White oak banjos from Deering
For many years the March issue of Bluegrass Unlimited has been devoted to news of instruments, and this March's issue includes articles on Bob Carlin's illustrated history of the banjo (which also gets a Highlight review), luthiers Randy Wood and Ben Pearce, the innovative iTone picks, and straps made by Jack Hicks (former Blue Grass Boy) and his wife.
In the 'General Store' section of BU is an announcement that the Deering company is launching a series of banjos made of white oak, without tone rings. They're not on the Deering website yet, but a price list shows two Vega White Oak openbacks (an 11" at $2,099.00 and 12" at $2,199.00), the Deering White Lotus ($2,699.00), and two long-neck models. In 2015 the company celebrated its 40th anniversary with a limited edition White Oak resonator banjo, which is no longer available. Jens Kruger commented that though it had no tone ring it was both loud and sweet: 'It almost feels like there is a mute taken off a regular banjo.'
The new line may particularly interest old-time players - especially if they've read Lew Stern's recent biography of Dwight Diller. Among its many virtues, this admirable book includes a detailed section on Diller's preferences in banjos, in which he is quoted:
I have had white oak and it is outstanding for a banjo. [...] Black walnut is good. But nothing I have never [sic] had in my hands or owned will touch the white oak or hickory.