I recently got a new open back banjo and wanted to post a few pictures of it. Its made by Brooks Masten, has an 11″ cherry rim, fiberskin head, walnut neck, ebony fingerboard, and brass tone ring. Its basically a stock Spartan model except for his custom tailpiece. Brooks was great to work with and lives about fifteen minutes from me here in Portland. Thanks to him for allowing me to use his photos.
I had an old Lyon and Healy banjo from the early 1900′s but just ended up being not that thrilled with it. My new banjo stays in tune better (for a banjo), and the neck is just alot more comfortable. The neck and string spacing are also wider, which is beneficial for clawhammer. I know alot of folks like older banjos, which is cool. They can have a neat vibe, are often cheaper, and can sound good. For me in this case I just preferred a modern instrument.
I have been playing clawhammer banjo for a few years, it was kind of a natural progression from doing clawhammer style things on guitar. I am attracted to instruments that are fun to play in a solo context, where melody, rhythm, and other voices are all self contained. Playing clawhammer banjo this way is so much fun. Its very relaxing to sit on the couch and frail away. Of course playing in a group is fun, and the duo of clawhammer banjo and fiddle is especially nice.
I know some of the standard old time repotiore but am more interested in the banjo as a vehicle for arranging non typical tunes. I play a set of Breton tunes that work quite well on banjo, and some irish reels are nice too, though I would play them in a standard session.
Ill try to post a few videos of these arrangements sometime soon.