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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!

7027 reviews in the archive.

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

Gold Tone: OB150

Submitted by Va Picker (see all reviews from this person) on 3/6/2021

Where Purchased: banjoteacher.com

Year Purchased: 2021
Price Paid: $999. ($US)

Sound

Wanted a maple banjo & this "Jo" is complelely maple.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Banjo was shipped from Gold Tone direct & I checked the action, intonation and head tenson when the banjo arrived & all were perfect.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

I've owned some high-end banjos & this one compares evenly with those that cost 3x the cost.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Fit & finish is very impressive compared to other banjos in this price range.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

No complaints with Ross Nickerson or Gold Tone. Banjo was shipped FEDEX & it arrived in 2 days.

Customer Service: 10

Components

All banjo parts appear to be of top quality. I wouldn't expect to have any issue with any of the components later on.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I wasn't sure what to expect when I bought this Gold Tone, especially in this price range. But after scrutinizing the fit/finish and the playability, I certainly would recommend this instrument to anyone in the market for a high-quality banjo.

Overall Rating: 10

Pisgah Woodchuck: Woodchuck

Submitted by richardbernier (see all reviews from this person) on 3/5/2021

Where Purchased: Elderly Instruments

Year Purchased: 2021
Price Paid: 1400 ($US)

Sound

Fits my overhand style. It was set-up by Pisgah Banjo Co before shipping to Elderly. Is plenty loud with a rolled brass tone ring.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

It was set up when I purchased it. Action is just right for clawhammer. I have made no changes

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

The banjo is very nice. It has a gold colored tension hoop which contrasts with the dark pot made of Ash. This is a very simple banjo. It is the least expensive of all the Pisgah models. The entire banjo is Ash, stained lighter on the neck and black on the pot.The finger board is a synthetic called Richlite

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

So far (owned one week) it's help up fine. Pisgah builds excellent banjos.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Both Pisgah and Elderly are great to work with. Life time warranty.

Customer Service: 10

Components

As I mentioned it's really nice looking the gold and black provide a beautiful contrast.
it's a very basic banjo. Elderly added an arm rest for me and a fiber skin head. All the hardware is first class.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

As a fairly new player I would have liked some side markers; this banjo has the fretboard inlay markers but no side dots.

Overall Rating: 10

Osborne Chief: Chief

Submitted by HSmith (see all reviews from this person) on 3/2/2021

Where Purchased: Private sale

Year Purchased: 2016
Price Paid: Don't Remember (bought USED) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

I'd been playing a maple Stelling for 20+ years, but felt I wanted a softer, 'Gibson-like' sound. This is a mahogany Chief with the Blaylock ring and it gives me just the sound I was hoping for.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

When I bought it, the bridge had a split in it and I didn't think the setup was great. I replaced the bridge with a heavy 5/8" Snuffy, fitted a new head and set it at 91 with the drum dial. Action at the 12th fret is 1/8"

Setup Rating: 6

Appearance

The inlay work is sensational, no sign of any filler, and it's my all-time-favourite 'Flying Eagle'. I wasn't sure about the speed neck finish, but now I've played it a while I wouldn't go back to a 'normal' neck. The neck profile is great for me, I like a slim, narrow neck. Initially, I wasn't sure about the gold plating but now I love it.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

All the hardware seems to be of the very highest quality. The gold plating is as good as new, even on the armrest, despite being more than six years old.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

I bought the banjo used, and know nothing of it's history. As I'm in the UK, it's impractical to think of sending it back to Frank Neat or Sonny should I ever have a problem. However, it's so well built I don't imagine that will ever be a problem.

Customer Service: not rated

Components

The banjo came with a Presto tailpiece, but I've replaced that with a gold Grover two-hump because I find them more reliably adjustable. I can't imagine any need to change anything else.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

I was on vacation in Austria when I saw an ad showing this banjo for sale in the UK.  The banjo looked so beautiful in the photographs, I was concerned that the playability and sound would not match its stunning appearance!  However, I emailed the vendor and asked him to hold it until I could return to the UK to try it.  He agreed, and within two weeks I had the banjo in my hands.  Despite the setup issues described earlier, it was all I was looking for.  Those of you residing in the USA may find it hard to understand just how lucky I am to have found such an instrument for sale in the UK.  I've never seen another over here.  Not one in more than 50 years of playing!  I remain convinced that I'll never need to buy another acoustic banjo.  If it were lost, stolen or damaged beyond repair, it would be impossible to replace (in the UK) at anything like a reasonable cost.

It's my dream banjo, I've waited a long, long time to find it.  I'm a lucky man. 

Overall Rating: 10

Gold Star: J.D. Crowe model

Submitted by Brian (see all reviews from this person) on 2/21/2021

Where Purchased:

Year Purchased: 2020
Price Paid: 1800 ($US)

Sound

This is a great sub $2,000 banjo, especially if you find a used one for a lot less than $2,000. This banjo was a NOS 2017 that I bought in 2020. It is hard to describe my likes and dislikes with this banjo's sound. It had incredible first, second and fourth strings. The G strings had overtones that I did not like. I tried various things to get rid of them but I could not. I also changed the strings and bridge, adjusted the tail piece and head tension.

Ultimately, it sounded like a sub $2,000 banjo to me. It was extremely loud, which isn't a bad thing, but given it's tonal qualities it was not enjoyable to me. Add in the overtones and I could not deal with it.

Given the price new, there are way too many used banjos for a few hundred more dollars that have much better sound quality.

Sound Rating: 6

Setup

It was set up well when received. There was a slight buzz when using the capo but I attribute that to the climate change between where it was purchased and where I live. It was easily fixed by adjusting the truss rod a little bit.

As mentioned above, I tried to make this banjo sound better. I changed the strings and bridge. I moved the tail piece up and down, and adjusted the head tension by ear and with a drum dial.

Setup Rating: 8

Appearance

The banjo was beautiful. Fretboard inlays were really nice. Wood selection was great. Metal parts were nice enough.

A big complaint for me was the rim. When looking at the tone ring and rim from inside, it was clear something was out of round. Measuring the rim showed that it was .105" out. Whether this contributed to the sound issues mentioned above, I don't know. But the tone ring fit wasn't consistent all the way around the pot. The pot was longer from neck to tail piece than from fifth to first string.

Appearance Rating: 8

Reliability

The tuners were definitely not the best I have experienced with previous banjos owned (Hatfield, Stelling, Osborne Chief and RB3). I considered changing them out but ultimately didn't want to invest the money in the banjo. I always wondered about the tail piece but it said Presto so I assume it was.

Reliability Rating: 7

Customer Service

I did deal with a company and they were very gracious. After 2 and a half months of frustration with this banjo, we came to an agreement on a refund at less than price paid new. I think this is more than fair given that I had it for 2.5 months.

Customer Service: 10

Components

As mentioned above, the tuners were not of high quality compared to other high quality banjos I've owned. I also have no idea what ring was used. It was a no hole ring.

Components Rating: 7

Overall Comments

Look, I'm not trying to bash this banjo. I think for the price new it is an exceptional banjo. I was trying to get back into banjo and didn't want to spend a whole bunch of money. I once bought a Fender banjo used for $600 which was also exceptional given the price.

This JD-100 just didn't work out for me. People love these Gold Stars so I thought I would give it a try. There are just too many other banjos in the used market for not a whole lot more money that are much better banjos than this particular one.

You can buy these for $1650 all day long! That's an incredible value for what you get! But IMHO, this particular banjo does not stack up very well against the used market. Ultimately, I bought a used Huber for $3,000 (which I will also review after having some time with it). It is not fair to compare the two.

What I've learned is that there are no shortcuts to that wonderful Gibson sound. You literally have to pay to play.

 

Overall Rating: 7

Nechville: Meteor Electric

Submitted by HSmith (see all reviews from this person) on 2/6/2021

Where Purchased: Private sale

Year Purchased: 2004
Price Paid: Don't Remember (bought USED) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

Considering the small head and the acoustic damping behind it, the Meteor produces a surprisingly good banjo sound acoustically. When played through a suitable practice amp and headphones, a very wide range of sounds can be created. The big plus is (and this is why I bought it) it's a mere whisper when compared to a conventional Mastertone type banjo.

Sound Rating: 8

Setup

The action is quite low, with no buzzing anywhere. The compound radius on the fingerboard is very comfortable, and if I were having a banjo built today, I'd want a similar radius on the board. The profile of the neck is perfect for me, but I'd prefer the fingerboard to be slightly narrower.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

I guess it's an acquired taste, but I think it looks fantastic. It has a conventional 5th string (not tunneled) so is clearly a five string banjo, but the cut-away, metal-rimmed body is a real eye catcher. I understand mine is a prototype and has a super cool black metal-flake finish on the outer frame which I think they don't use now. The wood around the head has a beautiful flame and mid-brown sunburst colour. The neck is natural curly maple with no stain and looks sensational.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Tuning pegs are high quality guitar type. Tailpiece is a conventional design and seems robust. Finish on woodwork is very high gloss and after countless hours of playing has remained unmarked. Electrics seem to be good quality, no noise comes from the volume controls when in use.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

Never dealt direct with Nechville, but Tom has a great reputation and I would feel very comfortable to approach him if I ever had a problem.

Customer Service: not rated

Components

I think some kind of armrest would be useful.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

Overall I find the Meteor to be a unique looking, superbly designed and crafted alternative to a conventional banjo.  I needed it to permit me to practice for long hours at home without inconveniencing my wife and neighbours.  My main instrument is an Osborne Chief, and I think that could be heard in the next county! The Meteor is a beautiful instrument in its own right, and feels great to play.  In the past I've used an electric banjo from another major manufacturer, and I very much prefer the Meteor in every way.  I would recommend it without reservation. 

Overall Rating: 9

Romero: 13" Walnut

Submitted by bosborne (see all reviews from this person) on 1/30/2021

Where Purchased: Online

Year Purchased: 2009
Price Paid: $2500 ($US)

Sound

This is my #1 banjo, because of its sound. Warm, not sharp. I play with a fairly heavy thumbpick - three-finger - so the bass notes are strong. This one also has good volume. Compared to the Chuck Lee it has less "plunk". Very good sustain. Play close to the neck and it's mellow, close to the bridge and it's bright, I do both, so there's good variety. I play with Romero's own medium strings, 3/4" bridge, and it has a goat skin from Seeders, which gives it even more warmth.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Yes, perfectly set up.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

The walnut is very pretty, and it has custom inlay on the neck. No flaws, perfectly done. The design on the neck was not done by the Romeros, in retrospect I could have provided a more interesting one.

Appearance Rating: 7

Reliability

I've had it for 12 years, it's aging well. No change to the finish, looks like it did 12 years ago.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

The Romeros treat their customers very well.

Customer Service: 10

Components

I did replace the Renaissance head with a skin head, which made it even better.

Components Rating: 8

Overall Comments

I don't know if you can get a better open back than one from the Romeros.

Overall Rating: 10

Recording King: Elite 75

Submitted by jmyers (see all reviews from this person) on 1/25/2021

Where Purchased: Banjobuyer.com

Year Purchased: 2021
Price Paid: 1699 ($US)

Sound

I play Scruggs-style, and it is exactly what i was looking for -- a bright, crackling tone, but with enough guts and deep-end, as well. This thing really pops! Crystal-clear up the neck.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

I was taken aback by how playable this banjo is. Top-notch setup done by Ed Weber (former Gibson setup guy of 30 years!). Perfect action/intonation.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Very attractive instrument, modeled after the prewar Granadas. Double-cut headstock. Presto tailpiece.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

All components appear to be high quality; although when i was playing up the neck, and really bending the strings farther than normal, it needed retuning.

Reliability Rating: 8

Customer Service

Customer service and banjobuyer.com is top-notch. Owner/teacher/life coach Ross Nickerson is tops to deal with; he is probably much busier than I am, but gives the impression that he has all day to chat with you about your purchase! He also tossed in 5 free DVD's; fee strap; extra set of strings; extra set of picks;. Would recommend both the banjo, and the vendor!

Customer Service: 10

Components

I upgraded to the Snuffy Smith bridge with compensated G;
Would consider upgrading the tuners, but the jury is out on that one.
Ross installed the 'zero glide' nut at no charge.

Components Rating: not rated

Overall Comments

Overall Rating: 9

Gold Tone: OB150

Submitted by camlan (see all reviews from this person) on 1/22/2021

Where Purchased: Tom Lee Music North Vancouver BC

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

Sound

I have owned and do own banjos over $5000 and the OB150 sounds very strong for a $1000 banjo. I believe it is the tone ring and basic construction with real Gibson Mastertone type parts that really make this happen. This banjo has a real good bluegrass or modern tone. It has lots of sustain if you want it, all the way up the neck. Excellent quality of sound once you get a good high quality bridge - Snuffy Smith

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

They did a great job at Gold Tone and Tom Lee. Just lowered action, brought head up to G#, and put Crowe 9.5 - 20's on. Compared to other banjos, this banjo does have a bit more string tension due to the length of the nut to bridge, so be ready for that. If you like low string tension, this may not be your banjo.

Setup Rating: 8

Appearance

Looks great for a $1000 banjo and is very traditional looking. Nice craftsmanship in general and looks great. Inlays look authentic and the wood work is beautiful. Love the satin finish which is well done.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

Time will tell. Looks super solid though, unlike many other brands at that price point.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

Gold Tone customer service are good people. Very eager to help with setup or any questions you may have. I am very impressed with their approach and they are very reasonable and attentive.

Customer Service: 10

Components

The banjo has solid wood and Gibson clone parts that make it sound as great as it does. I am very pleased with the components and the tuners seem fine and easy to use. Very nice case for this price point as well. Gibson-like neck with some volume to it. If you are looking for a neck like a fender electric guitar, buy a Deering.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

I am very pleased with this banjo at this price point. I feel you get a lot more bang for the buck with this banjo due to the surprising build and tone you might expect from a $3000 Deering. Very impressed. Please note that this banjo has more of a Gibson traditional neck shape and slightly higher string tension. So if you have small hands, or you don't like higher tension on your strings, then you might be better off with another banjo. I have small hands but like the Gibson neck feel, and I am fine with the string tension, which I find speeds up my left hand anyway. 80% of players will likely not even notice the string tension. I was nervous buying a Chinese banjo, but this thing is really well made. Again, sounds fantastic for bluegrass or more modern styles, lots of tone range as you play out from the bridge. Gold Tone have hit this one out of the park! I will still prefer playing my $5000 Hopkins, but this is a very respectable jam and traveler banjo which was my reason for buying it. It has a very nice sound which is different than my Hopkins and so I will play both alot for variety sake.

Overall Rating: 10

Wildwood: Troubadour

Submitted by clawgrasser (see all reviews from this person) on 1/17/2021

Where Purchased: Guitar Center Chattanooga

Year Purchased: 2019
Price Paid: 1200 ($US) (bought USED)

Sound

This banjo suits my clawhammer style only when STUFFED. Unstuffed it is much much too ringy for me. This was also true of an old Vega Tubaphone I had. Just a part of the Tubaphone tone ring sound. Stuffing calms the beast down. Otherwise, the tone is rich and full with a ringy edge. I had thought of using this banjo for some bluegrass, but I guess my bluegrass days are behind me.

Sound Rating: 8

Setup

The setup was okay initially, but I removed the Waverly tailpiece and replaced with a No Knot to make the tone more old time. I also replaced the head because fibre was separating from the skin on the Fibreskin. Otherwise, condition was as new although banjo has some years on it. The banjo used modern coordinator rods instead of traditional dowel stick. I would prefer dowel stick.

Setup Rating: 8

Appearance

The banjo has a blond maple neck of uncommon flame and beauty. The rim is a heavy block affair of matching maple. This construction makes the pot heavier than it needs to be. The ebony fretboard has tasteful pearl inlays. All metal parts are heavily nickel plated. Finish is polished gloss. Everything looks as new.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Top rate wood finish and metal plating. This thing is built like a tank.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

No contact with maker - he is retired. Guitar Centers Pro Plan is a no so funny ha ha JOKE.

Customer Service: 3

Components

Beautiful curly maple neck. Top notch metal parts. Rim is built too heavily. A 1/2" 2 or 3 ply rim would be lighter and give better tone.

Components Rating: 8

Overall Comments

A really well built tank like banjo of solid construction.  The banjo is too heavy and unstuffed tone is too ringy.  Stuffing tames it down to appropriate level.   Tradional dowel stick would be preferable to coordinator rods.  Block built rim is indestructible but heavy.

This is a beautiful banjo, but does not equal my Eastman Whyte Laydie, which feels great and is perfect tonally.  But the Wildwood is a very good banjo and should last forever. 

Overall Rating: 8

Eastman: EBJ-WL

Submitted by clawgrasser (see all reviews from this person) on 1/16/2021

Where Purchased: Guitar Center

Year Purchased: 2020
Price Paid: 995 ($US) (bought USED)

Sound

I play clawhammer and melodic clawhammer. This banjo suits my style better than any other old time banjo I have owned so far, and I've owned many. The sound is sweet/bright, rich, articulate. No harshness or brashness. The banjo is great for old time or classical. Certainly not a bluegrass sound

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

The banjo was basically well set up. I removed the existing bridge and replaced with an 11/16" by Bailes and replaced the strings. That's all I've done.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

The banjo is a faithful recreation of a Fairbanks Whyte Laydie #2 from circa 1908. The rim and 3 piece laminated neck are blond maple. The inlays are Whyte Laydie style #2 with attractive engraving. The hardware, including bracket band, are all meticulously accurate Whyte Laydie reproductions. The wood selection is very appropriate for a Whyte Laydie reproduction. All hardware is clean and like new.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Finish and hardware are fine. Looks like it will last for 100 years.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

No dealing with manufacturer or seller. I'm a retired instrument tech and I do my own repairs.

Customer Service: 5

Components

The best features of this banjo is the accuracy of the original Whyte Laydie #2 reproduction and quality of the execution. It's not some generic "Whyte laydie" style banjo like Gold Tone or Deering do, but a meticulously accurate recreation.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

This banjo is the best old time banjo I have owned.  It has a great feel, great playability, and a refined and articulate tone.  I have owned banjos by Chanterelle (3), Bart Reiter, a Vega Little Wonder, a Vega Tubaphone, Luscombe, Recording King, and I currently own a 1900 Rettberg and Lang and a Wildwood Troubadour.  This is the best yet. 

Overall Rating: 10

Cedar Mountain: J200 Curly Maple

Submitted by nightingale (see all reviews from this person) on 1/3/2021

Where Purchased: Direct from Cedar Mountain

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

Sound

I customized this banjo to have a Dobson tone ring. To me there is something about the sound of a Dobson tone ring. This banjo did not disappoint and It gives me the tone I was looking for. It has a beautiful bell like, chimey tone. Wonderful for slower tunes where the notes ring out. I play clawhammer and this has the sound I was hoping for.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

The action was set up a touch high, so I just use a lower bridge on it. The bridge placement was perfect.

It has a Renaissance head and I did play with the tension and have it set perfectly now. Other than that, no changes needed.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

I did refinishing years ago and so am very critical of wood and grains used in instruments. I was extremely happy with the curly maple wood on the neck and pot. The banjo has beautiful curly maple, expertly matched. It is a joy to look at. I had stars and moon added on the headstock and a shooting star on the fifth fret. It looks amazing. No finish flaws anywhere. Just beautiful craftstmanship.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

This banjo will last a lifetime. Hardware, wood, finish - all top notch. I would use this anywhere, band, solo - its just a great banjo.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

I've never had to use their customer service. I'm sure they would be extremely helpful if I did need to. Tim was super helpful with any questions I had and if he had a question he didn't hesitate to ask me. It was a pleasure dealing with him.

Customer Service: 10

Components

The only thing I will probably upgrade in the future will be the tailpiece. But for now it is fine. All pieces are solid.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

This was my first "custom" banjo.  This is a lifetime keeper with wonderful tone and construction.  I like that the woods are local and its is built locally.  I feel like I have an open back banjo closer to what was actually played by the people of the mountain/Appalachian region.

I waited over a year to write a review as I did not want to write one during the "honeymoon" phase.  I play this almost every day and have really gotten to know it and just sounds better with age. 

I would recommend Cedar Mountain to anyone looking for a custom banjo.

Overall Rating: 10

Gold Tone: Plucky

Submitted by artenacken (see all reviews from this person) on 1/2/2021

Where Purchased: Private

Year Purchased: 2020
Price Paid: (Pound) (bought USED) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

Bright sound

Sound Rating: 7

Setup

Not set up at all , changed everything, tuners, strings , tailpiece, added more tension hooks,

Setup Rating: 1

Appearance

Nice to look at

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

No changed it all

Reliability Rating: 5

Customer Service

Customer Service: not rated

Components

Nice wood

Components Rating: not rated

Overall Comments

I changed everything on this banjo , added more tension hooks, changed strings, changed tuners, changed tailpiece, changed tuning to G , and ........I love it can't stop picking it up and playing it ! Only thing I don't like is the shiny skin which allows the bridge to move, but seems I can't get a frosted skin in the correct size can only get the same kind otherwise I would replace that also please note overall rating is AFTER I changed everything I could 

Overall Rating: 8

Ibanez: B300

Submitted by DocSavino (see all reviews from this person) on 12/29/2020

Where Purchased: Melody Music Shop on Reverb based in Indiana

Year Purchased: 2020
Price Paid: 459.95 ($US)

Sound

AFTER PROPER SET UP, I was amazed at how nice it sounded! I am not even going to qualify it by saying “for a cheaper banjo “, it sounded as nice as the last couple Gibson RB250’s I had which sold for $2k each area! Good sustain, very Scruggs sound.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

NO SET UP. Cheap strings. When I called them, they told me that they do not bother setting up “beginner banjos” as they were so in expensive and as they felt most beginners could not tell the difference anyway. As delivered, Drum pressure was under 80#, all tuners were loose and 5th tuner was not seated properly. Took her apart, tightened the head to 90#, tightened coordinator bars, replaced strings with D’Addario strings, tightened tuners up, adjusted tailpiece higher and retuned. Adjusted the action, replacing the bridge with a Snuffy Smith 5/8. Tightened, retuned and reassembled.! Only issue is the 5th string tuner, which I will need to replace as it was not installed properly and weak tuners which do not hold tight.

Setup Rating: 1

Appearance

Out of the box it looked very nice, acrylic inlays were beautifully done & level. If I did not know otherwise, would have thought they were abalone. Frets set correctly and neck straight/ set against pot well.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Cheap tuners, plastic nut, well done and solid finishing. Metal well chromed which should last long.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

Messaged them about the damaged 5th tuner and they responded “if it works as intended it does not matter that it is broken”. I then called them and was told I had to only deal with them through messengering on Reverb.com . I then questioned them about lack of setup. (NO SET UP) When I called them, they told me that they often do not bother setting up “beginner banjos” as they were so inexpensive and as they felt most beginners could not tell the difference anyway. I was surprised by this response... all I can assume is that it was a novice salesperson speaking out of turn. Melody Music's resolution on the 5th string tuner was to refund the 25$ I suggested 25$ to cover a new one. response received today.

Customer Service: 1

Components

Stand out is the resonator abalone inlays, etched arm rest, neck acrylic inlay and the Chrome 2-piece flange. Weakness is the tuners, they seem not to hold tight, even after adjustment.  Just ordered a full set of Gotoh Geared tuners ($112 from banjo.com) to replace them. Also, the head stock looks good, but be aware the detail is painted, not inlays.

Components Rating: 7

Overall Comments

All in all, full investment, with my upgraded tuners. is about $570...At that price you have a surprisingly nice, light weight, good sounding banjo.  Comparable to a mid-70's or late 90's Gibson Workhorse /RB250... at this price definitely a banjo you would not die if it got damaged while playing in a Jam or by the campfire.  While my Huber's and Stelling will still be my instrument of Choice, this is VERY ACCEPTABLE!

Overall Rating: 9

Nechville: Midnight Phantom

Submitted by Bill H (see all reviews from this person) on 12/27/2020

Where Purchased: The Banjo Warehouse

Year Purchased: 2020
Price Paid: $3250 ($US) (bought USED)

Sound

I am a claw hammer player in the process of learning Scruggs style. This is my first banjo with a 20 hole bluegrass style tone ring. This banjo has volume to spare and the clearest, cleanest tone I have ever heard. Even my wife commented on the clarity. It sounds great played claw hammer style as well--incredibly articulate. Each note is so clean and clear. Since Covid I have not had the chance to play it in a group setting and can't wait to bring it to a jam. The adjustments on this banjo make it incredibly easy to tweak head tension, tailpiece or action to dial in just the tone to just what I want (which of course is subject to change at any time).

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

The setup was near perfect when it arrived (actually in tune). I did have an issue with the fifth string slipping off 7th fret spike. When I contacted The Banjo Warehouse Joe offered to take it back to make the adjustment, but I couldn't bear to part with my new banjo, so I fixed it myself. One good tap with feeler gauge under the head so I didn't overdrive the spike and the problem was solved.

I took some time to acclimate myself to the Midnight Phantom before I made any changes. Nechville has reinvented the banjo, so it was not anything like my vintage Vega and Fairbanks banjos. The banjo came with medium strings and a top frosted head. After a few weeks I swapped the strings for light gauge, my usual
preference, and then swapped the frosted head for a Renaissance head. I also lowered the action a bit using the Allen adjustment screw in the heel of the neck. The Heli-mount system makes head adjustments and replacement super easy. I experimented a bit with head tension until I found the sound I liked, and when I checked it with a drum dial, it read 90. Because of the unique head tensioning system Nechville uses, the tension was dead even at every single spot I checked. I have to believe that has something to do with the extreme clarity of each and every note. There is no trace of an overtone ever, like with my 1924 Tubaphone or my Martin Vega VIP.

I couldn't be happier with the results of my tweaks to the setup. I feel the banjo now has the versatility for claw hammer, and a deeper, more mellow tone when played with picks. I love that I can swap out heads and adjust head tension with the strings in place at full tension. The one other tweak I did was to adjust the truss rod to put a bit of relief in the neck. The neck was dead straight when I received the banjo. Tom Nechville has a video for every aspect of banjo adjustment and care, so I used his guidance as I went. The truss rod was super responsive compared to any other one I have adjusted. Just a fraction of a turn and the neck relief was perfect.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

I fell in love with the minimalist, contemporary look of the Midnight Phantom the minute I saw it listed in the Hangout Classifieds being offered by The Banjo Warehouse. It was technically a used banjo, but evidently only a few months old. It looked brand new when it arrived.

The Midnight Phantom has a 3-ply maple rim, stunning curly maple neck and resonator stained dark brown. The fretboard is radiused ebony with small off-center dots. While the neck looks bound because the fret ends don't show, it is not. The frets rest in dead-end slots--the look supports the clean minimalist style of the Phantom as does the sleek guitar-style head stock and tunneled fifth string.

Then there is the Heli-mount frame, clean, smooth top edge with no hooks sticking up, and a matte black finish that completes the ultra contemporary Midnight Phantom look.

Tom Nechville has completely reimagined the banjo--I don't know why it took me so long to notice.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

From the outside in, this banjo is well designed, sturdy and solid. The finish and every aspect of the instrument is flawless.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Service from The banjo Warehouse was outstanding. I have had no reason to contact Nechville for any issues involving this banjo. With the lifetime warranty and Nechville' s reputation I am confident that customer service will be available if ever needed.

Customer Service: 10

Components

Standard with the Midnight Phantom is a tunneled fifth string, beautiful finish, compound radius fretboard, curly maple neck and resonator, 20-hole bronze alloy tone ring, and 3-ply maple rim. There is no compromise of quality with any aspect of this banjo.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I find the Midnight Phantom by Nechville an exciting and fun banjo to own and play. In fact, I love my Midnight Phantom so much that I ordered a custom mahogany Moonshine open back with the Nechville hybrid tone ring. Due to arrive in early spring. Can't wait.

Overall Rating: 10

Snowbird Banjo Co: SBO-11 Barn Owl

Submitted by Camrocket79 (see all reviews from this person) on 12/21/2020

Where Purchased: Snowbird Banjo Co. Ava Missouri

Year Purchased: 2020
Price Paid: Don't Remember historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

I fell in Love with Old Time Music and This Banjo has surpassed any expectations I had of it! It’s Super Rich and I Love everything about this Banjo!
Lord Hammercy!!

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

He had it setup Perfect when I bought it..I haven’t had to make any changes to it thus far!!

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

You can put a microscope on this Banjo!! Every line, Every Groove, Every Thing is Perfect! I have tried and tried to find a flaw and haven’t yet!!
https://snowbirdbanjo.com/product/sbo20002-snowbird-barn-owl/?fbclid=IwAR0qDxqgSI0e6pnYiRFJGWle09nFq2R7x8FB8unurAzTEtudqNPVsYZfr24
Heres a link to this very Banjo!!

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Again! I can say enough about the craftsmanship of this Banjo! All the Hardware is High Quality! No problems whatsoever! HES BUILDING MY NEXT BANJO FOR SURE!!

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Jeremy is very Helpful and visits and explains anything you need for as long as you need! Very Friendly indeed!! He built it he can fix it! Customer service is top notch!

Customer Service: 10

Components

No Cheap parts here! No weak Parts!!

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

 

I’m hooked on the craftsmanship and sound quality that my “Barn Owl” Banjo provides and am more then pleased with it! I couldn’t recommend these banjos anymore for anyone just starting out or at the top of there game! Hats off to Snowbird Banjo for truly making a dream come true!!

Overall Rating: 10

Gold Tone: BU-1

Submitted by waxingorange (see all reviews from this person) on 10/30/2020

Where Purchased: GearTree

Year Purchased: 2020
Price Paid: 219 ($US)

Sound

I really like the sound, it has a very warm, old-time vibe that draws the ear in, with a bit of a banjo punch, very loud. It sounds more like a ukulele than a banjo, like 70% ukulele 30% banjo, which is my only “complaint”. It has a pickup, which I used only a few times, but it does a good job. Personally I think it sounds better with a standard mic. This is a personal preference, but I changed the strings out, Martin fluorocarbons sound great on it, giving it more of a bright tone, as I found the original strings to be a bit dull and flabby.

Sound Rating: 8

Setup

The setup was pretty good, nothing bad to speak of. Bridge was laid flat, but positioning it was pretty easy, especially because of the relatively short scale length. I do think it’s important to mention that when I changed the strings, the bridge was very unstable, and kept falling over, I had to hold it in place while tuning the instrument. Another thing was that I actually really love the tail piece, it holds the strings well and made stringing it up pretty painless. For the price, nothing to bellyache over.

Setup Rating: 8

Appearance

I really love the look of it, the fretboard is a uniform black wood, with cream colored binding that matches the rim. It has a very classic aesthetic. The sunburst on the neck is a really cool touch, along with the side dot markers. My favorite aesthetic feature is the tailpiece, it’s very pretty, while still being functional. This is a personal preference, but I really think back facing tuners would have looked better, but it probably would have raised the price so I can see why they went with side facing ones instead.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

In a facepalm moment I slammed it into a wooden bed frame. Twice. All that, and it only created a small, almost unnoticeable indent on the headstock. I, admittedly, wasn’t expecting the instrument to be this well-built at this price point. They put a lot of thought into giving you a good value for your money, it’s a very solid product. The finish on the wood seems pretty solid, and there’s no fret sharpness. The pickup would make it great for taking on gigs, especially since it’s sturdy and cheap, I also wouldn’t worry too much about traveling around with it for busking. I will have to knock a few points off because the tuners... Could be better. I mean, they aren’t the worst things in the world, but the quality just doesn’t hold up to the rest of the instrument, which is really a shame. The feeling of turning them is very inconsistent, and the knobs are very janky. Too bad, but I guess they could be switched out pretty easily and they do what they’re supposed to.

Reliability Rating: 8

Customer Service

I didn’t buy this directly through Gold Tone, but I can’t recommend GearTree more. They were very helpful, and bundled a bunch of other stuff with the instrument, they even worked out shipping to my location, which usually wouldn’t be covered. Gold Tone offers a warranty for their products that seems pretty solid, and registering your instrument is pretty easy.

Customer Service: 10

Components

As mentioned above, everything is pretty solid, with the exception of the tuners. I’d say, maybe look into replacements, but for the price, it wasn’t really worth it for me personally. I really like the hardware around the rim, very solid. Gold Tone even includes a little wrench to tighten the head.

Components Rating: 8

Overall Comments

Overall? I think this is a great value intrument, especially at this price point. It sounds good, it's built well, I have no regrets about buying it, and would highly recommend it to anyone that wants to dabble in banjoukes without investing a ton in it. 

Overall Rating: 9

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