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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!

7071 reviews in the archive.

Quail Creek Banjos: 12" Kestrel

Submitted by Soup4MyFamily (see all reviews from this person) on 10/13/2021

Where Purchased: Quail Creek Website

Year Purchased: 2021
Price Paid: $2500 ($US)

Sound

I have two preferences for open back banjos: Ear-splitting Whyte Lady rings on 11" pots for jazzy groups, and Dobson rings on 12" pots for actual old time music and home picking. This banjo is set up with a 12" pot and a Dobson ring, and it is, in my opinion, the quintessential clawhammer banjo tone that I think most people tend to think of.

Despite being almost as loud as my archtop resonator, this banjo has no need for a rag in the pot to tone it down whatsoever. No funky overtones, nothing undesirable lingering in the notes after striking. The Dobson ring is like a bell with every note. Being used to renaissance heads, the hide skin head provides a familiar tone- but unique all its own. I don't think I could go back to the plastic and am already considering a skin head on my other open back.

This banjo sports a semi-fretless design, so you also get the fun microtonal qualities (and learning curve) of playing fretless. Despite not having much fretless experience prior, it's not hard at all to make pretty sounds come from it. I could not ask for a better sounding banjo.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

All I needed to do was tighten two nuts after I opened the box.

The banjo came with a Moon bridge which I have no intention of swapping out. I am constantly tinkering on my other banjos with new bridges, nuts, and strings, and I really don't have a need to do that with this one.

I'm not sure which strings Lindsay sets these banjos up with, but these aren't my favorite. This has no detraction whatsoever from the instrument, I'll swap out to what I prefer when I feel a need to.

The action on the banjo is set up exactly where it needs to be for comfortable playing. If you prefer a super high or a super low action, I would make that known to Lindsay so that he can accommodate you on that. That said, the action on my banjo is right in line with where I want it. No weird buzzes, and still easy to fret up the neck.

Lindsay set the fifth string nut up higher than I'm used to, this seems to be pretty standard on his banjos. In doing so, the fifth string is in line with the rest of the strings, so there's no need to use a bridge with a raised fifth string. I like this, though it does sharpen the fifth string significantly when I capo it on the railroad spike.

If you've held Pisgahs and other dedicated old time banjos, you'll already be familiar with the "chunkier" setup that open back banjos in this class have. My experience until now has been on a bluegrass banjo and on a Gretsch import with a thin neck. The neck on this banjo is way thicker than I'm used to, but that's been an easy adjustment.

Overall, the banjo really couldn't be set up any better than it already is. It's apparent how much Lindsay cares about every banjo he builds.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

This banjo was built to my requests so my own bias is heavily at play here. Lindsay did exactly what I asked for on the inlays (flying kestrel and star on the headstock, and an intricate silhouette of North Carolina at the seventh fret). This banjo is nothing short of gorgeous and catches everyone's eyes. It's a truly unique instrument.

The color of the stain is exactly what I asked for, which unfortunately isn't captured well in any photo I take. The banjo has a deep red hue in a wood stain, and it's absolutely gorgeous. The hardware is all standard stuff with no issues whatsoever. Pisgah tailpiece, Balsam brass hardware, etc.

The brass plates Lindsay sized to the fretboard for the frailing scoop and the fretless portion are perfect. Maintenance of all brass hardware is up to the user, not the builder- I'm already developing some nice wear on the fretless portion and I'm excited to see how that looks in the future.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

I don't see any reason why this banjo would ever "fail" in the future for any reason beyond my own negligence. The hardware is solid, the brass is harder than my fingers, and I haven't had any luck wiping the finish off with my fingers. Honestly, this banjo is built to be handed down the family line, and that's exactly what I intend for it.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Lindsay is friendly and maintained constant communication throughout the entire build. Lindsay sends photos every step of the way and really goes out of his way to make sure your banjo is just that, your banjo.

Customer Service: 10

Components

Honestly, everything is pretty much what I would consider to be "standard" and that's by my own choosing. The option to use Rickard tuners or upgrade beyond what's really necessary is there, at the buyer's discretion. The sky really is limitless for what you want on your own banjo, but everything Lindsay uses is rock solid.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

Lindsay builds every banjo according to the customer's request.  When I came to him for a banjo to dedicate to my daughter, he gave me exactly what I asked for.  I had my choice of builders for this one, but his semi fretless Man In The Moon model is what attracted me most.  I knew I couldn't draw the inspiration from it and ask anyone else to make it, this banjo could only be built once and it had to be built by the right person.  Lindsay delivered my dream to me, and I know my family will enjoy it for years and years after I do.

I asked Lindsay for my dream banjo, and he made it.

Overall Rating: 10

Pisgah: Dobson Pro

Submitted by mikeyes (see all reviews from this person) on 10/7/2021

Where Purchased: Bernunzio Uptown Music

Year Purchased: 2021
Price Paid: Two thousand three hundred dollars historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

As of 2021, this is a new style of banjo for Pisgah Banjos. It has a 12” head with a Dobson ring that is manufactured in the US. It plays with the typical Dobson sound, bright (but not too bright), complex and good volume.

It is a favorite of some clawhammer players, but my style is two finger, thumb lead. As soon as I picked it up, I knew that the feel and sound of the instrument was going to be a great complement to my style of play.

John Bernunzio, who was sitting right across from me when I started to play it, told me it was his favorite banjo. Considering that his prior “favorite banjo” (and I assume still is since he sold me this one) was one that he designed, that is saying a lot.

I was able to A/B it against around 30 other open back five string banjos at the shop. It was (literally) outstanding in that environment and it was the best sounding banjo they had for my style. (John was fondling it as I played the other banjos, but he sold it to me anyway.)

When I got home and compared it to my two classic Vegas, it was still an outstanding banjo. It is a keeper.

I’m rating it a 10 as I did have a chance to compare it and it holds up to all the other banjos in the shop.


Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Pisgah ships its banjos de tuned a step and I found it that way on the shop floor. It sounded great and continued to sound great when I finally tuned it to standard.

One of the first things I noticed was the neck which felt very natural to me. Some of the other well known banjos I played were not as comfortable.

It comes with what some would consider a slightly high setup (I assume for clawhammer) that helped the sound in my opinion. Even so, it is easy to play and I have no interest in a lower bridge or any other enhancement. If you found it wrong for you, all you whould have to do is to get another bridge (or make one as I usually do.)

Setup at the nut was perfect. The Ren head was at 90 on my DrumDial, in the preferred range for me, and everything was solid and snug.

Setup was very well done.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

This is not a fancy banjo. I don’t think Pisgah has a fancy banjo, but I was attracted to it right away as it sat in the midst of a lot of other banjos.

It is made from locally resourced hardwoods with a Richlite finger board. Everything is precisely fitted and/or made and the finish flawless. This is not a quickly flung together banjo made from random parts. Everything is top notch.

It is just not going to dazzle you with bling. It is clearly an musician’s instrument and that is both part of the charm and the makings of a really good deal.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

I have not played it enough to see if it will self destruct, but I doubt that it will. I have had enough experience making and fixing banjos to know that this is a solid well built instrument with superior parts and assembly.

Let's face it, banjos are an accumulation of parts, in this case about 120 parts which are all top of the line and manufactured to strict standards. Nothing is going to break because it was cheap or shoddy. You will have to drop the banjo first and even then it would probably hold up.

The finish is brings out the beauty of the wood. I guess I could ask them what the finish is, they would certainly tell me, but it does not seem like the finish would be a problem at all. I am sure it will hold up and others who own Pisgah instruments have said that they have had no problems.

I have backup banjos that I will play if needed. I don’t think I will need one, but who knows? Anything could happen, but if it does it will not be the fault of this instrument.

I expect this to last me a long time.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

I’ve only had the banjo a short time, but I contacted the company because I heard about how great they are to customers and I did have a practical question about putting in a spike in the Richlite board. (You have to drill the hole the same diameter as the spike and not pierce through the board. Use a dab of super glue.). They came right back and let me know that they were happy to see the banjo was in my hands and said I was welcome to come to the factory if I was ever in Asheville. All of my questions were answered.

I don’t have much use for warranties, although I love the lifetime one I have on my older Gibson mandolin and Martin guitar. I don’t have access to the Pisgah warranty right now but it is a standard “parts, etc.” type and others have told me about how all of their issues have been resolved easily.

Customer Service: 10

Components

There are no weak components.

Most of the components are made by Pisgah or farmed out to select machine shops. With one exception they are all USA made and the exception is the tuners which are Gotoh, in my opinion the best reasonably priced tuners out there.

The Dobson tone is superb. I have owned an original Dobson and this one is very similar.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

Here is the deal.  There are very few used Pisgah banjos for sale, which should tell you something.  This one lasted less than a week in John Bernunzio's shop and he was trying to keep it as long as he could for himself.  He wants another one immediately but due to the nature of the demand for these instruments, that won't happen.  There are very few shops who keep them for any period of time.

I am lucky to have this one. It is a new model for Pisgah and it is the most expensive one they make that is not a custom banjo.  Their quality and designs are both excellent and a bargain considering what you get.  One of the other banjos I played was almost three times the cost and I still preferred the Dobson Pro.

Your mileage may vary, of course, but it is unlikely you will get a chance to see one in person as they don't last very long in stores.  You can get a custom made one at a reasonable price with good terms from Pisgah if you want and they will go out of their way to make sure you are happy.

I'd buy another one but i don't have a reason to do so.

Pisgah Dobson Pro

Here is me playing it.

Overall Rating: 10

Quail Creek Banjos: 12" Semi-fretless S-Quail

Submitted by TacomaKen (see all reviews from this person) on 9/27/2021

Where Purchased: Online Direct from Luthier

Year Purchased: 2021
Price Paid: 2,050 ($US)

Sound

This banjo has a 12" pot and brass tone ring, giving it a slightly deeper and mellower tone. It projects well and is pleasing to the ear. As a semi-fretless, it sings especially well in those tunes that emphasize modal tuning and minors. At the same time it can be bright and cheerful. It sounds delightful and plays like a charm.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

This banjo was set up perfectly, which I am thankful for, since that is a weakness of mine. The strings are all in the right place and the notes ring out like they should. Playing this open back banjo over the scoop is effortless.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Can I just say that Lindsay is a genuine artisan and craftsman? He is, and then some. If I didn't play banjo, I would still love this instrument just as a piece of art and find craftsmanship. I can't detect a single blemish, flaw or defect - even down to the precision in his inlay work. Amazing!

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

This banjo is solid and built to play. The hardware is brass and very sturdy. It feels solid. The price included a very nice and protective case.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Lindsay's customer service is excellent and he communicated well every step of the way, including photos of the build process. Very friendly.

Customer Service: 10

Components

Everything stands out, but comes together well. The tuning pegs are smooth, the brass is attractive, but most of all the woodwork is exquisite.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

This is a custom built 12", 25.5 inch scale semi-fretless banjo.  A quail inlay on the peg head, semi-fretless with brass plate to the seventh fret, Texas star on the S-scoop. Half moon bridge, antiqued brass hardware, rolled brass tone ring, fine wood pot and neck, dark wood cap on pot, and goat skin head.

Everything from my first inquiry, to receiving pictures during the build process, to seeing a video of the completed banjo, to Lindsay's checking in to see if it was received OK after shipment was on point.

It is impossible to find words to describe how great this banjo looks and how nice it sounds.  I would not hesitate for a moment to work with Lindsay again.  If you are considering one of his banjos, I highly recommend them.

Overall Rating: 10

Dean Robinson [dean-o-craft]: 11# SilverSpun

Submitted by Ragtimejoe (see all reviews from this person) on 9/25/2021

Where Purchased: From Builder

Year Purchased: 2021
Price Paid: Don't Remember historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

Fits my style perfectly. I went with a skin head, which a generally avoid. This one has stayed solid. The Silverspun tone ring gives the banjo lots of volume without any harshness or unwanted overtones. Then neck profile is perfect for me. The finish is great.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Purchased from the builder. I took it back after about 3 months for a tune up. It's now better than when I originallly got it. I guess things settle in with time, especially the skin head

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

It is a beautiful banjo - flamed maple neck. None of his banjos are stock. No flaws

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Hardware appears as good as it gets. Sames with the finish. My only issue is that I would not take it out to a high humidity gig without a back up due to the skin head. That's the head, not the banjo.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Dean has been great to deal with. I went to his shop to design and buy the banjo. That probably took 3 hours. 3 months later I took it back for a tune up and he spent a couple of hours checking out everything he could find.

Customer Service: 10

Components

The neck is a standout. I love the silverspun tone ring. I'm quickly becoming a major fan of skin head.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

One of the best banjos I've ever owned. Customer service is over the top. I'm considering getting a 12" electric with burled walnut nut wood.

Overall Rating: 10

Deering: Eagle II

Submitted by Bigdog49 (see all reviews from this person) on 9/6/2021

Where Purchased: Deering

Year Purchased: 2019
Price Paid: 2350 ($US)

Sound

Learning Bluegrass 5 string, picking

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Setup was perfect, new from factory. I am using Tenn-brook strings.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

This is a beautiful banjo, dark shiny factory finish. I added a plate with my name. Still looks new 2 years later.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Excellent quality and finish workmanship, very dependable. This should last for generations.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Deering personnel very helpful. I met the Deering's in Show Low, AZ at Majestic Music. They provided a discount for purchase after their demonstrations. Majestic has all instruments and reasonable lessons.

Customer Service: 10

Components

Beautiful workmanship, great sound even from a beginner. Everything is of excellent quality. I would purchase from them again, if I get better.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I started to learn in High School and life intervened.  So now I am learning after retirement.  I wish I would have keep it up but my cousin took back his banjo and the cheap ones sounded cheap.  I wished I lived close to Jim Panky for some lessons, maybe a short trip is in order.

Some day i would like to play Irish folk music.  So far I have not found an instructor close to me.

 

Overall Rating: 10

Rickard: Custom 12" Dobson

Submitted by Bum Ditty Brendan (see all reviews from this person) on 8/18/2021

Where Purchased: Bernunzio

Year Purchased: 2021
Price Paid: Don't Remember (bought USED) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

The sound is warm, deep, and booming. The tone carries all the way up the neck - the sound often receives compliments at jams and several fellow ba jo players borrowed it for a tune or two at some jams.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

I tightened the head a little because it was loosened a bit for shipping. Intonation is great uo the neck.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

This is a stunning banjo. This is the very banjo being played by Lukas Pool at the Music Emporium: https://youtu.be/Jqunx8fiMuY

The pot is spunover and has been aged such that it appears nearly black, all the brass has been aged. The wood on the headstock has a slight streak of lighter grain that catches the eye when you get near. Best looking banjo in my stable.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

It's a rickard and uses rickard hardware.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Sean at Rickard is very responsive and picks up the phone, answers emails, and gave me a bit of the history of this banjo after I got it used.

Customer Service: 10

Components

The components are made by Rickard, they look good, they feel good.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

This is a semi-fretless banjo. The fretless notes ring out and have more sustain than my other fretless. This is my favorite banjo.

Overall Rating: 10

Rickard: 11" Cherry Little Wonder

Submitted by Bum Ditty Brendan (see all reviews from this person) on 8/18/2021

Where Purchased: Carter Vintage Guitars

Year Purchased: 2021
Price Paid: 2195 ($US)

Sound

This banjo is surprisingly deep for an 11" banjo. It has more warmth than my 12" Ome. The tone carries all the way uo the neck. It sounds smooth, warm, and it is loud but maybe not as loud as my 12" Ome Wizard - but I prefer the sound of the rickard

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

The head was slightly loose for shipping but that's not a problem. The neck is flawless. The notes are accurate uo the neck and I don't have to angle the bridge.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

This is not a showy banjo overall but it looks really great. The floral inlay on the headstock is superb, the diamond shaped inlays and the star on the 5th are well done. There is an inlay around the rim which is stunning. These details are not overwhelming.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

It is rickaed hardware with the 10:1 rickaed cyclones.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Sean is accessible, answers the phone and emails.

Customer Service: 10

Components

The components are nickel plated, ebony buttons, fretwire looks high quality. Again, these are Rickard components.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

This is now my favorite fully fretted banjo I have ever owned. I put it above the Omes I have owned. If I were to go back in time, I would never have bought the Omes and all I would own are Rickards and the one Mike Ramsey fretless I have. 

Overall Rating: 10

Gold Tone: EB-5 Electric Banjo

Submitted by BEEFUS (see all reviews from this person) on 8/12/2021

Where Purchased: Banjoteacher.com

Year Purchased: 2021
Price Paid: 600 ($US)

Sound

Banjo style: LOUD, ELECTRIC, FUZZED
Used with: Amplitube iRig for iPad electronic amplifier modeling
Sound: I wouldn't have expected the neck-position humbucker + drumhead to give both a good acoustic AND electric banjo sound, but it really does. I'm amazed at how good this really basic design works for both banjo sounds and electric sounds.
The low-end humbucker isn't great, but it does the job. Electrically, it's maybe just a little dull. I plan to swap it out for an EMG 85 - the wiring is simple enough to where that's easily doable.
Big question most will ask: when I plug in, can I get a good amplified-but-banjoey sound? Answer is yes. Recommend that you set the amp on clean, dial down the tone to about half to avoid grittiness, and you'll get a sweet twangy banjo sound, maybe a little less bright than you'd like but pretty good.
UPDATE: I swapped out the low-end stock pickup for an EMG 85 active humbucker. The difference in sound is extraordinary. Although now I have to duct-tape a 9V battery to the back!

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

Very solid, sturdy instrument. Plays remarkably easily, tunes well. Action is good and low. Strings were too heavy, swapped for lights. Tailpiece that comes with it is pretty lousy, so I swapped it for a Kerschner, which fit perfectly.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

Lovely dark wood finish. No flaws. Looks nice. I plan to make it uglier, but that is the way of BEEFUS!

Appearance Rating: not rated

Reliability

That big ugly stock tailpiece is sturdy enough, but hard to change strings on so I changed it out. Otherwise, tuners are solid, drumhead good, this is well-built.

Reliability Rating: 8

Customer Service

Ross Nickerson is great, very helpful, shipping was real quick.

Customer Service: 10

Components

I looked under the hood, and the wiring is pretty amateurish. Dodgy soldering, no heat shrinks, little stray strands of wire just waiting to short circuit something. It's also not grounded - less of an issue with humbuckers, but could cause problems with noise in some situations. If you're serious about gigging with this instrument, I highly recommend a rip-and-replace for the wiring; for casual playing, it should be fine.

Components Rating: 5

Overall Comments

A better-than-expected low-priced electric banjo, with a better-than-expected design and sound. Everything is just fine with this, except the wiring job which is relatively poor quality (though no worse than I've seen on some high-end vintage guitars!). Because it's so simple, it has rich potential for modding and upgrading, so I consider that a big plus. 

Overall Rating: 9

Huber: VRB-4 (custom)

Submitted by rwsansom (see all reviews from this person) on 8/5/2021

Where Purchased: Direct from Huber Banjos

Year Purchased: 2021
Price Paid: 5,775 ($US)

Sound

This one goes to 11.

This instrument has a beautiful, rich and sweet tone, with an amazing resonance. It has a very even attack up and across the fingerboard, and responds amazingly with perfect volume.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Steve Huber is known for setting up every banjo he builds before it ships, and it arrived just as I expected: Perfect action and intonation, and the tuners stay in tune. A joy to play, the wide speed neck feels amazing.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Holy cow is it beautiful! The walnut grain on the resonator is damn right sexy, and the mahogany neck next to the walnut with the inlaid marquetry makes for an amazing combination. The brushed, antique nickel hardware is a perfect compliment to the wood.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

This is going to be my forever banjo.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Steve and the team were great to work with. Super personable on the phone, helpful in collecting my requests, and dedicated to making sure I was getting the banjo of my dreams. They are a small boutique shop, so the turnaround was a (not unexpected) few months (~5 months). But, when I'd check in throughout the build, Steve would share videos and images of the progress, which helped keep my excitement building. Along the way, there was a slight mix up that lead to a delay in the final delivery date, but Steve was super up front and apologetic about the issue, and quick to resolve. To make up for the delay, he's added a custom truss rod cover engraved with my initials and some sway (cap, extra strings, t-shirt, strap) free of charge. (Note, the truss cover and shirt haven't arrived yet - Steve said he's ship that out separately so that it wouldn't delay getting the finished build in my hands - but the other swag was in the case.)

Shipment was sent via UPS on Monday from TN, and it arrived safely in Arlington, MA Wednesday afternoon.

Overall, Steve and the team went the extra mile to build deliver a fantastic instrument. I admit I was nervous ordering an instrument without playing it first - but

Customer Service: 10

Components

- Mahogany wide neck with speed finish
- Double cut headstock, inlaid with a vintage style-3 pattern, customized with an added petal from the Huber "Hearts and petal" pattern
- Rosewood radius fingerboard with the Huber "Hearts and petals" inlay pattern
- Figured walnut resonator with twin concentric rings of stained wood marquetry
- Huber HR-30 Tone Ring and Huber Engineered Rim
- Antiqued black/white binding
- Antique metal finish on the nickel hardware
- Grained ivoroid tuner buttons
- Railroad spikes at frets 7,8, and 9
- Beautiful and solid, "Superior Instruments" hardshell banjo case

Some 20/20 hindsight:

I should've asked Steve if they ever make wood armrests, as I fear the nickel armrest might tarnish quickly from where my skin rests on it. (I already see that I have to wipe it down promptly after playing, which is a good habit I try to adopt with all my instruments anyways). I also really like the look and feel of wood armrests, they add an extra bit of elegance and organic appeal. So, I'll probably swap the nickel armrest out for a wood one (walnut or mahogany).

I wish I had asked about engraving options on the tailpiece too - I had looked at the offered patterns, but they just didn't speak to me, and I didn't inquire if a custom engraving upgrade was possible. Again, I should've asked.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I am so happy with this instrument, which I'm calling my "VRB-3/4 Dream" due to its hybrid spec of the VRB-3 and VRB-4. Perfect sound and playability, and damn beautiful to look at.

Photos posted here: https://www.banjohangout.org/myhangout/photos.asp?id=58116&albumid=11588

Overall Rating: 10

Pisgah: Custom

Submitted by Roger Snyder (see all reviews from this person) on 5/24/2021

Where Purchased: Pisgah Banjo

Year Purchased: 2021
Price Paid: Don't Remember historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

I like old time, picking and "grab and go". The sound is rich, nice attack with a little sustained decay. The Dobson tone ring, on persimmons and maple give this a rich beautiful sound.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Everything was ready to go... a slight tuning adjustment and I was off to the races!

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Spalted Persimmons fret-board, head-stock and arm rest. Maple neck and pot. I buy and sell logs for a living, I know my wood. This maple is beautiful in color and grain consistency.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

This is solid and has a great feel. The tuners are great!

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Patrick and Melissa have been a joy to work with. I look forward to a long term great relationship with these people and this company!

Customer Service: 10

Components

All parts are top quality and will last my life time and grand=childrens as well. My only wishlist might be a Kavanjo pick up head. It sounds so good with the head that came on it, I wish I could afford two, one with and one as is!

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I am grinning like a cheshire cat!!!
My new banjo is beautiful, solid, plays and sounds like a dream! This
easily exceeds my highest expectations!!!!

This banjo brings joy to my ear, heart and life!

#pisgahbanjos #openbackbanjo #clawhammerbanjo #banjo 

Overall Rating: 10

Bishline: Harvest

Submitted by northernbelle (see all reviews from this person) on 5/23/2021

Where Purchased: bishlinebanjos.com

Year Purchased: 2019
Price Paid: Don't Remember historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

Rob Bishline's mahogany "Harvest" model neck (only). But the neck greatly improved the sound of the pot, responsiveness and helped reduce some overtones with a Siminoff top tension pot along with Rob's great set up. Sounds fantastic and better than it ever did over the last 40 years I've owned this banjo.
I play Scruggs/Melodic style mostly but have used the instrument in recording studios for "faux" Irish Tenor, clawhammer styles etc. This instrument is a cannon and is adaptable for many styles.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Set up was perfect and exactly to my requested specs. Action as low as possible.
I asked for a Kirshner style tailpiece so that I could do quick subtle adjustments for studio work and the Siminoff Top Tension pot with a Stew Mac TR has a lot of overtones and I felt that style reduced them the best with more mass. Tuning pegs, tailpiece, bridge were all Bishline as was the head logo (Remo). The tuners have beautiful Amber knobs.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

The mahogany "Harvest" model neck I requested for my old Roger Siminoff pot is absolutely gorgeous, had impeccable craftsmanship and finish.
I requested stainless steel frets and they were crowned, finished and polished superbly.
I now wish I'd requested larger side dots as I requested figured maple binding and I'm a geezer now! (but that's on me). I also asked for figured maple binding on the headstock which came out beautifully and receives many nice compliments at jams, etc.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

The finish was absolutely incredible! A modern UV finish that's tough as nails. Zero strap wear or hand wear, etc. I think you'd need sandpaper or a file to do any damage.
Even though It's a Bishline neck on a different pot and resonator the (same) finish was applied to my 40 year old unfinished mahogany Stew Mac resonator which Rob inlaid figured maple into the concentric ring routed channels before UV finishing. I was astounded how beautifully it brought the grain out. Flawless application and polishing. He also stained and finished the unfinished Siminoff rim to match everything else.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

SUPER friendly, extremely helpful, polite and patient and communication was outstanding when checking in during the build/assembly from halfway around the world on a ship!

Rob's standard model banjos list his warrantee on his site. I anticipate no repairs to be needed for years if ever.

Customer Service: 10

Components

Rob's wood binding and stainless steel frets and UV perfect finish are all stand outs.
No weaknesses or cheapness anywhere. A very high level of craftsmanship and caring.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

l.) I wasn't sure that Rob Bishline would do one of his standard model necks for an old pot and resonator of a different brand but he agreed right away. This is over a year ago now (pre-covid 2020) so you'd have to ask if he still is willing now. I may have been the lst request for him to do so but I don't know for sure.

2. Rob and his staff were hands down, the BEST customer service and helpful business I have ever dealt with.  We literally worked up the order and discussed the job along the way while I was halfway around the world on a ship!  His communication was continuous and super helpful and polite even though I was OCD to the Nth degree in my emails and cell phone specs. discussions/checks because I was away from civilization during the build. 
He (they) was completely patient, cheery and personable and they did exactly what they said they would on a long list of custom features (binding, ss frets gold tuners/tailpiece, etc.  

If I had more money and didn't have the huge sentimentality of the original  unfinished Stew Mac resonator (this was my "Wedding Banjo" from 40 years back) played in memorable concerts, recordings etc. I would have gone for one of Bishline's gorgeous exotic wood backed resonators.  

FINALLY, I owe Rob and staff a HUGE apology for not writing a review MUCH sooner. 2020 was a heck of a year for all of us and we have been "otherwise occupied".

I feel very guilty for not getting to this sooner but it's my goal to send business Bishline's way as they are most certainly among the finest builders and luthiers in the U.S.  I want to reward good service, craftsmanship and honesty by sending as many people as I can to them. Feel free to PM me if you have any other questions.

Although I don't own a FULL Bishline banjo (just the neck and finish on the resonator) I have played standard Bishline banjos with his tone ring, pot, resonator and they are wonderful instruments.  Playing someone's  Harvest banjo at a festival jam convinced me immediately to contact Bishline.  I have zero connection with Rob other than as a customer but he/they earned all "10"s from me because he/they absolutely deserved them.

I'm eternally grateful that Rob was willing to do this custom "parts banjo" job for me.

Overall Rating: 10

Jeff Menzies: Gourd Banjo - 5 string

Submitted by str8fromthecr8r (see all reviews from this person) on 5/14/2021

Where Purchased: from Mr. Menzies

Year Purchased: 2021
Price Paid: 895 ($US)

Sound

Really nice! Warm and earthy tone with great bass response and sweet high notes. Volume is good—not too quiet or too loud. Playing hard gives it a cool growly tone. Most of the sound exits through the porthole on the side of the gourd.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Plays effortlessly. Action is superb. Neck has a silky smooth finish and a good shape to it—not too thin or too bulky. I also like the nut width (1 3/4") and scale length (26"). Gives plenty of room for double frailing, and makes for easy chords.

Jeff recommended tuning it to D, D#, or E at the highest. Could go as low as C though.

Banjo was very carefully packed for shipping. Arrived with the bridge down, so just needed to pop that up and tune it.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

This is the exact banjo I got: https://www.instagram.com/p/CMfm-bVBf3Y/

Beautiful instrument! Clearly crafted with care and expertise. Has a clean, natural look. Slightly darker than it appears in the photos. The neck has a nice shape, and the finish brings out the grain well. I also like the color and pattern of the head, which goes nicely with the other components of the instrument.

Materials are: figured almond neck and dowel stick, purple heart tailpiece and tuning pegs, bone nut & 5th string peg, goatskin head, brass tacks, and gourd pot (duh). The bridge is tied on to the protruding end of the dowel stick with sinew. Wooden components and gourd exterior finished with Tru-Oil. Gourd interior is unfinished.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

This is a solid instrument. I expect it to last a very long time. I don't foresee it needing more attention than a typical banjo. When I asked Jeff about maintenance, his advice was just to keep the instrument out of the rain and direct sunlight, and flip the bridge down when not in use if it's very humid out. Nothing out of the ordinary.

I was worried about gourd banjos and skin heads being fragile or temperamental, but my experience thus far (admittedly not a long time) suggests otherwise. There is nothing flimsy or fragile about this instrument.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

I contacted Jeff via his company email about purchasing the banjo. He responded quickly and was happy to answer all the questions I had. (Most of the technical details I've included in this review come from our conversation.) Overall we had a meaningful and friendly correspondence. I wouldn't hesitate to contact him regarding the instrument in the future.

Customer Service: 10

Components

Every component of this banjo is handmade, beautifully finished, locally sourced, and of excellent quality. Nothing cheap or shoddy. The gourd is rock-hard and shows no sign of bugs or rot. The friction pegs do take some getting used to, but they work well.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

If you can't already tell, I really like this instrument! I wanted something unique yet functional, and this is definitely it. It was more expensive than most gourd banjos I found online, but I feel my money was well spent. I'd definitely recommend Jeff's instruments based on my experience with this particular one.

Overall Rating: 10

Quail Creek Banjos: 11" Custom Half-fretless

Submitted by knbanjo20 (see all reviews from this person) on 5/11/2021

Where Purchased: From Quail Creek Banjos

Year Purchased: 2021
Price Paid: $1670 ($US)

Sound

Lindsay Llewellen of Quail Creek Banjo's has created a work of art that not only is stunning to look at but sounds beautiful. It has an ancient, rich, old-time sound that is very woody and organic.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

The banjo was ready to play when I received. The action was perfect and I have no intentions of making any changes in the near future.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

This is a gorgeous banjo. Ebony fretboard, brass plate for the top of the semi-fretless neck, dark-stained maple for pot and neck, aged brass hardware, and an aged goatskin head. It is a masterpiece. My favorite part of the banjo is the mother of pearl dragonfly inlay on the pegboard. Lindsay made it exactly to my specifications! No flaws, it is perfect! He is a true artisan!

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

This is a banjo that will last forever. It is solidly built. Not only is it gorgeous to look at, it is amazingly easy to play! I know I will have this banjo forever!

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

From the very beginning of my inquiry about a custom banjo build, Lindsay was incredibly responsive to my questions and very thorough with walking me through the process of my custom build. He is a passionate and brilliant builder! I'm sure if I have any problems in the future (which I'm sure I won't) he would be very helpful! I'm so glad to have found him! I can't say enough positive things about my experience with Quail Creek!

Customer Service: 10

Components

This is an amazing custom banjo build. Lindsay gave me a high quality instrument with incredible craftsmanship and quality hardware, etc.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I am so happy to have found Quail Creek Banjos.  Lindsay delivered an excellent custom banjo that I will enjoy forever! It is a gorgeous piece of art that sounds amazing! 

Overall Rating: 10

Barry Sholder: Gourd Banjo #427

Submitted by sintactician (see all reviews from this person) on 5/7/2021

Where Purchased: Online from Barry

Year Purchased: 2021
Price Paid: 400 ($US)

Sound

Sound is perfect - kettle gourd gives it a nice bass response with a somewhat plunky/old-time timbre that is to die for when playing classic clawhammer tunes.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

No complaints with the setup! Small marking where the bridge is supposed to sit is spot-on, everything else was easy.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

The 427 is a plain model, but it's a beautiful instrument for lack of bells-and-whistles. Natural wood grain on the fretboard is beautiful and I like that the gourd has a very natural look.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

Time will tell about the finish, but it's oil so it'll be easy to re-up if need be. The friction tuners, tailpiece, head, and body all seem build to last.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Barry was great. I reached out prior to purchase to ask about the oil used for the finish (allergies - I know Deering uses almond oil on their ebony fretboards) and he got back to me same-day. Very helpful and responsive. Shipped the instrument quicker than I could say "banjo".

Customer Service: 10

Components

Everything is solid! Might change out the strings down the line - not because there's a problem with the sound at all, I'm just a glutton for experimentation. The neck has a couple of carved-out divots just below the 5th string tuner, and I'm not sure if that's just for decoration, but it lets the thumb sit very comfortably when playing up the neck. Fretboard is a dream. Friction tuners are gonna take a little getting used to but they work well and I don't have any problems getting the strings in tune.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

Barry is a great luthier who is very easy to work with. I couldn't imagine a better gourd banjo in the price range, and it's been a blast to play.

Overall Rating: 10

Mulucky: B1101

Submitted by jblakey (see all reviews from this person) on 4/18/2021

Where Purchased: eBay

Year Purchased: 2021
Price Paid: 120 (CAD) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

I play 2-finger thumb lead, and this banjo works fine for that.
I set it up with a half inch compensated bridge and a Vega-style armrest
Woody sound, reasonable volume
Not as clean, clear as my Goodtime Special, but without a tone ring, I suppose that's to be expected.

Sound Rating: 8

Setup

Banjo needed work when I received it. The neck lag bolts were installed off center by a couple of mm, and the neck needed to be shimmed on one side to get the strings centered on the fretboard (where the neck meeds the tension ring). Had to add a .5mm shim.
The neck is nicely done - adjusted the truss rod a smidge to get the neck right, but nothing big.

Setup Rating: 5

Appearance

Appearance is suprisingly nice for the 100-200 dollar range. Nice maple wood, bone nut, 24 hooks, footed shoes rather than those "Frankenstein"-style cylindrical shoes.
Inlay is NOT inlay. The fretboard markers are printed/stamped on (although a pretty nice job, really)
Headstock has a laser-engraved "Mulucky" logo, other than that, it looks like a very thin veneer of quilted maple.
Neck is really nicely done, other than there is a slight ridge that could be sanded down on the top side of the neck between the nut and the 5th string tuner. Nothing terrible, but it's there.
The hooks/nuts are very cheap, and the threads could stand some clean up. I had to hold some of the hooks with pliers to get the nuts on.
No-knot tailpiece is fine, works fine.

Appearance Rating: 8

Reliability

Hardware is cheap and a bit rough.
The finish on the wood is a very light satin finish, looks nice.
Binding on frets looks good, frets are nicely finished and leveled.
Tuners are open geared, I'll probably replace them soon - they work OK, but I think anything would be nicer.
5th string tuner is geared, and works fine.

Reliability Rating: 6

Customer Service

Warranty? I don't think so - I posted a note about the neck alignment issues on amazon.ca, and the seller did not offer to fix/replace anything. They suggested I move my tailpiece over, which is not possible.

Customer Service: 2

Components

Neck is quite good, pot is fine (although a smidge undersize), head is fine, nut is fine, bridge is a bit clunky, tailpiece is fine, hooks/nuts are generally pretty rough, tuners are OK if very cheap.

If I was going to spend money on this banjo, i would:
1. replace the tuners with some cheap planetaries
2. replace the bridge with one a little nicer
3. Add a Vega-style armrest
4. Maybe replace the 5th string nut with a hook

Components Rating: 7

Overall Comments

Overall, as a project banjo, this is a great deal (if you're not afraid to do the work / tweaks necessary).  I think, once i fixed the neck issues, it's a pretty good base for customization, and for $120 CAD, it's hard to complain too much.  It gets a LOT right - the neck is pretty well done, the pot is not garbage, 24 hooks, good frets, bone nut.   If the neck would have been set properly at the factory, I would have given it a 10/10 for the price, really.

Overall Rating: 8

Stelling: Red Fox

Submitted by Carter Canyon (see all reviews from this person) on 4/18/2021

Where Purchased: Individual - used.

Year Purchased: 2010
Price Paid: Trade + $2000 ($US) (bought USED)

Sound

Hard driving bluegrass banjo with a loud full sound.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Replaced worn frets and lowered the action slightly.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

It is in 'like new' condition now, other than slight oxidation of the armrest. The overall appearance is that of a quality-made professional instrument.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

This banjo outranks the others I've owned when it comes to reliability. All components, including the finish, were made to take the abuse of dedicated pickers.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

This company is second to none when it comes to personal interaction and service.

Customer Service: 10

Components

I have had no issues with this well-put-together banjo. Compared to others I've played, it has all the quality components they've lacked.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

My 2008 Stelling Red Fox with a Tony Pass rim has served me well. I highly recommend the company and hope to be purchasing a Staghorn at some point soon.  

Overall Rating: 10

Barry Sholder: 5 string mini travel banjo

Submitted by wsharp (see all reviews from this person) on 3/30/2021

Where Purchased: online from Barry

Year Purchased: 2021
Price Paid: I think about $400 ($US)

Sound

I love this little thing. Small, lightweight but tunes to G or A. I use it for travel and plan to take it backpacking and on bicycle tours. Mostly I play clawhammer but also some 2FTL. Gourdy sound, quiet but not muddled. Mostly, I bought it because it is so small and light but I am really liking the sound now.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Set up pretty perfect although the base string is sitting tad high.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

Beautiful. I love the way it looks. Not fancy though the peghead is kinda special.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

Friction violin tuners which I don't mind too much but they are a bit harder to use than geared tuners if you change tunings often-which I do. Time will tell but I think I am getting used to them.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Barry is great. Easy, easy to work with. Helpful and always gets right back to you.

Customer Service: 10

Components

I prefer geared tuners but understand why this banjo doesn't have them. Other than that, I have absolutely no complaints.

Components Rating: 8

Overall Comments

Love this thing.  Thanks so much to Barry for beautiful gourd banjos.  Even though it is a gourd, and as such is fragile, I think it will be perfect for what I am wanting it for-I'll just have to treat it with care.  It really is a joy to play.

Overall Rating: 10

Quail Creek Banjos: Gourdy

Submitted by Schmidtrock (see all reviews from this person) on 3/26/2021

Where Purchased: https://www.quailcreekbanjos.com/

Year Purchased: 2021
Price Paid: Extremely Affordable ($US)

Sound

Plunky, deep and earthy.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Banjo shipped with bridge taped down.
Extremely well packaged in multilayered bubble wrap as well as bags of 'peanuts' for extra cushioning.
Lindsay thoughtfully placed pencil marks for bridge setting. Intonation was right on with his marks.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

The peghead, fingerboard, tailpiece and heel plate are beautiful, rich ebony wood. There is a very pleasing skunk stripe showing the length of the fifth string fingerboard. The dark rich ebony contrasts extremely nice with the beautifully carved and oil finished walnut neck. As nice touch and nod to the history of this style, there is a brass plate on the peghead acid etched with the 'hobo' symbol. The gourd pot is sanded nice and smooth with a light oil finish.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

The tuning pegs are very smooth and appear as friction pegs but are internally geared. Very cool setup! The head skin is fastened securely with glue as well as pleasant decorative furniture tacks around the rim. A bone nut ensures years of reliable tuning and playing. Lindsay's meticulous artistry with attention to the details really stands out in this instrument.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Lindsay Lewellen / Quail Creek Banjos is an excellent person to get to know as well as do business with. The whole process from quote request through delivery was the best I've ever been through for any transaction. Frequent and informative communication was provided as well as build photographs through the process. I'm extremely happy. After our interactions through this commission, I consider him a friend.

Customer Service: 10

Components

Everything stands out on this beautiful gourd banjo.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I highly recommend Quail Creek Banjos to anyone considering a custom built banjo. Besides the gourd models, Lindsay builds beautiful open back, fretless and semi-fretless models as well as fully fretted. His skill and artistry are in my opinion at an extremely high level. Plus he's a Banjonaut too!

Be Well

Kevin

Overall Rating: 10

Cedar Mountain: brainjo

Submitted by Billlloyd (see all reviews from this person) on 3/25/2021

Where Purchased: Clawhammerbanjo.net

Year Purchased: 2020
Price Paid: 1350 ($US) (bought USED)

Sound

I purchased the Tommy set up with my Brainjo. I play clawhammer style and working on two finger thumb lead.
The Brainjo is bright with the Nickle plated strings, VERY BRIGHT. I replaced them with GHS phosphor bronze light strings and now the sound is more full and rounded. Still with good sustain. More appealing to my ear.
Love the Banjo. I like the clean and simple look of the model, no frills, just a solid sounding and good looking Banjo. Solid workmanship.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

Banjo was set up perfectly for me.
I would recommend replacing the nickel plated strings. In general they can be a bit tinny and overly bright.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

Clean look, solid craftsmanship. Very attractive.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

3-piece cherry neck with matching dowel, rosewood fingerboard and peghead overlay
maple thin rim, 11?
25.5? neck scale
2-way adjustable truss rod
frailing scoop
high-quality nickel hardware and tuners
bone nut, 1 5/16? width
side dots at frets 1, 3, 5, 7, 10, 12, 15, and 17

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

Tim at Cedar Mountain make a timely repair on my banjo rim. Actually he replaced it. Turn around was 10 days from the time he received the Banjo from me to when it was back in my hands. that included 2 days of shipping.

Customer Service: 9

Components

3-piece cherry neck with matching dowel, rosewood fingerboard and peghead overlay
maple thin rim, 11?
25.5? neck scale
2-way adjustable truss rod
frailing scoop
high-quality nickel hardware and tuners
bone nut, 1 5/16? width
side dots at frets 1, 3, 5, 7, 10, 12, 15, and 17

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

Great workmanship, good service, stands behind their warranty. Sound is excellent, looks are clean and simple, which I find very appealing as I do not like a lot of decoration. If you want a good sounding solid banjo at a great value, take a look at Cedar Mountain Banjos.  

For the complete line go to:

www.cedarmtnbanjos.com

To review the Brainjo check it out at: 

www.clawhammerbanjo.net/the-brainjo/

 

Overall Rating: 9

Stone Banjo Company: Open Back 5-String Banjo

Submitted by Paddlehead (see all reviews from this person) on 3/10/2021

Where Purchased: Direct from builder

Year Purchased: 2021
Price Paid: 1000 ($US)

Sound

I prefer Old-Time clawhammer style and this banjo fits perfectly. Not using any effects or amps. Sound is warm and mellow. I like everything about it.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Setup was nice, but I'll probably experiment with bridge heights as I usually prefer a slightly lower action (occasional light fret buzzing doesn't bother me). Swapping bridges is super-easy, and I look forward to trying out a few different sizes and styles.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

IMHO, this instrument is gorgeous. Cherry-Maple-Cherry neck and Cherry pot with Maple cap. Maple headplate, armrest and heel cap. I prefer a clean fretboard so have side dots only. The banjo is finished with a matte oil finish and it feels great to the touch!

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Nice quality brass Gotoh tuners. 4 planetary and 1 angle-geared for the 5th string. The matte oil finish should only get better looking over time. It is VERY solidly built, and I would use it at a gig without a backup.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Luthier Steve Gerritsen is the owner of Stone Banjo Co. He was EXTREMELY easy to work with, and made sure that we had multiple phone conversations during the custom build. He also sent dozens of photos so I could see the progress of the build.

Customer Service: 10

Components

First of all, I love the WOOD in this banjo. Steve found a piece of light-toned Rosewood with a subtle "swoop" in the grain that goes from the 5th fret to the heel. He also used vintage-style round brass brackets, and a brass tension hoop that he drilled for hooks. Everything about this banjo is heavy-duty, and I love the look of the brass parts with the warmth of the Cherry wood.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I learned about Stone Banjo Company from Mandy Tyner, who is a banjo teacher on a youtube channel called Banjo Lemonade. She had good things to say about her Stone and I appreciate that she posted her informative review.

Steve was open, honest and very responsive to my questions. He advised me in a few areas where I wasn't sure - such as suggesting a black Buffalo Horn nut rather than typical bone. This nut adds some visual contrast with the Maple headplate and the light Rosewood fretboard.

Steve posted photos of my custom banjo at his website, in case you are interested in seeing it: www.stonebanjo.com - #21044X 

 

Overall Rating: 10

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