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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Gibson Blackjack

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banjoez - Posted - 12/28/2009:  10:10:09

After reading mixed reviews, I recently acquired a like new 2008 Gibson Blackjack just to see if Gibson has something special here or just more of the same, nice looking banjos but mediocre sound. Prices have come down on these (what hasn't) and I really wasn't expecting much as I have not heard many stock modern Gibson's that will knock your socks off but this model is very different. It's got a more vintage sound compared to the contemporary sound of the Kulesh/PM tone ringed Gibson's. It looks the part of a vintage instrument and is loosely based on the one of a kind Mack Crow prewar flathead. It's nice they are trying something different instead of regurgitating the same old stuff. It is refreshing to actually have a new Gibson that really does live up to their famous ancestors in tonal quality. I have owned dozens of banjos (including several prewars) over the last 36 years and, I gotta say, this one ranks right up there. Extremely punchy, responsive and clear with a very nice dry pop to it. Growling bass and colorful tone and well balanced. Reminiscent of the old mahogany flatheads of yore. It's hard to put down. Setup is quite simple compared to other banjos I've owned. Keep the head on the looser side and thin the bridge a little and the thing will just come alive. Nicely put together and finished in antique gold and brown mahogany. As with most factory banjos, setup is everything. I am very impressed with how good this new Gibson is.

Edited by - banjoez on 12/29/2009 07:14:58

BANJO TONY - Posted - 12/28/2009:  10:28:16

So I guess it's not for sale?.it's a keeper,glade your happy with it.but if you should ever want to sell call 917-363-0670,just joking good luck with your new banjo.

Axeman79 - Posted - 12/28/2009:  10:51:13


I think Gibson makes a great banjo and from my own experience 2008 must have been a great year for them. I recently acquired my 2008 ESS and it is fantastic in every detail. I spent months looking for the right banjo. There are many fine products out there, but my Gibson had a quality and sound that I just could pass up compared to the other makes and models I tried. I think that they can all sound good if they have the right setup. In the end, i was looking for a banjo that I didn't have to upgrade to make it what I wanted it to be.


jessie - Posted - 12/28/2009:  11:57:50

i have a 2004 blackjack ,a top tension rb 12 ,and a 1931 40 hole gibson archtop .all great sounding banjos .i have had lots of banjos trying to find the so called holy grail sound ,but nothing compares to my blackjack ,it has it all ,haven't had to adjust the set up for years ,just stays consistent .just love the worn out gold look and the v shaped neck .it has that genuine gibson growl and rattly sound .

ukd73 - Posted - 12/28/2009:  13:58:54

I had a dud. I have seen a broken blackjack neck and it has foam on the inside keeping the truss rod from rattling. I have yet to play a good blackjack even at the store in Nashville. Love the look and feel but the tone wasn't there. Must just be my bad luck. Good lookin though.

banjoez - Posted - 12/28/2009:  17:10:47

Originally posted by ukd73

I had a dud. I have seen a broken blackjack neck and it has foam on the inside keeping the truss rod from rattling. I have yet to play a good blackjack even at the store in Nashville. Love the look and feel but the tone wasn't there. Must just be my bad luck. Good lookin though.

That's unfortunate, I can see where most Gibson's are improperly setup from the factory/dealers. Mine came with an extremely low action, buzzed like crazy and had little redeeming sound qualities at first sight. All it needed was a higher and thinner bridge, the head adjusted to the proper tension and voila......a cannon. It can be a very fine line. I can see where the previous owner was disappointed (to my advantage). It's too bad they are shipped that way to novice owners who know little about proper setup. I have NEVER played a factory fresh banjo that I liked and that includes other big names too. They ALWAYS need tweaking and usually a bridge, tailpiece and head adjustment will get about 80% of the sound back. Most bridges are way too thick and the heads too loose. The rest is the fit of the neck to the pot, gauge of strings, making sure everything is snug and the tone ring fits properly. It's all in the setup.

Edited by - banjoez on 12/28/2009 18:47:30

dobroman - Posted - 12/28/2009:  18:36:18

I also had a bad one. It was a 2006 and just laid there. I tryed everything I could come up with, and talked to every setup person in the country and it just wasnt coming around. Very cool design though. I had a freind with one that was great just as you guys are talking about, and so I thought I could make it the same with a different setup. Nope, so I traded it off. It seems some pieces of wood work better together than others.

Mike Casey - Posted - 12/28/2009:  18:43:02

My 04 Blackjack is a great sounding banjo and I think it has something to do with the copper flashed gold plated Crowe ring. I've owned a couple of the RB-75s (Nickel / Crowe ring / mahogany) that sounded really good, but different than the Blackjacks. Based on the differences between the two mahogany banjos I'd have to say it was the plating. I could be wrong, but that is what it looks like to me.

Scout70 - Posted - 12/28/2009:  22:09:53

I have an 2004 Blackjack along with a RB-7, Yates RS. Prucha set up my Blackjack and it has fantastic sound. At all three major festivals here in Washington state in 2009, the Blackjack recieved the most compliments when passed around and played by very accomplished musicians. The RS and RB-7 have great unique sound also.

To me, the best way to objectively assess a banjo is to let other competent players run it through their repitorie and listen to the feedback.

Besides, the Blackjack has beautiful inlay and the peghead is classic Gibson.

BvilleDon - Posted - 12/29/2009:  00:28:33

Despite the detractors (of which I am one, for some of their idiotic moves), Gibson can still put out some amazing contemporary banjos. They also have put out some duds that have problems that go far beyond needing a proper set up. That is why I think it is especially important to try before you buy, particularly with Gibsons.

After a great deal of research and driving and checking out many brands and models, I purchased a Granada in early 07. When I bought a case directly from Gary Price, he picked on it and made me an offer, saying he had "an itch". I have had a total refret done in stainless steel by John Hickman. As a favor, he also took the entire banjo apart and reassembled it. I watched the process and asked him every question in the book, so I would know how to maintain it for many years to come. There were no defects to uncover and he compared it very favorably to his own Granada.

I know for a fact that Gibson has put out some individual banjos that should never have gotten out the door. I also know that I have found the banjo for me. I hope everyone finds the banjo for them, be it a Gibson or a Hatfield or any other brand that is well constructed, easy to play and speaks to them.

I will never regret the time and effort it has taken me to get the banjo of my dreams and learn how to care for it from the very best. Regardless of the price range, the instrument should be a source of joy and discovery, not an irritant.

It bothers me greatly that some folks have spent big bucks on expensive banjos and are not happy with what they received. I wish it was not the case that there are amazing instruments and duds manufactured by the same company, but I think this has been the case for a long while. I am not concerned about who makes what parts used by Gibson, as Gibson does set the pecs for them to follow. I just find it difficult to believe that Gibson was not aware of some of the problems in some of the instruments that got pushed out the door.

A good one, though, is a beautiful thing to hear.

AndyM - Posted - 12/29/2009:  06:30:08

Everytime I visited Nashville in the last several years, I would always make it a point to stop at the Gibson facility and the Gibson displays at the Spbgma and Ibma and would play every banjo I had the time for and the Blackjack ALWAYS stood out as the best of the bunch in overall sound, tone, clarity, punch, growl, etc., etc., etc. Must be the tone ring imho.

Golden - Posted - 12/30/2009:  03:51:37

hi guys

I have a 09 Lefty blackjack that I bought from Janet Davis, would this banjo have the Crow ring in it?
The down side of being a lefty you can't try be for you buy. That is why I get my banjos from Janet I trust her.
I was thinking of trading my blackjack for a Nechville Nextar?


tonyT - Posted - 12/30/2009:  04:51:41

Ron, all (Gibson) Blackjacks SHOULD have the copper-flashed (antique gold) Crowe ring. If you like your Blackjack, I would hang on to it.

bigmr_clean - Posted - 01/25/2010:  14:52:30

I am about to aquire an Rb75 crowe model..I am very excited to get it. I agree with what some of the others have said. Gibson has let some stuff out that shouldn't have got out the door. Necks, pots not even lining up with the neck...rim's so far out that it's visible very easily to the eye. They have no one to set these things up..They did and got rid of him..Charlie..Yes I am talking about you. If you have a gibson from 4 or 5..or even 6 years ago...and it sounds good and is set up well..Chances are charlie had his hands on it..If so congrats! Like banjoez said...once you get your banjo theres always little things that you can do..Bridges make the biggest different I've ever seen sometimes. One would never think a bridge would change that file that sucker down and get it thin and see if your banjer don't start puttin out more sound..More vibration= more sound. I tell you another thing gibson is doing..They are putting some type of silicon/puddy in the truss rod slot and on the truss rod which kills the vibration. I've talked to several builders who say they have spend hours diggin that mess out. If you have a newer gibson chances's in there. I always check to see how much neck vibration I have at the top of the neck...that pretty much tells the story. I agree with banjoez..If you got a good neck...good hard rim and a nice loose tone ring..mind you it being a good ring..The banjo will ring. Just my two cents.

The Old Timer - Posted - 01/25/2010:  17:15:04

Here is a perfect discussion on why you must try out lots of banjos and find the one that speaks to you. I wouldn't buy a banjo unseen/unplayed!

The exact same story can be told about any model of Martin guitar you'd care to mention too. You gotta play a lot of 'em to find the REALLY good one that will satisfy you.

Or mandolin, or fiddle...

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