Posted by: Paul Roberts | November 12, 2018

Gold Tone Playlists

I’ve added playlists to my YouTube channel to feature some of the Gold Tone banjos I’ve been particularly interested in over the past decade. These include the Gold Tone CEB-4 and CEB-5 Cello Banjos, the BC-350+, Octajo 8-string tenor, and the Soundbird custom nylon strung tenor.

For inquiries and to purchase Gold Tone instruments, contact me at 970-731-3117. Also, check out my website



“Having constructed around 10 gourd banjos I started to built the follow ups of the banjo, like Minstrel banjo and Appalachian banjo. Experimenting with bigger sound chamber I used a floor tom and built my first fretless cello banjo.” Robby Faverey

Posted by: Paul Roberts | April 14, 2017

Glenbeigh Hornpipe – Tenor banjo – Bob Gooday

Here’s a wonderful video by Bob Gooday:

Mike Keyes interviewed by PaulRoberts 9/9/08

Mike Keyes has adopted a Gold Tone four-string cello banjo and he’s excited about it. I spoke with Mike after listening to his rendition of an O’Carolan tune and watching his several-part critique on YouTube in which he says, “This is a great little instrument. The price is right and it’s got a great sound. It has really gotten me interested in doing different kinds of music.”

I hear your dog in the background. How does your dog like the cello banjo?

“Two dogs. They both love this one. They’ll leave the room when I play the tenor, but they love the cello banjo. “

Playing cello banjo at a recent festival, I noticed the pleasing effect it was having on the audience, which, I think, is the same effect it has on us – and the reason we’re playing them – isn’t it?”

“Oh yeah, I think there’s something to that. Once you play a cello banjo you will be hooked.

The odd thing about this is that the cello banjo was never intended to be played like we’re playing it now. The hundred years of not playing cello banjo has changed everybody’s perspective, so they’re not really thinking in terms of it being a baritone aspect of some group, they’re starting to play it in duets or even as a solo instrument.”
The way Marcy Marxer played it in her banjo duet with Cathy Fink in their YouTube video of Buffalo Girls and Puncheon Floor really seems to have set the stage for a whole new era with this instrument.

“Well that’s what convinced me to get one. She accidentally sent an email to everybody on the cittern list (because one person who was considering buying it) saying the cello banjo was now available. I didn’t know anything about a new one being released, so I found the video on YouTube and I said, ‘I gotta have one of these.’”

What is your historical understanding of the cello banjo?

“They were primarily used in ensembles, both five-string and four-string cello banjos; the four-string came later. You see these old photos of banjo bands and they have a huge banjo bass, they’ve got some banjo cellos and they go up into lead banjos, – little piccolo banjos, which are like mandolin banjos with four strings. So, they played all these different voices and they must have been pretty impressive. I’ve heard mandolin orchestras like that and it really sounds pretty neat.”

When did they start making them, before 1900?

“I think Stewart came out with the first cello banjo in about 1885. It was a five-string. The four-string banjos would have been around 1910. The one Marcy has is a 1918 and they’d already been making those for a while. The banjo bands would have been popular from around 1885 to 1925, so there was about a 40-year span when these instruments were played. The four-string was probably only around for about 20 years.”

What are some of the ways that you think these new cello banjos will be utilized?

“Because these banjos are being made available again there are more people who are starting to talk about playing ensemble music. There are already mandolin ensembles and there’s no reason why they couldn’t go to banjo or that people would just get interested in playing different types of music. I think in two years, you’re going to see a lot of cello banjos out there. People are going to find out there are uses for it. You’re going to see somebody recording something that’s totally off the wall and you suddenly realize it’s a cello banjo. You’re going to see jazz and all sorts of things played on them. Totally unexpected stuff is going to come out of it, because it’s just a unique sound – a great sound. It’s got a universal tuning, so you can do a lot with it.”

Posted by: Paul Roberts | April 12, 2017

Tony Trischka plays Gold Tone cello banjo

Gold Tone’s Cello Banjo Review by Tony Trischka

2008, Banjo Newsletter and Gold Tone website; used by permission

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.

Posted by: Paul Roberts | April 11, 2017

Bob Carlin Talks About Gold Tone Cello Banjos with Paul Roberts

Bob, you’re quoted as saying, “Gold Tone Cello Banjos are both something old and something new. They reference the banjo’s past, back to the late 19th/early 20th century banjo groups, yet at the same time provide today’s banjoists with an interesting and flexible banjo family instrument to fill up the bottom end of their ensembles. The CEB-4 and CEB-5 can shadow the melody played by fiddlers and regular pitched banjos, or play bass lines and counterpoint, making complete any acoustic music ensemble.”

Could you tell me why you think the cello banjo is reemerging after so many years of obscurity?

Its reemergence is in the hands of Marcy Marxer. I mean she’s the one. Even though the American Banjo Fraternity has had cello banjos in their orchestras for sixty years, Marcy has re-introduced it to a larger audience, in a whole new way, just within the last two years.

Cello banjos have been around since the 1880’s but in recent times, it’s sort of been lurking below the radar. Groups like The Old 78’s have always used the cello banjo in they’re performances, but Marcy has a lot more visibility. She’s the one driving the excitement.

Weren’t you there for the unveiling of the new Gold Tone cello banjos at the NAMM Show last January?
Yes, I was at the Gold Tone booth when we got the samples. I was the one who unpacked them.

What was your first impression?

The minute I played the 5-string, I went, ‘this is it! This is great!’ I think it’s been a surprising hit.

Have you been playing one?

Oh yes, I’ve been using it a lot. I’ve actually got the prototype in my possession and I’ve been taking it around whenever I perform and teach. I use it to play melody, bass lines and a little bit of chording. I think it works great; I really like it. It fills in a frequency range between a string bass and the melody instruments and it doesn’t seem to get in the way of the guitar. I find the 5-string CEB-5 to be really exciting. I play it a lot.

What’s been the response to the cello banjo at your workshops?

A lot of clawhammer players have an immediate affinity to it, which doesn’t surprise me. What’s been very interesting is the three-finger bluegrass players who have said, ‘Wow, this is cool!’ I wasn’t sure it would work for what they did.

I’ve heard that several high-profile musicians have recently gotten cello banjos.

Yeah, I can’t wait to see Béla Fleck and Victor Wooten both playing their Gold Tone 5-string cello banjos on stage. That’s going to be pretty exciting. And it’ll be interesting to hear what Tony Trischka does with his. Tony has written a very complimentary review of the CEB-5, which should be published soon.

Neither the 4 nor 5-string cello is a ‘banjo’ in the way people are used to hearing it. It seems like one can go places, musically, with a cello banjo where people might not even recognize it’s a banjo.

Right, and I think it’s fine to make sounds on banjo family instruments that aren’t the stereotype of what people think banjos sound like. My West African buddy who plays West African lutes (that are similar to a banjo) has been playing all of his pieces on one of my Gold Tone BC-350 models. He tunes it like his lute and just plays everything that he could play on the African instrument. He has a low tuned lute, called the ngoni-bau, which sort of parallels the cello banjo. Once he hears a cello banjo, I think he’s going to want one. He’ll just tune it like the ngoni-bau and play it like that.

I think you’re right they’re pretty versatile. I think it actually takes somebody like you, who’s in the folk and international music world, to kind of break it out of that world where it would traditionally fall. I think it’s going to be an exciting addendum to what’s going on in the banjo world. We’re going to be seeing a lot of people using them.


Posted by: Paul Roberts | April 10, 2017

Cello banjos have enchanted me.

“Cello banjos have enchanted me. The day I received my Gold Tone CEB-4 and CEB-5 I played them for hours. When I woke up the next morning, I had a pleasant sensation; it was as though the warm tones and vibrations were still coursing through my body. I feel there are limitless musical directions I can go with cello banjos. On the 5-string, I enjoy clawhammer, three-finger picking and creative finger-style. On the 4-string, I play everything from Celtic to Renaissance and Middle Eastern tunes (anything you can play on a mandolin). One of the marvelous things about these instruments is that they have a distinctly different sound from what I previously would have associated with a banjo. Playing them is easy – the nylon strings feel good and yield a distinctive charm to the tone.” Paul Roberts – Cello Banjo Specialist

Posted by: Paul Roberts | April 9, 2017

“Elephant Dance” – Original Music for Cello Banjo

“Elephant Dance” is from Banjos Dreaming, an album of original music for Cello Banjo by Paul Roberts

On Banjos Dreaming, Paul multiplexes the sounds of two Gold Tone CEB-5 cello banjos, tuned an octave apart, with the tinkly sounds of a cittern, made by Stefan Sobell, restrung to play as a banjo-lute (banjola).

Check out Paul’s website where he represents Gold Tone musical instruments, and which includes articles and interviews of interest to banjo players.


Posted by: Paul Roberts | April 9, 2017

“Leaves” – Original Music for Cello Banjo

“Leaves” is from Banjos Dreaming, an album of original music for Cello Banjo by Paul Roberts

On Banjos Dreaming, Paul multiplexes the sounds of two Gold Tone CEB-5 cello banjos, tuned an octave apart, with the tinkly sounds of a cittern, made by Stefan Sobell, restrung to play as a banjo-lute (banjola).

Check out Paul’s website where he represents Gold Tone musical instruments, and which includes articles and interviews of interest to banjo players.

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