Bill Evans demos a new banjo inspired by a legendary RB-3.
by Teja Gerken
December 11, 2017
When bluegrass banjo star J.D. Crowe traveled to California to record the now legendary The Bluegrass Album with Tony Rice, Bobby Hicks, Doyle Lawson, and Todd Phillips in 1980, he didn’t want to take his own banjo on the plane. Instead, he borrowed a prewar Gibson RB-3 from San Francisco Bay Area musician and founder of Saga Music, Richard Keldsen. Richard still owns and plays the banjo, and Saga has since become renowned for manufacturing high-quality affordable stringed instruments, so he decided it was time to offer a re-creation of his RB-3 under the Gold Star brand. Peghead Nation banjo instructor Bill Evans got to check out the first production batch at Saga’s headquarters near San Francisco, California, and he brought one of them into our video studio for a demo.
Like the vintage banjo that inspired it, the GF-100JD has a mahogany neck and resonator. Saga closely replicated its traditional V-shaped neck, and the instrument has the distinctive no-hole flathead tone ring and deep-arch, tapered-wall resonator on Richard’s RB-3. Other details include the “leaves and bows” inlays on the fingerboard and peghead and twin purfling rings on the resonator, and each GF-100JD includes a label signed by J.D. Crowe. The instrument’s craftsmanship is impressive, with great fit and finish, high-quality materials, and an excellent setup performed at the Saga shop. “It really feels very much like what an old banjo would feel like,” says Bill, who also noted that it had the tonal qualities he’d hope for. “It’s got a nice growly fourth string, which is what we’re looking for. The old mahogany Gibsons had that.”
Players looking for an affordable instrument that offers true vintage look, feel, and sound should definitely consider the Gold Star GF-100JD Bluegrass Album Banjo.
SPECS: Five-string resonator banjo. Three-ply maple rim. Mahogany resonator. No-hole, cast-machined tone ring. Presto tailpiece. Mahogany neck. Santos rosewood fretboard. 1³/₁₆-inch nut width. Leaves and bows inlays. Deluxe Gold Star 4:1 planetary tuners. Made in China. List price $1,980. sagamusic.com
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