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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!

6878 reviews in the archive.

Gibson: Earl Scruggs Standard

Submitted by SBPARK (see all reviews from this person) on 11/18/2019

Where Purchased: Private seller

Year Purchased: 2019
Price Paid: 2500 ($US) (bought USED)

Sound

Sound is as expected from a Gibson. Very dynamic. Big, full, rich sound and has a nice percussive rhythm when vamping up the neck, and nice, bright and loud when played closer to the bridge, but never harsh. I have another banjo, a Recording King RK-36, which is an amazing banjo but the ESS just seems to have more of everything. What really surprised me about the ESS is how clear it sounds when played high up the neck. Aside from a few RK's I've never played any other banjos and I'm relatively inexperienced, but I really think this banjo sounds great.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

I bought this banjo from the original owner who purchased it new in 2000 and apparently didn't play it much. No idea if they ever had it set-up, or what was done to it. I cleaned it up, changed the head and did a basic set-up on it and had a local luthier install spikes. DIdn't need anything else.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

It's a beautiful banjo. Looks incredible without going over the top. Beautiful inlays and the flame maple resonator and neck are really, really nice on this banjo.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

This banjo has survived close to 20 years so far and everything on it is original and fully functional, so I'd say it's very dependable.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Not the original owner, and no need to deal with Gibson Customer Service, so can't really comment on this section, so I gave it a rating of 5, which is neutral.

Customer Service: 5

Components

Tuners (Waverly's?) are super smooth, Presto tailpiece works as expected, Kulesh tone ring, and all other hardware is quality.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

Can't really say enough about this banjo. It's beautiful to look at and it's wonderful to play. Didn't need, and wasn't in the market for, or even deserve a second banjo at this point of my banjo playing journey, but when it crossed my path I figured I probably wouldn't get a chance to won such a great instrument in this condition at this price. It inspires me to play it and I look forward to it every day.

Overall Rating: 9

Zachary Hoyt: #88 - 12" Walnut Wood Tonering

Submitted by nwambue (see all reviews from this person) on 11/18/2019

Where Purchased: From Zach direct

Year Purchased: 2018
Price Paid: $930 ($US)

Sound

Overall the sound is great. It has a rich, full tone, as one would expect from a 12" walnut pot. Zach's uncapped maple bridge adds a lot of brightness. I have tried a few other bridges, but haven't found anything better yet. Eventually would like something a little less bright. The wood towering definitely provides plenty of 'plunk', with the right about of decay and sustain for the sound I like.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

Overall setup was good, although I do have to deal with 4th string buzz anytime I am in double C tuning. Doesn't seem to be an issue when the string is in D with open G, sawmill, or Cumberland Gap tuning. The banjo came with a no-knot tailpiece which I have replaced with a cast bronze brooks tailpiece. That added a lot for the looks, and I think a little bit more down-pressure and punch to the sound. The bridge is also a pretty non-standard size - 13/16", so looking for alternate bridges to try is not easy. No-go with anything lower either, as that will make the action too low and further contribute to string buzz. Also, with the s-scoop on the fretboard, I think there should be a notch in the tension hoop where the neck meets the pot to allow for clearance of your thumb if playing over the fretboard. This hasn't been critical to me, as I have naturally been more comfortable playing over the head. Although, not sure if that is because at the beginning I never felt I could get my thumb under the 5th string due to string height, tension hoop missing a notch, etc.

Setup Rating: 6

Appearance

Beautiful banjo overall. After a year of heavy playing, the raw brass is showing some pitting/corrosion where there is no hand-wear, such as the inside of the tension hoop. All other exposed brass hardware is wearing nicely. Haven't decided if I will antique the hardware, or just polish it up. Finish of the pot and neck is very nice, just not perfect. There were several light scratches on the pot when I received it. The s-scoop on the fretboard could have used some further sanding as well. Overall, very nice for the cost though.

Appearance Rating: 8

Reliability

After a year of heavy playing, it is very reliable. This is a very solid, well made banjo. The wood finish on the neck and pot look the same as when I bought it. The raw brass is antiquing nicely where touched by my hands. The Gotoh tuners have been reliable, and hold tune well.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

Zach was very responsive when purchasing, shipped very quickly and was packaged well. Zach has quickly responded to any questions via email as well.

Customer Service: 10

Components

Nice components - Gotoh tuners, EVO fold frets, unique Van Eps style tension hoop (just needs the notch) and hardware. The frosted rennaissance head is nice, although I am looking to upgrade to a Balch skin head at some point.

Components Rating: 8

Overall Comments

Overall, I still feel that Zach's banjo's are one of the best values out there. From a build quality and feature perspective, the price is hard to beat.  Plus I love the sound I get with the 12" walnut pot and wood tonering profile.  That will only get better with a skin head.

Overall Rating: 8

Grafton: Clipper #2

Submitted by LorraineD (see all reviews from this person) on 11/15/2019

Where Purchased: Andy Perkins Traditional Instruments

Year Purchased: Sep 2018
Price Paid: £545 historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

Bought as an absolute beginner learning Scruggs style. Rolled Brass Tone Ring on a 15mm multi ply rim, a nice warm and full sound. Pretty loud and with good sustain.

Sound Rating: 8

Setup

Setup was just perfect, nicely set action, all neatly put together, all screws/bolts properly tensioned. Glen at Andy Banjo even marks the head with tape so that even a newbie like me can raise the bridge. I set it up on his marks and the intonation was spot on.

I should mention I am a lefty and we are not exactly spoiled for choice on the musical instrument front. Finding a source of an incredibly well set up lefty banjo was a joy!

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

A very plain look. Lovely satin finish all over, plain black binding, simple snowflake inlays and a plain peghead with a large single inlaid "Snowflake" and a "Grafton" inlay. The satin finish brings out the lovely grain on the resonator really well.

All of the hardware including nice two-band tuners and a New Kerchner tailpiece appear to be of excellent quality.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

I have used this banjo to go from total newbie to obsessed amateur loonie over about 15 months. Literally hundreds of hours played, banjo has stood up to all of that and still looks/feels/sounds as solid as a rock.

I have played it so much that on the back of the neck, particularly on the first five frets or so the palm of my hand has worn the satin finish to a glossy smoothness. Looks great and has "made it mine".

Neck is a "Grafton Wide Neck" which is 5mm wider than standard. Useful for a former bass player like me The "Bassists fat finger approach" has been hard to break and the wider neck really helps.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Glen at Andy Banjo does an outstanding job of set up etc. He is really helpful and knows his stuff. I just wish some of the guitars I have bought in the past were as well set up.

Recently took the banjo back for a service. Glen dressed the frets, put on yet more new strings (I do go through them!) and generally checked over the set up. £60 for that. Unbeatable.

I have just ordered and am awaiting delivery of a Lefty Clipper #4 custom build from them. That will be a full on flathead "masterclone" and I am betting it will be top notch.

Glen was really helpful, Whilst deciding I played a BG250L Gold Tone that he had in stock, nice but in the end I plumped for a custom build of a brand I feel I can really trust.

I even went "Fancy-Schmancy" by specifying real MOP buttons - they will probably be the most "bling" thing about a lovely plain and work like banjo.

Customer Service: 10

Components

All of the wood and all of the chrome is lovely. The two-band tuners are nice but now, a good few hundred playing hours in one of them feels a little notchy. I hear that since mine was built Glen has switched brand of tuner. My newly ordered custom build will have those better ones.

Banjo comes with 7/9th railroad spikes pre-fitted. A nice touch and they are very well done.

The rolled brass tone ring sounds amazingly good for what it is, the neck is superb.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

Most music shops here in the UK tend not to have too much of an emphasis on banjo and seem not to understand them as well as other instruments.

Perhaps that is reflected in their choice of instruments for sale.  Many of the inexpensive banjos for sale in musIc shops tend to be Chinese, some of them are okay but others are dire.  Setup can also be a problem when looking a banjo being supplied by someone who does not specialise in them.

In my opinion going to a specialist like Andy Banjo is the way to go for any newbie.  For a lefty newbie like me they have been incredibly helpful.

 

Overall Rating: 10

Carver: Tackhead Minstrel Banjo

Submitted by putasockinit (see all reviews from this person) on 11/7/2019

Where Purchased: www.carverbanjos.com

Year Purchased: 2019
Price Paid: 225 ($US)

Sound

This banjo produces a much richer, thumpier, more mellow sound than my Goodtime. I really like it, and my wife really likes the sound of it in the house (win-win).

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

The only set up I had to do was set the bridge at the recommended scale distance, and then tension the strings up the way I wanted (open F). I had some trouble with the first string because it kept popping over the top of the tuning peg as it got tight, when I realized what was happening I just kept some downward finger tension on the string so it wound itself around the peg at the bottom.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

The banjo is like a museum piece, very basic but authentic-looking old time oil (non varnished) finish on the wood, the tacks are even and smooth, not banged up, and the skin is trimmed evenly beneath the tacks. This is supposed to look old and very basic, but it does so in an elegant way.

The only thing I would change would be brass screws where the neck is joined to the tension rod (underneath), instead of steel.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

The smooth maple friction tuning pegs are surprisingly easy to use, and hold very solid. My wife is always complaining about her fiddle pegs, and I thought it would be an issue after using only geared tuners, but no problem.

I wonder how long the leather string-holder will hold up, but it would be simple to replace if it ever gives out.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

Very prompt and friendly. Brian even threw in an extra goat skin because I was worried about humidity issues versus synthetic.

Customer Service: 10

Components

Just the neck screws, and only because they don't look as "authentic" as brass would

Everything else is great, there's nothing to upgrade, it's so simple.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

If you haven't tried one of these old style fretless minstrel banjos, try it, and I would highly recommend Carver Banjos.   Really a different playing experience, loads of fun and a beautiful sound.   Brian says in one of his videos that even if you have only played fretted banjos, you won't have much trouble because the muscle memory is there.   He's right, I was really surprised how quickly I could play the tunes I know on the Carver.

Overall Rating: 9

Ibanez: B200

Submitted by vincefewo (see all reviews from this person) on 11/6/2019

Where Purchased: eBay music store

Year Purchased: 2018
Price Paid: Don't Remember (bought USED) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

I picked this up as a warranty return. I was looking for a travel banjo that wouldn’t break the bank. Out of the box it was bad. 5 string buzz, unresponsive, dull and hollow. Sustain 2 out of 5.

Sound Rating: 5

Setup

Between Ibanez and the retailer someone really dropped the ball on this. Starting at the top the strings had too much wound on the post. 5th string had cut into the binding and buzzed on the 5th fret as the peg was cut too deep. The neck was loose as was the head. Tailpiece was non adjustable because it was mis-stamped during manufacture. Resonator was loose and couldn’t tighten it due to jacked thread inserts.

Setup Rating: 1

Appearance

The tree inlay up the neck is the one and only one feature that’s nice on this instrument. The gloss shellac is thick as on most Asian banjos. Hardware is devoid of flash but looks like what it is, cheap. Under the resonator, base of heal were a couple nicks from something. Did it leave the factory like this? I hope not.

Appearance Rating: 6

Reliability

Hardware is thin and while shiny it’s still grainy because plating is so thin. 2 piece flange is OK overall. Tuners are ok with a moderate amount of slop in them. 5th string tuner seemed out of position. The tailpiece like I said, not made right and thin, just not good.

Reliability Rating: 2

Customer Service

N/A on this one. I can say that I got some of the original paperwork with the banjo and no customer service # anywhere. The website does have contact information but I have no experience.

Customer Service: 5

Components

The acrylic neck and headstock inlay are nice.
The pot and neck made from sapele wood. An African mahogany replacement. The block rim has 4 blocks.
Sloppy tuners.
Thin tailpiece.
Plastic nut.
Armrest is ok.
Chip wood resonator.
Felt on resonator heel notch not glued in.

Components Rating: 2

Overall Comments

Avoid unless it's free. Sorry to say.

so I fixed each and every issue and sound was improved from a 1 to a 5. All the money here is in the neck so the pot is so cheap as to ruin the whole thing.

Overall Rating: 3

Enoch: 11' fretless - model unknown

Submitted by clawgrasser (see all reviews from this person) on 10/26/2019

Where Purchased: Private party sale

Year Purchased: 2019
Price Paid: $600 ($US) (bought USED)

Sound

I know little about this banjo or its history. It's an 11" fretless banjo which I bought to play very traditional old time clawhammer pieces. It's exactly what one would want for that style, although a 12" might provide more bottom end. I would describe the tone as round and rich. It's hard to get bright out of of a fretless. I have yet to tinker with the setup, but might consider experimenting with nylgut strings or a skin head.

As is, the volume seems about average. The bass is less prominent than my Wildwood.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

The banjo was setup well when I received it. The neck was straight. I thought about deepening the slots, but I'll play it awhile first.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

It's a beautiful banjo in a simplistic way. It has a traditional "fiddle" shaped peghead with stylish pearl inlay, a cherry neck with classy carving starting at the fifth string peghead, satin lacquer finish, ebony fretless board, 1/2" inch rim finished in black satin lacquer, grooved tension hoop, first quality hardware (probably Stew Mac). It has a fibreskin head and noknot tailpiece. The quality throughout is professional first rate

No wear or flaws anywhere. Just some dust on the hardshell case and some film on the hardware from sitting unplayed for 15 years.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

First quality lacquer satin finish and professional best quality parts. As good as anything out there. I would rate the quality as superb.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Never dealt with the maker Kevin Enoch. I anticipate no problems. The banjo I bought used and out of warrantee. I'm a repairman and will repair it myself if ever needs it.

Customer Service: 10

Components

It's a simple quality banjo with first quality parts. What else do you need?

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I stumbled across this banjo by accident.  A dealer/collector friend was unloading some gear and he offered me this banjo at a bargain.  I don't know the model name.  It's something other that a Tradesman.  It has a typical banjo peghead, pearl inlay, and delicate neck carving starting at the 5th string peghead and curling down the back of the neck.

A great old time banjo I couldn't pass up.

Overall Rating: 10

Bell & Son: Boucher Minstrel

Submitted by Tidsguiden (see all reviews from this person) on 10/8/2019

Where Purchased: Online through maker

Year Purchased: 2019
Price Paid: $1261 (AUD) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

The banjo has the perfect Boucher sound. It's mellow and, quite importantly, it projects well, even without a resonator and tone ring.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

Banjo comes with bridge unplaced, as is traditional with there instruments. It plays very well, otherwise.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

My particular instrument was a special request. I asked Terry, the maker, to paint an inlay on instead of scribed frets. It came out beautifully, and I'm very happy with the look of my banjo. The metalwork on the Tim appears painted on, however, instead of being proper brass, and it's started to come off. Personally, I like this, as it gives it a rustic, worn feeling. Lacquer work is similarly rustic with uneven patches, same with the staining, but nothing you won't notice until you get up really close.

Appearance Rating: 8

Reliability

Though it feels really light (my housemate even joked that it was probably made of balsawood), this is likely because the entire thing is made mostly of wood. I've had this instrument for just over a month, now, and despite me lugging it around quite a bit, and I have not problems so far.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

Now here's where an otherwise great experience gets marred. It's been cropping up fairly regularly around here about the lack of communication provided by Terry himself. Personally, I didn't find out about this until after I'd already commissioned the instrument, but I chalked it up to Terry being older and perhaps not understanding the technology as well as others, or perhaps just being busy. And, besides, he was responding pretty consistently to my emails, if perhaps seeming a little vague about his timeline at points. All was going well until my banjo actually arrived. The instrument itself was fine, excellent I would say, and have said previously, but there was a problem. I had ordered, along with my banjo, a gig bag for ease of carry. Before he shipped it off, Terry did clarify that he was experiencing a delay in shipping of these gig bags, and that if they didn't arrive by a specific time, then he'd ship it anyway and try to get the Australian distributors to send me one. The banjo arrives, and as soon as it does, without the case, Terry completely ghosts me. I keep sending emails, ones as calm as I can write them, asking simply for information or clarification about what is going on and whether or not I was going to receive the gig bag I paid for. I'm not angry about this, but simply confused, and wanting answers.

Customer Service: 4

Components

Everything is handmade, as promised. Looks good, feels good.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

Overall, this is a great instrument, and I really enjoy playing it. 

It's a shame that I can't give this above average scores across the board, but unfortunately, Terry's either forgotten about my case, or can't send it to me and is too embarrassed to admit it. 

Despite this, great instrument.

Overall Rating: 8

Cedar Mountain: L2 #46

Submitted by peterjsch (see all reviews from this person) on 10/4/2019

Where Purchased: Cedar Mountain Banjos

Year Purchased: 1999
Price Paid: $1200 ($US)

Sound

Clawhammer style playing in wonderful rich and mellow tones. With new head, sound became much brighter.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Setup was made by maker with Dwight Diller's specifications.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

A beautiful instrument.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Most dependable. After 20 years of playing, no objections

Reliability Rating: 8

Customer Service

Excellent service. Please see comments section below

Customer Service: 10

Components

The pot is a work of art, different from just about any other banjo you will find.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

This is why I am writing this review:  This was Dwight Diller’s concert banjo made to his specifications.  Dwight insisted I purchase it from the maker, Lo Gordon, because of our similar playing styles. 20 years later, I happened to be in Brevard, NC so I took my instrument back to Cedar Mountain to be reset and cleaned after all the years of playing.  Tim Garner, the stepson of Lo and new owner of Cedar Mt. Banjos, saw flaws that appeared after so many years. So, as an original owner, he constructed a beautiful, new, lighter and more powerful sounding pot. He put all remaining pieces of my original instrument back on, refitted the neck and sent it back. The only charges were for shipping and a new case which I ordered.   I essentially have a new banjo at no cost.  I am amazed and grateful to Tim for standing behind his product and creating such a wonderful thing of beauty that I will have and enjoy for the rest of my days…

Overall Rating: 10

Hawthorn: Walnut Bowtie

Submitted by donestephens (see all reviews from this person) on 9/28/2019

Where Purchased: Direct from the Builder

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

Sound

This banjo is made in the style of the Gibson "Bowties" that were manufactured and sold between 1954 and 1970. It has a fuller and rounder tone than my archtop 1960 RB-250. (This new banjo is flathead). The tone is even and clear all the way up the neck. Lots of get-up-and-go in the sound.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

The setup is excellent as delivered. Bridge was taken down for shipment, but the right spot was accurately marked on the head in pencil. I have not changed the setup yet. I tend toward a lower action, so eventually I will make adjustments.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

The burl walnut resonator and black walnut neck are beautiful. Neck and peghead hew very closely to the classic bowtie look with the manufacturer's "Hawthorn" name on the peghead. The custom coordinator rod cover reads "Walnut Bowtie" in an angled script. The craftsmanship, fit and finish are all excellent. I have not found any flaws in the finish.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

It has the reissue Kluson stair-step tuners, which is a nice period-correct touch for any modern banjo that wants to be called a bowtie. Price SL-5 straight line tailpiece. Everything is expertly plated in chrome.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Glenn is a great guy to deal with, and the transaction was painless.

Customer Service: 10

Components

Components are all top notch. The tone ring is a Kulesh Big 10 20 Hole flathead. It has a Jimmy Cox three play maple rim. It's worth remembering that a weak point in lots of the later Bowties was the thin rim, so this part choice is appreciated. The fingerboard is rosewood.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I am very pleased with this banjo.  As a fan of the Bowties I am pleased to see fine instrument makes like Glenn and his crew undertake a serious reproduction.  In their day, the Bowties didn't get lots of respect, partly because that was a period when Gibson was uneven in the quality of their products.  When they were well made, they were hard to beat. Hawthorn has turned a great one.

Overall Rating: 10

Rettberg & Lange: Manhatten

Submitted by clawgrasser (see all reviews from this person) on 9/19/2019

Where Purchased: McKenzie River Music

Year Purchased: 2016
Price Paid: $1000 ($US) (bought USED)

Sound

This banjo was made circa 1900, probably for classical stylings. I use it for old time clawhammer Round Peak. Unstuffed it is bright and a little brash. Stuffed it has a unique, mellow, vintage tone with a nice edge. This is certainly no bluegrass banjo, but great for what I do. I love the tone of this banjo and it's tastefully fancy inlays and carved heel.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

Banjo setup was weak initially. Bad neck angle, warped neck, weak friction tuners.

I had to correct the neck angle, heat straighten the neck, and fit new planetary tuners. I also replaced the fret binding on one side of the neck. Lastly, I decided on new matching Stew Mac hooks and nuts.

I did a thorough set up of banjo.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

The banjo has beautifully tasteful inlays. Ebony fretboard is probably a replacement. Neck has been refinished with gloss. The wood is fairly plain of undetermined species.

This banjo has an unusual double silver spun rim. It probably is a major contributor to it's unique tone.

Present condition of banjo with combination of new and old hardware is very good. It's just an original vintage piece.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

The banjo is now in good playing condition and has proven itself reliable. With it's skin head and aged woods it can be a tempermental tuner, especially with humidity changes

This banjo is over one hundred years. It cannot be expected to thrive without more care than a new modern one.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

Irrelevant on this banjo because of it age.

I do my own repair.

Customer Service: 5

Components

Unusual double spun rim. Beautifully crafted and functional neck.

I have upgrade that which needs upgrading.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

This is a beautiful old part of musical history which is able to function as a usable musical instrument in today's world  I have never seen another like it.  It's irreplaceable.

Overall Rating: 10

Wildwood: Heirloom

Submitted by clawgrasser (see all reviews from this person) on 9/18/2019

Where Purchased: Guitar Center Chattanooga

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

Sound

I play primarily old time clawhammer in my own Round Peak style. It's got enough volume and power for bluegrass, but not the right tone. With it's heavy block pot and tubaphone tone ring it produces a tone from an earlier era.

The tone is strong with both bright highs and strong lows. Unstuffed it can be ringy, but lightly stuffed the tone is heaven.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Setup was uneven at purchase. The nut needed work. I didn't like the Waverly tailpiece and replaced with a noknot. This change opened up the sound and made it more authentically old time. I also replaced the bridge with a high quality Bailes 11/16" which made it more useful for clawhammer

Setup Rating: 8

Appearance

It's a great looking banjo with a blond finish Western broad leaf curly maple neck. With it's heavy maple block rim, it heavier than most old time banjos. Although the banjo was like new, the case was definitely worn. I swapped it out for a new case which I was resting an old banjo in.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

This banjo has first class hardware and a bombproof gloss finish. It seems indestructible. I bought it as a roadworthy professional banjo to assist my more fragile and irreplaceable 1900 Rettberg and Lange. This Wildwood should stand up to about anything.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Unknown. Mark Playing has now retired and the Wildwood company is a thing of the past.

I'm stuck with it, but that's okay. It appears to be so strong that it will last.

Customer Service: 5

Components

Standout parts are the beautifully strong neck and solidly built rim.

My only dislike is the Waverly tailpiece which I feel is inappropriate for old time sound production.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

The banjo is an old time powerhouse.  It's not a plunker like many of the new generation of old time reproduction banjos like Enoch or Pisgah.  It's more like an open back Stelling.

Overall Rating: 10

Gold Tone: OB150

Submitted by banjoec (see all reviews from this person) on 9/17/2019

Where Purchased: BanjoTeacher.com

Year Purchased: 2019
Price Paid: $952. ($US)

Sound

I am returning to the banjo after a 6 year absence. I have owned decent banjos in the past. A Bishline custom and a few Deering models. So I have an idea what I wanted in sound. Now sound is subjective and everyone is looking for something different. So I'm not knocking another banjo brand. I like this OB-150 better than a Deering Sierra I owned but not as much as the Bishline. The Sierra rang too high pitch for my ears. This OB-150 is easier on the ears, has a good low end and seems balanced. I'd say it has a fuller sound. The Bishline got all 10 ratings in my review. It also cost quite a bit more than this banjo. I think a 9 sound rating is excellent for an under $1000 banjo.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

The setup was perfect. I've since tightened the head as all new banjos settle in after a few weeks of playing them.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

The 10 rating is for how clean the banjo arrived. The hardware shining and spotless clean. As far as looks of this banjo, I like the simple gloss finish. Others may not.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Time will tell. But I am not worried. Everything seems solid.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

Ross Nickerson from BanjoTeacher.com was a pleasure to do business with. We had a long conversation on the phone. We discussed different model of banjo.He gave me some very useful playing advise as well as set up and maintenance advise.

Customer Service: 10

Components

I am happy with all the components except the planetary tuners. The banjo stays in tune very well with the stock tuners. My opinion is they aren't as smooth as other banjos I have owned. I may be changing them in the future.

Components Rating: 8

Overall Comments

I wanted to get back to picking without spending $3000. This banjo pleasantly surprises me what you can get for $1000. I am happy and don't feel the need to upgrade any time soon. I would play this anywhere. 

Overall Rating: 9

Le Van: Custom

Submitted by BanjoBani (see all reviews from this person) on 9/16/2019

Where Purchased: Directly from Ken LeVan

Year Purchased: 2019
Price Paid: 1400 historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

It has a nice, full sound. I like round sounding bass notes, and this banjo has them. But I also feel like it has a balanced sound. I mostly finger pick on nylon strings with no picks. This banjo was specially made for that. I have done some simple clawhammer on it and it sounds awesome played that way as well.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

My banjo is a New Vintage model; however, Ken made so that I could put nylon or steel strings on it. Its neck is bit wider than standard. Ken made a special tail piece that could be used with both types of strings. The pitch and tone are great up and down the neck. The banjo is easy to fret and I love the wider neck with the modified v profile.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

It's beautiful. It is cherry, with a clear stain. The hardware is custom made by Ken and has a beautiful patina. I was an art student in college, and I took metals. I admire Ken's work.

It has a vintage-y look to it, but it also unique enough to stand out.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

So far so good. It is solid.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Ken is very easy to deal with. We emailed back and forth throughout the process, and he sent me detailed schematics of the design. I had a problem with the 5th string tuner that was not Ken's fault. He sent me a new one right away and answered my questions about how to install it properly.

Customer Service: 10

Components

There are no parts that need upgrading. The custom tailpiece is really awesome. And I love the cherry it was built from. Ken said that it came from a large log that he found near his home. It is truly a one of kind banjo.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I would highly recommend ordering a banjo from Ken.  It will be well made, and it will sound and look great. 

Overall Rating: 10

RK 76 Elite: RK 76

Submitted by salmoneer (see all reviews from this person) on 9/4/2019

Where Purchased: Banjoteacher.com

Year Purchased: 2019
Price Paid: 1699.00 ($US)

Sound

Sounds very good, Excellant low end and very sweet up the neck.
Every player has different taste but for me this banjo has the sound i’m Looking for

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

The banjo came to me very well set up form Banjoteacher.com
The action was right where I like
I did and a snuffy smith bridge and Ross from banjo teacher include a pegged snuffy smith bridge for me which I think sounds very good. I also had a zero guild nut installed which i’m Liking very much

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

I love the way this banjo looks
It is mahogany with a lacquer finish. It has hearts and flowers inlay. There are no obvious flaws.
Could you get better fit and finish for a couple thousands more you probably can. Not sure if you can get that much better sound for 2000 more. But for the money this Banjo looks and sounds great

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Hardware is of good quality in my opinion. I have been giging with a Rk 36 for the pass 5 years the finish out the hardware has held up fine to a lot of playing. This will be my giging Banjo now

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Have not deal with the company so can not ratec

Customer Service: 5

Components

I think the rim and tonering are both Excellant. The nitrocellulose lacquer finish looks very good as do the inlays and headstock overlay. I would change anything

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

I think this is and awesome Banjo especially when you consider the price:    I do not feel I will need to upgrade this Banjo 

Overall Rating: 10

Rickard: Dobson

Submitted by jayaw (see all reviews from this person) on 7/30/2019

Where Purchased: Elderly Instruments

Year Purchased: 2019
Price Paid: 1700 ($US)

Sound

The sound is superb. I kind of knew what I was looking for, but I was also fairly new to the banjo market and wavering between different rim sizes and tone rings. I’d had the chance to sample several BR and Pisgah banjos, plus others – all of which were fine instruments. But, as soon as I played the Rickard models with Dobson tone rings (including both the Maple Ridge and Dobson models, each in 11” and 12”), I knew that this was the right banjo for me. (I ultimately chose the Dobson 11” with its balance of smaller-rim punch and thicker-rim heft/body/bass response.) The sound is instantly impressive – rich and warm with a sort of shimmer. It has great sustain if you want to let it ring yet retains good note separation with great pop and clarity. I play both CH and 2-finger styles, and it sounds great both ways; I’d say, though, that it’s more for CH. When I got it home, being used to a really cheap starter instrument, I was a little blown away and intimidated, but now I really appreciate the ease with which I can create good volume and still sound beautiful. Perfect cluck when played over the neck, good treble when played closer to the bridge. It’s just a fantastic sounding instrument, and so far everyone who has heard it agrees 100%.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Perfect setup from Elderly. Haven’t done the measurements, but the action is right where it ought to be. They also installed spikes and did so flawlessly (that according to Lucas Poole’s dad, who is no slouch when it comes to banjo building, maintenance, and repair). I’ve made no changes other than fresh strings and have none planned. Might be interesting to try a Balch head some day.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

You’ve probably seen the pictures; Rickard’s work is beautiful and flawless. This one is blonde maple rim and neck, ebony fretboard and peghead overlay with star at 5th and dots at the usual places; aged brass hardware that looks just right; a subtle but very classy tortoise shell binding just below the thin ebony rim binding. The finish is perfect and smooth as silk. Gold fret wire adds a touch of Cadillac panache (and is apparently very durable?). Ebony buttons on Rickard’s own brand new 10:1 tuners. Everyone who sees it is notably impressed, so it’s not just me; it really is gorgeous. I figured, if I’m only going to have one really nice banjo, it might as well be a REALLY NICE banjo. Still, it’s understated and “simple” compared to an old Fairbanks or whatever.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

This is a lifetime instrument. Not only is it perfect today, but I have every confidence that it will remain so through my and its (probably much longer) lifespan. If anything does go wrong, I’m confident that Bill and his team will do what they can to make it right. (More on that below.) Rickard’s work is very highly regarded, as we all know, and there’s good reason for that: It’s top notch!

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

I’ve emailed back and forth a few times (mostly with regard to a case malfunction that they had nothing to do with), and they’ve always been extremely helpful and quick to respond. In fact, they went out of their way to help put me in touch with the case manufacturer, doing the front end work for me and saving me a lot of time and trouble. I’m really thankful for that kind of “above and beyond” service. I wish they weren’t way up in Canada because I’d like to visit the shop and meet the makers. They seem to be great people. BTW: Elderly Instruments was also great to deal with. They were patient and informative and even sat and demoed instruments with me so I could listen from the other side. (I spent a few hours in their basement deciding which Rickard to buy!) Then they helped with free shipping, free tuner, free replacement case handle (which Superior eventually replaced in factory). Rickard and Elderly are both grade-A.

Customer Service: 10

Components

The hardware is lovely and functions perfectly; the aging is tasteful and everything seems made to last. I’m so grateful and lucky to have gotten one of the first banjos to be shipped with those 10:1 tuners (at no additional cost). The whole instrument just feels perfect – smooth, balanced...

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I don’t understand why (except maybe price?) that more people don’t have Rickard banjos. They are a few hundred more than some other makes, but still... They’re not exorbitant – especially considering the consistency and value. Anyway, I’m extremely satisfied with mine and would absolutely recommend Rickard to anyone interested in a really nice modern-yet-timeless instrument. 

Overall Rating: 10

Pisgah: Custom

Submitted by The Prarie Frail (see all reviews from this person) on 7/17/2019

Where Purchased: Online

Year Purchased: 2019
Price Paid: 1860 ($US)

Sound

This Banjo sounds incredible, full stop. The tonal quality is retained all the way up the neck right to my frailing scoop. I chose the persimmon tone ring because I play frailing style. I was searching for a rich but "earthy" tone. After some excellent communication, Patrick and his team guided me towards the wooden tone ring (which was cheaper). One of the distinguishing tonal qualities is the bronze 4th string. It adds such a rich bass sustain that I haven't seen elsewhere.It's something small but the devil is in the details, and this devil can play. I really love the end result which to me sounds like a beautiful instrument made to frail. People take notice of how this banjo sounds.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

I loved almost everything about this setup. It shipped internationally and barely needed any tuning. My only complaint is a personal choice. I think the action is a bit too high. Especially for a banjo with the frailing scoop. I haven't endeavored to change this but have treated it as something to get used to. I'm not experienced enough to know if it's something to fix or something to get familiar with. Aside from that I had to adjust the height of the railroad spikes I had them install a little bit. nothing major and very easy. Aside from this it's masterfully setup.

Setup Rating: 8

Appearance

This Banjo is a flat out stunner! I chose a curly maple pot and neck with a vintage head stock (which comes with a standard star inlay). I also chose a goatskin head and aged brass tuners and j hooks. The end result is a dark, sultry, vintage looking banjo that happens to be brand new. It isn't the fanciest banjo I've ever seen but it has class and looks like something that's been made to play. The design is simple, elegant, and exactly what I wanted. I've received numerous compliments and I've only owned it for a month.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

I can't speak too much on reliability as I've only owned it for a little over a month. However it is very sturdy and all the parts are very clearly high quality. I really like Pisgah's design for local made hardware and components. It's cool knowing every part of my banjo was made in NA and Patrick and his crew clearly are aware that all components reflect on the end product. I envision myself playing this banjo for the next several decades without a hiccup.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

This is truly where Pisgah Banjo's stand out heads and shoulders above the rest. The customer service I received throughout the entirety of this project was on another level. I changed my mind several times throughout the process. Usually on their recommendation, after I was able to voice my desires more clearly to them. It was an absolute joy to go through the process of getting this build to completion. This was hands down the best shopping experience I've had in my life. AND I never even had the pleasure of meeting the Pisgah crew. They were so fast in response. Let me know certain deadlines for decisions I had to make. Were VERY helpful when it came to helping me make decisions based on my opinion and their expertise.

Customer Service: 10

Components

Build Components: 12" Curly Maple Pot and Neck. Persimmon tone ring. Richlite Neck with dots. Vintage headstock. S - Frialing scoop. Goatskin hide head. Standard tailpiece. Aged Brass Tuners and hardware.

All the Components are very clearly top shelf. The Gotah tuners are perfect and even with the aging process on them. The head is very high quality hide. Even the railroad spikes I had them installed were done to perfection with tone in mind.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

The other thing that I found incredibly well done and easy to handle was Pisgah's website. The banjo builder tool is where I started and it was so handy in helping me create my initial vision. It was definitely tweaked and adjusted as time went on but that process was also a delight with the Pisgah banjo teams assistance. It's super helpful for pricing out something that you want.

I would only add some sound bites from each of the different tone ring options as well as maybe a bigger viewing for the wood choices. However they're truly miles ahead of anything else I've seen as far as websites go.

The last thing I would mention is the Pisgah production method. I really admire them for sourcing all of their parts and wood from local and sustainable sources. Also their whole workshop is run on solar and alternative power sources. I doesn't add value to my Banjo but I really applaud them for going the extra mile in this regard.

All in all I'm over the moon delighted with my Pisgah custom banjo. If you're looking for the world's fanciest inlay crazy custom piece. Look elsewhere. But if you need a REALLY high quality sounding instrument that isn't going to break the bank... PISGAH PISGAH PISGAH!!! I added a bunch of choices that increased the price significantly but I would do it again and again. It looks SO freaking nice. I just hope one day I'll be able to do my little beauty justice and really let her sing.

Overall Rating: 10

Recording King: MADISON RK-R35

Submitted by Flatiron53 (see all reviews from this person) on 7/15/2019

Where Purchased: Jim Britton

Year Purchased: 2019
Price Paid: 799.00 ($US) (bought USED)

Sound

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

Jim had Robin Smith reset the neck. Jim checked the fit of the tone ring himself.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

These are excellent banjos for the price range.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Customer Service: 10

Components

Nothing needs to be changed.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

Jim Britton is the consummate gentleman.  He is a man of the highest integrity and character.  I would never hesitate to do business with him again.

Overall Rating: 10

Companion Custom Banjos: Autumn model

Submitted by Robbie McKee (see all reviews from this person) on 7/13/2019

Where Purchased: Companion custom banjos

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

Sound

The autumn models sound was very powerful. It was maple with a block rim as a five star tone ring so it had that nice concentrated maple sound. It was bright but not overly. It was a responsive instrument.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

The banjo had a great setup right from the start. Low action and light gauge strings. A 5/8’ Purcell maple bridge. The tailpiece was angled just right. Frets felt and looked great. Head was at a nice tension as well.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

It’s a very beautiful banjo. Flames maple neck and resonator. With a very bright finish. Nice white binding. It had custom. Inlays designed by the companion company. It was a stock model so I didn’t come up with the ideas I just bought it brand new when they put it up for sale.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

The finish was in every way great. The parts were not cheap I parts. They all had top quality feel. It had five star tuners and a waverly for the drone string, so no worries in quality there.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

The company is great. They take time to answer questions and help you with everything . I no longer own the banjo but own another companion. I sold this because I was wanting a mahogany banjo. And I have dealt with the company several times although not for warranty issues but I have no doubt they would stand behind the warranty and make it easy to get repairs.

Customer Service: 10

Components

The overall stand out on this banjo to me was the block rim. It sounded great looked great and had a lot of lobos in it to make it right.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

Buy a companion. They are awesome instruments and awesome people. This all adds up to an awesome company.

Overall Rating: 10

Huber: Kalamazoo (Custom)

Submitted by dupreejan (see all reviews from this person) on 6/14/2019

Where Purchased: Huber Shop

Year Purchased: 2014
Price Paid: 4500 ($US)

Sound

It sounds good playing Traditional and Progressive. I had to replace the factory Huber Head with a REMO Weatherking. The Huber head had too much decay, and didn't produce the solid bodied tone I wanted. Sounds better with the REMO head. The tone does'nt change much as you play next at the fingerboard. The strings are too low to the head toward the fingerboard. They barely clear the head. I discovered the 1 3/16th necks are too narrow on the Hubers. I replaced the neck with a 1 5/16th made by Ron Coleman. The new neck rises higher above the head, and sounds better when you play toward the fingerboard. Also, the wider neck allowed me to have a higher and wider 1 7/8th .656 bridge. The wide neck and wider spaced bridge improved my playing a lot. I also replaced the metal armrest with a custom shaped wood banjolit armrest. I would only buy it again if I could only buy the pot, and then have another builder make the neck. Huber only makes narrow 1 3/16th necks that are not even standard width.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

The action was good when I bought it. But when I had the new neck made and installed, the action was set up even better. I had to get a new neck, that was the set up change I had done. Also replaced the head.

Setup Rating: 8

Appearance

The Huber logo was kind of weak looking. Everything else was good.

Appearance Rating: 8

Reliability

Hardware appears high quality.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

I just went to the shop and bought it. It was the only one they had. It didn't have spikes in it. I didn't realize it until I got back home 35 miles away. They should have offered to install spikes.

Customer Service: 7

Components

Appears to be a solid well made pot and resonator. The neck also was high grade, just too narrow.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

You could probably find a couple of other makes of banjo just as good or better. But with Huber I had to alter it to get what I needed.

Overall Rating: 8

Savannah: SB-080

Submitted by Ausmond15 (see all reviews from this person) on 6/12/2019

Where Purchased: Ernie Williamson Music

Year Purchased: 2017
Price Paid: 270 ($US)

Sound

I give this Banjo a 7 for sound relative to the price paid. For an entry level, open back Banjo it is about as good as you can get.

Sound Rating: 7

Setup

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

It is what it is, a plain open back banjo.

Appearance Rating: 6

Reliability

For the price it is extremely well mde.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Customer Service: 10

Components

I would say, all and all, the banjo was very well constructed for the price.

Components Rating: 8

Overall Comments

This is a BEGINNERS BANJO. It is open back. That being said, for the price, it is as good a beginners open back banjo as you can get 

Overall Rating: 8

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