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My Banjos


Although my interest in the banjo started with a love of bluegrass music, my first banjo was my grandfather's 1935 Gibson TB-2.  (Four string Tenor Banjo)  There is no tone ring on this banjo since it was one of Gibson's economy models.  The yellowed pearloid finish was dressed up with colorful stencils on the fret board, rather than inlays. I began playing this banjo when I was eleven years old, and continued with it until about 1976 when I purchased an Alvarez 5-string and began learning Scruggs style picking. 

1935 TB-2


My next banjo, which was purchased new in 1976 was an Alvarez 5 string.  I think the model was called the Silverbell.   In most respects it was a piece of crap.  I kept it until about 1987 when I bought my Deering and then found some poor high school kid who was willing to pay $100 for it.  I didn't do him as bad as was done to me.  I paid $600 for it brand new and by the time I sold it, it had a new tone ring, a new Waverly tailpiece, an installed 5th string capo, and a set of Scruggs-Keith Tuners.  The Kid actually got a bargain.  But I really can't find anything to recommend about an Alavarez banjo.  The quality of the instrument was very surprising to me considering that they seem to do a fairly good job with their guitars.




My first professional grade banjo was a Deering Golden Era that I purchased new from Boston Banjo back around 1987.  The banjo has a rosewood fret board, hearts and flowers inlay, double cut head, and a tiger stripe maple neck.  Its a good sounding banjo and good looking too.  I still have this banjo and use it right along with my Gibson RB-800
Deering Head Front



          My Gibson RB-800

I also own and play a 1968 Gibson RB-800.    There were certain things that I dreamed of owning when I was younger, and the RB-800 was one of them.   So even though I am perfectly satisfied with my Deering, the Gibson is in my collection of instruments.   The RB-800 also has a hearts and flowers inlay pattern, but the fret board is ebony, and the head is the Gibson fiddle shaped head. 

RB800 Front


The RB-800 has a cherry sunburst finish and concentric rings on the resonator back.  Unlike the Deering, the RB-800 has gold plated hardware although my banjo is certainly showing the effects of use and time since the plate is worn down to the bare metal in several places. 
RB-800 Back


I have a little story about my first attempt to purchase an RB-800 which says something about our culture, and the attitude of many music store proprietors towards musicians.  I did my initial research to find out who was selling Gibsons in Mobile, and found out that it was Bel Air Music in the Bel Air Mall.   I did not expect that the store would have a banjo in stock so I was expecting to have to order one from the factory through the dealer and wait several weeks. 

I will say, that as a former professional musician I have a lot of respect for the necessity of having music retail stores.  Sure, you can get instruments and other gear more cheaply from the mail order stores, but only at a retail outlet can you pick up the instruments and play them or ask questions from someone who has some knowledge.   It has been a point of conflict with me over the years that as a musician you have to build a relationship with many music store owners  before they will show respect.    Some of the best relationships that I had with music store owners started off rocky until they learned that I was a serious musician with the money to purchase their high end items.  It was Bel Air Music's misfortune that I have grown weary of the way many music stores treat a musician that they have met for the first time.

When I arrived at the store, the owner was there.   The two things that I wanted to ascertain were, what the then current features were on the RB-800, and what price he would sell one for.  He started to immediately try to interest me in an Epiphone that he had, but my interest was in a professional quality instrument, not another cheap beginners model.  When I persisted in getting information on the price of an RB-800, the owner put me down with a very flippant "If you have to ask how much a Gibson RB800 costs, then you can't afford one."

This attitude got me doing a slow boil rapidly approaching a full rolling boil.  I've always tried to be a polite person, so I did not tell this gentleman what I thought of his attitude and simply left his store.    I determined that I would not order locally and began searching for ways to purchase a banjo by mail order.   A short while later, I found Boston Banjo through an ad in the Banjo Newsletter, and through them, I ordered a customized version of the Golden Era Banjo from Greg Deering.  I had to wait about a month for  Greg to build my banjo but it was worth the wait.  It was about 3 years later, that I purchased my RB-800.   

I've always wanted to tell that gentleman at Bel Air Music, that I KNOW how much an RB-800 costs , I CAN afford one, and numerous other companies have had the business you lost as I've purchased two banjos, two guitars, a mandolin, an electric piano, 15 harmonicas, uncountable strings, straps, picks, sheet music, capos, tuners, metronomes, and other accessories over the years.  It pays to treat each and every customer as someone special.    


            Me and my Deering                               "In concert" with the RB800


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