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The banjo reviews database is here to help educate people before they purchase an instrument. Of course, this is not meant to be a substitute for playing the instrument yourself!

6662 reviews in the archive.

Don Gardner : Minstrel Banjo

Submitted by hoodoo (see all reviews from this person) on 1/23/2018

Where Purchased: http://www.gardnersdulcimer.com/

Year Purchased: 2018
Price Paid: 400 + shipping ($US)

Sound

I've never played a fretless minstrel style banjo before, so as far as I can tell, it sounds pretty good.

Sound Rating: 8

Setup

Banjo was all set up. All I had to do was install the bridge. Mr Gardner conveniently drew a line exactly where I needed to place the bridge, so it was quite easy.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Banjo looks great. Banjo normally comes with a beehive style headstock, I asked for something different. He changed it, no problem. All I needed to do was ask.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

I guess that only time will tell.

However, what makes this banjo a bit different, is that it uses a fyberskin head instead of a calfskin head. Although it is less authentic, it is a more stable instrument in humid weather.

Reliability Rating: 8

Customer Service

Don Gardner was quite a friendly person. I would order from him again, no problem.

Customer Service: 10

Components

Components Rating: 8

Overall Comments

Overall Rating: 9

Dogwood Banjos: Dogwood #78

Submitted by biker30x (see all reviews from this person) on 1/15/2018

Where Purchased: Old Town School of Folk Music

Year Purchased: 2017
Price Paid: 1495 ($US)

Sound

I'm relatively new to banjo and decided clawhammer/old time was the way I wanted to go. I was looking for a sound a little less "plunky" without going to the bright sounds closer to a bluegrass instrument. On this one, Mike uses a deep 12" pot of maple and bocote which gives a forceful and punchy sound in much the way Henry Kloss built a classic KLH Model Six stereo speaker in a heavy wooden box to have a full and rich sound. In a group, it plays a satisfying "old time" sound with more than enough force to be heard against a bunch of resonators. I've tried it with a rag in the pot and it does mellow the sound, but the natural tone of this one without anything is just too much fun to mess with.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

I had to tune it. The end. The setup is near perfect, maybe the slightest bit sharp (fretted at 12) on the 3, 4 strings - but not enough to change things to my ears. It took a couple weeks to mellow into tune, but it holds tune incredibly well, even after lugging it around all day. I tightened the head just slightly and got a correspondingly slight added punch. Bottom line, this one played great right off the shelf.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

I can just sit and look at this instrument - the wood, the brass, the workmanship - it stuns me how amazing it looks. The grain of the bocote fretboard (Mike chose not to inlay fret markers, only side-dots) and the mango neck is almost alive. Inside the pot, the Dogwood label and model number burnt into an inlaid maple piece next to a piece of vintage french marquetry and the Dogwood logo is burnt into the dowel. The simple tradesman peghead is a perfect complement. I love craftsman furniture and the beautifully grained dark wood and muted brass fittings of this banjo pretty much demanded I bring it home - no shiny chrome, just the right wood and expert craftsmanship.

You can see my banjo coming together on the Dogwood Facebook page from May of '17 (I just found that and am so psyched that my banjo is on the interwebs!)

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Gotoh tuners, sturdy & stable wood - a satisfying heft without being heavy - this thing is built for the long haul. The finish is oil rubbed and matte, it's about the wood, not some shiny varnish. Holding the neck you feel the wood and sense how it was shaped by hand. No risk of this instrument breaking down or failing.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

The "company" is Mike Chew. After I ran across 2 Dogwood banjos in the shop (I was looking at Deerings & Gold Tones...maybe an Ome) I did some on line research and watched some videos of Mike talking about banjos and music. I sent him an email asking about the banjos I had seen. His answer was that there was too much to say in an email and I should call him.

We ended up talking for quite a while and, as I told him, I value owning things made well by people. This is what instruments like Dogwood Banjos represent - high quality things made by hand by a guy who cares not only about the end result, but also who values the process of the making. Mike Chew is a craftsman and a Dogwood Banjo will last a lifetime and beyond.

Customer Service: 10

Components

Like I said, I'm relatively new at this. But before I invest my money, I usually dive deep. I read everything I could find about banjos, I haunted several shops and played everything they had again and again. A Dogwood banjo is more than the sum of its excellent parts. I know there are other small banjo makers putting out equally wonderful instruments, and there's honestly nothing wrong with a Deering or Gold Tone (I do still want a Gold Tone Whyte Laydie), but my Dogwood is rapidly becoming one of the answers to the question "what do you grab in case of a fire". Thanks, Mike.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

If you can't tell, I really, really like my Dogwood Banjo a whole lot.  It plays easy, sounds great and looks like I think a banjo ought to look.  If you're in the market and there's one in your local shop, play it.  Hold it.  It'll probably make your short list.  If you know what you want, get in touch with Mike and consider going custom.

Overall Rating: 10

Nechville: Classic Deluxe

Submitted by stonebroke (see all reviews from this person) on 1/11/2018

Where Purchased: Classifieds - Banjo Hangout

Year Purchased: 2017
Price Paid: $3,000 ($US) (bought USED)

Sound

I play bluegrass...traditional Scruggs style. It suits my style

First of all, I will rate all aspects of this banjo in comparison to other high end banjos I have played. So, when I give a rating of 5, that doesn't mean it's a mediocre banjo. It means on average, the banjo compares with other banjos in a relatively similar price range. Comparing a $4,000 or $5,000 banjo, for instance, with a $800 banjo is like comparing apples to oranges in most cases. I'm 67 years old and have played since I was 10. Over the years I've played and heard a ton of banjos, both inexpensive makes and models and very expensive makes and models. When I go to a music store, I play everything they have and I've played other people's banjos at festivals and have owned several banjos over the years...

I bought this banjo last summer (about 6 months ago). It appears to have been hardly played. There isn't a scratch or ding on it. I wanted to play it for several months before doing a review so I would be able to give a better opinion of the sound and other aspects of the banjo. Obviously, everyone has different likes and dislikes on the sound they want out of a banjo and of course, setup makes a huge difference as everyone knows.

I've experimented quite a bit with this banjo. Sound is difficult to describe, but I like a very distinct separate of notes, a deep bass response, and good volume. I've tried different tensions on the head, a couple different bridges, etc. I've not tried different strings yet, but I plan to. So far I'm happy with the sound. It compares with other banjos I've played in this price range. I wouldn't say that it stands out above any other higher end banjos I've played, but it's a quality instrument with very good tone.

Sound Rating: 5

Setup

Here's where some people might take exception to my review. When I got the banjo the action was just a bit higher than I like. I went by the manual to try to lower the action and I had a heck of a time getting it even back to how it was when I got it. I spent a couple hours on it and became really frustrated and ended up calling Customer support at Nechville for some help. The person I talked to was very cordial and said something to the effect of "Yes, there is a bit of a learning curve to adjust the action on the neck", which really wasn't much help. He basically told me what the manual stated. I finally ordered a lower bridge, but still don't have the action quite how I like it. I looked up how to adjust the neck on Youtube. The video makes it look very simple to adjust the neck, but for me it's anything but.. Lots of trial and error and frustration. There has to be an easier way to adjust the neck on a banjo than what currently is out there (with all banjo makes!).

Adjusting the head is very simple. No doubt about that. I don't know about other people, but once I have a banjo setup the way I like it, I don't touch anything. I have an old Gibson Bowtie (the banjo I learned to play on when I was a kid) and I haven't changed anything on that banjo in well over 30 years except the strings and the bridge. So, unless someone likes to tinker, is changing heads a lot for some reason, etc., I really don't see a big advantage in the Nechville design. A traditional banjo does take some time to tear down and put back together if you change the head, but it's only a couple hour job for me and how often does a person change a head anyway? Having said that, I am considering trying the wooden tone ring just for fun and changing that out should be pretty simple with the Nechville desing.

On the plus side, I really like the wider frets, but I really don't see any advantage in a radiused neck. I played a couple other banjos with a radiused neck and didn't see any difference with them either, so it's obviously not that this banjo is a Nechville. For me, I see absolutely no difference in how it plays compared to a flat fret board, but that's me. The big disadvantage of a radiused fret board is that you need a radiused bridge and a radiused capo. I have a bag full of different bridges I've tried on banjos I've owned over the years and 4 or 5 capo, but I can't use them with a radiused neck.

The tuners are very nice... very smooth and the banjo stays in tune very well even when bending the strings..

I really like the ease of adjusting the tailpiece also...very simple with a small Allen wrench.

I also really like the wooden armrest...very comfortable. I also really like the neck profile.. It's very comfortable up and down the neck.

Setup Rating: 4

Appearance

The wood on this banjo is absolutely beautiful and the workmanship is flawless. Very nice inlay design. I have mixed feelings on the material the pot is made of and the tailpiece (the black material...not sure exactly what the material is....I went through their website and couldn't find what the black material is). The nice aspect is that it doesn't tarnish and will never need to be polished, but it has kind of a space age look to it (to my eye). I haven't quite gotten used to that particular look. Overall this banjo is very pleasing to the eye.

Appearance Rating: 5

Reliability

I really haven't had this banjo long enough to rate the reliability. It appears that it will stand the test of time. It's a quality instrument, no doubt about that. Yes, I'd have no problem using it for a gig without a backup and have done so.

Reliability Rating: 5

Customer Service

My only contact with Nechville was regarding setting the action. Nechville has a great website. There's a lot of information there, several videos demonstrating a variety of topics regarding their banjos, etc.

Customer Service: 6

Components

I've mentioned these things previously

Components Rating: 5

Overall Comments

This is a very nice banjo.  Don't let my review of a few aspects I didn't care for discourage you from buying a Nechville.  Is it better than say a Huber, Stelling, or any other higher end make similarly priced?  No,I don't think so.  Keep in mind that like a guitar,mandolin, fiddle, etc. a banjo gets better with age.  Nechvilles haven't been around for 60 years.  So, comparing a relatively new banjo to a vintage banjo isn't realistic.  I like this banjo and overall I'm very pleased with it.  I don't have it quite where I want it yet, but I'll continue to do a few tweaks and I'm sure I'll get it there.  I play my banjos every day.  They're all just a little different, but they are all fun.  No two banjos are alike...

Overall Rating: 5

Pisgah: 12" Walnut Possum

Submitted by rezuellig (see all reviews from this person) on 1/8/2018

Where Purchased: Pisgah Banjo Company

Year Purchased: 2017
Price Paid: $1,245 with case ($US)

Sound

I purchased a 12" walnut possum from Pisgah Nov 2017 and couldn't be happier. Great sound on the woody side with the persimmon tone ring. Just what I was looking for.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

I haven't made any adjustments because it was ready to go out of the case.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Everything is well appointed and craftsmanship is solid. Awesome tight wood inlays on the neck and on the persimmon headstock.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Everything is high quality as expected.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Pisgah is an awesome company to work with. Always quick to respond to questions.

Customer Service: 10

Components

Components are well matched to the price of the instrument.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

This is a great banjo I can see owning for the long haul. Awesome woody tone that was exactly what I was looking for. Craftsmanship is notable and appointments are well matched to the instrument.   

Overall Rating: 10

Zachary Hoyt: Custom

Submitted by BoneDigger (see all reviews from this person) on 1/5/2018

Where Purchased:

Year Purchased:
Price Paid: $1150 historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

I play mostly bluegrass and folk "Americana" musis, so I had Zach build a banjo to my preferred specs. This banjo meets and exceeds my expectations. It is set up for finger picking and gives me exactly the sound I was searching for. I already own a flattop Mastertone style banjo, so I was shooting for something between a bluegrass sound and a clawhammer sound. This banjo delivers that perfectly.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

The banjo (#60) is setup perfectly and theinstalled RR spikes are also done well.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

This is a beautiful walnut banjo with brass hardware. The finish is true oil, which should hold up well. The finish could perhaps be a little more even, so I'll subtract a single point for that.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

I just received it yesterday, so I can't attest to it's longevity, but it seems well made.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Zach is a joy to work with. He answered all emails in a timely and courteous fashion. Anything I asked for, he tried his best to accomplish.

Customer Service: 10

Components

Gotoh tuners, Rennaisance head, Kirschner style tailpiece... All parts are good.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

As noted earlier, I had this banjo specially made to my preferences. It is a walnut banjo with a 12" pot. It has a Kirschner tailpiece, bone nut and pip, Rennaisance head, and a Silver Laydie tone ring. It has an understated elegance and is just a wonderful banjo. Setup by Zach for finger picking, this banjo nails the tone I was looking for. I am very happy with this purchase and may order a long neck version with the same setup soon. I highly recommend a banjo from Zach!

Overall Rating: 10

Pisgah: 12" Walnut Possum

Submitted by 4Corgis (see all reviews from this person) on 1/1/2018

Where Purchased: Pigsah Banjo Co.

Year Purchased: 2017
Price Paid: $1945.00 ($US)

Sound

Here are my first impressions after about ten days with this lovely instrument. Its tonal range is far greater than I expected; I'm in awe. I was looking for mellow with long sustain,full, deep tone, and minimal muddiness. This banjo is that and more. When I attack aggressively,she (Her name is Petunia Possum Pigsah) is surprisingly LOUD; she can play relatively softly with a more gentle attack. She is highly responsive, with marked and welcome tonal variation, depending on where my right hand is picking (bare fingers) and, of course, my attack. I had hoped that the sound of a wood tone ring would differ markedly from my open backs with metal tone rings (Dobson tone ring/mahogany pot and neck; Whyte Laydie tone ring/ maple pot and neck). It does!

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

This is one highly playable banjo; I love the action. Custom comes in because I asked Patrick if he could make me a short scale banjo with a radiused fingerboard and wood arm rest. He did. The setup as shipped reflects our phone and email conversations, and I don't need to change or adjust anything. The action is high relative to my other (metal tone-ring resonator and open-back banjos).It's perfectly suited to clawhammer and melodic style and to bare-finger picking. Initially, it seemed as though the head might be a little tight, but after playing Petunia over the past few days I suspect that the head tension may contribute to her extreme responsiveness.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Simple, elegant,refined. Beautiful fit and finish. No pretense. The walnut rim with cherry cap, persimmon tone ring, coordinator rod cover,
fretboard, and arm rest with antiqued brass hardware, amber tuning buttons, and quilted star inlay on the headstock add up to a perfectly coordinated, dignified personality. The vintage package, which includes the S-scoop. vintage head and vintage heel (persimmon over walnut) compliments the overall old-time feel and quiet elegance. Finally, the Pigsah Hawktail tailpiece as it extends over the head appears to have "grown there". It's a natural. I can take her (Petunia) anywhere!

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Though I haven't had this banjo in my hands for very long, my prior experience with Gotoh tuners suggests that the antiqued brass Gotoh tuners will be fine for the long haul. The wood finish is exquisite, and I expect it to hold up well. The antiqued brass hardware, which comes from Balsam Banjoworks should, if anything, look better with age; I expect that it will be highly durable. Finally, the Pigsah Hawktail tailpiece, also from Balsm Banjoworks appears highly durable.
Finally, would I use it on a gig without a backup? Yes! I'd be perfectly confident, but my nature is such that I'd probably have a backup available just because I'm who I am.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Patrick was a pleasure to work with. Our initial contact was by phone, followed by emails. We discussed every aspect of the build.I asked about a wood armrest,which was not listed on the site, and Patrick said he could supply one in persimmon to coordinate with the neck. Fifth-string railroad spikes at frets 7, 9, and 10 completed the picture. My quote arrived promptly as a PDF attachment to an email.
All of this is a very long winded way to say that I couldn't ask for better communication and responsiveness. The banjo arrived in the time frame promised.

Customer Service: 10

Components

Every component of this banjo is first class. Standouts include the persimmon fretboard and arm rest. If you like wood, you'll love Pigsah's native hardwoods. I didn't expect to fall deeply in love with persimmon. The short scale and radiused fingerboard are perfectly executed and greatly increase my pleasure in having this banjo in my hands. The neck is a pleasure to navigate.The aged brass hardware ladds a vintage "presence" without being clunky, and the Pigsah Hawktail tail piece not only compliments the appearance of the banjo, it also makes a very positive contribution to its action. The Renaissance head and the Pigsah strings seem to turn the instrument into a well-tuned (intentional choice of words) sound system.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

Terrific banjo, terrific buying experience.  The build is solid and elegant.  To my great relief, the finish appears "natural" and showcases the quality of the wood (I am not a fan of shiny nitrocellulose finishes).  World-class build and attention to detail, world-class sound, world-class communication.  I'm sure I'll be back for another Pigsah banjo at some point.

Overall Rating: 10

Streeper: Sun valley

Submitted by banjohomeless (see all reviews from this person) on 12/29/2017

Where Purchased: From streeper banjos

Year Purchased: 2016
Price Paid: 3500 ($US)

Sound

I use it for Scruggs style this banjo has a beautiful warm clear crisp sound I set it up with a low action it has the soft tones as well as hard driving tones as well

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

The banjo was set up awesome when I got it the only changes I made were to the action and a small amount of head adjustment and all changes were easy to do

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

It is curly maple with a blonde clear finish and a flying eagle inlay

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

He uses top quality hardware I have not had any parts wear off it has always been a reliable banjo

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Steve is awesome to work with and is a all around awesome guy

Customer Service: 10

Components

I love the way it looks and plays it is easy to play and sounds the part as well he used gold with Nickle parts it has a really nice look to it

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

This banjo I would highly recommend to anyone it is priced great sounds great and playe great if your in the market for a great banjo I would contact Steve streeper 

Overall Rating: 10

Gold Tone: OB150

Submitted by Delete my account (see all reviews from this person) on 12/18/2017

Where Purchased: Dean Johnson's Music on reverb.com

Year Purchased: 2017
Price Paid: $799.00 ($US)

Sound

This banjo suits my style well. This banjo has a resonator since I mostly play bluegrass music.
I use a condenser mic and whatever PA with phantom power on a dry channel. this banjo has no pickups installed. My own personal PA is a Fender Passport Conference and I use a variety of mics but no effects.
The sound from this banjo is bright and it is loud. There are sweet spots to be had all over the place on this banjo. Playing from the bridge to the neck you are sure to find a sweet spot you like. This banjo is a tone monster.
You will be able to pull a lot of classic bluegrass tones from this banjo. Versatility in tone is one quality this banjo has.
LIKES: Everything about this banjo I like. I will usually take a new instrument and tweak it to my liking but in the 2 months I have owned and played this banjo. I only added 2 capo spikes and buffed the neck with steel wool. I like the Zero Glide nut and the Terminator tail piece.This banjo has an entry level price for a pro grade banjo with a pre war look. I like everything about this banjo.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

SET UP: perfect and ready to play out of the box. Came with 5th string capo spikes at frets 7, 9 & 10
CHANGES MADE: I added 2 spikes at frets 8 and 12. Buffed neck with 0000 steel wool to make neck smother.Nothing else has to be done to this banjo. I may add a set of Cheat A Keys so I can play those Earl Scruggs tunes that use cam tuners.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Is it easy on the eyes? YES. This banjo looks like a pre war Gibson. It is a copy of Earl Scruggs banjo that he used to record Foggy Mountain Breakdown in 1949. Very traditional look.
What type of wood: Maple neck, rim & resonator. Fingerboard: Ovangkol, Bridge: Maple with Ebony Cap
Vintage Pearloid Inlay. Finish is Satin Vintage Mahogany.
No flaws. More specs at https://goldtonemusicgroup.com/goldtone/instruments/ob-150

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

This is a rock solid banjo. Hardware is strong and well plated. Finish will age well and play in well.
I have used this banjo in a few gigs already and for a lot of rehearsals it has been played every day since I had it.This banjo holds its tune well.First banjo that has been the best buy i made where a banjo is concerned. Very well done by the good folks at Gold Tone. I play this banjo every day because it sounds and feels so good. It is my new best friend.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

I dealt with the seller and had a great experience. I also dealt with Gold Tome Music Group online and on the phone and they are amazing people too.
No repairs were required but if any should be required I will be the one to make those repairs.
The OB-150 is professionally set up in our Florida shop and comes with TRANSFERRABLE lifetime warranty.

Customer Service: 10

Components

STAND OUT PARTS. Zero Glide Nut. Zero Glide makes a great nut. This banjo comes with this nut. I own other instruments that will be upgraded with a Zero Glide Nut. It is a must have on all fretted instruments.
Zero Glide made a believer out of me for the tone and ease of setup and the strings will not bind as they do in a traditional nut that is a plus.
TERMINATOR tailpiece is a lot wider than the traditional tail piece and this evenly distributes the string tension across the bridge. This is a much improved set up in my opinion. No upgrades are required. I am forever making mods to other instruments as far as upgrades and tweaking the instrument. This is the first instrument that I have done nothing to other than add 2 capo spikes and buff the neck. This banjo needs nothing else.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

From my point of view with this banjo, I am giving it a lot of 10's for ratings. I love this banjo for what it is. I have played banjo since 1984. I have played music since 1968. This is the first entry level priced banjo that I  have ever been around that has this much quality to it. I  have played a few mega dollar  high quality pro grade banjos and some pre war banjos that cost as much as a house. My criteria for choosing this banjo comes from a big list of wants and needs. I needed a new banjo to upgrade from because the old one was in need of a few upgrades and repairs. I needed it to be highly affordable. I needed it to look traditional and play traditional. I needed it to have pro grade specs like dual coordinator rods, cast brass tone ring, good flange. I  wanted a satin finish and good inlays. I needed a great tone. Basically I  wanted Earl Scruggs banjo but that was impossible to get. So was getting a Pre war Gibson with my budget. Gold Tone came out with this model at the right time with the right price. This banjo comes with a case so even better. I  ordered a Gold Tone strap because I needed one and the seller sold them. I was impressed with the care of packaging for delivery too. Everything about this banjo turned out to be a great product at a great price with a great shopping experience, Great company as well as the seller. An experience like mine does not happen very often so I show gratitude and praise when it is due. For once in my life something actually impressed me 100%

Overall Rating: 10

Deering: Goodtime 17 fret Irish Tenor

Submitted by JohnQ (see all reviews from this person) on 12/18/2017

Where Purchased: Banjoteacher.com

Year Purchased: 2017
Price Paid: 479 ($US)

Sound

Clear bright beautiful sound, better than I anticipated

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Came setup as asked, needed to be slightly retuned from shipping





Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Beautiful finish, just as advertised

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

This is the second banjo purchased from Banjoteacher.com in last six months. The first was for me and the second for my son in law. Having dealt with the company owner Ross Nickerson on the first purchase, I was very impressed with his attention to detail, fulfillment, genuine concern and subsequent followup. I would not consider purchasing from anyone else and for that reason I purchased a second banjo two weeks ago for my son in law and again received the same quality of service.

Customer Service: 10

Components

The components are the Deering quality components

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

Dealing with Ross Nickerson at Banjoteacher.com is an absolute pleasure.  He not only follows up on your order but if you have any questions about playing the banjo he offers advice ie. "Have you tried ......".  Overall comment, great product at a reasonable price with a pleasant purchasing experience.

Overall Rating: 10

Pisgah: 12" Dobson Rambler

Submitted by talknormal (see all reviews from this person) on 12/10/2017

Where Purchased: Elderly

Year Purchased: 2017
Price Paid: 1500 ($US)

Sound

NB this banjo has a few bonuses, hence the slightly heftier price tag: a John Balch head, and copper rim with brass hardware. This model is walnut.

I got this banjo in the mail from Elderly recently and I have to join the chorus singing Pisgah's praises! This instrument sounds simply amazing--it makes my prior banjos sound like toys. I can't enthuse enough about it. I won't do it justice describing the sound, but it's very warm, rich, full and woody -- a lot of sustain, great deep low end, and crisp (but not overly sharp/bright) ringing high end. As some describe Dobson tone rings, the sound feels really "subtle." At the same time, there's a great punchiness or pop to it (maybe partly due to the spunover rim?), but not in an overwhelming way. The sound is also very focused, a quality I associate more with 11" rims. It's also the quietest banjo I've owned, which for me is the only possible mark against the sound as I often play in loud settings (eg bars) and with other noisy instruments.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Setup was excellent out of the box! The action is perfect (for me), pretty low without fret buzz. Head tension also perfect. Elderly installed railroad spikes for free (that's so cool! I've always had to pay for them when ordering banjos from other stores).

I intend to add an armrest, as it didn't come with one, and will probably experiment with bridges for fun, but I have no plans for significant setup changes -- this is also unusual for me and a testament to the banjo quality (as I typically mess with everything after getting a new instrument)

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

This banjo is gorgeous, very minimalist (no inlays), understated, excellent craftsmanship. The color scheme with the copper rim, brass hardware, and walnut neck is A+

I have one slightly nitpicky problem, which is appearance-related but actually more substantial than that: I wish the dot markers on the side of the fingerboard were a bit larger/more prominent. Since there are no fret markers on the actual fretboard (which does look cool), those little dots are the only things to help you visually track your hand position, and as someone who plays in dark bars, I think they're just too tiny. Also: I wish there were two dots to distinguish the octave fret -- this only has single dots.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Again, the craftsmanship across the board seems really phenomenal, the tuners and the rest of the hardware look top notch (truthfully, more expensive-looking than banjos I've spent more $ on)--I don't anticipate any problems with it. I expect the main reliability variable is just the fact that the head is skin (obvs not a manufacturer problem). That combined with the quiet volume and not-very-prominently marked fretboard means that this will probably not be a main gigging, workhorse, or travel banjo for me... even if I enjoy playing and listening to it the most.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

I dealt with Elderly, which relayed info back and forth to Patrick -- Elderly was great, and I assume Patrick was very responsive too based on how quickly communications went. Elderly and Pisgah worked together to get exactly the specs I wanted (walnut neck, short scale, 12" rim, copper spunover, brass hardware, Balch head, etc).

It took a while to get the banjo from Pisgah! About 6 mos, and about twice as long as they originally estimated. But I have zero qualms about the wait considering the caliber instrument I ended up with, and given that I was essentially getting a custom banjo.

Customer Service: 10

Components

I paid an extra $100 for the rim and hardware, an extra $50 for the head, and I'm really glad I did! Again, not planning to mess with the components much. I'm also fond of the no knot-style tailpiece they use.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I wish there was a "playability" section in this review -- if there were, I'd give it a 10. The banjo feels amazing to play, really a pleasure. The string spacing is wider than my previous banjos (but not unusually wide for an old time banjo), and I love it, the larger margin of error has cleaned up my playing a lot. And the neck feels great (some makers use finish that makes the wood feel sticky/tacky, I hate it). I do wish the neck were a bit slimmer, as my hands are very small but that's a personal preference situation (it's not an unusually clubby neck, not as fat as Rickard or Chuck Lee's I've played, eg).

Overall comments: getting this banjo was practically a religious experience -- again, I really can't enthuse enough about it. I'm especially amazed at how Pisgah can keep the price tag so low -- I've played much more expensive banjos that this one easily holds up to. And I've owned banjos similarly priced or slightly more expensive (including some really decent ones by comparable small manufacturers), and IMO this banjo blows them away in sound, playability, and overall workmanship. This is hands down the best bang-for-buck banjo I've played. And that Pisgah also works to be an ethical/sustainable company is even better. As sometimes happens with great instruments, I can notice it having a subtlely transformative effect on some of my playing techniques (for the better!), and it has kind of a understated elegance that's inciting me to think about banjo music altogether a little differently.

Overall Rating: 10

Gibson-Epiphone: EB-88 Mastertone

Submitted by bluegrassbanjopicker (see all reviews from this person) on 12/9/2017

Where Purchased: Received in a Trade

Year Purchased: Nov. 21, 2017
Price Paid: Don't Remember (bought USED) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

Really great sound, absolutely wonderful. Terrific tone all the way around the neck. I believe in about two years this banjo is going to sound even better!

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

The banjo was not set up when it arrived, but I had it set up by Brent Entz, a good banjo-picking friend of mine. I replaced the head with an AMB, got the head good and tight. Setup was complete when I added a Purcell Select Maple bridge and put the strings at 1/4 action.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

This banjo has the old "Gibson banjo" look to it. Pearl inlays and really good quality nickel-plated hardware.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

All hardware is nickel plated. Good finish.
This instrument is definitely stage-worthy and I would never hesitate to use it in a jam or any performance.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Good customer service.

Customer Service: 10

Components

The banjo was upgraded at some point from its original chrome-plated EB-88 pot assembly to a 60's Bowtie RB-250 nickel-plated assembly with a Gibson Faulkner 20-hole tone ring.
No weak parts on this banjo!

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I am really pleased with the banjo. I could have never asked for a better instrument. As Gibson Kalamazoo-made Epiphones are very rare, I couldn't pass up the offer to trade for it. I am so very happy with it. Now I know why "Only a Gibson is Good Enough!"

 

Overall Rating: 10

Stelling: Red Fox

Submitted by jmhauer (see all reviews from this person) on 12/7/2017

Where Purchased: Purchased from a fellow banjo hangout member

Year Purchased: 2017
Price Paid: Don't Remember (bought USED) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

I was surprised how versatile the Stelling Red Fox is. It has excellent bass and treble balance. Very rich, good sustain.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

The banjo arrived in flawless condition. Not a mark, smudge, or mar on the body. I did change the strings to something a little heavier, and dropped the action just a hair (strictly a preference). But it was playable right out of the box.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Beautiful curly maple (Mr. Stelling definitely chooses only the highest grade). The nickel plating was bright and untarnished. The fellow I purchased it from said he'd only played the banjo a couple of weeks before setting it aside in favor of his old Bellflower model-and that he needed some cash to afford his golfing habit! The banjo even had that wonderful "new banjo" smell when I opened the case. The only appearance flaw was the rough feel of the varnished wood just above the flange. And that was something you couldn't see, but only feel. The same way as the interior of the resonator: a little hurried with the finish.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

Built like a cannon.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

n/a

Customer Service: 10

Components

The tailpiece was surprisingly lightweight. The adjustment screws looked weak: not at all in keeping with the build of the rest of the instrument.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

Great sounding instrument, impressive looking. I have a hard time deciding which banjo I want to play each day: my Prucha Professional, or my Stelling Red Fox. So I usually play both.

Overall Rating: 10

Davis: '49 Classic (Maple) Prototype

Submitted by Brian Murphy (see all reviews from this person) on 11/22/2017

Where Purchased: Direct

Year Purchased: 2017
Price Paid: Don't Remember (bought USED) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

Crisp, well defined, and very balanced. No dead zones. Really pops up the neck.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Tim did a full set up. I have not tinkered.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Beautiful workmanship. Great attention to detail. Fit and finish both awesome. Inlay work is fantastic. Bowties on the fretboard and the H&F peghead all very precisely cut.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

This banjo has been played a good bit before I obtained, and it has held up very well. Finish well done.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Tim was extremely responsive and went beyond what I asked for to make sure I was happy. Great communication.

Customer Service: 10

Components

All components are top notch.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

Communication was excellent.  Packing was great.  Banjo was well packed inside the case and the case was very securely packed with packing noodles in a large box so the case did not stress the cardboard at all.

Tim was very responsive and provided all the information I requested.  Shipping was lightening fast.

I am choosing to not post the price because each banjo is different and Tim offered a very fair deal on this used banjo.  I gladly paid full asking price because it was a good deal.  In my opinion, the banjo may have sold for more and as more people play and hear his instruments, I believe they will sell for more.

You can buy with confidence. He delivers what he represents. And most importantly, you will get a top notch professional instrument.  Your tastes may change, but you'll never "upgrade" from a Davis.

Overall Rating: 10

Gold Tone: CC 100+

Submitted by Paul Bock (see all reviews from this person) on 11/18/2017

Where Purchased: Factory direct

Year Purchased: 2017
Price Paid: historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

Excellent tone quality and volume for a banjo of this price! With steel strings, it sounds amazingly loud and solid whether using picks or frailing. With nylon strings it is more subdued but part of that can be adjusted by optimizing the bridge (which I haven't done yet) for bare-finger, nylon-string playing.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

The setup was perfect for steel strings as received from the factory. I have changed the tailpiece to a Kerschner, which is what I prefer with the nylon strings I'm now using, and I need to tinker with the bridge a bit, but no complaints on the factory setup at all!

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

This is a very attractive low-end banjo, especially because of the use of diamonds (aka "snowflakes") for position markers instead of just dots. The finish is excellent, and although purchased as having a "factory cosmetic defect" (which is why the price was reduced) I'm darned if I can find the defect. The one thing I don't like is the gaudy engraving on the armrest, which is why I'm giving it a "9"; I'll be replacing it with a plain, non-engraved armrest soon.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

The hardware is all chrome-plated and looks very serviceable, and I see no reason why it wouldn't hold up for the long term, especially since I'm only a "casual" player.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

I have dealt with this company before. Several years ago I needed a rim re-turned to achieve a proper tone ring fit on another banjo (not one of theirs) and they graciously consented to do the work. The job was excellent and they were very easy to deal with. In buying this new banjo from the factory the deal was fantastic (due to the supposed "defect" which I still haven't found) and the salesman was super. This banjo has the Gold Tone standard factory warranty. What's not to like?

Customer Service: 10

Components

I'm VERY impressed with the overall construction (two rimrods!) and especially note that the tuners are excellent quality. The tension hoop and brackets are a small step down (not as heavy) from the more standard "notched" style, but they certainly seem sturdy enough. Except for the gaudy engraving (which I don't care for) the armrest is solid, and the factory tailpiece is very nice, excellent for steel strings although not so good for nylon strings because it has some minor sharp edges that will cut the nylon). All in all, very competent design and execution.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

This has got to be a "best buy" in a low-end openback banjo!  If you ever see a Gold Tone "factory-new cosmetic defect" advertised in the BHO classifieds I encourage that you seriously consider it because you'll get a good banjo from a company that takes pride in its products, AND you benefit from a substantial savings!  Why pay more?

Overall Rating: 10

Hatfield: Custom

Submitted by omebanjo4 (see all reviews from this person) on 11/6/2017

Where Purchased: Hatfield

Year Purchased: 2016
Price Paid: 4000 ($US)

Sound

The sound is awesome. It is bright with a full rich sound all the way up the neck.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

set up was great with Crowe spacing.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

It's beautiful withe the flying eagle fret board. The maple is beautifully stained stripes and all.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

everything works great! added D tuners to 2nd and 3rd strings.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Arthur and his wife were awesome to deal with!

Customer Service: 10

Components

The gold looks good and no fancy carving to raise the price

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

This banjo sounds better than my OME Odyssey and is more comfortable up the neck. 

Overall Rating: 10

Recording King: RK-80

Submitted by JohnnyT (see all reviews from this person) on 11/4/2017

Where Purchased: BanjoHut Knoxville, TN

Year Purchased: 2012
Price Paid: 1200 ($US)

Sound

Banjo sounds really good for a Chinese made instrument. Intonation is true throughout the neck. Very loud has no problem projecting sound over other instruments when playing in a group. Have received many compliments on the sound on this instrument.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

Set-up was excellent from BanjoHut.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

The mahogany is beautiful the finish is great. The banjo does not look cheap at all but expensive.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Have not had any problems.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

n/a

Customer Service: 8

Components

All components seem to e very high quality.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

I love this banjo, at the time I needed a good intermediate banjo that sounded and looked great, I definitely got what I was looking for with the RK-80.

Overall Rating: 9

Rickard: Half Spun Whyte Laydie

Submitted by Frailin_Brayden (see all reviews from this person) on 9/30/2017

Where Purchased: Rickard Website

Year Purchased: 2017
Price Paid: 3118 (Canadian) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

It sounds just like I had hoped it would! It has a bright popping sound but with a lot of warmth and depth due to the 12" pot and calfskin head. It also has a lot of volume which is what I needed. Very old time sounding but with plenty of projection. Simply a lovely sounding banjo!

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

The banjo arrived directly from Bill Rickard's shop so it was set up before shipping. The action was higher than I am used to but it doesn't feel like it would be any more difficult to play than my previous banjo. I did adjust the head tension somewhat which is expected with the climate difference between Toronto and here in western Canada.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

It is truly stunning! A lot prettier in person than the pictures on the Rickard site can suggest. I love the look of the antiqued brass spunover pot contrasting with the stain on the neck and the ebony fretboard. I also really like the headstock design. No fancy inlays just the standard diamond and star markers which I actually prefer to have rather than a lot of inlay, it's already gorgeous enough!

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

I am confident that this banjo will last. The hardware and contruction are incredibly solid. I wanted to find a lifetime banjo and I think I've found it.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Corresponding with Sean was very pleasant and the process was easy. I feel like I could rely on them if ever I have a problem, although I can't imagine having an issue with the banjo!

Customer Service: 10

Components

Bill's spunover banjos are truly something else. They have an amazing tone and an outstanding quality to them. I would highly recommend Rickard Banjos!

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

Overall Rating: 10

Prucha: Prucha Professional

Submitted by jmhauer (see all reviews from this person) on 9/27/2017

Where Purchased: Penny Lane Music Emporium

Year Purchased: 2017
Price Paid: Don't Remember historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

Perfect. I was surprised at how responsive it was, far more responsive than previous banjos. I can make this monster shout or sing. The sustain is unreal. I especially had fun doing fast rolls with harmonics...just to see. I can't wait to see how this sounds when I have it broken in.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Everything was set to play out of the case. The action was just right. I did adjust the tail piece. Then set it back the way Mr. Prucha had it originally.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Flawless. Everything is perfect. The finish is perfect, everything-perfect. I'm very obsessive and nitpicking. I actually felt a little disappointed I couldn't find something to bitch about. From the peghead to the bottom of the resonator, there was unreal attention to detail. Not to mention, the walnut grain was unbelievably beautiful.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

It is early days yet. But the components are top notch, fit and finish precise. I anticipate no problems. I will update this review as time permits.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Best customer service out there. Armando Zuppa and his employees are the best. I hope he gives his csr guy Russell a raise. The kid put up with a grouchy and demanding customer and remained friendly and helpful. Prucha has their std. Lifetime warranty.

Customer Service: 10

Components

I was impressed with the tuners, which were beautifully machined and (of course) precise. The wood used was the nicest I have seen.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I'll add more as time progresses. 

Overall Rating: 10

Eastman EBJ-WL: Whyte Laydie

Submitted by MaineGeezer (see all reviews from this person) on 9/20/2017

Where Purchased: Bernuzio, Rochester, NY, via mailorder

Year Purchased: 2017
Price Paid: $995 ( historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

I don't particularly care for the sound; I like the sound much better if I stuff a sock in the back under the bridge. I'm going to investigate an alternate head to see if that helps. A friend of mine has a "real" Whyte Laydie (1902) and that sounds wonderful. This reproduction ought to be able to have similar sound. [Edit, a couple of weeks later: I'm liking the sound more than I did initially. I'm getting a better feel for how to play it to best advantage.]

I wasn't too impressed by the factory strings. I replaced them with a set of GHS strings. They may sound slightly better...or it may be my imagination.

Sound Rating: 8

Setup

The banjo was shipped with strings slack and the bridge removed. When reassembled, the action was fine. No complaints.
[Edit, a couple of weeks later: The action was a little high, though still quite playable. There was plenty of material on the top of the bridge though, to permit shaving off some height to get the action down.]

Setup Rating: 8

Appearance

The banjo was "B" stock (a factory second) because of finish imperfections on the back of the rim. One has to look closely to see them; Other than those known flaws , the finish seems excellent.

There is one thing about the appearance I don't care for. To me, the supplied tuners look cheap and out of place on what is supposed to be an elegant banjo.I've replaced the factory tuners with a set of Waverly planetary tuners, which to my eye are much more in keeping with the general appearance of the banjo.

Appearance Rating: 8

Reliability

All in all, I think it will stand up to prolonged use. My general skepticism of the factory tuners may or may not have a basis in fact. In terms of functionality, the factory tuners worked fine. [Edit: I've replaced the factory tuners with Waverlys, primarily for the sake of appearance. I have no doubt that the Waverlys will perform well for years. I'm not sure about the durability of the finish.]

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

No experience.

Customer Service: 5

Components

I've discussed the tuners. A set of Waverlys, including the 5th string tuner, will set you back around $140, but I think they add so much to the banjo it's worth it. '

You will probably want to add an arm rest.

A new set of strings won't hurt.

Ditto for a 5th string capo.

A different head may make it sound better, if you don't like the as-is sound.

Components Rating: 8

Overall Comments

It's a decent banjo. I think the makers may have  cut a few small corners by using inexpensive tuners,  perhaps a low-priced head, and cheap strings to shave the price a  little. Or not. I may be imagining things.

I think that in general, Gold Tone  banjos are better made and a better value [Edit: although the comparison may be somewhat invalid.  Gold Tone banjos aren't trying to be reproductions of anything. The Eastman is. Should the Eastman then be criticized because it's built like a 1902 banjo, not a 2017 banjo?]

I think the only reason to get an Estman Whyte Laydie is because you want a Whyte  Laydie and can't afford or can't  find  an original. With a bit of modification, the  Eastman can become a pretty close substitute. Just out of the box, however, I think it falls a little short.

Oh -- the case. The case is adequate and reasonably well made, but the banjo is a SNUG fit in the case. On the one hand, that's good. The banjo is well protected. But the downside is that there is NO WAY the  banjo will fit in the case with any sort of strap attached larger than a piece of string.  [Edit; Yes, it IS possible to get the banjo into the case with a strap on it....at least with a fairly narrow (1-1/2"), fairly flexible, strap.]

I think it would better if they dropped the reproduction case and instead used the Superior CD-1535 case.

 

Overall Rating: 8

Second Life Banjo - Carl Arcand: 5-string open back

Submitted by sold1ode (see all reviews from this person) on 9/11/2017

Where Purchased: from Carl Arcand

Year Purchased: ca. 2014
Price Paid: Don't Remember historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

Great, bright and loud enough to require a towel to mellow the ring

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Excellent. I wanted both low action and a high bridge; Carl angled the neck to pot perfectly

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Tigre maple with Chubby Dragon head inlay. Stunning.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Excellent hardware, Carl is quite particular.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Excellent. Carl is prompt to reply and sent numerous pictures during the building stage.

Customer Service: 10

Components

There are no weak or cheap parts on Carl's banjos.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

As someone who either presently owns or has owned many fine banjos, from Romeros to Doc's to Chuck Lee's to Deerings, Ode,  Cloverlick,  Rickard and others, all much better banjos than I deserve, the work of Carl Arcand certainly belongs in the prestigious category of fine makers. In my case, Carl built a long neck for an old Vega LIttle Wonder tone ring pot. The result is an absolute joy to play up and down the neck. His neck is much more comfortable than Deering's newer "Vega" Longneck, and his detailed inlay work makes my banjo far more beautiful than the Deering or the original Vege Seeger long neck.  In fact, I like Carl long necks so much that I am thinking of having him make me another, for a Tubaphone pot I recently acquired. Carl Arcand is one fine maker of banjos. 

Overall Rating: 10

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