When I wrote an article about “short-scale” and travel banjos for the Riverboat Music site, it got me thinking that I would like to have a 5-string that was as portable as my Martin Backpacker travel guitar. My Backpacker is 35″ long and just over 9″ wide at its widest part. 5-string banjos tend to be 38″ long or longer and 12-13.5″ wide at the widest part, depending on whether they have a resonator or not. “A Scale” 5-string banjos, which are based on the scale length of the 19-fret tenor banjo, tend to be about 34″ long, but they are just as wide as full-sized banjos. (They’re called “A Scale” in part because if you use the same strings, you have to tune them a step higher than “G tuning” to have the same tone. But most folks just put on medium or heavier strings and tune them to G anyway.)
One unique short-scale banjo is the Gold Tone CC-Mini. It has an 8″ head, so it wouldn’t be any more than 9″ wide at the widest part. It also has a shorter scale, so its total length is 28″, reputedly making it great for backpacking. Although it “technically” should be tuned to a higher key, like C, some folks have reported success putting heavy strings on them and tuning them to G. Imagine that, a G-tuned banjo you can backpack with, without snagging every overhead branch!
Here’s the glitch – they cost more than the best-in-class under-$800 A scale banjo, the Deering Parlor. I just didn’t feel right paying more for a Chinese made mini-instrument than for an American-made real banjo.
Then I saw a CC-Mini listed on Reverb.com. The photos were ambiguous, but I thought maybe it was an older model. They wanted WAY too much to ship it, so I counter-offered, and they sold it to me. The only problem is that the banjo I got wasn’t a Gold Tone CC-Mini; it was a Gold-Tone CC-Traveler, an A-Scale version with a resonator, tone ring, and dual coordinator rods. Nice. And a more expensive banjo than I expected. Just not what I ordered.
With the tone ring, resonator, and dual coordinator rods, it would make a decent Bluegrass banjo for a child prodigy or an adult with short arms. But I’m neither.
I tried to conduct the seller to ask if they wanted it back, but a: their web site was down, and b: by the time they paid for shipping both ways, it would be a “wash” for them anyway.
It came playable, but needing adjustment, and I am neck deep in other things, so I figured I’d wait until I had time to tighten the head, crank back the neck, adjust the coordinator rods to get the right tilt on the neck, and properly place the bridge. Then I’d review it for my web pages and try to sell it locally. Alternatively, I COULD take the resonator and the cheesy resonator brackets off and use it as a travel banjo. I’d have to replace the gig bag, though, since the one they sent with it is made for a full-length resonator banjo.
Also, the banjo is yellow, which doesn’t sit right with me. But I suppose that’s a minor issue.
Then the SAME store on Reverb.com advertised a CC-Mini, and this time the photo was clear enough to tell that it really IS a CC-Mini. Here’s an irony: counting shipping, they want MORE for it than they wanted for the other one. I offered them the same amount I paid for the Traveler, and their counter-offer was still too high.
In the meantime, my base model Deering GoodTime has traveled all over the Midwest and to the Outer Banks with me, as well as to beaches and picnics. It’s in the back seat of my car as I write this, on the off chance I meet up with someone who wants to jam. At 37 1/2″ long, it is about four inches longer than most A-Scale banjos. But it makes a pretty good travel banjo as is, come to think about it.