to adjust and maintain
  • has a low price that is affordable for everyone

Think about who is making you a real musician’s banjo when you decide to buy one for yourself or for someone else.  Buying a Goodtime is good “idea.”

Understanding the Goodtime Series

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