Well, you guys (and gals) finally got to me, and I had to find out for myself...
I recently had the chance to sit down and do a side by side test drive and
comparison of a whole bunch of banjos, which included a Chief. I played all
of the following (in no particular Order):
- Huber Lexington
- Sullivan Greenbriar
- 1925 TB-3 Conversion
- 1929 Granada Conversion
- Crafters Tennessee Flathead Deluxe
- Maple Chief
While all sounded reasonably good (the Gibsons were not particularly well set up), the Crafters and Huber were VERY good, but (as I am sure will come as no surprise to this crowd) I was BLOWN AWAY by the Chief! It was funny too, because I sat there playing each of these without drawing much notice, but once I started up with the Chief, things got quiet, and several people commented on its sound. So I guess Sonny is not kidding about these things selling (and
advertising) for themselves!
I have never been a fan of the "speed neck", but I have to say it was very comfortable and has the typically wonderful feel of other Neat necks I have played on.
For completeness, I then went to the Opry Mills location of another popular brand (who shall remain nameless), and played several of their "comparable" models (including the ones which may be lineal relation to the one the Chief is based on, and one endorsed by some guy from Lexington who must like card games...). Although most of my banjos were made by them during the pre-Henry period (and a few before the war), I would have to say that none of the new ones I played measured up to most of those from earlier in the day, and were not even in the same class as the Chief for fit, finish, tone or value.
The only problem I have with the Chief is how to convince the spouse that I need another banjo. I tried the excuse that it sure would be cheaper than the old Granada's I have been mumbling about for years, but she seems to be
seeing right through that argument.
Now that I have been to the mountain, I can see what all the fuss has been about, so I guess I better start saving my milk money... Thanks to Sonny and the Neat family for making such a well made instrument available at such a fair price, and thanks to all of you for convincing me to finally seek one out.
December 11, 2003
Just a quick note to tell you that I have been playng #79 steadily since I met you in Owensboro to pick it up last month. The BIaylock tone ring surely is the turbo-charged version. It is louder and richer than the version with the Huber tone ring, which still is a great banjo, of course. The Blaylock also sounds better up the neck. The thing that most surprised me, however, is that with the Blaylock, the tone doesn't deteriorate anywhere near as much when I put the capo on. There may be some other factor involved, but I was startled when I heard the quality of the tone even with the capo on.
Thanks again for a great, great banjo.
Just a note to tell you what a fantastic banjo #88 is. All the Knoxville guys got together for the first annual "Chief Fest" at Mathis' house a couple of days ago:
Larry says #88 is the best of the four. I think I agree with him, but for the record I'm just saying they're all very good.
Tonight was the first time I actually compared #88 with my granada 9522-2. It is so close it is scary, and is actually louder than the pre-war. The 4th string is a monster, and up the neck it's especially powerful. It even sounds great jump vamping chords.
This is the best old banjo replica for the money I have ever seen. I'm telling all the serious pickers I know about it.
So, thanks again to you and Frank (I'll tell him the next time I see him).
#88 Osborne Chief
Well, after playing my chief for 3 1/2 years, I had to pack it up and ship it back to Frank Neat for binding repair. The binding was just coming off the neck in pieces. I called Frank and he explained that he had gotten some bad binding and that he would take care of fixing this problem pronto.
So, I dug out my 1930 original flathead Gibson model 6 thinking that it will be real close to the sound of my chief. I must admit, I haven't had this banjo out in over a year. Well, I must admit, I'm going to miss my chief banjo. My chief just plays better, sounds better, notes better. What more can I say?
So, I'm sure Frank will send my banjo back as good as new and I'll be happy again. Can't wait to get it back.
Sent: Monday, August 18, 2003 1:18 PM
Subject: Singing the praises ...
Just passing along a snippet from some email I just received this morning:
You folks were definitely the highlight of the SeaFood Festival. I am pleased that Toppitts "pushed" the mic closer to your Chief, the sound really was heard then.......that Chief is one great sounding banjo.....I hope you don't mind, but the older couple that was sitting to my right, well, I just had to tell them about you and the Chief and Sonny O.!!!
Sent: Saturday, July 19, 2003 9:30 PM
Subject: Chief Report
The banjo arrived intact Friday afternoon and of course I played it for a few hours - experimenting with different picks and touch. I found that it sounds best when the strings are struck so they vibrate parallel to the board; no coming up underneath the string or downwards on the string. It has incredible variance in tone from the X and Y position and rings loud and clear all the way up the neck. The notes from string to string and fret to fret are very balanced and even. My husband Jim likes it! Poko the parrot is not shaking her head. I like it.
Took it to fiddlers today - a hodge podge of about 20 players on stage at any given time. I sure didn't need to get right into the mic, but could stay back and still be heard clearly. I could get it to blend and melt or jump out when needed. The fiddler I play with the most really liked the Chief; he's a bluegrasser from back in the late 40's early 50's and sez he knows how a bluegrass banjo is suppose to sound. He said, "Bev, this is IT."
November 4, 2003
I received my chief back from Frank. He replaced the binding on the neck and it is as good as new. Also, I installed the "lever tuners" and am starting to experiment with them. I think they are going to be great. They work a lot better than the other "D" tuners out on the market. They go back in tune every time.
Keep up the great work on the chief banjos Sonny. They are the best new banjo out there.
I am a new banjo player, Sonny, and in a fit of excitement and optimism in my future playing bought one of your beautiful Osborne Chief banjos from Gruhn Guitars. It sounds and plays great and it is a lifetime banjo for me for sure.
I feel a little like a golfer who shoots 110 but has a new set of Ping clubs and needs to do a lot of work at the driving range.
Just wondering: do you ever intend to make a walnut version of The Chief?
The same weekend I was in Nashville buying the Chief I was at The Grand Ole Opry (girlfriend gave me a nice present) and saw The Osborne Brothers play "Rocky Top." I was disappointed you weren't playing your axe that night but it was a cool show nonetheless.
I note Gruhn Guitars is now carrying the mahogany Chief too. Thanks for building these great banjos.
Todd Sullivan from Raleigh, North Carolina.
For the past five years I have owned a Chief banjo and I have had the chance to play it at lots of festivals and conventions. Everywhere I go and everyone who hears it wants to know where this great banjo sound came from. I tell them it came from a man who has made a lifetime of making his living picking the banjo, Mr. "Banjo Man", Sonny Osborne. No one could have designed a greater banjo than the Chief. Mine gets better every day.
November 19, 2003
Well, with much anticipation, I received my Osborne Model 3 Chief banjo and what can I say? It's great!!! I'm proud to say that I have #1 of the series.
I also have #23 of the chief maple banjos.
Now, I've only seen 2 or 3 old flathead mahogany 3's that have impressed me. I'm a maple fan at heart, but this is one impressive banjo. I believe it's the best new mahogany banjo I've seen or heard. Frank Neat's workmanship is just unsurpassed. And Sonny set the banjo up just perfect. I must admit, I still like my maple Chief banjo better, but I truly feel that with some playing time on this new model 3, it will be awesome also.
Sonny, once I get in some playing time on this banjo I will let you know how it sounds. I know it will only get better and better.
Thanks for your friendship and for everything you and Judy have done for me.
I am tremendously happy with my new Chief banjo I purchased from Gruhn on 1/6/2004. It arrived on time without any problems.
I took it to the Mid-West SPBGMA Bluegrass Music Awards show in Jefferson City Missouri, this last weekend and it turned a lot of heads while I performed and jammed with it.
I originally purchased this as a backup to my 95 Scruggs banjo, but now the Chief is NOT! the backup instrument. The sound blew me away.
Thanks to Sonny for the best sounding banjo I’ve heard in a long time.
Banjo performer for Sharon Graeff and Heritage and Golden Harvest Bluegrass Band
I have attached a picture of a jam session with 2 award winners at this year and last years awards i.e. Jessie Durham (best mandolin 2004, playing bass in this picture), Sharon Graeff (best female vocalist 2003). Others in the picture are, Max Cooley (3 times nominated for best dobro player), and Matt Allen (nominated best song writer 2003).
I acquired my #23 Chief banjo from Sonny on Easter Sunday of 2000. I have played this banjo now for the last 3 years on every show with my band and also at just about every practice. I have some prewar Gibson banjo's, but I keep going back to my Chief.
When I first ordered this banjo, Sonny told me that he bet I would play it more than my old Gibsons, and I thought to myself "I doubt that". But, I was wrong. The Chief is as close to an original flathead Granada as you can get, and in a lot of instances, it's better than some original flathead 3's and 4's that I've played.
I would love to be able to hear some of these banjos when they get 40 or 50 years of playing on them. The craftmanship and work that Frank Neat puts into building these banjos is just superb. Frank has done a lot of work for me over the years, and I know that if his name is associated with any banjo work, it's going to be great.
I have had more positive comments on my Chief than all of my old Gibsons put together. If I could afford it, I'd have several Chief banjos. That's how much I think of these instruments. There's just not anything else new out there that can compete with the sound, workmanship, and playability of these banjos.
Sonny, thanks for your friendship, kindness, honesty, and for being such an inspiration. And thanks for taking the time to make me really listen to what and how I was playing and to get me to play right.
Keep up the great work with the banjo's.
The Chief is playing really well and I am delighted with it. I'll be using it at a gig up the coast Saturday night, playing for the campers at one of those exclusive membership "campgrounds". Usually get a couple hundred campers packed into the lodge and I'm sure The Chief will have more than a few admirers afterwards. For some reason, after every fiddler gig, I seem to draw a crowd of people just wanting to talk and see a banjo up close. Little kids like to strum the strings and then to see the big grins on their faces is the best part of the whole gig! The following weekend I'll be playing on two "Little Ole Opry" shows for their last weekend of the summer season. About 900 people will see and hear the Chief at these two shows.
Also taking it to the Oregon Bluegrass Festival in August - a small festival about 2 hours drive from me that allows me to get home in time for ranch chores. It would be great if I could talk Lynn into coming down from Washington and meet up at the festival.
I also want to thank you for the super setup on the banjo. For once I did not feel compelled to tinker with anything. The only thing I've changed is to take the Chicago screws off the strap and use it as a cradle strap - which supports the banjo best for me when standing. You're right about that red case too! Everyone noticed it and no one is going to walk off with it by mistake or otherwise. Toting it around, I sorta feel like that infamous Lady in Red who fingered Dillinger for the feds ....
So now back to learning that great tune Sledd Ridin'. I feel like this banjo must already be pre-programmed to play that one :)
December 30, 2003
Well I have played my new 3 every day for three hour's since I received it on 12-23-03. All I can say is "WOW" what a great instrument. I will say that my favorite banjo, in my collection, is still my #42 Chief, but my new 3 has it's own distinct sound. I have been playing song's such as: Banjo Signal, Sally Ann, and Doug's Tune, and it seem's like any where on the neck it play's in tune, the tone just ring's, and the sound is outstanding. I jammed with some friend's of mine and the 3 represented it's self well, everyone was impressed.
I was listening to some of your earlier recording's on the Bear Box Set, and the banjo you where using on some of those recording's must have been a old RB3, and my new 3 sound's alot like that banjo you used.
Thank You for the great setup you did on my new 3, it sound's and play's just the way I wanted it. I am happy to say that I own Osborne Chief #42 and Osborne RB3 #2 banjo's.
I took my new mahogany Chief for its first festival this past weekend. What a HOSS!!. It has to be one of the best sounding new banjos I've ever played. The sound, workmanship, and playability are just fantastic. I must admit, however, I still like my maple Chief better. I will continue to play this banjo and we'll see how it does after a few months playing time.
Attached is a picture of me playing my new chief. Keep up the great work.
October 25, 2003
I wanted to let you know that I am very happy with my Chief #72. They are every bit as good as I heard they are. The Chief definitely has the sound. Every note rings clear.
The workmanship and playability are superior.
Thanks for a great banjo at a fair price.
ps: If you are ever in the New Lebanon area please stop in.
Great to see you again at Cherokee. We had a great time with you.
I have not and probably will not ever pick up a banjo that is ready to be played as much as The Chief. From the time I got home on Saturday night until today, I am still in awe at the quality of the crafsmanship.
But as I started to say at first; you pick up the banjo and put it in your lap or across your shoulder and if feels like it was custom made just for me!!! Everything is set up just perfect. And the tone! whether you are playing Soldier's Joy in C-tuning or playing Sally Ann up the neck, The Chief is crystal clear. Thanks Sonny for the tips on the right hand and for what I think is the past come alive again in The Chief banjo.
Oh by the way I forgot to get your banjo tape, I'll be in touch.
It hath arrived! I've only had a brief opportunity to try it out because we have pre-arranged dinner plans for this evening. You know what I'd rather be doing :-) It seems to be in perfect shape, the neck is the best shaped and feeling neck that I have had the pleasure of playing. The tone is incredibly even and rich, up and down. I know that it will only improve with time and I can't wait to get more up-close-and-personal with it.
Thanks a ton for the work and care put into this beautiful instrument. It's got a good home now!
I just wanted to let you know how pleased I am with my new Osborne Chief # 71 that I got this past Thursday from Gruhn Guitars. The banjo plays and sounds great!
The craftsmanship is wonderful and the neck is very comfortable to play. It also has the best working capo that I have ever used. I would like to know what brand and what gauge strings came on it? Thanks so much for coming up with the idea about making the Chief banjo, it was well worth it!