Creek Don't Rise

Upgrading the Backwoods 6
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Author:  paulrace [ Sun Oct 05, 2014 9:31 pm ]
Post subject:  Upgrading the Backwoods 6

As you all know, I got a Backwoods 6 a couple years back to play a faux-dixieland part for a musical. I felt less silly about that choice after I did some research and found that several prominent early jazz players used 6-string. That said, Ragtime is not my forte, so I experimented with it for several other kinds of music. I decided that for several kinds of music, I'd rather have it backless, but I couldn't use the Backwoods 6 backless without turning it into a deadly weapon because of the pointed metal flange piece. So I got a Rogue backless with a wooden pot (and no dangerous pointy things). It sounded great backless, but the neck was too narrow for some of the styles I play. I honestly considered taking the two apart and making one useful banjo. But then I realized that the "upgrade" Backwoods 6, the one with the humbucker pickup and the transparent head had a wooden pot. So I have put my first Backwoods 6 on the market and ordered the upgrade. It should be here in a day or two. I will try it out with and without the resonator. The Rogue is probably going to find a new home, too, since it's not all that useful to me.

I had hoped to sell the first one before the new one arrived, but it looks like I'll have them both. Maybe I'll have time to do a photo shoot and a "shootout" between the two. In the meantime, the price on both of the Backwoods 6 banjos has come down, so if you're wondering about taking the plunge, don't spring for a cheapo that you really won't get that much good out of - start at LEAST with Dean's base model.

For general interest, here's the Amazon link for the "base model" Backwoods 6 is here: ... DOSAY6TQDF

The upgrade with the wooden pot, humbucker and transparent head is here: ... HNCSOOM7EV

The Amazon link to the Rogue is here - I like the banjo overall, once it's set up properly, but the neck is too narrow for my brand of fingerpicking. Also, the other two are being discounted by most Amazon vendors now, so I would probably recommend either of the Deans over this one. But it DOES play nicely, and if you come across used and cheap, try one out. ... WY6IZZSR7A

I'll update you when the new one arrives.

Best of luck,


Author:  paulrace [ Tue Oct 07, 2014 7:16 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Upgrading the Backwoods 6

The black one just came. Here's a photo of the two side by side. I wanted the upgrade because I thought the wooden pot would give it a more authentic sound played backless. On the other hand, the thing doesn't have anything like a tone ring or resonator flange, so if you need the banjo to be loud without being plugged in, you might want the cheaper model with the big one-piece metal body.

The necks look identical except for the color of the binding. So do the headstocks, except for the color of the nut and the tuners. Except for being black, the resonator seems to be the same one you'll find on virtually any banjo that lists for under $600. As far as I can tell, the clear drumhead doesn't affect the sound one way or another. Maybe if you were into graphic arts you could put a design inside the resonator the way the Luna people do. For me, I would rather have a more authentic appearance. Though I do admit the dark chrome on black effect is cool.

On mine, the magnetic "humbucker" pickup is right up against the head, but it doesn't go through it. That way if I need to replace the head, I won't need to punch little holes into the new one like I might with some other banjos that come equipped with mag pickups. There is no tone control, only volume. The output jack is above the tailpiece, rather than beneath it the way I usually install mine. I can't decide if that interferes with my right arm movement or if I'm just being paranoid.

I haven't set it up yet, but with the necks looking identical, I don't really expect them to play much differently.

So the breakdown might be, if you want a banjo that plays loud unamplified and looks a little more traditional, go for the cheaper model. If you need to be amplified later on, you can always add a piezo pickup. On the other hand, if you want a banjo that looks very cool and has a built-in pickup with volume control, consider the upgrade.

side_by_side.jpg [ 86.96 KiB | Viewed 11194 times ]

Author:  paulrace [ Sat Oct 11, 2014 1:08 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Upgrading the Backwoods 6

Okay, I have A/B tested these amplified and not, in addition to physical comparision.

Except for the tuners, head and neck, which have only cosmetic differences, the rest of the banjos could have come from two different manufacturers. In other words, the "upgrade" banjo isn't the cheap one with more features; it's a different banjo.

The short version is that cheaper model is louder, so it might be better for acoustic jams, etc., where you can't plug in. Also, if you install a piezo or a piezo/preamp combination, it will sound more like a real banjo electrified than the mag pickup of the more expensive model.

On the flip side, the cheaper banjo has too much ring and sustain for the kinds of music I usually play on a six-string banjo. So the more expensive one is better suited to my personal playing style. Plus the built-in pickup is a convenience, even if it sounds more like a guitar than a banjo through the humbucker. (That's because of the sonic characteristic of humbuckers, not any flaw in the banjo.)

At any rate, I've posted an article on the comparison, with more than you ever wanted to know about the things. :-) ... ootout.htm

Author:  paulrace [ Sat Apr 25, 2015 11:24 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Upgrading the Backwoods 6

Back to the Black. I've been working up some relatively complex parts on my 6-string banjos. Parts I can play, ironically, on my pro guitars but couldn't get quite clean on my 6-string banjos. So I figured it was time to try a pro 6-string like the one I first fell in love with back in the 1990s. As another thread will tell you, I found a lefty Deering Deluxe 6, and after many conversations with Deering and with my local luthier, I converted it to a righty. Then I realized that the only string set I had on hand for it was too short for the 26.25" scale. So I had to put the old strings back onto it. They're heavy, and they're dead. Action's great, so I expect great things. But in the meantime, I thought I'd go back to my acoustic/electric Deering Backwoods 6 and see if I could tweak it and get a little more out of it. After all there's something to be said for having a $400 banjo to take to gigs where you don't need to drag out one that's worth more than your car.

On close inspection, and after having cranked the neck a bit, I realized that, over the winter, the head's tension had significantly reduced. So I tightened the head a quarter-turn all the way around, then did it another quarter-turn. It is playing much better now, with less fret buzz because the bridge is literally riding higher. So in one sense, I invested in a pro banjo sooner than I really needed to. In another sense, though, it's nice to be able to compare the Dean" to the "best of the breed." For one thing, the outside strings are 1/16" farther apart at the nut and over 1/4" farther apart at the bridge, so fingerpicking would definitely be easier for a guitarist.

When I really have a chance to "break in" on the Deering, I'll report the other differences that are significant (outside of the insane VOLUME of the Deering and the professional neck). Still, it's worth noting that the black one is back in the "line-up."

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