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PostPosted: Tue Apr 21, 2015 9:23 am 
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So far most of my experience with 6-string banjos has been with lower to mid-end instruments. That said, my very first encounter with a 6-string was with a Deering back in the 1990s.

Recently I've been working hard to work up a concert's worth of material on both 5 and 6 string banjo - you'd be surprised how going back and forth can give you new ideas. And I am coming to the conclusion that I have "pushed" my Dean Backwoods 6 electric/acoustic about as far as it will go. For one thing, there are a lot of complex fingerpicking parts that I can do "in my sleep" on my guitars, that I just can't do on either Dean. Historically, I'm inclined to blame myself for not being able to play something as "clean" as I like. But in this case, I'm beginning to blame the neck for not being as true as it needs to be to meet my needs. Come on, Dean, the rest of the thing is plastic, metal, and plywood, you really ought to be able to put an exceptional neck on these.

I have been considering dropping it off for a fret dressing and other things.

Then looking for something else on eBay, I came across a 1999-ish Deering Deluxe 6-string for a VERY reasonable starting bid. It was strung for left hand, but that can be changed a lot more easily on a 6-string than on a 5-string. I made a bid, was outbid once, then bid again a couple hours before the end of the auction. To my surprise, I won the bid. No, it wasn't REAL cheap, but it was about $2900 cheaper than the list price for a new one (about $2000 less than the cheapest discount price for a new one). So I think I can afford to put a little time and extra $$$ into getting it playable for me.

True, the new Deering Deluxe 6 banjos have a lot fancier inlays, but I doubt there's much difference in the sound.

It needs a good cleaning, too, which I can do while I have the replacement nut and bridge on order.

BTW, It came with a hardshell (wood-ish) case with a VERY heavy-duty leather handle. Which is a good thing because it's the heaviest banjo I've ever owned.

At any rate, I did a quick comparison to my Deans and discovered that the string expanse is 1/16" wider at the nut and 5/16" wider at the bridge, great for fingerpicking, which is the only way I ever play these. The neck is 22 frets long on the Deering and 21 frets on the Deans. Scale length is 26 1/4" on the Deering and 25 1/3" on the deans. It may seem a little long for some people but if you "cut your teeth" on 5-string, this will feel about right.

In other word, the Deering Deluxe 6 is one BHB - Big Honking Banjo. It IS hard having it in the room and not being able to play it yet, but I'll live. I'll also keep you posted on progress.

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PostPosted: Tue Apr 21, 2015 9:29 am 
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By the way, I realized when I had them all side-by-side that the Dean Acoustic/Electric is in need of another head-tightening. THAT's my fault. But I doubt it will improve playability that much - after all the aluminum-pot one has the same neck and I have the same issues with that one. They're the best "beginner" 6-string banjos I've come across; I just need to move up to the next level.


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 21, 2015 9:34 am 
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One more note - the owner of the six-string had once installed a Barcus Berry pickup that works on the same principle as the Fishman Rare Earth pickup. He had removed it from his banjo, but left it in the case for me. (The little metal strip that goes under the bridge is still attached to the head). When everything else is as it should be, I'll put this back in the banjo and report on it as well. Sure, they're discontinued, but they're still floating around.

Once again, I'd be very interested in your experience with various six strings. Sign up and log in and share.

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PostPosted: Tue Apr 21, 2015 1:03 pm 
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BTW, the dull gold color in the photographs is misleading. Those parts are chrome-plated, but the banjo has been "rode hard and put up wet" so often that the fingerprints of the former owner have actually engraved themselves into the finish and I'm having to buff them out. The parts were sort of a dirty yellow-gray to start with. If the discoloration had been consistent and just a sign of age, I wouldn't have worried so much about it. But when you get up close, you really can see the fingerprints.

When the owner's manual tells you to wash your hands to get the oils and acids off BEFORE you play, and they tell you to wipe down your banjo AFTER you play, they're not just trying to make work for you.

Since I posted the photo I have most of the chrome buffed out a little. But the places that were really bad look even worse since the banjo hardware is now shiny everywhere else.

Oh, well, time to order a new new and bridge and schedule a trip to the luthier. . . . and maybe one of the brass or chrome polishes that Deering recommends.


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PostPosted: Fri Apr 24, 2015 4:16 pm 
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Well, I talked to Deering, and they said I would probably need a new custom bridge ($$$$?). And they could send me a "blank" to make a new nut.

Then I took it to my local guitar shop and asked the guy if he could replace the nut for me. He pointed out that the clearcoat (varnish/shellac, whatever) not only wrapped around the sides of the fingerboard, it also went into the cracks around the nut - the varnish had gone on AFTER the nut, and had soaked in around it. He said he would be nervous about trying to take the nut out, because it was so well anchored in the varnish that he was afraid it could damage the varnish on the peghead as well. If anyone was going to remove that nut, it should be the Deering factory - that way if they screwed it up, they'd probably take responsibility for it.

He also suggested I try just widening the slots where the low E and A strings would have to go and restringing it.

I contacted Deering again, and they said they were willing to send me a Return Authorization so I could send it down there and get them to redo it. So as of Thursday, April 23, that was my plan. But that plan included cleaning it up first, and there was still a lot of cleanup to do. To be continued.


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PostPosted: Fri Apr 24, 2015 4:35 pm 
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I also sold my first Dean 6-string banjo (the "pop-top" Backwoods 6) to a fellow from Columbus, who drove out to meet me on my lunch hour. $200 isn't a lot of money, but it was a fair price, and would probably go some distance toward covering further repairs on the Deering.

I also went to our neighborhood motorcycle shop to get some Simichrome polish, which a couple folks recommended, including the Deering web site.

Then Friday, April 24, while I was waiting for some programs to run on my computer, I got out the Simichrome and some rags and went to work. And worked, and worked, and worked. The Simichrome worked like a charm where things were just weathered or lightly tarnished, but there were several places that were very heavily tarnished. Finally, when I had got things to the point where the banjo looked very shiny and nobody else but me would ever know where I hadn't got the nickle plate complete restored, I gave it a rest.

I thought I had a set of silver-colored guitar strings somewhere, so I figured I'd go ahead and try the local guy's recommendation about just tweaking the nut and restringing it. As it turns out, I only had a set of Martin Marquis light bronze - my "go-to" strings for most of my Ovations. Well, I figured I'd probably wear them out quickly trying to get the thing set up, so I'd have time to get to the store and get some more banjoish-looking strings before I played the thing out anywhere.

I took off the strings, took a triangular file to the nut where the low E and low A would be crossing and, scrubbed off the drum head with Fantastic (not recommended, but it was a mess), put some high-grade furniture polish on the fingerboard, then wiped it off, and went in to put the new strings on.

Because the tailpiece on this will go cockeyed if you start with the outside strings, I figured I'd start with the D string. Guess what? It wasn't long enough. Technically, the core wire did reach the peg, but I prefer to have the wrapped part of the wire go all the way. So I did what I haven't done since high school - put an old set of strings back on an instrument.

Turns out the previous owner was using medium strings. I prefer light, so the neck will probably need adjustment after I swap out the strings, but I could actually play it. The action wasn't too bad at all. That said the old strings are deader than dead, so I HAVE to get to the store before long. :-)

Or maybe order the Deering 6-string banjo strings. I'm sure THEY'd be long enough.

Also, Deering hadn't been convinced that just turning the bridge around would do the job - that's one reason I was considering a new bridge. But turning the bridge around seems to have worked. Intonation is very good across the board. So there doesn't seem to be as much point to sending it back to the factory for a couple hundred $$$ worth of work as there did a week earlier.

Before I put the resonator back on, I thought I'd try installing the Barcus Berry pickup that the fellow had thrown in. THEN I realized that the little screws that fasten the magnetic pickup to the bracket were stripped out. So I might have to get little nuts or something to do the job. But not today.

At any rate, here's a picture of the thing cleaned up and restrung for right-handers.

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 27, 2015 1:40 pm 
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When I started looking for strings long enough to use on this banjo, I discovered only two brands that publish information about how long the wound portion of the strings is, GHS and Deering. It's one thing to want a 6-string banjo with a standard banjo-length neck (22 frets, 26.25"). It's another thing to realize that most guitar strings you're used to using - even on other 6-string banjos - aren't long enough. The strings that were on the banjo were plenty long, but they were "medium" strings by guitar standards, and I wanted something a little lighter. Overall the GHS PF-120 set was slightly lighter than the Deering, so I figured I'd start with those. Though a lot of companies list them as available, not many have them in stock, so I wound up ordering from "Just Strings." They charge more for shipping ($6.95) than they do for the strings ($4.89), So I went ahead and ordered two sets. Even if I decide they're too flimsy and try the Deering strings next, this will give me a backup set. They're coming first-class from Milford, New Hampshire, so they could theoretically get here by Wednesday the 29, although Thursday or Friday is more likely.

We'll see. . . . BTW Fender, and all you other companies that CLAIM to make 6-string banjo sets, publish some specs, why don't you?


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PostPosted: Wed Apr 29, 2015 9:41 pm 
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Strings were in the mailbox when I got home from work (yes I have a day job). Will have to cut the little "balls" out of the old set and install in these to make them work with the Deering 6-string's tailpiece. Ooops. Didn't think about that one; most of my other banjos can go either way.


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PostPosted: Thu Apr 30, 2015 4:14 pm 
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So I got my GHS PF-120 sets of strings in the mail, They were loop-ended and my Deering D6 takes ball-end strings, but they were highly recommended, so I wanted to give them a try.

Well, I pulled off the old strings, put the little balls from them into the new strings, and retuned the banjo. Almost. The A string broke - apparently I had been too "ambitious" when I tightened the wire around the little ball. So I stole the A string out of my Martin Marquis light set after all. The way those are gauged, the A string from the Martin guitar set is the same weight as the E string from the GHS set. (But the D string was too light for my taste.) The wound part of the string was just long enough to reach the peg and go around one turn, so that wasn't too bad. But a bigger problem is that the bronze looks very silly on a banjo with all silverish strings.

As I expected, the lighter strings made several of my favorite songs much easier to play. And the GHS strings sound GREAT! That said, I'll save the second set for my Electric/Acoustic Dean, which can take loop-end strings, and order a Deering set or two to try next. I would really like a set with a wound third string, but nobody sells those in a ball-end set to my knowledge. (Gold-Tone advertises a "banjitar" loop-end set that has a wound third string, but there's no such thing as a "banjitar," so I'm not going there. If they sold six-string banjo sets, I might be interested.)

I might wind up assembling my own sets eventually. But for now I have a rather mis-matched 11-14-18-24w-42w-42W set, on a banjo that KICKS. :-)

I confess, I have a little adjustment to the combination of a longer neck than most of my guitars and a wider neck than most of my banjos. But's fun learning to make that adjustment. :-)


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Paul Race playing a banjo. Click to go to Paul's music home page.Whatever else you get out of our pages, I hope you enjoy your music and figure out how to make enjoyable music for those around you as well.

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