1999 Mike Ramsey 12" Openback 5-String Banjo

A customer of mine has been wanting to bring this banjo in for a head-swap and service for some time, now, and he finally had a day free, so he made the jaunt up from Massachusetts to bring it in. It's a nice-quality instrument (as you'd expect of a Ramsey) and has a big, 12" rim with perhaps the thinnest ply wall a builder can get away with. On top of that thin rim is a big, brass, hoop tonering that supplies the open, old-timey, "vintage" sound for the instrument.

While it was here, I swapped the head from a Remo FiberSkyn (dull, thuddy tone) to an "Elite"-branded Remo Renaissance model. These tend to have a sound like a thin skin head, but don't have the troublesome weather-related issues of the real stuff. If I have the opportunity, I will always swap a banjo's head to a Renaissance if I can. I like them that much. Other work included a fret level/dress, small compensation of the bridge, reseating the 5th-string peg, and a good setup with medium strings (10s).

I was really impressed with the volume and sweet, clucky, but deep tone coming out of this on the other side of work. It's always nice to hear a downtrodden, good-quality banjo come right back to life.

A 12" rim boosts bass response and a mellow tone -- mostly via placing the bridge closer to the middle of the head.

Materials are, as expected, good throughout -- a thick ebony fretboard and headstock veneer, bone nut, and mahogany, two-piece neck. The cut, scale, and feel is something like a hybrid of an 1890s SS Stewart mid-grade offering and a 1920s Vega. That's good in my books!

A shallow frailing scoop is a nice, modern touch.

4:1 geared pegs help tuning, for sure...