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Dobson Tenor Banjo

Patented in 1881 the Dobson Silver Bell tone ring was designed by New York instrument maker, teacher and performer Henry C Dobson. And today is one of the most sought after styles of tone rings amongst old time players.

My Dobsons are built with a second rolled brass tone ring that the Dobson sits upon, this configuration is sometimes called a Dobson Special and mimics the way the ring contacts an overspun rim which they were originally designed for.

This model has a well balanced tone with a sweet rich high end and a funky low end and a characteristic sustain and decay to the notes.

- Nickel Hardware £1700
- Brass Hardware £1825

Basic Specifications
Included on all tenor banjos - Please see Tenor banjos page for full information
Choice of style 1 or style 2 neck and tailpiece
Scale length | 19 fret 23 " | 17 fret 21"
Choice of woods
Under veneers neck and headstock
Hand cut and engraved mother of pearl inlay on headstock. 
Medium nickel silver fretwire
Three piece neck
Buffalo Horn Nut (Corian available on request) 
Nut width 29mm
Two way adjustable truss rod
Gotoh raw brass tuners as standard with brass hardware.
Rim cap - Ebony - Pau ferro - Richlite
Three stripe planetary tuners as standard with nickel hardware 
Maple and Ebony bridge
Hand rubbed oil finish
Renaissance head as standard, others available on request.
Free Hardcase included

Image Gallery


Customer Testimonials

"Will has produced a fantastic open-back banjo in Cherry with a 12" Renaissance head and Dobson Tonering.
Excellent tone, lightweight and easy to play.
Why pay 000$ for overrated US imports when we have some talented luthiers in the UK?

Highly recommended."

John Charnock

"Unlike many banjos I’ve played, it maintains clarity all the way up the neck. I've now owned it for a few months and would say this is now my favourite banjo, and I'm lucky enough to own some really nice ones from other well-known builders.
Dealing with Will was a pleasure.

If the house was on fire and I could save one banjo, this would be the one!."

Tom Philips

"I was smitten from the moment Will handed it over.
The craftsmanship is awesome and the sound just gets better and better.
Fabulous projection without a hint of harshness, just a well balanced tone across the range and up the neck.
And it’s plenty loud enough to be heard in my local Old Time session where it has been the target of some serious admiration.
If you are looking for a work of art at a very acceptable price point, Will’s your man. You won’t regret it!!"

Sue Woolard

"I'm delighted with my Howson, it's my go to, everyday banjo. 12" cherry pot, ebony tone ring, goat hide head, brass hardware. I have a few others, including antique banjos from some of the best American makers. It's the Howson that I reach for most. Check out my videos on YouTube at Cerddoriaeth Fynyddig / Mountain Music. Most of those include my Howson."

Andy Taylor

"I often think that looking at a banjo is like looking at food because firstly it has to appeal to the eye and that is how I felt the first time I saw the fretless banjo I bought from WGF Howson Instruments. Not only does it sound great but when I’m not playing it, it stands in my room like a piece of art."

Tat Taylor

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to get my pre order?

Completion time for pre-order banjos obviously varies depending on where I am with my wait-list and current builds - please use the form to inquire about current lead times.

Do you make custom banjos? 

No, I'm now only building the models shown on the website, as they are shown, also occasional “Special editions” which will be available through the banjos for sale page.  

Can I customise my banjo?

The models are available with different wood choices and with either Style One or Style Two appointments beyond that I don't offer any further customisations.   

If I ever have any issues with the instrument can I bring it back to you?

Yes, please do. I am always happy to repair my own instruments.

I have never played one of your instruments, please can I come to see you to try one.

I should have a limited selection of instruments at the workshop that can be played, please bear in mind though that I am limited on how much time I can take away from the workbench. 

How can I adjust the banjo's action?

To adjust the banjo's action, you can either raise or lower the bridge or make truss rod adjustments, but it's best to consult a professional for proper guidance.

I've never had the opportunity to play one of your instruments but would like to order one. What if it arrives and it's not the right fit?

If your instrument arrives, you play it and you decide for whatever reason its not what your after, its no problem if you want to send it back to me for a full refund.  

Obviously the instrument must still be in the condition it arrived in when I receive it back please re-package it the way it was sent.

The instrument is your responsibility until it arrives here and you are liable for any damage it receives while with you, or in transit. For that reason I would recommend getting it insured for the return delivery.

Most delivery companies have a clause in their insurance small print saying musical instruments are not covered, UPS are an exception to this though it is worth emailing them to get confirmation of this before sending to ensure it is still current, otherwise it is possible to take out separate insurance.   

What tuners do you use?

The tuners used as standard on instruments with Raw brass hardware are Gotoh Brass planetary tuners, on instruments with Nickel plated hardware they are unbranded south korean planetary tuners with black buttons. 

Can I have Rickard Cyclone tuners fitted? 

Yes that's no problem, If you select Cyclones when you order an instrument please let me know by email which buttons you want - Box wood - Ebony - Galalith Ivory.

I don't keep them in stock so they may delay an instrument that's ordered from stock, the price listed is inclusive of carriage, VAT and customs charges.  

Instrument specs 

All the specs for the models can be found on the Five string banjo and Tenor banjo pages 

Can I have an inlay you did in the past?

No, I'm sorry the runs of inlays are limited to the instruments produced in a given year, and once they are done they are done.

Goat skins pros and cons

This is  very subjective, people who like them feel that they sound better, I personally prefer them, when I was doing the videos for the Dobson recently was the first time I've spent much time playing a synthetic head for any length of time, and I really noticed the difference, whether I can put that very well into words is another thing.... a renaissance to me sounds brighter, on the other hand its not really that a skin doesn't sound bright if its on tight... its just a different type of brightness, maybe not quite as sharp and punchy. That being said I'm personally not so keen on fybre skyns because to me they sound a bit dead (though I think some banjos and players sound amazing with them) skin heads are lively and responsive, just in a slightly different way to a renaissance, and completely different to the bright/brash sound of a frosted head which can be amazing if its what your after,. 

Some people prefer them a bit slack which can give you a really swampy funky kind of sound especially with say a fretless. They also look pretty cool if you like the look. 

The cons are easier to describe, they aren't as stable, which some people really hate, I've used them for years and have never had that much of a problem, that being said I like a high action on my own banjos because I feel it plays and sounds better, and is worth the extra effort, so if its a humid day and the head slackens I might not notice too much, If I had a low action on the other hand, the banjo might on an extremely humid day become too slack to play.

You can obviously change the bridge or give it a blast with a hairdryer which works well, though I've very rarely felt the need, I wax my heads when I stretch them which makes a big difference in stability, but its not 100% humidity proof like a synthetic.

They can also in theory on a very dry day get way too tight and pop, again that isn't something that's ever happened to me, I once spent a very hot day at a festival on a stall full of banjos waiting for them all to explode but none of them did.I have also taken my pony banjo to rain forests in Australia and countless nights sleeping in the spray haze on beaches with no issues.Another thing I also find they don't last me personally as long as a synthetic and I usually end up replacing them between 2 - 6 years depending on the skin and level of punishment. 

What kind of strings do you recommend?

I set up all the instruments with Newtone phosphor hex core strings, 

Light strings Low action?

If you are a fan of light strings and low actions please do take into account that the scale lengths I use for five strings is 25.4” this is shorter than the mastertone scale length (26 ¼) found on the vast majority of five string banjos in the world and therefore the strings are slacker so feel lighter anyway, and If you ask for a low action it really will be low (2-2.5mm at the 12th). 

What do the different woods sound like? 

The usual idea is that the harder the wood the brighter the tone, so Maple is a brighter sounding wood and Cherry is a mellower warmer tone, my personal feeling is that possibly it does change the tone, but, I am pretty sure that there are many other factors that change the tone far more, - head tightness - head material - tone ring - thickness of rim - weight of bridge - string gauge - string height - use of a mute under the head.

So I would say go with the wood that appeals the most to you visually and get the tone you want with the other elements. 

Are the woods you use sustainable?

The woods I use are FSC certificated, The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certifies forests to ensure their environments are responsibly managed and meet the highest environmental and social standards. According to the FSC: FSC certified forests must be managed to the highest environmental, social and economic standards.

What is richlite?

Richlite is a composite material made from recycled paper and phenolic resin/cellulose, many guitar manufacturers such as martin and gibson use it as a more sustainable alternative to ebony.

It has a slightly different feel to wood, but feels nice as a fingerboard and looks quite striking.  

What bridge will come with my banjo?

Fretted five string banjos intended for use with steel strings come with a compensated moon bridge.

Tenor banjos come with a straight maple and ebony bridge

Fretless banjos intended for steel strings come with a straight maple and ebony bridge.

Banjos intended for use with nylon or gut strings come with an uncapped cherry bridge. 

What is the nut width on your banjos?

Five string banjos 31mm

Tenor banjos 29mm 

Is Pau ferro Rosewood?

No it is not a true rosewood and does not come under the same CITIES restrictions, It does look and feel alot like rosewood though can range to a bit more orangey colours.  

Do you also repair musical instruments? 

No I no longer take repair work on as I don't have time, for banjo repairs I would recommend getting in touch with John Deller - https://www.flatfootjohnny.com/

Do you still make necks for vintage rims?


Fifth String Spikes and Capos.

Spikes and capos are on offer for five string instruments 

My Action is too high, how should I adjust this?

By lowering the bridge.

Where is the truss rod?

The truss rod is located in the heel, and the neck must be removed to get to it, The truss rod is there to add stiffness to the neck and as a fail safe if the neck warps.

My banjo sounds too bright 

Loosen the head, or try a heavier bridge 

My banjo sounds less lively than it used too.

Change the strings if they are dead or Tighten the head 

Why use a 25.4 scale length? 

Because in my opinion it sounds and plays great. If you are changing from a 26 ¼ neck I would recommend upping your string gauge if you use light strings to Medium, and if you normally use mediums and find them too light on a 25.4 scale I would recommend trying a custom set thats slightly heavier, I personally like 11-12-16-24-12 (I have a fifth string Capo and tune my fifth to E, if I was tuning to G I would use an 11)  

Do you ship Internationally?

Yes, please contact me for delivery prices, You may have to pay taxes when the instrument reaches your country, please look into this before ordering.