Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

RK-35 or wait?

Folks, help me make a decision. I currently have a Deering Artisan 2 Goodtime banjo, a cheap Jameson, and a great sounding FrankenBanjo (two banjos put together). There is an RK-35 for sale near me for $500. Is the RK a significant upgrade over the Deering? My Deering sounds great, although it does not have a tone ring so it is missing that bright twang sound. The FrankenBanjo has a brass hoop and sounds pretty good, but looks a bit rough.
I would like to have something that sounds more like a Bluegrass Banjo and looks good. Should I save my pennies and get a $2-3K banjo or are the RK-35s so good that I will be satisfied?

$500 is a pretty good price for an RK-35. I’d be tempted to buy it just to have as a nice looking travel banjo. I’ve never played one in person, but the recordings I’ve heard online sound impressive for such a cheap banjo.

1 Like

500$ is about half price, and if it’s in good condition, way worth it. Also, since it’s used (it is used right?) The value won’t depreciate any when you buy it, and it should be very easy to resell later when you want another upgrade

1 Like

I would check for fret wear especially on the first five frets before I would buy a used banjo. If the grooves are deep you won’t be happy with it and it will cost you to have them fixed.

1 Like

Do you mean grooves on the fret board or the actual frets themselves? I have seen some fingerboards with grooves from wear, but not the metal frets.

The fret wires. The strings wear grooves in the wire and makes playing much harder especially hammerons, pulloffs, etc. My first five are terrible and it makes playing tuff. If you can look at the banjo your thinking of buying , push the strings a little to the side and see if their are grooves in the fret wire below them. The deeper they are the more problem they are.


Fret wear is the equivalent of tire wear on a car. It happens, and it is part of expected maintenance to keep up with it. It is certainly a factor in the evaluation of an instrument. On the other hand, it wouldn’t keep me away from an instrument I liked. Doug, I encourage you to get a partial fret replacement job done by someone good… it is money well spent.


Ir will be a serious upgrade. I have played an RK75 which is more or less the same pot with a fancier neck. It will be a real Gibson style Mastertone copy. One piece flange, a neck with a separate fretboard and truss rod, all the stuff a pro banjo would have. That is a real good price.

Play it. If it buzzes like crazy, check the frets. Check the frets on your banjo and see how grooved they are and see if the RK is much worse. Even if they are grooved, just get a fret dressing. Even with that at $500 the RK is a steal.

Further to your, ‘should I wait?’ question. The RK is really pretty good. Did it sound like my prewar Gibson? No. If you bought a nice Yates or Hatfield or Huber or Gibson, you might get closer to that old Gibson sound but I think that compared to what you have, you’ll be more than happy with the RK and you’ll have it now (if it hasn’t already been sold).

And if you want to upgrade, at that price, the RK will be easy to sell.


Thanks for the advice guys. I went ahead and bought it.


And? Do you like it?

Yes!!!. It sounds so amazing. It is like it has an amplifier in it. It has that bluegrass sound. I will have to record something when I get a chance. I tightened the head and put some pf135 strings on it. I was surprised at how much better melodic licks sound on it.


Good for you! Don’t be afraid to crank up the head. I heard a story once (maybe apocryphal) where Earl said he tightened his head until it was just about to break then loosened it some! You may not have to take it that far…

1 Like

Get a drum dial for accuracy, and tune the head. It will improve tone and volume and save the world, etc

Yup I use a drum dial. Tightened it to 88 all the way around. It definitely needed it. Best tool I bought for banjo so far. I might lower the action a hair next time I feel like working on it.

1 Like

I took both of my banjo heads to 91. You’re generally looking for a head tone of G#. There’s something magical about hitting that note. If you’re there at 88, that’s great, but neither of my banjos where anywhere near G# at that tension.

1 Like

How do you know when you hit g#? Is your tuner that sensitive?

Hi Joe

Check this out

Thank you Archie. I have seen that video. My ear is not that well tuned yet to do it like Mr Huber. This morning I experimented and found that if I use my snark tuner with the extension taken off the back, place it down on the head with the top facing directly up and very lightly tap on the head while muting the strings, it will register. And @Mark_Rocka is right, 88 is not enough tension.

By the way, the banjo also came with a Recording King case, Levi padded strap, and Snark tuner. I think I got a good deal. :slight_smile:
I sold my cheap Jameson Banjo with gig bag for $100. I threw some picks into the gig bag to be nice. Then I realized I should probably tune it as well. So, I tuned it and then without thinking threw the picks I had on in the gig bag as well. When I showed the banjo to the gentleman, I opened the pouch in front to show him I put picks in there and I was shocked to see I accidentally put my Blue Chip thumb pick in there. I am soooo glad I checked the bag before giving it to him. Lesson learned there.


That guy almost got himself a sweet deal!

Sounds like you made out like a bandit on your deal, as well. I’m curious to hear your impression after you get the head tuned up to G#. Maybe a video is in order? :slight_smile:

1 Like