The Franken-banjo

Basic B120 "out of the box" - Currently not in production. Any questions, let me know.

Basic B120 specs (Made in Korea for Washburn Instruments):

- Tone Ring: Bell Brass
- Construction: Flat Head
- Tailpiece: Tension
- Head: Remo
- Bridge: Maple Base w/ Ebony Tip
- Resonator: Flamed Maple
- Brackets: 24 Tension
- Hardware: Chrome
- Tuners: Planetary
- Neck: Flamed Maple
- Fingerboard: Extra Wide Rosewood
- 5th String Nut Moved To Between The 5th & 6th Fret For Improved Tone & Intonation
- Inlays: Deluxe Octagonal - Frets: 22
- Scale: 26.35"
- Nut Width: 34mm

Out of Production

Modifications I have made to my 2009 Washburn B160 5-string banjo.

1. Lowered flange depth (~0.187 in.) within the resonator to a more Mastertone standard.

Two problems that I noticed with having the flange positioned flush with the top lip of the resonator: first, the instrument cannot be safely stored in a standard commercially available Mastertone style 5-string banjo case without putting excessive pressure on the bridge, tailpiece and lower neck, and second, the entire tone of the banjo is altered by having too large of an airspace volume behind the head. The quality of the tone ring and laminated rim are hidden almost entirely by this one simple but important mechanical feature. Lowering the flange also means of course relocating the flange screw nuts located in the resonator side walls to the correct proportional depth. Incredible lowered frequency response with just this single modification, making it sound like a real banjo.

2. Flattened (by lapping) top of laminated rim for 360 degree intimate contact with inner lip of tone ring.

On close inspection of the rim-to-tone ring contact area inside the pot assembly, visible gaps were found causing some parts of the ring to be suspended in air rather than contact the rim. The more intimate the contact between the ring and the rim the better the utilization of the rings tonal qualities and therefore the better the tone. Simply lapping the top of the rim flat with sandpaper fixed to a flat surface solved this in less than 10 minutes yielding an almost perfect fit and incredibly improved tone.

3. Loosened tone ring fit to rim.

Tone ring was very tight to rim, probably due to rim and stain drying after ring was pre-maturely installed, and was loosened by lightly sanding rim outer diameter of ring interface.

4. Added flange mount L-brackets to rim, discarded stamped flat brackets provided

A standard Mastertone methodology for attaching a pot assembly to the resonator is through use of L-brackets attached to the rim. I believe this prevents the over dampening of the pot to the resonator junction and lessons over & side tones created by the flange being physically over restrained in the 4 locations. I have noticed that this simple technique usually allows the pot assembly to ring freely to its maximum capacity without overly restraining the flange and thereby deadening the ring.

5. Re-fit neck to rim, and adjusted coordinator rods

While it may be usual and customary for the neck and coordinator rods to come loose on new instruments, even after tightening the rods minor fitting had to be done to ensure the correct neck to rim interface. From my perspective, this is the most critical fit feature on a 5-string banjo. Generally when a banjo is strung to standard tuning (open G Major) and you cannot feel substantial vibrations at the very tip of the peg head - then the joint intimacy is unsatisfactory. Light fitting of the neck, usually with just sandpaper and a file, causes the maple neck (with I think is a very fine design) to come alive.

6. Corrected tuner installation on peg head (added pilot holes to all four)

Somebody really dropped the ball on this one! Upon unpacking the banjo the first thing I noticed was the beautiful neck, beautiful tuners, and immediately realized that all four tuners on the peg head were crooked. All were crooked at different angles which made it even worse. You could actually see light coming through between the tuner and the back of the peg head when the tuner was supposed to seat. Upon inspection the second tuner mounting pilot hole (functionally serves an anti-rotation purpose) was missing, hence the pilot pin was jammed up against the back of the neck tilting the tuners. Simply drilling 4 small .062 in. diameter pilot holes, one for each tuner, and re-installing the tuners is a simple solution.

7. Corrected nut installation - .030 in. off center causing first string to slip off fret while playing down the neck

This is a must for any banjo player, but probably of paramount importance for the target beginner market that I am guessing this banjo is presented to. I could get by in my first jam with this instrument (it was an annoying struggle), but afterward I had to go home and reposition the nut. From appearances it was an obvious oversight because the nut hung out beyond the D side of the neck by .020-.030 in.. I am puzzled how any type of QA could ever miss something like this.

8. Corrected nut string depth

The nut slots that came from the factory were at a depth that left a .060 in. dimension between the string and the top of the first fret. This is WAY too high, and so high in fact that fretting in the lower portion of the neck takes so much pressure (even with light gauge strings) that its not only painful but causes all four strings to go sharp with almost every fretting action. I corrected the spacing to ~.025 in. by filing down the slots and repositioning the neck by use of the coordinator rods. Fretting action is now much better and the occurrence of sharpened notes is gone.

9. Replaced head with Remo USA frosted medium crown

This I believe is strictly a personal preference. The imported REMO that came on the banjo was lighter, had much thinner frosting, had a crown height that was somewhere between medium and light, and had an unusual solid aluminum hoop (as opposed to the lighter hollow extruded type present on a USA medium crown Remo) that gave the whole banjo an unusually strange tinny sound. This characteristic is especially noticeable when tap tuning the head, it gives a strange feedback pattern probably due to some side or over tone from the solid hoop.

10. Replaced bridge with Wadsworth old piano 5/8 Crowe spacing

The bridge that came with the instrument is made of some wood that I cannot identify, but I do not believe it is maple. The string contact area was also centered about bridge (in an A shape) an opposed to the conventional wisdom of a slight aft lean (toward the tailpiece). It is certainly not aged, naturally compressed, or any type of “lost wood” that is now so popular. It could possibly be birch or aspen, but my standard unscientific test (teeth marks) show it to be significantly softer than maple. I replaced it with a Wadsworth Crowe spaced old piano bridge that was .625 in. in height with a slight aft lean. This is not the forum for a discussion of the pros and cons of aged or lost-wood type maple bridges – but I do know that a harder bridge, more in line with Mastertone standards, makes the banjo tone and note separation much better.

11. Replaced strings with GHS 10, 11, 12, 20w, 10 and tap tuned head to G#

These may be additional personal preferences. My experience has been that maple banjos sound less treble with slightly heavier strings. The string that were present had .009 in. for strings one and five, indicating an extra-light set. Changing the strings to the standard Crowe Stage Set gave what I believe is new life to the instrument. Tap tuning the head is something that may not be appropriate for a banjo prior to shipment, but having shipped banjos all over North America and Europe, I would give it a try even on a brand new instrument.

12. Replaced frets with .100 X .050 in. Stew-mac frets.

Frets were a little small for my taste so I replaced them. Slides and hammers sounded a little thin to me with the reproduction vintage frets that come stock with the banjo. Huge improvement in sound (to me).

13. Ordered new mahogany neck from Tim Selman. Installed in 2017 - photos forthcoming.

14. Installed new Waverly planetary tuners on the Selman neck. Installed in 2017 - photos forthcoming.