Name key is (L to R): Tony Trischka, Bela Fleck, Victor Wooten, Abigail Washburn, Ricky Scaggs, Ry Cooder, Martin Simpson, Rick Sampson, Mike Keys, Cathy Moore, Bill Evans, Wayne Rogers, Marcy Marxer, Curly Miller, Chuck Levy, Paul Roberts, Bob Carlin, Tim O'Brien, Leonard Podolak, and Mary Cox.
The 5 string cello banjo, originally used in turn of the century banjo orchestras, has been redefined in this Gold Tone model. Great for classical style, but also may be tuned 1 octave lower in a variety of tunings and played by any banjoist for unique voicings, lead, lines and accompaniments. The 14” body is very loud and the brass tone ring extends its punchy tone. The shortened scale makes fingering easy. It uses nylon high tension classical strings. Includes deluxe archtop hard shell case.
Gold Tone’s Cello Banjo
Review by: Tony Trischka
The first thing that strikes you as you pull the ole cello banjo from it’s case is that you’ve shrunk… perhaps by visiting wonderland and popping a pill that makes you just a little bit smaller. Yes, it’s a five-string banjo (sans resonator), but the neck is wider, the pot is bigger, the strings are thicker and wider apart, and that loooowwww sound… an octave lower to be exact.
Marcy Marxer had borrowed an original four-string Gibson cello banjo from Mike Seeger, and that was all the inspiration Gold Tone’s Wayne Rogers needed to put these babies into production. Marcy showed up at one of my gigs last spring with her new four-string Gold Tone. We jammed and she sounded great and my curiosity was piqued.
Next think I know, they’re making a five-string version, and one ends up in my greedy mitts.
This breed of banjo was originally used in turn-of-the-century banjo orchestras (which would also include the more diminutive piccolo banjo). To hear some of this unique sound, check out the Old 78s on the Gold Tone website. These folks are great.
The Gold Tone looks great with its tasteful gold-plating, brass tone ring, three ply rim, 32 brackets, 14” pot assembly, nifty arm rest, and cool headstock design. The inlay is vintage Weyman #1 (retroing into the future). It has double coordinating rods and a 24 ¾ inch scale.
O.K., that enough about it’s decidedly good looks and physical specs. How does it sound and feel?
Initially, upon lifting it out of the case, I was stumped. It was such an odd sensation… playing some Scruggs rolls and fiddle tunes and having the sound come out so deep… I didn’t quite know what to make of it. Almost immediately I took another tack by writing some tunes that flowed naturally out of this particular instrument. I came up with a jig, a weird progressive tune, and a one chord fiddle tune. Now I had a seminal repertoire under my belt. Having accomplished that, I went back to playing one fiddle tunes and found that I rather liked the way they felt and sounded… so deep down low. I also started playing the old folk song, Shenandoah, out of G, in a slow Scruggsy kind of way. I liked the simplicity of it and the fact that every single note had much more gravitas than it would have in a standard G tuned environment.
In terms of writing music, things come out of this instrument that wouldn’t necessarily come out of a normal five-string. It creates its own terrain for exploration, which sparks my creativity… and that’s, personally, very exciting for me.
As far as the larger scale goes, it’s a tiny bit harder to reach certain things at certain times, but overall its not awkward at all… just different.
I’ve also found that the cello banjo seems to be more forgiving with mistakes. It’s harder to miss notes, presumably because the strings are thicker (the first through fourth are wound, the fifth is unwound nylon), the spacing is wider. Almost like everything’s in slo-mo and you have all the time in the world to get to the next fret.
Incidentally, clawhammer sounds great on the cell banjo. If you go to the Gold Tone website you can see and hear Cathy Moore play a beautifully lonesome version of Spotted Pony. The low tuning gives it an incredible depth and an added measure of spookiness. Another advantage of clawhammering on a cello banjo, in my perception, is that the wider spacing between the strings makes it easier to get the drop-thumb in there.
My only critical comment related to the headstock. I love the look of it, but its tapered construction at the end creates space issues when tuning the second and third strings. Not impossible, just a little bit awkward.
With that one caveat, I'm really happy with this beast. Can’t keep my hands off it. It probably won’t stand as your primary banjo but it’s a beautiful way to expand your horizons and still have the five-string language under your fingers.
-Tony Trischka, Sept. 2008
OLD-TIME from the OZARDS
Gold Tone’s Cello Banjo
I just finished reading Jimmy Mc Cown’s excellent review of the Gold Tone
CEB-6 (OT-6) in the October BNL, and I want to give you my impressions of that banjo, and also the CEB-5. I’ve had both long enough now to draw some initial conclusions so here it goes. First the CEB-5. Love it! If you play the 5-string banjo, you’ll be able to play this banjo right out of the box. Fun, fun, fun. It can be frailed like regular 5-string or it can be played like a bass and I'm sure it can even be played like a cello banjo is supposed to be played (however that is). Since parting with “old Tor” (my Gold Tone bass banjo) a few months ago, I've missed playing bass in the jam, especially on the too-fast-for-me tunes, so now I'm back to enjoying those tunes (and the jam). This is a great banjo for waltzes, slow tunes, and the like. As many folks have noted, the sustain makes the CEB-5 a little muddy if you frail it too fast, although I recently discovered Cathy Moore on YouTube playing closer to the bridge. I had been, as usual, playing over the neck – she suggested close to the bridge- I compromised and am now playing half-way between, most of the time. Really cleans up the sound. All in all, this one’s a keeper.
Now for a word or two about the CEB-6 (OT-6 in their on-line catalog). Many times over the past two months I’ve picked it up for a short spell and have put it away, saying to myself that all 5-string banjos should be 6-strings! (Sweeney was headed in the right direction, he just stopped too soon.) Playing a 6-string banjo is an exciting experience. But, it’s almost like playing a totally new and different instrument, at least for me. My first clue should have been the ‘stare-down’ Donald Zepp was giving the fingerboard in his early demonstration of the CEB-6 on YouTube; this compared to an occasional glance with the CEB-5. I don’t remember Zepp ever staring down the fingerboard before, other than a glance now and then for positioning up the neck. Folk, I have a difficult time just trying to play just the ‘original’ five strings, forget the 6th, without giving the fingerboard the stare-down, and even then I often miss what I'm looking for. But, once again, I think I’ll learn to love this banjo too. I just need to forget playing and others (except maybe the CEB-5) in the process of adapting to it. I did play it exclusively for about a week and was feeling comfortable with it, so I decided to take it to the Tuesday night Cajun Kitchen jam. Big mistake. This banjo may end up being a solo instrument, or at least reserved only for certain tunes at the jam. It seems the 6-string only comes into effective play on some tunes, so for the moment I’ll leave it at that. Now again, you don’t have to use the new string all the time, but I’d rather reserve this banjo for tunes that make effective use of the 6th string. (Two days later: After lots of play on the 6-string, I find I now have a bit of a problem on a 5-string.)
All-in-all, these are fine banjos; fit and finish, design, quality, appearance, value for cost. Personally, one important issue to me is a banjo’s headstock shape. There are some banjos I wouldn’t own just because of their headstock design. I know that may be a little shallow, but sorry. There are now two more shapes that have been added to my personal ‘standard’ of acceptance. The bottom line: Could I sell all my other banjos and just be happy with these two? Answer: Yes. Question: Will I sell all my other banjos? Answer: Nope.
Bela's Cover in Downbeat Magazine
Frequently Asked Questions on Gold Tone Cello Banjo (CEB-5)
1. What are the stock gauge strings on the 5 string cello banjo?
High Tension classical guitar strings are stock. To replace use:
5th string = Classical 3rd .040 plain
4th string = Classical 6th .045 wound
3rd string = Classical 5th .035 wound
2nd string = Classical 4th .032 wound
1st string = Classical 3rd .040 plain
2. What tunings are appropriate for the stock string gauge?
· A-tuning (an octave below normal banjo) A, E, A, C#, E
· Double D (and octave below normal banjo) A, D, A, D, E
3. Does Gold Tone sell replacement strings?
· We sell a light gauge and a medium gauge string set. The light gauge is similar to the stock set except the 1st and 5th string are wound, which result in a louder tone as they are noted on the higher frets.
4. What tuning is used with the medium strings?
· G-Tuning (G, D, G, B, D) and Double C (G, C, G, C, D). Both the tunings are one octave below normal banjo tuning.
5. Can other tunings be used?
· Certainly, but the gauge of strings may have to be adjusted.
6. How is the string attached to the tailpiece?
· Use a simple overhand knot on the tailpiece tab. After knotting the string, make sure you lace it through the hole in the front part of the tailpiece. Considerably
7. Can the strings be changed to metal style?
· The neck is reinforced with a double adjusting truss rod so metal strings may be used. Note: Steel strings tune to pitch, have a much higher tension so adjustment will be needed.
8. What type of banjo head is used?
· Remo custom makes our 14” stock Renaissance head. Replacements may be ordered through a dealer or direct from Gold Tone. 14” bottom coated or fiberskyn are also available.
9. Do you make a GTS pre-mounted skin in the 14” size?
10. My Cello Banjo came with a hard shell case, are gig bags available?
· Yes, through your dealer or direct from Gold Tone.
11. Although the tuners worked fine, they seem now to be slipping. Can I adjust?
· Our tuners use a leather washer for smoothness, if they are slipping the washer is compressing (normal). Simply tighten the adjustment screw. Make sure you use the proper screwdriver and do not strip the thread.
12. Can I use a capo?
· Yes, a guitar capo works fine. We recommend the Shubb Capo for consistent tuning. Spikes or a Shubb 5th string capo may be used on the 5th string.
13. How do I adjust the Cello Banjo for best playability?
· The CEB-5 adjusts exactly like a normal banjo. Of course the string height will be higher because of the thicker strings. Our shop adjustment sets string distant above 12th fret 3 to 4 millimeters.
14. How do I get a brighter sound from the Cello Banjo?
· We recommend the right hand strike the strings closer to the bridge. You may also tighten the head and adjust the tailpiece closer to the head.
|Neck||Maple, Double Coordinator Rods||Fingerboard||Ebony|
|Bridge||Maple/Ebony Cap compensated|
|Wood Finish||Vintage Mahogany||Fingerboard Inlay||Weymann Vintage|
|Headstock Inlay||Weymann Vintage||Neck Binding||Crème Ceuloid|
|Body Binding||Crème Celuloid|
Parts & Hardware
|Nut||Bone||Tuners||GT Master Planets|
|Tailpiece||Adjustable Straight Line||Tone Ring||Brass Ring|
|Strings||Nylon, High Tension Classical Guitar 6th, 5th, 4th, 3rd||Rim||14" Pot, 3 ply rim|
|Plating||Nickel||Arm Rest||Paramount Style|
Other Features & Options
|Case Options||Deluxe Arch Case included|
|Scale||24 3/4"||Weight||8 lbs|
Suggested Retail Price: $1,629.00