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Thread: Banjo uke questions

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Aug 2017
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    Utah
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    Default Banjo uke questions

    I had the opportunity to play a Gold Tone banjo uke at a ukulele festival on Saturday. Wow, what a cool sound. What do I need to know about banjo ukes if I start looking to buy one. I know that they are heavy. Do they work with the same strings as a regular uke, or are there specific banjo uke strings. Do the heads have to be replaced very often? Do you tune them like a ukulele? What else should I know before buying one?

    I've listened to a few sound samples, and the Gold Tones and Kalas sound good to me. I've not heard a Magic Fluke Firefly sound sample that I liked. Deering also sounds good, but they seem to be bigger, heavier & a little more money? I see that there are two models of Gold Tone concerts....BU-1 that has a pick-up & costs $200, and a BUC without a pick-up that costs $380. I found a used BUC in very good condition for $200 including a hardcase.

    What other brands should I consider?
    My ukulele family.....
    KoAloha Koa concert - circa 2006 (Living Waters)
    aNueNue Moon Bird concert - Spruce & Rosewood - 2018 (Blackwater)
    Blackbird Clara - 2019 (Oasis Bright)
    Cocobolo concert - 2019 (Worth Brown)

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2014
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    Sumter County, FL
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    Banjo ukes are a blast. They are quite versatile, especiakky if you play rock or country at all.

    Banjo-ukes are more "banjo" than "uke" in construction. If one considers them "compact banjos", then the instrument will be a joy. So, one should know a little how banjos work and why. That will help keep the instrument sounding the best. A good source for general banjo information are the Deering Banjo videos at https://www.youtube.com/user/DeeringBanjoCo

    There are several excellent banjo-ukes out there in soprano, concert and tenor scale. Deering, The Duke and Lanikai are three other top brands, There are others which also put out a quality product. There are also a few cheapies out there, mainly at the auction sites, and like everything else - you get what you pay for.

    Some string manufacturers package "banjolele strings," but any decent uke string set works fine. The key is keeping the head tension correct (there's a video on this). If that's done, just about any uke string set is okay.

    Enjoy!
    ...SteveZ

    Ukuleles: Oscar Schmidt OU28T (T8), Lanikai LU-6 (T6), RISA Solid (C), Effin UkeStart (C), Flea (S)**
    Banjo-Ukes: Duke 10 (T)*, Lanikai LB6-S (S)*
    Tenor Guitars: Martin TEN515, Blueridge BR-40T
    Tenor Banjo: Deering Goodtime 17-Fret
    Mandolin: Burgess (#7)***

    * CGDA reentrant, **DAEB, ***GDAE, The rest are CGDA

    The inventory is always in some flux, but that's part of the fun.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Apr 2018
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    Rhinebeck, New York
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    I have both the Duke 10 and a soprano Firefly and I love them both. They are also quite different from each other. The Duke is more banjo than the Firefly which has a bit “softer” sound. The Firefly is probably the most “fun” instrument I have! I have Worth Browns on my Duke 10 and Living Water strings on my Firefly. I don’t see them wearing out in my lifetime!
    My uke family:

    Martin 0 (1950s)
    LoPrinzi Mahogany Soprano
    Mya Moe Myrtlewood Tenor

    Stewmac Mahogany Tenor Kit Build

  4. #4
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    Aug 2017
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    Addressing your question about banjo heads - I've got banjos with calfskin heads on them from the 1920s that are still going strong - and the modern, synthetic heads are even more durable if anything. So, you might have a banjo uke head outlive you if you don't drop a knife through it inadvertently.

    Many of the modern synthetic heads are finished with a white paint-like material that you might wear through eventually (especially under your strumming finger) and expose the clear plastic head beneath - but others, like the head on the Firefly, are made so there's nothing applied to the head that you can wear through - and they have a translucent quality that I rather like.

    Speaking of the Firefly, those, apparently, are built on hand drums instead of being built on banjo pots with tension hoops and adjustable hooks. Because of that, there's no way you can replace the head if you do happen to puncture it. There's also no way to adjust the head tension on the Firefly style uke...so if you're thinking long term, you might take that into consideration. I'd think it's pretty important to be able to tighten the head as needed to keep the tone nice and bright - though that head will not shrink and swell with changes in humidity, like the old calfskin heads will, they do stretch some over time - and if you can't tighten it up, your uke's tone may suffer.
    Last edited by Swamp Yankee; 06-25-2018 at 04:15 AM.

  5. #5

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    I just bought a Duke 10 tenor that I love the sound on, but it feels a bit big. Really light and banjo-y. If my hands were big enough to fret a banjo I would be playing one of those. Want to learn fingerpicking.

    I may also get a Gold Tone concert Little Gem when they come out just because I like the blue and the concert size. I guess you have to be willing to try a plastic banjo uke. It's barely over 2 lbs and sounds good from the clips on the site. For $149 with a bag, why not?
    https://goldtonemusicgroup.com/goldtone/

    I tried a couple of Fireflies, but they just had a weird buzzing I didn't care for. Maybe the shop hadn't set them up right. Most people who have them love them though

    There are a lot of youtube vids on how to tune a banjo uke if you want to see what you're getting into.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by captain-janeway View Post
    If my hands were big enough to fret a banjo I would be playing one of those. Want to learn fingerpicking.

    Really? Lots of full size 5 string banjos have nut widths no greater than 1.25" - and with most of the ones I've owned, the nut width was less than on a typical ukulele. Most of the chord work is done down below the 5th string pip - where the neck widens out and the 5th string is seldom fretted - acting mostly as a drone.

  7. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by Swamp Yankee View Post
    Really? Lots of full size 5 string banjos have nut widths no greater than 1.25" - and with most of the ones I've owned, the nut width was less than on a typical ukulele. Most of the chord work is done down below the 5th string pip - where the neck widens out and the 5th string is seldom fretted - acting mostly as a drone.
    It's the spread distance between like the nut and first or second fret. It's a lot wider than the spacing on a uke between the nut, one and two. Actually a couple of the necks felt thinner than the ukes I have.

  8. #8
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    Understood. I went from guitar to 5 string banjo and I found the ease of fretting the banjo to be several orders of magnitude greater than with a guitar.

    My problem with some ukes is not having enough room between the frets... even with some of the open chords in the first position.... like a three finger D... I can barely do it on my concert - fuggedaboutit on my soprano :/

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by captain-janeway View Post
    I just bought a Duke 10 tenor that I love the sound on, but it feels a bit big. Really light and banjo-y. If my hands were big enough to fret a banjo I would be playing one of those. Want to learn fingerpicking.

    I may also get a Gold Tone concert Little Gem when they come out just because I like the blue and the concert size. I guess you have to be willing to try a plastic banjo uke. It's barely over 2 lbs and sounds good from the clips on the site. For $149 with a bag, why not?
    https://goldtonemusicgroup.com/goldtone/

    I tried a couple of Fireflies, but they just had a weird buzzing I didn't care for. Maybe the shop hadn't set them up right. Most people who have them love them though

    There are a lot of youtube vids on how to tune a banjo uke if you want to see what you're getting into.
    Thanks for the link to the Gold Tone Little Gem. I entered their contest.....maybe I'll win one???
    My ukulele family.....
    KoAloha Koa concert - circa 2006 (Living Waters)
    aNueNue Moon Bird concert - Spruce & Rosewood - 2018 (Blackwater)
    Blackbird Clara - 2019 (Oasis Bright)
    Cocobolo concert - 2019 (Worth Brown)

  10. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by Swamp Yankee View Post
    Understood. I went from guitar to 5 string banjo and I found the ease of fretting the banjo to be several orders of magnitude greater than with a guitar.

    My problem with some ukes is not having enough room between the frets... even with some of the open chords in the first position.... like a three finger D... I can barely do it on my concert - fuggedaboutit on my soprano :/
    Three finger D is easy because of my finger size. What I'd like to do is get one finger to cover 2 strings on an E. Haven't quite been able to line up 3 and hit that second fret cleanly, so saw this version of E and thought I'd try. Don't have a prayer of hitting three strings with one finger. My finger would need to be able to bend a the first joint closest to palm.

    Nice to know the chords are below the first few frets on banjo. Maybe I'll give it a try. Thanks for that info.

    Someone already told me a way to retune and capo my tenor Duke that would in effect give it a concert scale. Will pick up some concert strings, set it up and see what happens.

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