Bob Carlin Signature Openback Banjos Exclusive


Banjo Judy's Story

Bob Carlin talks about the creation his Gold Tone Signature Openback Banjos in an interview with Paul Roberts. View Paul's videos of original tunes composed for the BC-350+     Drunken Frog and Chinatown


The Gold Tone Banjo Company signaled its intent to continue fine-tuning and expanding its line of openback banjos, when it began collaborating with distinguished clawhammer maestro Bob Carlin. For over 30 years Carlin has spread the artistry of clawhammer banjo through his worldwide performances, his innumerable recording projects and his banjo teaching materials, scholarly writings, lectures and workshops.


Gold Tone offers three Bob Carlin signature model banjos: the BC-350, the BC-350+ and the BC-120. All three use the same 12" pot and brass tone ring.

In my search for a deeper sound, wider fingerboard and a scoop, I recently bought myself a BC-350+. I’m quite pleased with its sound and playability. I have played my BC-350+ on videos that I’ve posted on the Internet and I’ve received compliments from others who enjoy its sweet sound as much as I do.

Some reviewer comments about the sound:
“Nice full resonant sound with good bass, but good highs and mids too. It's got a nice old time plunk sound to it, very agreeable to the old-time variety of banjo stuff that I do.”
“It really has quite a full-spectrum sound. I always get complements on its tone.”
My interview with Bob Carlin about his signature model banjos:

Paul: How did the Bob Carlin signature models evolve?

Bob: About 5 or 6 years ago - after having partnerships with “boutique” builders like Bart Reiter and after talking to a lot of other small builders - I saw that there was a spot in the market that wasn’t being filled. Banjos such as the Deering Goodtime - decent openbacks in a starter price range - had been introduced, but there was really nothing in the five hundred to a thousand dollar ranges that would be “your first really good banjo.”

I felt the only way to get such a banjo made, would be to partner with a company like Gold Tone. After approaching a number of the companies who were actually mass-producing instruments, I struck up a partnership with Gold Tone. I just felt it would be the best fit.

Paul: Was your initial contact with Gold Tone with this specific banjo in mind?

Bob: Correct, to make what became the BC-350.


Bob Carlin Signature Series

Paul: The BC-350 has a brass tone ring, a scoop, a 12” pot and a relatively wide fingerboard. Why did you decide on these characteristics?

Bob: The whole banjo loosely references Kyle Creed, a well-known musician in the Galax, Virginia area, who made banjos in the 60s and 70s. The 12” pot, the use of the dowel stick, even though it’s a faux dowel stick, the wider fingerboard, the scale… all were things I learned from Kyle but they were also features that boutique makers were using. The openback banjo crowd wanted a 12” pot banjo but nobody was mass-producing one.

Paul: So, you were motivated to see an instrument mass-produced that would have similar aspects to instruments Kyle Creed made?

Bob: Yes, because he has been the one (through a maker named Dave Forbes) who has influenced all the current boutique makers, most of whom are making 12” pot banjos. That seems to be what people want because of the sound it produces.


Carlin Signature Series Banjo Back

Paul: How would you characterize that sound?

Bob: The 12” pot produces more mids and bass.

We were really trying to distinguish this instrument from all the openbacks that were available at that time. We wanted to delineate it from what had been done before and provide a mass-produced instrument that you could walk into a music store and buy.

Paul: Were players having a hard time getting their hands on what they really wanted when you started this?

Bob: There were boutique-maker banjos being made, but they were never available. One would hit the store and would sell immediately. It was very hard to go into especially a larger, chain music store and find anything. The BC-350 was meant to fill that gap, to mass-produce it with features that would distinguish it from all the other imported openbacks… and you’d be able to walk into a store and find it available, immediately.

Paul: Could you say something about the three different configurations: the BC-120, BC-350 and BC-350+.

Bob: The BC-350 was the first one we made. We wanted it to be fairly straightforward, fairly simple - a basic banjo at a good price point.


Carlin Signiture Series Head


Once we had that, we felt that a fancier one would be a nice addition to the line. The Orpheum and Bacon banjos of the 1920’s were our inspiration for the BC-350+ in terms of inlay pattern and headstock design. It has gold parts and a dark stain finish.

The BC-120 is a stripped-down version of the BC-350.

Paul: I noticed in one of your concert press photos that you and Cheick Hamala Diabaté are both holding BC-350’s.

Bob: Right, we’re both using them. He has a lefty - one of the few lefties made - and I’ve got a righty. I use both the 350 and the 350+ on stage.

Paul: Do you think your collaboration with Gold Tone has influenced the design of some of their other openbacks?

Bob: I think it helped bring awareness to modify some of their openbacks to more reflect what the old-time market was looking for.

Paul: Do you still consult with Gold Tone?

Bob: Yes, I continue to give advice. I’m very interested in helping the process of going from generic openbacks with bluegrass construction (resonator banjos without a back) to making instruments that are more conducive to openback banjo playing.

Specifications: (view our openback prices)




Banjo Crazy will beat or match prices on all Bob Carlin models. Call 970-731-5030.  Openback Models & Prices

Bob Carlin Signature Series Banjo Bob with Paul’s

Bob Carlin just happened to be at the Gold Tone factory in Titusville, Florida when Paul’s BC-350+ was being set up. This was the first BC that Bob and Gold Tone president Wayne Rogers had ever heard with a skin head – an auspicious occasion!
Paul Roberts with Carlin Banjo

Paul with Bob Carlin



Paul changed the tailpiece from the stock no knot style to a straightline for a different sound and look.


View Paul's videos of the BC-350+

Drunken Frog



the end



view all articles/interviews

Paul Roberts
Paul Roberts is a multi-instrumentalist, performer, composer, writer, music therapist
and arts-in-education specialist, whose articles and interviews are featured on

all articles ©2008/2009 by Paul Roberts all rights reserved 




More Articles
Bob's Recordings
Instructional Videos
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Bob CarlinBob Carlin , Clawhammer Banjo, African Banjo, Traditional Music
From Lexington, North Carolina

Visit Bob's website Bob Carlin Music at


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