Gear Review: Béla Fleck Signature Banjo, Neck and Tuner

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Videos by American Songwriter

Béla Fleck is a virtuoso banjo player, acclaimed for his innovative and technically proficient playing. Many regard him as a musical pioneer and ambassador of the banjo, having brought the instrument from its bluegrass roots to jazz, classical, rock, and various world music genres. His efforts with the bands New Grass Revival and Béla Fleck and the Flecktones have won him 14 Grammy Awards and more than 30 nominations. In recent years, Fleck has worked with the Gold Tone Music Group to bring a series of innovations to the instruments he uses. Through Gold Tone, innovations like the “Bluegrass Heart” Béla Fleck Signature Banjo, Béla Fleck Signature Banjo Neck, and Fleck Tune clip-on tuner are available to the public.

The Gold Tone “Bluegrass Heart” Béla Fleck Signature Banjo is a professional-grade banjo that has evolved from Gold Tone’s regular collaborations with renowned artists and provides players with the closest thing yet to the feel and the tone of Béla’s pre-war masterpiece. Every detail of this instrument is a result of personal, hands-on development by Béla and Gold Tone. Built without compromise, the finest components available have been used to optimize the instrument’s sound and the playing experience, which includes a Prucha Presto tailpiece, Rickard Cyclone 10:1 tuning machines (custom, red-anodized brass buttons add peghead mass), custom bridge, and Little Mountain armrest. Each component plays a part to enhance tuning ease and stability, producing a full-bodied tone, and critical playing comfort.

This Béla Fleck Signature Banjo Neck is an updated replica of the wider and deeper pre-war-style Gibson neck made for Béla Fleck’s Style 75 banjo decades ago by John Monteleone. Built of mahogany to the same specs as the neck on the Gold Tone “Bluegrass Heart” Béla Fleck signature model, this neck is wider than what many consider standard with a nut width of 1 3/8”. It also features a 26.25” scale length, a compound radius ebony fretboard, and jumbo frets. Gold Tone players will also appreciate Gold Tone’s patented ZeroGlide nut on Bela Fleck Signature Banjo Neck, as seen on Béla’s Gibson Style 75 banjo.

The scale of a banjo neck demands regular and accurate position changes, and the satin finish of this neck offers an elegant means to reduce friction to promote easier and quicker position changes. The ebony fretboard, rosewood headstock veneer, and Béla’s custom inlay (based on the popular “flying eagle” motif) add distinctive finishing touches. 

While this neck is attractive, it offers modern banjo players more than just good looks. In terms of sound, this neck promises to enhance the low and midrange frequencies of any Mastertone-style pot and can help players achieve a fuller and more expressive tonal palette.

The stock Bluegrass Heart neck has a 2.5-degree flat heel, cut for non-flange style banjos. However, Gold Tone technicians can cut the heel for a one-piece or tube-and-plate flange for an additional charge. Gold Tone recommends that your banjo pot be sent into Gold Tone where expert luthiers can precision-fit this neck for you.

To complement the Béla Fleck Signature Banjo, Gold Tone CEO, Wayne Rogers, collaborated with the virtuoso on a clip-on tuner specifically for banjo. The tuner is designed into a unique heart shape chosen to commemorate the release of Béla’s “My Bluegrass Heart” album and tour.

This tuner was designed specifically to address the shortcomings of most clip-on tuners that become erratic when trying to deal with the many overtones produced by the banjo. Béla requested a tuner that would display stable and steady indications of pitch in a clear manner. Twelve designs from three factories were tested in Gold Tone workshops and by Béla himself to find the model with features, sensitivity, and accuracy most suitable for banjo. The tuner provides settings for chromatic use, guitar, bass, ukulele, and violin/mandolin, and features automatic shut off and memory recall so the tuner recalls the last used setting when powered on.

Mastertone “Bluegrass Heart” Béla Fleck Signature Banjo with Case: $3699.99

Béla Fleck Signature Banjo Neck: $749.99.

Fleck Tune clip-on tuner: $19.99.

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