Alvarez Denver Belle Banjo Reviews

Alvarez Denver Belle
submitted 7/13/2010

Submitter

1/361SPEC4 (see all reviews from this person)

Where Purchased

Ebay

Year Purchased

2009

Price Paid

6000000 (Greek Euros) (bought USED) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound


This stunning Jo was manufactured in Japan during the early 70's Deliverance banjo craze that is still going strong in it's fourth decade. High standard of craftsmanship for an early mass produced instrument, save for the tone ring, which is stamped steel. If you put in a little time though, you can really make it sing as the bones are outstanding, including a birch pot and neck, along with a walnut resonator. I did all the work two days ago, so the instrument hasn't really "set", but the tone difference is already night and day.

Sound Rating

8

Setup


Replacing the stamped steel clunker with the cast brass tone ring makes a universe of difference in the sound generally, both close/far from the bridge, which is an old Grover. It really is a good investment as the intrument is otherwise so beautiful and well crafted. You will have to remove the neck, so as always DO NOT play with the lag screws attached to it. Stick to the bolts/coordinator rods. Action was near perfect when the neck was reattached. Utilizing a standard 11" ring everything should fit just fine, including the Remo frosted head. Because it has a speed neck, you have to be delicate when adjusting the truss rod. DO NOT over-tighten. The head should be fairly tight however. Used Gibson ES .10 gauge strings which seem to ring nicely after a little bridge/tailpiece adjustment. The original tuners are solid. Not even Gotoh can compensate for the tone deaf, like me. Ha! PS-I would love to throw a Huber tone ring in this Jo someday. Completely justifiable. Because I did the heavy lifting, the setup gets a ten. That's my story and I'm stickin' to it!

Setup Rating

10

Appearance


Easy on the eyes? I'd say so! Striking Belle Arts torch motif on dark brown stain for the headstock, with a similar torch design on the back by the tuning pegs. Picture a Sullivan in that regard. 'Denver Belle' lettering on the truss rod cover as well as the rosewood fretboard by the head, which is important to me because I grew up in Denver people! The fretboard itself has a painstaking Deco inlay, while the heel of the neck is very ornate. I have seen some models that have a circular pattern in the flange cuts like an Ode, but this one has the Mastertone design. The resonator has the most extraordinary green mother of pearl inlay, with a complimenting checkerboard line. The tuning pegs are ivoroid, but larger and more ornate than usual. They also have a manual tension adjusting disk, instead of a phillips head screw. This is a drop dead gorgeous banjo. Honestly, a large number of the $2000 plus Deering models don't even come close. A well deserved '10' for appearance.

Appearance Rating

10

Reliability


A little less weight than some other good models, but a well built Jo nonetheless. The fifth string capo, while an interesting wire jobby, is not particularly reliable and sometimes buzzes. Easy fix, but will keep it as an original part.

Reliability Rating

9

Customer Service


N/A

Customer Service

not rated

Components


See Sections 1 thru 4.

Components Rating

8

Overall Comments


Highly recommended to the more advanced player who is looking for a rewarding project but doesn't want a second mortgage. The Jo is a keeper for sure, if you can find one. Happy hunting!

Overall Rating

9


Alvarez Denver Belle
submitted 12/26/2009

Submitter

BoneDigger (see all reviews from this person)

Where Purchased

Mundt Music

Year Purchased

2009

Price Paid

400 ($US) (bought USED)

Sound


I primarily play Scruggs style Bluegrass and this model banjo fits the bill perfectly. I do recommend getting rid of the clear plastic head and replace it with a new Remo. I will talk about how I have modified this banjo in a moment. First, here are my overall impressions. This banjo is a late 70s model, from when they were still being made in Japan. The model number is 4300. The inlay pattern is, I believe, called the flying eagle design. It is inlayed with the name Denver Belle at the base of the neck. The neck itself is intricately carved at the heel. The tone ring is chrome plated brass, just like a Gibson, and it has 20 holes, which is standard on most upper level banjos. The neck and resonator are made from Brazilian Rosewood and are absolutely beautiful! The sound quality was pretty good from stock, but I made a few enhancements that have really increased the volume and tonal quality of this banjo:
1) Replace the head with a Remo medium crown, frosted head
2) Tighten the head fairly tight; this banjo likes a tight head
3) Changed the tuners out for two Gotoh tuners (1 and 4) and two Keith D-0tuners (2 and 3). I replaced the 5th string tuner with a 5 star tuning peg.
4) Changed the tailpiece out for a Fults 1934 parallel tailpiece
5) Changed the bridge out for a Snuffy Smith standard height bridge.

With these changes, this banjo will hold it own with any sub-$2000 banjo on the market. The cast of this banjo, with all of the accessories, was less than $700 (included a hardshell case).

The neck on this banjo is extremely fast. I really like how this banjo plays. I doubt it will happen anytime soon, but if I ever upgrade, I doubt I'd be happy with anything less than a $4000+ banjo.

With the above changes, this banjo has a very bright sound with good bass tones. It's as good up the neck as down. Overall, I'm very impressed! For the cost, it is easily a 10/10.

Sound Rating

10

Setup


This was covered above, but here is a rehash:

1) Replace the head with a Remo medium crown, frosted head
2) Tighten the head fairly tight; this banjo likes a tight head
3) Changed the tuners out for two Gotoh tuners (1 and 4) and two Keith D-0tuners (2 and 3). I replaced the 5th string tuner with a 5 star tuning peg.
4) Changed the tailpiece out for a Fults 1934 parallel tailpiece
5) Changed the bridge out for a Snuffy Smith standard height bridge.

The banjo should be setup by a competent luthier who knows banjos.

Setup Rating

7

Appearance


This is a very nicely made banjo. The wood is primarily Brazilian Rosewood and it has an intricate inlay pattern (flying eagle?). There is some nice binding on the resonator and along the neck. This is one of the prettiest banjos I have ever seen. The carved heel of the neck is a nice added touch.

Appearance Rating

10

Reliability


I think this would be a very dependable banjo. The finish looks very good and the hardware seems well made. I do recommend upgrading the tuners to a slightly higher-end brand such as 5-star or Gotoh (or, if you have plenty of money, Keith tuners).

Reliability Rating

8

Customer Service


I bought this used. I doubt seriously that Alvarez would be interested in warranting a 30 year old banjo.

Customer Service

5

Components


Standout: all of the wooden components, the tonering, etc.
Change: tuners, head, tailpiece, bridge

Components Rating

7

Overall Comments


I am very pleased by the playability and looks of this banjo. I am a back-porch picker and do not play in a band. However, I think the sound quality is easily good enough for playing in a band. The banbjo, with the changes I outlined above, has a very bright sound with good bass and overall just has a great Scruggs-y sound. This banjo is a direct knockoff of the Mastertone, and although the higher end Mastertones do have a slightly better sound, this banjo cost me $400 used, where a new Mastertone is at least $4000. You do the math...

Overall Rating

9


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