Thinking about trying to trade for something better


I have two banjos now…one is a cheaper Kay…no tone ring…if I had to guess, from the late 70’s or early 80’s…high action, etc. The other is a much newer, much nicer Mastercraft but still on the cheapish side with no tone ring but lower action, etc. I was looking at this banjo…Morgan Monroe Banjo MNB-5. I was wondering if any of you guys or gals could tell me what would be a good move. I don’t have the kind of money to invest a grand or really even close to that, but I do want a better piece of equipment and after playing a $1600 Gold Tone at the local music store for about an hour, I can really feel the difference in banjo quality and ease of playability. Any insight is greatly appreciated.


Hi Charles.
I am not a banjo player, but I thought I’d offer some general thoughts on instruments.
If I could have 1 better instrument as opposed to two instruments that aren’t as nice, in most cases I would opt for the one better instrument.
When learning an instrument, get something that plays as well as you can get. A great sound is nice to have, but something that is fairly easy to play is essential when learning. Once someone has developed technique and strength, they might opt for tone over playability. But I have seen way too many people trying to learn on an instrument with significant playability issues (and they don’t stick with it very long).
It doesn’t take top dollar to get an instrument that plays well. I have played $400 guitars that play absolutely great.
I will spend much more on an instrument than I used to. A big part of that is my thought process has changed. If you get a good deal on a used instrument, in all likelihood, it is not going to go down in value and you will be able to get back what you put into it. It’s not like a daily driver car, where after you use it for 10 years, it’s not worth much. A decent instrument will probably hold it’s value or appreciate.
Best of luck,


Thanks for the input…it definitely puts purchasing into a different perspective. I still have a lot of thinking to do about how much to spend at this point in my journey…I feel like I play decent, but not nearly as good as I want to, although I feel that a lot of my issues could be resolved if not totally negligent if I had an instrument with lower action, better bridge, straighter neck, flatter fret board, less worn down frets, etc. lol


I was playing with a group of pickers a few weeks ago and the subject came up about how a really great player could make just about any instrument sound good, but people that are learning are the ones who really need the help a nice instrument affords. A nicer instrument isn’t going to magically transform an intermediate player into a great player, but it will remove some barriers to improvement (being easier to play) and also inspire someone to play it more often.

Another thing that you can do is learn to set up and maintain your instruments. I have done that, and it really helps being able to set the action how I want it without taking it to a shop. It’s not for everyone, but I enjoy it.


I am a natural tinkerer…I would love to fingure out how to set mine up myself…The Kay that I have is the one that I really need to be working on. At some point, some things look as if they were moved around and now where the neck meets the drum…the neck sits up about 1/8" above the level surface of the drum. I would love to figure out how to fix that. It sounds great at the moment but the action is really high. Not very friendly for a beginner player.


I don’t anything about banjers, but here is a luthier’s site that has some banjo stuff. I suspect there is some good info for banjo setup out there somewhere.


Charles, what is the height of the bridge? many times banjo players think they can get better sound by using a taller bridge. If it is bigger than 5/8" I would suggest getting a shorter one to try first. this will bring the action down and is relatively inexpensive.

Any good guitar shop could lower the nut if the action is too high in that area. also an inexpensive procedure.


Very cool. I haven’t measured the bridge yet…it is in the hands of another beginner at the moment. I’m letting my brother-in-law play it while he is learning until he can afford to buy his own. I am going to…‘jam’…with him this weekend(more like make a lot of racket) and I will try to measure it then. Also, I’m gonna do some research and see if I can figure out how to adjust the neck down to be level with the drum/pot/whatever its called.


If you could get a picture of it and put it up on BHO in the repair section you will probably get the answers you need. there are some great craftsmen and a lot of good banjo knowledge there.


You know, I didn’t think about that, but I will absolutely do that tonight…or try to in between all the chores of home lol.


Funny stuff…I was over on bho reading about setup stuff and came across instruction for installing a new bridge…interestingly enough, I found that on my mastercraft, someone had installed the bridge backwards and about 5 millimeters too far away from the neck…as well as a bit crooked lol…for what its worth, the first string has a serious bark now…although I ran across another problem…with the bridge installed correctly, the third string fretted at the 10th has a bad humming sound when picked. When I look from the side and pick the string, I can see that it touches the 11th fret ever so slightly. Is that something I should try to file down a slight bit or is there a different adjustment for something of that nature?


As far as fretting out on the 10th fret… the nature of what you would do would depend on what is wrong. The 10th fret could sit low as a whole, or it could be dented. On the other hand, the 11th fret could be too high. You can use a little straightedge that covers 3 frets to determine what is going on. If the 10th fret is too low and you lower the 11th fret, then it will likely just make noise on the 12th fret. You said it was specifically the 3rd string, do the others not have issues at the 10th fret?


What is the action like on the frets just above and below the 11th? Is it only that fret or everything above that acts this way?
It could be your bridge is too short.
It could be your head needs tightened
the neck might need adjusted (If there is even a truss rod)
lastly and** least often the problem** the frets could be not the same height. I would not file any frets, but take it to a good luthier to that have done if it is found to be necessary.

I would check the head first. There are tons of info about head tightening on the other forum.

Are you sure the bridge is in the correct place now? You should be able to chime an octave note at the 12th fret on each of the 4 longer strings.


Yes sir…I checked and rechecked myself last night when I made the change on the bridge. Each of the four long strings is an exact octave higher at the 12th. I couldn’t have shown up more perfect on the tuner. I ched the tightness of the head as per the instructions on forums. They said to use a straight edge/ruler just at the 1st string corner of the bridge and make sure the ruler doesn’t sit up on the rim. Then try to slide a quarter underneath and you should have a mild amount of drag between the head and the straight edge. If there is too much drag so the quarter wont move, the head needs to be loosened or if the quarter doesn’t drag at all then the head needs to be tightened. Mine had what I would thought to have a nearly perfect amount of drag. Of course I am no seasoned luthier, but judging by the instruction over there, it seemed great to me.
None of the other strings have that problem at the 10th as I checked all the others. With same said metal ruler as above, it seems the ruler teeters on the 11th at the 3rd string…although I didn’t think about checking the other strings in the same manner at the 11th. Nowhere else on the fretboard is there a hum on dead string anymore which I am EXTREMELY happy about unless my fat fingers tend to hit them while they’re sustaining lol


— Begin quote from "Charles"

None of the other strings have that problem at the 10th as I checked all the others. With same said metal ruler as above, it seems the ruler teeters on the 11th at the 3rd string…although I didn’t think about checking the other strings in the same manner at the 11th.

— End quote

It sounds like there is something is going on with the 11th fret. I’d check to see if it all the way across the fret or just in the area of the one string. Another thing to check is see if the fret is loose and raised, although I more often see than issue on the fret ends. Press down on the fret and see if you can get it to move. Alternately, you can tap the fret with something metal and a loose fret will often sound different than one properly set. Whatever the issue is, it sounds like it is getting narrowed down. Nice job on the rest of the setup stuff. I am glad Dave could jump in with some banjo specifics.


No kidding…I am glad all of you guys are helping. I didn’t think about the fact that it could be a bit loose and possibly raised up. My skills aren’t such that I play up the neck that often lol. I will check that as soon as I get home and see if it can be tapped back down a bit…I have a miniature rubber mallet. It looks as if someone before me has worked on it as well. The best I could tell, all of the other frets were nice and smooth, but this one looked as if it was more coarse on the top. As soon as I do get the issue fixed up, I will be taking my dremel tool and polishing wheel to it so its nice and pretty like the rest of them.


So, on closer inspection yesterday…busy weekend lol…I noticed that there seemed to be a gap underneath the 11th fret…very slight, less than a couple millimeters. So I found my small mallet, loosened the strings and separated them to the sides with my fingers and commenced to tapping. MISTAKE! The strings slipped from under my fingers and the mallet caught them on a downswing. I wasn’t being hard with the mallet, but enough to pinch the strings and damage them. I will be picking up a new set tomorrow. At any rate, after I tapped a few times, I noticed that the gap wasn’t getting any smaller, so much as the top of the fret was getting flatter. My assumption now is that frets are extremely soft. Nonetheless, I rounded the top of it back out and used the plastic wire brush on my dremel to smooth it back out. I got the banjo back in tune and I don’t have that hum anymore on any of the strings that I can tell anywhere on the neck. So far, it seems a success other than the strings!




IKR…when the humming and droning noises were gone…it was like a sigh of relief.


Ok…ok…ok…so a few of you may have thought…who would have installed a bridge backwards that Charles would have had to fix? Well, I am here to admit that I am the idiot who thought it was installed backwards lol. When I flipped it around, I thought it had a louder bark, but I kept getting this very slight reverb effect from the 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 5th strings no matter where they were played. So, I called Grover and they told me that the bridge is actually supposed to be installed with their logo facing away from the neck. Its cool, ya’ll can laugh…I am a retard lol. Nonetheless, I fixed it last night and installed my first set of new strings and its like the banjo got a whole new lease on life lol. Although while buying the strings, I picked up and played an Epiphone…very heavy… they had for sale for $500. It has low action and a serious bark.It’s fairly cool looking although the rim chrome finish is starting to pit.