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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!

6715 reviews in the archive.

Recording King RK-R20: RK-R20

Submitted by Lake (see all reviews from this person) on 5/20/2018

Where Purchased: Shem Creek Music Shop

Year Purchased: 2018
Price Paid: $270.00 ($US) (bought USED)

Sound

To my ear this sounds bright, full and loud. It is a huge step up from my first two banjos.

Sound Rating: 8

Setup

Needed some love. I tightened the sagging head, added a scorpion bridge, changed the kershner style tailpiece to a kershner style string set up, put on some medium-lite strings and it worked like a charm.

Setup Rating: 7

Appearance

To me this banjo is truly beautiful. It has a bright finish on the mahogany and maple wood, the bonded rosewood fret board and ornate peg head are inlaid with mother of pearl "hearts and flowers"( actually more like clubs and hearts and dots and vines) Nickel plated hardware and ivory colored trim.

Appearance Rating: 8

Reliability

I assume from what I have read that one day I may want to upgrade the planetary tuners, probably more as a personal vanity than out of necessitate, but this rig seems solid and well built.

Reliability Rating: 8

Customer Service

Don't know. I have heard that RK is a good company for backing up their products so I will venture a guess.

Customer Service: 7

Components

I like the wide nut (1 1/16"). the planetary tuners are nice, the kershner styled tail piece is an upgrade and the simple brass tone ring and one piece flange make and project a nice tone. For the price I paid I feel like I got one over on the music shop.

Components Rating: 8

Overall Comments

This might not impress the pro's with $1,500.00 - $5,000.00 banjos out there, but as an upgrade or intermediate banjo, or for some, a starter banjo, this is an impressive instrument.  For a guy who plays for fun at home or occasionally in a circle with friends this is a little gem.  It is pretty to look at, cuts the mustard on tone and volume, and feels like a real for sure banjo.  I love it, and I love the Recording King brand and what those guys are doing over there.  Any banjo lover will covet the big dog professional models and dream of a prewar Gibson, but I have found happiness and satisfaction in this one.

Overall Rating: 9

Crestwood: 3061 5 string bluegrass

Submitted by Lake (see all reviews from this person) on 5/20/2018

Where Purchased: Thrift store

Year Purchased: 2017
Price Paid: $80.00 ($US) (bought USED)

Sound

Sounds like a $150.00 starter banjo should

Sound Rating: 5

Setup

Sagging head, rusty strings, etc. I tightened the head, moved the bridge, lowered the tailpiece and put on a new set of martin light strings, the tone improved.

Setup Rating: 5

Appearance

Simple narrow neck, gloss finish, ivory trimmed, plain pegboard. This is a "plain Jane", but like (almost) all banjos, it is beautiful.

Appearance Rating: 5

Reliability

As reliable as a $150.00 starter banjo should be.

Reliability Rating: 5

Customer Service

Don't know

Customer Service: 5

Components

It has 24 brackets, an arm rest, thumb screws for the resonator, an ell cheapo tailpiece, a geared fifth string tuner, and simple guitar styled tuning pegs.

Components Rating: 5

Overall Comments

This is the same inexpensive banjo rebranded by Jameson, ADM and probably a dozen other companies.  It is a fine starter banjo for a young student or for someone who wants to spend minimal money on a new hobby to see if they will stick with it for a couple of months, at which point it can become your camping banjo, pick nick with 20% chance of rain banjo, etc.  I like to play it as well as my better banjo when learning a new song to work my fingers a little. Doing that makes me appreciate the tone and volume of my other banjo just that much more, and I often leave it sitting around in a double "C" tuning to mess around with. All banjos sound good, just some better than others.

Overall Rating: 6

Crestwood: 3061 5 string bluegrass

Submitted by Lake (see all reviews from this person) on 5/20/2018

Where Purchased: Thrift store

Year Purchased: 2017
Price Paid: $80.00 ($US) (bought USED)

Sound

Sounds like a $150.00 starter banjo should

Sound Rating: 5

Setup

Sagging head, rusty strings, etc. H tightened the head, moved the bridge, lowered the tailpiece and put on a new set of martin light strings, the tone improved.

Setup Rating: 5

Appearance

Simple narrow neck, gloss finish, ivory trimmed, plain pegboard. This is a "plane Jane", but like (almost) all banjos, it is beautiful.

Appearance Rating: 5

Reliability

As reliable as a $150.00 starter banjo should be.

Reliability Rating: 5

Customer Service

Don't know

Customer Service: 5

Components

It has 24 brackets, an arm rest, thumb screws for the resonator, an ell cheapo tailpiece, a geared fifth string tuner, and simple guitar styled tuning pegs.

Components Rating: 5

Overall Comments

This is the same inexpensive banjo rebranded by Jameson, ADM and probably a dozen other companies.  It is a fine starter banjo for a young student or for someone who wants to spend minimal money on a new hobby to see if they will stick with it for a couple of months, at which point it can become your camping banjo, pick nick with 20% chance of rain banjo, etc.  I like to play it as well as my better banjo when learning a new song to work my fingers a little. Doing that makes me appreciate the tone and volume of my other banjo just that much more, and I often leave it sitting around in a double "C" tuning to mess around with. All banjos sound good, just some better than others.

Overall Rating: 6

Deering: Eagle ll

Submitted by doryman (see all reviews from this person) on 5/20/2018

Where Purchased:

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

Sound

I was looking specifically for a resonator/tone ringed banjo that sounded good playing clawhammer style AND sounded good playing Scruggs style. In fact, it plays very, very good for both styles. A pure clawhammer player might think it too loud and not woodsy enough. A pure Scruggs player might think it too sweet and mellow. Regardless, the sound is sweet, pure and clear.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

I personally like the standard Deering set-up. It's an easy banjo to play with a fast neck (not too wide) and good action, and the banjo is made such that you get an easy banjo to play without much fussing. For this reason I rank it a 10. If you try to make this banjo something it's not, I can imagine one would rank it lower.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

It's a beautiful banjo. I don't go for overly ornate banjos, preferring simple, understated elegance. In fact, this banjo has the most bling I've had on any of my banjos, but it's not over the top.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

This banjo is rock solid and high quality. I bought it specifically for gigging.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

I had a few questions about the banjo when I purchased it and the folks from Deering answered my email the very next day.

Customer Service: 10

Components

There's nothing I would want to add or change other than perhaps the bridge, but that's just because I like to mess around with different bridges on all my banjos. It's an easy and cheap way to make a banjo sound different. In fact, one of my favorite bridges is the Deering 5/8, which I use on most of my banjos.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I first played a Deering Eagle during a wonderful afternoon at Elderly Instruments, where I had a chance to play probably 50 different high-quality banjos of all makes. The Deering Eagle instantly stood out, which surprised me because it was one of the lower priced options. I almost bought it on the spot, but I was traveling and I didn't want to risk flying back home with it.  I couldn't get it out of my mind though and eventually, I found a used one to buy.  It's a great, sweet sounding, versatile banjo. I've heard others say that it's one of Deering's entry level professional banjos but, for me, I can't imagine needing more. 

Overall Rating: 10

Zachary Hoyt: Custom

Submitted by 2hennepin6 (see all reviews from this person) on 5/19/2018

Where Purchased: From maker

Year Purchased: 2018
Price Paid: 1030 ($US)

Sound

Bright and resonant. Good sustain as well. The internal resonator adds volume. Less plunky and "woody" due to the tone ring and i.r. but still very warm and old time sounding (relative to what I hear in a bluegrass banjo with its resonator and metal).

I really like how slides, pull offs and hammer ons sound.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Set up and ready to play on arrival. No changes needed. To this day after 3 months of use. I expected I would need to get used to this banjo but it was comfortable and easy to play right away.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

This banjo is very beautiful. The pot is a block rim pot made out of cherry. The neck is also cherry with a thin maple center stripe that is present on dowel stick as well. The internal resonator has a striped maple bottom.

I ordered a synthetic ebony substitute called Rocklite Ebano which Zach used for the fretboard and peghead. There was enough left to use a piece for the heel cap as well. I really like its look, function, and durability so far as well. I, or someone can report back next century. I also value it from a sustainability standpoint.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Every thing about this banjo says reliable and well made. Attention to detail by shaping the area around the tuner to match its shape was classy and well done. Zach's custom made hardware-tone hoop, tone ring, dowel stick hardware are all super solid. The tuners are gotoh so no question there. The fifth string tuner is a guitar style Wilkerson tuner for a slotted 5th string.

The finish is tru oil. I imagine it may wear over time more than other finishes but I think it is easier to touch up or recoat. I also think the wear or patina it will develop will look nice. Lacquer finishes may be more durable but don't look good as they wear in my opinion.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Zach provides super customer support. I visited him first to see his shop and play some banjos he had in stock. After that we communicated via email. Customer service was super at every step of the way. As far as I know Zach offers a lifetime warranty. I am sure he would be very helpful and accommodating with any issues that might come up.

Customer Service: 10

Components

Gotoh brass tuning pegs plus guitar style Wilkinson 5th string tuner for slotted 5th string
Zach's custom Whyte Laydie style tone ring
Internal resonator
Renaissance head
Maple bridge made by Zach
Van Eps style tension hoop built by Zach-I really like this style.
I ordered a matching cherry arm rest from Zach which is very comfortable and sharp looking. The square edge of the tension hoop did dig into my arm. Easily remedied with a long sleeve shirt or the arm rest.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I am really happy with this banjo-cherry neck and pot with internal resonator and Whyte Laydie style tone ring.  I have no complaints at all.  

It is solid and heavy with the tone ring and resonator.  The connection between the pot and neck is tight and rock solid.  I could bend notes on my old banjo if I put any pressure on the neck.  Not on this one!

Very, very fair pricing for this beautiful banjo.

Super customer service.

I have put all 10s for ratings.  There is nothing for me to fault and much to praise.  I am very happy with this banjo from start to finish. 

I would recommend anyone in the market for an openback banjo consider a Zach Hoyt banjo.

Overall Rating: 10

Grafton: Grafton Clipper #4 "Flat Top" Resonator

Submitted by Neil Allen (see all reviews from this person) on 5/18/2018

Where Purchased: The Banjo Works, Faversham, Kent, United Kingdom

Year Purchased: 2018
Price Paid: 795 (GBP) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

I use it to play Scruggs/Keith style. It has the classic bright, bluegrass sound that you would expect from a banjo with a heavy brass Flat Top tone ring. Excellent sound up the neck, on all the highest frets.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

The banjo was expertly set up, by a shop that specialises in banjos.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

The finish is flawless. Overall, the decorations are quite plain. The emphasis has been placed upon build quality, tone and playability rather than decoration.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Appears very well built. I see no reason why, with normal care, it would not last a lifetime.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Helpful and friendly. This company specialises in banjos, their setup and maintainance and builds them on-site from imported parts. I would not hesitate to buy from this company again.

Customer Service: 10

Components

Nothing on this banjo appears cheap or low-grade.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

When researching to buy this banjo, I wanted to buy in person (not over the internet) from somewhere where I could try out several different build configurations. There are not many specialists in the UK where this is possible. I made an appointment to visit and try out four models, one with a Tubaphone tone ring, one with a White Lady tone ring, this banjo and an Ozark RB3 (a modified and improved model 2141G). All were fine instruments. The tone of this banjo was closest to the Ozark, which has a similar tone ring, but I preferred the slightly wider neck of the Grafton and the less ostentatious decoration.

Overall Rating: 10

Gretsch: G9455 Dixie Special

Submitted by AndyW (see all reviews from this person) on 4/27/2018

Where Purchased: GAK (online UK store)

Year Purchased: 2017
Price Paid: £199 (UK Pounds) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

It's not 'plunky'. At first there were slightly excessive (to my ear) overtones which reduced when I later put on a heavier compensated bridge.

Stuffing helps this banjo as you can alter the tone well by sliding the stuffing. It is miles ahead in sound terms compared to my last banjo, an (only slightly cheaper) Ozark bottlecap.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

After I set the shipped flat bridge the action was fine. I had to nip up one of the co-ordinator rods, and one of the tuners needed the screw adjusting. Pretty happy with the condition it turned up in.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

Looks fine. Nothing fancy. Planetary tuners at the price range help the look.

Appearance Rating: 8

Reliability

Looks like it will last well. I've been using it every day for 10 months with no problems.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

Never dealt with them. Have to give 1-10. So a middle 5.

Customer Service: 5

Components

For £199 planetary tuners and rolled brass tone ring are a bonus. Also dual co-ordinators are unusual at this price.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

Judging by what others say the pot is a rebranded RK OT25 with an added rolled brass tone ring.

I think I got this banjo at a really good price, as other retailers had it at almost double.  However, commenting on the deal I got, there were no other banjos at the same £199 price point with planetaries, tone ring, and dual co-ordinators. Add in a scooped fingerboard (which it turns out I have needed as my hand naturally comes to the neck/pot junction when playing with pot on rh thigh) and this banjo was extremely good value.

Given that this turned up pretty well set up I did well as a beginner in the 'online lottery' albeit having put in a fair bit of research to what I needed before-hand.

Given this is so much better banjo than my last bottlecap I would say even though it is a cheaper price banjo it is still a 'step up' from ultra cheap. I see no practical reason why I should need a new banjo for the next few years, whereas with my previous 'cheapest' banjo I sold it on after 3 months due to it's sound and gave up on banjo for 5 years. Hopefully this time with a better purchase I will be going strong as a reasonable player (fingers crossed) 5 years from now.

A big thumbs up from me for the Gretsch Dixie Special.

Overall Rating: 9

Backyard Music: Basic Banjo (Kit)

Submitted by maki66 (see all reviews from this person) on 4/27/2018

Where Purchased: Etsy

Year Purchased: 2018
Price Paid: 100.00 ($US)

Sound

Sounds great. Sounds better the more I practice too.
Not too loud, warm, mellow tone.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

Set up was perfect. I just love playing it.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Looks pretty in a home made way. I stained it a med brown/pecan. The mahogany wood neck is very clear and straight grained and took the stain nicely.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

No telling without time, but it seems pretty sturdy and I expect it to last for years or decades.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

Very good service, quick shipping and they answered my
email questions with in a day.

Customer Service: 9

Components

Components were good, keeping in mind its a $100 kit.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I just love this banjo and playing it is a real pleasure.

Overall Rating: 9

Backyard Music: Basic Banjo, no mess, kit

Submitted by maki66 (see all reviews from this person) on 4/27/2018

Where Purchased: Etsy

Year Purchased: 2018
Price Paid: 120.00 ($US)

Sound

Excellent sound, warm, mellow, and not too loud.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

Really good set up.
I'd say that you just can't go wrong building this kit as it has a zero nut and all you need fuss with is the bridge placement which is pretty easy.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

The "no mess" kit is my second build and the finish is very good.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Time will tell.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

n/a

Customer Service: 10

Components

Great components, I love these kits.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

My second build of the basic banjo kit. This one went together in less than an hour. All the holes were pre drilled. I just put everything on it, glued it up and set it aside for a day.

Strung it up the next day and placed the bridge.

Awesome. light weight, great action and a beautiful sound.

Overall Rating: 10

Pisgah: 12" Walnut Possum

Submitted by gulogulo (see all reviews from this person) on 4/26/2018

Where Purchased: Custom ordered from Pisgah

Year Purchased: 2018
Price Paid: 1491 + shipping ($US)

Sound

The perfect clawhammer machine. Full, warm sound from high to low. Unbelievable clarity and richness of tone. It's also seriously loud, with tremendous sustain and resonance, but not over-bright, and no shrillness whatsoever. It sounds fantastic. Thought it might be quiet and plunkier, almost gourd-ish, but it's not, and I'm fine with that. Tuned down it only gets warmer. I could mute it for plunkiness but don't think I want to. It would seem criminal.
Other, lesser banjos I've played require a heavy hand to produce any volume, or anything that doesn't just sound like a fingernail on a string. This banjo, for lack of any better way to put it, just wants to make sound. Sometimes I don't think it needs me. It sings out at any opportunity.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Custom set-up using the very cool banjo design tool on the Pisgah website, and later some add-ons that Patrick was happy to accommodate. Easy to make changes.
It's basically a Possum with walnut rim & neck, persimmon fretboard & tone-ring, short scale (25 1/2"), fretted, folk heel, John Balch goatskin head, brass armrest, Pisgah Hawktail tailpiece (Patrick recommended), Mulheron bridge, hard case.
I contemplated spikes like I have on another instrument but after consulting with Patrick, decided against it at the last minute.
Action was set at 5/32" at the 17th, which is standard for Pisgah. Earlier I had inquired about a lower action--1/18" at the 17th--but didn't want a buzz either, and left it to Patrick's judgment. Very happy with the result.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Oh hell yes, it's easy on the eyes. Just pure Appalachian hardwoods from stem to stern with some brass hardware and the skin of a goat. Nothing shiny, nothing flashy. Inlay on the headstock is understated and handsome. Beautiful curves and grain to the wood. Could be brand new or 150 years old, which is exactly what I was looking for.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

I think the wood will only get prettier and gain character as I play and sweat farm-grime into it. Looks and feels as solid as a baseball bat. Hardware seems good.
I may handle it like a sacred relic from time to time but don't need to.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Patrick was supremely helpful and communicative from start to finish. Took about 3.5 months, as he said, which felt long in the waiting but is like nothing at all when you contemplate the end result.

Customer Service: 10

Components

It's all about the wood and the workmanship here.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

Couldn't be happier. Was well-advised by many to test out all the banjos I could lay hands on as I contemplated a much-needed upgrade, and I tried out a few without going far afield. Never held a Pisgah but ultimately felt that the reviews/reputation, the domestic component parts, the emphasis on local wood, the many set-up options, the excellent design tool, and the attention paid to differences in sound made it so I could feel good rolling the dice.

Overall Rating: 10

Pisgah: Custom

Submitted by marktsmall (see all reviews from this person) on 4/26/2018

Where Purchased: Direct from PBCO

Year Purchased: 2018
Price Paid: around $1700 ($US)

Sound

Perfect nice and crisp without being too bright

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

I asked that the banjo be set at 1/10" from the top of the 12th fret to the bottom of the 1st string - that is exactly what arrived

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Walnut w antique brass - very nice - the banjo has a bunch of character and the fit and finish exceeded my expectations - so much so that I ordered another one the week this one arrived. The next one is a different style

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

I have some top notch instruments, including a Martin 00-45 and several other Martin Custom Shop guitars. I am proud to have this banjo sitting right next to them on any stage. I am also confident that this instrument can take the heat.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Patrick Heavner is the owner of this 5 or 6 person shop. Every communication with him was prompt and helpful.

Customer Service: 10

Components

I love the antique brass hardware. My recollection is that Patrick founded the company that manufactures the hardware. I would not change anything on the banjo.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

Has anyone out there tried Pisgah Banjo Co. banjos? I have been playing banjo for a few decades and was ready for a change. I had some very specific ideas about what I wanted for a new banjo, but could not find anything to fit the bill. I looked around on the web and went to some boutique shops up here in Boston. I still could not find what I wanted. I was looking for an A SCALE neck, light weight, antique looking but new, with a few other features. I saw Pisgah banjos in a couple of spots and I thought they played well, were priced reasonably and looked pretty cool, but they still didn't include all of my specs. I emailed Patrick Heavner at Pisgah and he got right back to me. We started communicating, he took all of my specs, gave further input and in less than 3 months, I had exactly the banjo I wanted. (check out the “banjo tool” on their site) 

My Pisgah is absolutely perfect for what I want to accomplish. The look, feel, and right down to my 1/10” at the 12 fret  spec, fits me to a T. My shoulder is loving the 23 1/2” scale too. The banjo has a Victorian peg head, a persimmon tone ring (light weight) walnut neck and rim (light weight). I like this banjo so much that a week after I received it, I ordered another Pisgah;  curley maple, paddle headstock, persimmon tone ring, antique brass… - to use with nyguts. What tops it all off is that the wood used is harvested right there in Asheville where so much of this music was and is being developed. To me that is one notch higher than “made In The USA”. Most importantly, the communication with Patrick was outstanding. I find all of this to a rarity in any marketplace today. If you are looking for a banjo that is perfectly custom and reasonably priced, Pisgah Banjo Co. is the destination. I hope that this post is helpful. Mark T. Small     Please visit www.marktsmall.com

marktsmall

www.marktsmall.com

Mark has played on the bill with; Johnny Winter, Albert Lee, Emmylou Harris, Bill Monroe, Coco Montoya, James Cotton, John Mayall, Jimmy Thackary, Shemekia Copeland, Bettye LaVette, Marcia Ball, Toots & The Maytalls, Elmore James JR, David Lindley, Robert Cray, Savoy Brown, Charlie Musselwhite, Jonathan Edwards, Robert Randolph & The Family ...

Overall Rating: 10

Backyard Music: Fireside (Kit)

Submitted by wkeeton (see all reviews from this person) on 4/25/2018

Where Purchased: Backyard Music

Year Purchased: 2018
Price Paid: $143 ship & armrest ($US)

Sound

As a total newbie to banjo, it sounds quite nice to me. I'm a hobbiest and not a performer so quiet is good.

Sound Rating: 8

Setup

I built this from the kit. so setup only required placing the bridge.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

I love the looks and my aesthetic additions. If I had it to do over, however, I would have used a darker and glossier finish than the recommended matte natural Watco oil. The paint job on the rim was already done, and not the best. Overall, though, it looks pretty good.

Appearance Rating: 8

Reliability

Tuners work well without any slipping and hold a tune really well. The bridge looks and functions fine. The action is just fine for me. The nut works well, but is not attractive. :)

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Shipping was quick, and it was well packaged. I did not need to contact customer service apart from sending them a pic of my build.

Customer Service: 10

Components

The design is ingenious. There were minor flaws in the wood components here and there, but nothing to get overly concerned about. It's a kit afterall. There were no flaws I couldn't live with.

Components Rating: 8

Overall Comments

Overall I am very pleased. My first foray into banjo was a used Rover open back, which was old, well used and did not sound good, and was virtually impossible to tune. 

I am no judge of banjos, as I am an old guitar player and tune and play a banjo pretty much as if it were a guitar. I"m kinda old to start over. But I love this thing. Even more than the Jameson I bought. If I had done this build first, I wouldn't have even bothered with the store bought Jameson. I play only for glee and to keep myself off the streets in retirement. This project does bring me lots of glee.

I'll try to post a picture of my build with this review. If I have any advice to give on the building, proceed slowly and double check all alignment before going to bed and leaving the glue to dry. The problems in the build were all my own fault for getting impatient and not checking and double checking before I called it good.

I named this banjo my CATerwauler.

Overall Rating: 9

Harmony: Bakelite banjo (no reso-tone markings and no model number)

Submitted by Perry Turner (see all reviews from this person) on 4/22/2018

Where Purchased: Craigslist

Year Purchased: 2017
Price Paid: 60 ($US) (bought USED)

Sound

Very simple sound, but cuts well in a noisy room; I haven't actually played it with a group, but I expect it will be easily heard. It's nice and twangy and has a very Appalachian feel.

Sound Rating: 8

Setup

TLDR: It's a bit of a project, but I'm looking forward to working on it more.

The banjo was not well maintained when I got it, but it also hadn't been used in a long time, so there are no serious issues with it. The strings have cut into the nut, so tuning is a pain, but it does stay in tune pretty well. The 5th string tuner isn't geared and holds it's tune incredibly well given it has a good friction material (I originally had some cardstock from a pack of strings which bought me a couple of weeks, but I've replaced that with two concentric rubber o-rings which work very well) I have an old (wooden) resonator I picked up on Ebay bungie-corded to the pot (I haven't found the time yet to make the mounting hardware) and that helps the sound a lot. I have a 5/8" Grover compensated bridge on it right now and that's doing a good bit to help.

The fretboard is very dirty, and needs to be refinished; I'll probably get around to just replacing the whole neck some day (I'm kind of waiting until I have the materials and space to make the neck myself). It has a six string tailpiece on it (I have a five string one I can put on when I refinish the fretboard), but I don't think that matters in the slightest. I'll be putting a frailing scoop on it when I'm working on the neck, and may experiment with embedding pickups in the neck (a big reason I want to just replace the neck all together).

Setup Rating: 5

Appearance

It's very old and needs some TLC. There are no major flaws in it's appearance that can't be fixed with just a little bit of attention. The pot does have a very unique look to it which I, honestly, like quite a bit.

Appearance Rating: 7

Reliability

I'm pleased with it's reliability, and have only a couple of minor complaints.
It's hard to tune because of the worn nut, which can make for a decent delay in between songs if they require different tunings. The hooks don't always like to stay firmly attached; they never come off, but they do get loose sometimes.

Reliability Rating: 6

Customer Service

N/A

Customer Service: 1

Components

Besides the worn nut and the 1/2" bridge (it didn't fit at all; I have no idea why it was on it), I'm pretty happy with the components that came on it. It seems the designers made everything just barely good enough; but barely good enough is still good enough and I really have to appreciate the optimization that must have gone into this thing's production.

Components Rating: 5

Overall Comments

Overall, I'm very pleased with this instrument. It's took little effort to get it sounding decent, and it should be able to sound pretty good with a little more persuasion.

Overall Rating: 7

Stelling: Afton Star

Submitted by srwillis (see all reviews from this person) on 4/22/2018

Where Purchased: Stelling Banjo Works

Year Purchased: 2018
Price Paid: 3000 ($US)

Sound

The Afton Star does not have a tone ring; however when I struck my first chord I could not believe how much volume it produced. It is amazing! I would describe the tone as open and full. It does not sound like my Golden Cross or my Chief but it has that quality sound of a high end banjo. It does not have a growling 4th string but it does sound good.

Sound Rating: 8

Setup

The setup was top notch as expected from a new Stelling. Geoff made sure I was happy with the setup before I left the shop. I specified it to be set up with medium gage strings since they work well for my other Stelling. The action was nice and low and the intonation was perfect. The neck is great and it is very easy to play.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Fit and finish are perfect. I examined every square inch of it and everything looked perfect. The inlays are basically the same pattern as the discontinued White Star, simple and classic. The Mahogany neck and resonator are natural with a very high gloss finish. The attention to detail on the workmanship of this banjo is on par with my Stelling Golden Cross which is top notch.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Based on the quality of workmanship and materials used on this instrument I think this banjo will out last me. I have had two Stellings that were 30+ years old and they were still holding up very well so I am sure this one will be no different.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Great customer service. Geoff and Sherry are committed to good customer service including service after the sale. This is the 2nd new Stelling I have ordered and purchased directly from Stelling Banjo Works and I have only high marks for them.

Customer Service: 10

Components

All the metal components on the banjo are top quality. I do have a preference in tuners which are not what comes on a new Stelling. But the tuners on the Stelling hold tune and function smoothly so no complaints here.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I purchased the Afton Star mainly due to the light weight of the banjo.  I have chronic back issues and was looking for a quality banjo that was lighter in weight.  This banjo weighs in at 8.5 lbs.  What a great playing and sounding banjo this is and only 8.5 lbs.  I am one happy customer.  I use this banjo for daily practice and jams, although I have played it at several gigs.  Stelling banjos are great instruments and if you pick one up you will find it hard to put down.

Overall Rating: 10

Stelling: Super Star 1979 #1143

Submitted by Ralph Stanley legend (see all reviews from this person) on 4/19/2018

Where Purchased: Private purchase

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

Sound

The most crystal clear, sweet tone I have ever heard. It is also very powerful. You can feel the Banjo vibrate through the resonator.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

I have done some work on this Banjo. It is now perfect.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Such beautiful wood. Super Stars were famous for the wood used.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Rock solid.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Geoff Stelling, what can I say ? A great man and a legend.

Customer Service: 10

Components

The best you will ever find.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I waited many years for a Super Star and I can tell you it was worth it. Without doubt, the finest sounding and playing Banjo I have ever had in my hands. The wood is also something to behold..... I love her.

Overall Rating: 10

Gold Tone: Custom Open Back

Submitted by Chemcorp158 (see all reviews from this person) on 4/18/2018

Where Purchased: Direct From Gold Tone

Year Purchased: 2018
Price Paid: ($US)

Sound

Wonderful bright rich tone with plenty of volume.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Opened the case and started playing, still in perfect tune with nice low action with absolutely no fret buzz. It has a custom bridge that is the perfect height for drop thumb.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Beautiful. The inlay is gorgeous. The neck is a b stock, but the issue is so small you have to know where it is to find it. All the hardware seems top quality and well put together.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

Looks as if it will last but it is early.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

If i could give them a 20 in this I would. I called to ask some questions about a neck width and ended up designing a custom. Chris, the luthier, was wonderful and very informative. This is a family run business and it shows in the care they give their customers.

Customer Service: 10

Components

All the hardware looks well made. The only issue I have seen on it is that a couple of the hooks had a rough spot from the casting.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

The parts may have been made in Asia, but the banjo was built in Florida.  Gold tone made the custom experience wonderful and easy and delivered a beautiful and sweet sounding and playing instrument.  I highly recommend their custom shop.  

Overall Rating: 10

Pisgah: Custom Dobson

Submitted by Caad (see all reviews from this person) on 4/15/2018

Where Purchased: Custom order directly from Pisgah Banjo Co

Year Purchased: 2018
Price Paid: 1775 ($US)

Sound

I play mainly clawhammer, and this banjo is well-suited for that style. It has a very clear and pleasing sound. I opted for a 12" because that is the sound I prefer and I already had an 11" from a different maker. It is plenty loud enough to be heard with a fiddle and guitar.

I am very pleased with the sound. Notes ring true all the way up the fret board and the intonation is perfect. The Dobson tone ring gives this banjo great resonance and clarity without sounding harsh. The high end is clear and there is no muddiness in the low to mid range. It is a very rich sound.


Sound Rating: 10

Setup

I picked the banjo up from the Pisgah Banjo Co shop in Asheville. Patrick (the owner) looked the banjo over to double check everything and tighten the head.

The action was to my liking and I don't see any reason to change it.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

This banjo is beautiful. I wanted it to look like the Pisgah Wonder model, and it looks even better than I anticipated.

The curly maple is beautifully finished, the aged brass hardware pairs perfectly with the finish, and details such as the S-style frailing scoop appear flawless to my eyes.

All of the inlay work looks great (the star on the headstock and the metallic face dots on the fretboard).

This is exactly what I wanted.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

The hardware is well built and feels sturdy. The Gotoh tuners are smooth and hold tune well. This does not feel like something made on a cheap assembly line; it is well-built. I believe that it will last me a very long time and will be something I can pass down the family tree.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Their customer service is top-notch.

I used the banjo design tool on the Pisgah website and it worked great. It was really easy to pick all of my features and then pay the deposit up front.

Even after I had submitted my order through the site, I was able to email Patrick and ask for something extra because I had changed my mind. Whenever I emailed Patrick, he was quick to respond.

When my banjo was finished, Patrick sent me pictures and let me know it was ready to go. He was even kind enough to open the shop up on a Saturday for me to pick the banjo up since I live a couple of hours away.

Overall, I had a great experience with the whole process of ordering and picking up my banjo from Pisgah.

Customer Service: 10

Components

The components are all top-notch. I'm very pleased.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I highly recommend Pisgah Banjo Co.

I got exactly what I wanted and couldn't be happier. Patrick was great to work with. I can see myself making another custom order in the future. 

Overall Rating: 10

Gold Tone: Acoustic Composite AC-1

Submitted by ADV (see all reviews from this person) on 3/17/2018

Where Purchased: Elderly Instruments

Year Purchased: 2017
Price Paid: $199 ($US)

Sound

Bright Sound (beginners ears)

Sound Rating: 8

Setup

Note: I am a beginner

Banjo was setup by the manufacturer (per their site). I did find the head to be slightly unevenly tensioned but didn't seem to affect the tone. I am learning Clawhammer style so I eventually started looking for a warmer sound. I started by changing to a 5/8" Grover compensated bridge and a no knot tailpiece. This banjo already had a low crown head but the head still sits slightly above the tension hoop so I had to shim up the no knot tailpiece slightly (piece of wire) so that it wouldn't contact the head. I finally ended up changing the head to a Remo Renaissance low crown and I really enjoy the tone. These upgrades only totalled around $34 without shipping. I did find a lump on the weld of the tension hoop while it was removed so I made sure this faced up when reinstalling it to allow even contact with the head (hidden under the tailpiece). I am using GHS PF200 medium strings.

Setup Rating: 6

Appearance

It is not fancy, but there are no blemishes outside of the tension hoop as mentioned above.

Appearance Rating: 8

Reliability

As I am a beginner, I have no reference of comparison but this banjo holds tuning. I have used both open G tuning and double C (capoed at second fret) so far. The tuners seem to operate well.

Reliability Rating: 8

Customer Service

Haven't had any warranty work done. This banjo has a three year manufacturers warranty, one year from Elderly.

Customer Service: 10

Components

From a beginners point of view, everything works as it should, even if not top-of-the-line (as expected)

Components Rating: 8

Overall Comments

This banjo works great for me as a beginner on a budget. I expect to replace it as my main banjo someday but will keep it as a backup and for camping and such.

Overall Rating: 8

Second Life Banjo - Carl Arcand: 11" Cherry Tubaphone (Rickard ring)

Submitted by frailin (see all reviews from this person) on 2/22/2018

Where Purchased: From Builder

Year Purchased: 2017
Price Paid: 2200 ($US)

Sound

It's everything I like about the tubaphone sound and more... crisp, clean and loud! What's not to love? And Carl used a slightly deeper pot which enhances the bass response.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Action was perfect... as is nut spacing. I did change out the Kershner tailpiece to a no-knot. I also tried a Fielding because it's just what I do. :)

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Absolutely breath-taking. Carl's choice of wood as well as fit and finish are as close to flawless as physically possible. The guy is indeed an artist.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

If I'm ever in a bar fight, this banjo will be my choice. Besides being bullet proof, I'm pretty sure its mass would stop a charging rhino. It's seriously well-made.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Carl was incredibly attentive to my opinions and thoughts. Couldn't have asked for a better listener or partner in banjo building. He's one of the best of the best.

Customer Service: 10

Components

Nothing to see here. Aside from me tweaking the tailpiece (because it's what I do), all is as it should be.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

Love this ax.  

Overall Rating: 10

Zachary Hoyt: #63

Submitted by BoneDigger (see all reviews from this person) on 2/22/2018

Where Purchased: From Zachary Hoyt

Year Purchased: 2017
Price Paid: $1100 ($US)

Sound

This is a custom made banjo with a 29" scale length, giving me a slightly shorter than normal long neck banjo. I generally keep this banjo tuned to F, but will occasionally tune down to E. This banjo works very well with both tunings. The tone is very similar to #60, which I previously rated very high as well. It's a walnut banjo with a Whyte Laydie tone ring made by Zach in his shop. It also has a 12" pot and is set up for finger picking (not clawhammer). The tone is very nice. Not too dark and not too bright. It can go from somewhat plinky to somewhat plunky depending on your position on the head. It's a wonderful cross between driving bluegrass and old time sound.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

The setup was very good, as it was on #60 as well. I had Zach set this up for finger picking and he did a great job with it.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

What a beautiful banjo! Seriously, it's understated but has a wonderful old time look about it. The brass hardware looks great and the walnut is beautiful.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

This is my second Hoyt banjo and I have not had any issues as of yet. I'm going to rate this a 10 due to the fact that the banjo seems very well made, but I don't have enough time with them yet to say for sure.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Zach is an absolute pleasure to work with. He answers e-mails quickly and is eager to please.

Customer Service: 10

Components

The hardware on this banjo includes brass tuning pegs, tension hoop, and hooks. I asked him to use a bronze colored Kirchner style tailpiece. The head is a Renaissance. Everything is high quality.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

As noted above, this is my second Hoyt banjo.  This particular banjo has a 29" scale length and is kept tuned to open F with an occasional change to E. I had this banjo made to match my previous banjo (#60) but with a longer scale length. One thing I need to mention... Unless you stipulate otherwise, Zach builds his banjos with a larger neck than you'll find on most banjos.  It's basically the thickness of a guitar neck.  Since I play guitar, I find his necks to be PERFECT, but others may not think so.  I recommend giving him exact dimensions if you want something different. If you want a particular sound, ask Zach and he'll try to help. Since I play three finger mostly, I wanted a banjo set up for three finger picking.  I like Kirchner tailpieces, so he ordered one in the right color for me.

Upon receiving this banjo, I sold my Vega SS-5 long neck.  This banjo covers everything the Vega did and for a lot less money.  Zach really makes great banjos and sells them for way less than they deserve. 

Overall Rating: 10

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