FAQ Category : Brand Comparisons
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What makes one banjo better than another?
Generally speaking, the heavier the banjo, the better the sound. You'll
find more about this in the FAQ section, 'Selecting Your First Banjo'.
Banjos made in the USA tend to hold their value best. During the early
1900s (one of the banjo peaks in popularity), before the banjo was
replaced by the guitar as the most popular stringed instrument, a banjo
player could find many high-quality brands. Gibson, Paramount and Vega
are among them. Gibson, by introducing many innovations in their Mastertone line of
banjos, became the most coveted brand by the mid-1900s. Pre-war (World
War II) Mastertone banjos today are often traded at many times their
original purchase price. It is still the standard for comparison, and that's the brand played by Earl Scruggs onstage and in recording studios.
Today there are many top-quality banjos made in the USA. Generally, the
best-sounding and best-playing new American-made banjos start at around
$2,000 USD. Banjos priced beyond that have more ornate appearances,
like gold-plating or intricate mother-of-pearl inlay and binding. Top American brands include Bishline, Huber, Nechville, Ome, Deering and Vega. The Gibson factory was under water during the Nashville floods of 2010 and they have not yet restarted their banjo production.
As costs for American-made goods began to rise, music instrument
companies naturally looked overseas for lower-cost manufacturing. This
banjo player's first instrument, purchased around 1973 for $59.00 USD,
was made in Japan and imported under the Kent brand. It's strictly a
beginner banjo with a cheap pot, but it has a nice mahogany neck and
resonator. The neck is heavier than the pot, making it awkward to play
while standing, with the banjo strapped on.
During the late 1970s, Gold Star in Japan began production of a quality
Mastertone copy. The first one I saw was played at Washington Square
park in New York City by banjo great Akira Satake. Born and raised in
Japan, Akira worked at a Japanese bank branch in midtown Manhattan. He
often spent weekends picking in the park. I was surprised to learn
that bluegrass had become very popular in Japan. Akira made his Gold
Star sing, and these banjos have a high-quality sound.
Beginner banjos are now manufactured in Korea and China, and they're
priced according to value. Our friends at Gold Tone order most of their banjos from factories in Korea and China, and do the final set up in Florida. Much to our delight, Deering is manufacturing their Goodtime banjo series in California, USA. Prices start at under $500.00.
Our imported banjos start at $260.00, and they're a good value. Costs of
manufacturing are far less in some countries than in the USA, and the
workmanship is very good.
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Does Gibson Banjos have slightly wider necks than Deering Banjos?
Gibson and Deering models have similar neck width. They differ in
depth. Gibson banjo necks are deeper, more V-shaped. Which is better?
It's a matter of personal preference. There are proponents on both
sides. Deering introduced the Golden Era, Golden Wreath and Golden Classic models to compete with Gibson models, using the pre-war
standards set by Gibson nearly a century ago.
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Where is the Gold Tone GM-70 mandolin made?
The Gold Tone GM-70 is currently being made in Korea and is being distributed in Florida by Gold Tone.
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Where are banjos made?
This is a partial list of banjo brands. Some are no longer in
production. As of 2005, the countries listed below are the last-known
origin of manufacture:
- Aria: Japan
- Bacon & Day USA (CT)
- Bishline USA (OK)
- Blueridge: China
- Crafters of Tennessee: USA (TN)
- Deering: USA (CA)
- Desert Rose: Japan
- Epiphone: Korea
- Fender: Korea
- Fontaine: USA (GA)
- Gibson: USA (TN)
- Gold Tone: Korea and China, final setup in USA (FL)
- Gold Star: China
- Hopkins: USA (TN)
- Huber: USA (TN)
- Huss & Dalton: USA (VA)
- Iida: Korea
- Johnson: China, Korea
- Lee: USA (TX)
- Liberty: USA (CT) until approx 1986
- Lickety Split: USA (TN)
- Louzee: USA (TN)
- Mastercraft: China, Korea
- Morgan Monroe: China
- Nechville: USA (MN)
- Ode: USA (CO)
- Ome: USA (CO)
- Prucha: Czech Republic
- Recording King: China
- Reiter: USA
- Rich & Taylor: USA (TN)
- Richelieu: USA (WI)
- Rolls: Czech Republic
- Rover: China
- Saga: China
- Stelling: USA (VA)
- Sullivan: USA (KY)
- Tranjo: USA (TN)
- Turtle Hill: USA (MD)
- Vega: USA (CA)
- Washburn: Korea
- Wildwood: USA (CA)
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Why don't you list Gibson instruments in your online catalog?
After the Nashville floods of 2010 stopped Gibson banjo production, we dropped out of the program. Normally we stock an impressive selection of Gibson Bluegrass instruments. Gibson OAI (Original Acoustic Instruments) dealers sell banjos, Dobros and mandolins. Most Gibson OAI dealers serve a specific
geographic area. Gibson wants us to focus on customers in our market
area. We can sell Gibson instruments to other areas within the USA, but
we cannot list them online because an Interenet listing can be seen
outside our market area.
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