1/14/2017

2016 C.W. Dean 5-String Openback Banjo



My friend, Forrest, was super-excited last year to be getting this banjo from maker C.W. Dean and I've been after him ever since he received it to bring it down for me to see. Mr. Dean makes these as reproductions-of-sorts of the somewhat famous Jenes Cottrell banjos. Here's Mr. Cottrell on the instruments himself:


At any rate, the most interesting part of the banjo is that its rim is made from an aluminum 1956 Buick transmission torque converter ring. This puts the rim size at a little over 12" but the coolest bit is that the original shape of the ring yields an archtop-tonering banjo rim in one piece.

The sound is loud, folksy, a bit nasal, and sounds every bit as good as the cool cast-aluminum archtop rims you might find on 1970s Iidas (which are some of my favorite mid-range banjos, by the way).


Anyhow, Forrest brought it in and the two of us set-about overhauling the setup and modifying it a bit to remove a bit of clunkiness in the original build. It's now buttoned-up and humming with spot-on action, a compensated bridge, and a much-more-secure and better-angled neck/rim joint.


Apparently the headstock shape is a riff on an original Cottrell design.


The board is ebony and nicely fretted. We had to move the 5th-string "railroad spike" capos to the middle of the frets to get them to catch better, though.



Rather than a 1/2" bridge with way high action, after going-through we've got a 5/8" bridge with nice-and-low action.


You can see the nice walnut/bloodwood/walnut neck in the back shots. Amazingly, the builder didn't glue-in the dowel in the rim! It's part of the same wood that the neck is cut from.







The hardware is all good-quality stuff.


So, my conclusion? These are very cool, folksy banjos with a lot of volume and a warm, poppy presence. They're ideal for frailing but have the focus and cut needed for a two- or three-finger picker as well.

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