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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!

6918 reviews in the archive.

Deering: Artisan Goodtime Openback

Submitted by vincefewo (see all reviews from this person) on 3/28/2020

Where Purchased: Showroom

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

Sound

I pick 3 finger, bluegrass. Hobby, intermediate. I own a Sierra and a Staghorn. Looking for a lighter and quieter banjo.
At showroom; More old time relaxed sound. Sustain and clarity was limited mostly to 3&4 strings and so was the volume. Up the neck was even less in these areas.
After Deering setup and arrived at my doorstep;
Much improved; the head had been tightened some, the bridge properly set, responsiveness was up and some of the hollow sound was gone.


Sound Rating: 7

Setup

The setup after I received it was good. The head was noticeably below a G but ok. No truss rod in this model. Everything was clean and wiped down nicely.
The one big thing I did for setup was tighten the head up to a G. Improved responsiveness greatly, added a little volume and evened out the sustain.

Setup Rating: 7

Appearance

The Artisan Openback is a basic model, with nicer inlays, dark stain, and RR spikes. It looks good for a $600 banjo without unnecessary, cheap looking components.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

I think 2 things about this, first I think it's made well and for light playing everything is going to be just fine. The finish on the hardware is thinner than my Sierra but it's ok

Reliability Rating: 7

Customer Service

I have worked with CS a couple of time and it's very easy. Good warranty on this and all Deerings.

Customer Service: 10

Components

I mentioned the finish but here I'll say that the tailpiece was a bit basic and the tuners not as smooth as my Sierra but still, it's less expensive and I've no issue with them otherwise.

Components Rating: 8

Overall Comments

What I have done is to replace the tailpiece with a Pisgah Hawktail, a very nice tailpiece indeed.

I tightened the head.

I had a scorpion bridge, wow, nice improvement especially up the neck.

last was I replaced the Deering light strings with my favorite 5-Star lights.

Now it sounds wonderful, 9 of 10.

Overall Rating: 8

Stelling: Staghorn

Submitted by Buckhorn (see all reviews from this person) on 3/20/2020

Where Purchased: 'banjobc' on BanjoHangout

Year Purchased: 2020
Price Paid: $4500.00 ($US) (bought USED)

Sound

The sound is amazing, the first time I played it at band practice, they all just said, "WoW!" Little effort used in playing, as the sound is so great I can pay more attention to my smoothness in playing. I feel so comfortable with the fingerboard and frets. I'm a quiet picker, but with this banjo the volume is just right and I have gained more speed and clarity in my playing. I had been playing a Huber Lancaster and at jams I found myself playing too hard and getting choppy in order to be heard, but when I began playing this Staghorn at the jams, I had no problem being heard and did not have to play as hard, as the banjo did all the work for me. I love the sound of the low D string, the banjo is full, and the notes have just enough separation and sustain to keep a melody flowing, or to drive the heck out of a tune! Upper register, up the neck is absolutely true and intonation is right on. This Staghorn has balance all the way up the neck.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

I say it was used, however, banjobc (BHO subscriber) took great care of this banjo and for a 2005 model, it was showroom perfect in every way, no wear at all, the overall appearance of this banjo was brand new. I did not worry about setup at first, as I knew it hadn't been played, so I left it as was for 2 months until I broke it in and brought it back to life... then I did my own setup via Geoff Stelling's website (he has a place there to show you how to set up a Stelling banjo). When I followed Geoff's instructions, the banjo came to life and was just amazing, I couldn't stop smiling and had to contact Geoff and tell him how pleased I was with this banjo. If you buy a Stelling, just follow the setup instructions per the Stelling website, and you can't go wrong.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Easy on the eyes? It's mesmerizing! The banjo has not a scratch on it. The deer antler inlay pattern is beautiful, and the antler overlay on the resonator against the dark claro walnut is picture perfect. Geoff Stelling made me a custom white mother of pearl truss rod cover for it to add to the beauty. Everything about the banjo is so nice, and a product of real craftsmanship. I'm proud to own this banjo, made in Virginia, and me being a 'Virginia Boy', we're like two peas in a pod! I get nice compliments wherever I play it, on sound and how it looks.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

This banjo will outlast me, my son to whom it will be an heirloom for him, and one day his son, this banjo is quality work. With any product, if you clean it after you're done using it, and take care of it, it will last over the course of many generations. I bought the simichrome polish from the Stelling website and keep this banjo shined up, I would recommend the polish for a Stelling banjo to keep it healthy. Banjo is very dependable, I already stand out in a bluegrass jam when some pickers aren't as courteous to other players when they take a break. I can hold my own with this Staghorn

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

I cannot say enough good things about Geoff Stelling - he is speedy in his replies back to me when I ask him questions, he gives helpful advice, he has given me encouraging words and compliments my playing when I have sent him samples of me playing this banjo. He is a military veteran and has done his part to defend and look after the United States. He will be doing some restoration work for me on an older Stelling I have, I trust his work and value his opinions. When I place orders for things off the website, 'Sherry' keeps me up to date with emails on shipping and charges, and is very quick in processing orders.

Customer Service: 10

Components

There is no particular 'one thing' that stands out on this banjo. It's all put together like a perfect ticking clock. But if I had to pick out one thing which stands out above all, is the beautiful finish put on this banjo, it's like looking through clear glass into the wood. You have to hold this banjo and see it to appreciate it.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

Overall, the banjo costs a little more than a lot of other banjos out there, but you get what you pay for.  If you are serious about playing, you want ease of playing, you want to better your playing, you want a finely crafted instrument that shows detail and is a work of art, then you should get a Stelling Staghorn. 

I have played other brands and models in my 35 years of bluegrass banjo playing, and this Staghorn model will be the last banjo I ever buy.  I have two Staghorns now, one for each son when I pass on.

Overall Rating: 10

Hopkins: Walnut / Chrome

Submitted by camlan (see all reviews from this person) on 3/9/2020

Where Purchased: Morgan Music

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

Sound

This banjo has a fresh, somewhat traditional sound but not too much of that quick decay or dusty sound. I play bluegrass and this banjo sounds fantastic compared to the many Deering, Stelling and Huber models I have owned. It has a pure sound that can get growly or clear if you want it to be. Great range of sound and very clear and loud up the neck.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Banjo was set by Alvin at Morgan Music and I also checked with Paul Hopkins as he walked me through measurements over the phone and the setup was/is dead perfect. Both excellent guys who will bend backwards to make you happy with your banjo!!

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

I have owned Stellings and Hubers and the workmanship is right there. Very beautiful wood work on neck and resonator. Traditional and not too showy, but very nice all over.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

I have had not issues with neck or pot, tuners work fine and banjo stays in tune.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Alvin at Morgan Music and Paul Hopkins have been really great to work with. It a used banjo and Paul is spending hours helping me out. Who does that these days!!? Alvin gave me several different banjos long distance (Vancouver BC - Missouri ) until I landed on this Hopkins Walnut Standards Deluxe. Alvin and Paul are top of the heap.

Customer Service: 10

Components

The wood quality is first rate, the tuners and hardware are all top quality, love the 5th string tuner that you feed the string into so it does not stick out and poke you. I also love the neck shape which is medium every which way, easy in the hand and feels quick.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I don't usually blow smoke, but this thing really is a 10. This is a wonderful sounding banjo that has enough traditional sound character, but also is clear enough for more melodic styles. It looks fantastic. The customer service and support from Morgan Music and Paul Hopkins is off the charts. This is the perfect storm of professional banjos in the sub $5000 range. I have owned over 20 banjos and this one is the best so far. 

Overall Rating: 10

Snowbird Banjo Co: 11 Little Birdie

Submitted by jesse_bassfeller (see all reviews from this person) on 2/19/2020

Where Purchased: Direct from Snowbird Banjo

Year Purchased:
Price Paid: 950 ($US)

Sound

Good classic clawhammer sound. I bought this primarily to play with my wife/fiddler and sound perfect for playing with a fiddle

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Setup was right on

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

This is the entry level banjo so appointments are basic but tasteful and well executed.

Appearance Rating: 8

Reliability

This seems as reliable as it needs to be. I recently purchased but fully expect to play it for decades and I have every confidence it will go as long I want it to.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

Jeremy @ Snowbird is the best

Customer Service: 10

Components

No issues with any of the components - everything is solid and good quality.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

I've very pleased with my Snowbird Banjo Company Little Birdie banjo. The workmanship is first rate and the sound and play-ability are absolutely satisfying. I've had the opportunity to put my hands on a number of Snowbird's banjos and have been favorably impressed with all of them. I would unreservedly recommend Snowbird Banjo Company to anyone who wants a good banjo.

Overall Rating: 10

Snowbird Banjo Co: 11 Little Birdie

Submitted by jesse_bassfeller (see all reviews from this person) on 2/19/2020

Where Purchased: Direct from Snowbird Banjo

Year Purchased:
Price Paid: 950 ($US)

Sound

Good classic clawhammer sound. I bought this primarily to play with my wife/fiddler and sound perfect for playing with a fiddle

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Setup was right on

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

This is the entry level banjo so appointments are basic but tasteful and well executed.

Appearance Rating: 8

Reliability

This seems as reliable as it needs to be. I recently purchased but fully expect to play it for decades and I have every confidence it will go as long I want it to.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

Jeremy @ Snowbird is the best

Customer Service: 10

Components

No issues with any of the components - everything is solid and good quality.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

I've very pleased with my Snowbird Banjo Company Little Birdie banjo. The workmanship is first rate and the sound and play-ability are absolutely satisfying. I've had the opportunity to put my hands on a number of Snowbird's banjos and have been favorably impressed with all of them. I would unreservedly recommend Snowbird Banjo Company to anyone who wants a good banjo.

Overall Rating: 10

Companion Custom Banjos: Custom

Submitted by BanjoBani (see all reviews from this person) on 2/19/2020

Where Purchased: Directly from Companion Custom Banjos

Year Purchased: 2020
Price Paid: $2000 ($US)

Sound

The banjo has a full, rich sound with a lot of sustain. I play mostly folk and old time, but I wanted a resonator banjo to complete my collection. I also dabble in some Scruggs style playing now and then. This banjo suits me perfectly, as it was made to my specifications.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

The set up was great. Chris set it up with the bridge I had requested and the intonation is spot on. He also made the neck a bit wider than standard, as per my request.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

It is more beautiful than I expected. I originally just wanted a lighter resonator banjo with a bit of wide neck. I didn't really care about the looks, but Chris encouraged me to personalize the design (It didn't cost any more). I ended up with a beautiful and tasteful "Dragonfly" banjo. The woods, finishes, hardware, and inlays are just awesome.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

I haven't had it very long, but I believe that it will be my forever banjo. Maintenance will be easy enough. Chris encouraged me to keep in contact with him and he would help with any changes I wanted to make in the future (like the bridge or head).

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Chris was great. He has a day job, but he always answers emails promptly and sends pictures. He was patient with me when I wanted to make changes during the design process.

Customer Service: 10

Components

They are great. The pot, neck, and resonator are custom and are made from beautiful woods. The hardware is good, especially the flange, hooks, and tailpiece. I don't expect that I will upgrade anything, expect maybe the tuners. But tuners are always an option for upgrade :) I won't be doing that anytime in the foreseeable future however.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I am very happy with this banjo.  It has the warm sound I wanted. It is very lightweight and as a bonus, it is real nice to look at :)  

If you are interested in a having a beautiful, great sounding banjo made just for you, I recommend that you contact Chris. 

Overall Rating: 10

Pisgah: 12" Rambler Special with Dobson Tone Ring

Submitted by Danny D (see all reviews from this person) on 2/18/2020

Where Purchased: From Patrick Heavner Owner

Year Purchased: 2020
Price Paid: $2K historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

I play Straight Clawhammer, Drop Thumb, some Overhand and fingerpick (not Scruggs). This banjo Shines in all my chosen styles. Its very responsive for my Appalachian style with a great old time cluck.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

This is a banjo Patrick built for himself to keep. It was set up for his personal playing style which the action was a bit too high for me and I wanted my own personal string choice. All it took was for me to replace the bridge with a Gary Sosebee 5/8ths vintage Maple with a compensated 3rd and my personal string choice which was fast and simple.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

This banjo is simply Gorgeous. The neck is superior Flamed Maple as is the Dowel and stained a beautiful vintage brown color which shows off the flame very well. It has the vintage headstock shape with his custom star inlay. The fret board is black looks like Ebony but may be Richlite, I didn’t ask, with copper dot inlay which he also used for the side dot markers. All work is flawless and the neck shape has a very pleasant V shape which feels perfect in the hand.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

The Hardware is Beautiful. It’s the short scale 12” Dobson Special model Which has a rolled Copper over Maple with aged brass hardware through out including the tuners and his Hawk tail piece. Again, all work here is flawless as well and the aesthetic gives the banjo an 1800 / to early 1900s era banjo only its brand new, very sturdy and extremely dependable. A bit heavier than I expected but its weight is very acceptable. It doesn’t feel flimsy, it feels like Quality.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Patrick is a great guy, very helpful with any questions / answers you might have or needs regarding the build.

Customer Service: 10

Components

The craftsmanship of the banjo as a whole from the feel, wood choice, visual and sound are all great components.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

This banjo is not what I expected.  It far exceeded any preconceived notions I had.  This is an outstanding instrument which would please most any level player or playing style.  I’m giving all 10s in this review because it deserves it.  I have no ties with Patrick and was just lucky to catch him at the right moment to purchase his personal build.  To me, the feel, sound, quality and visual image of this banjo are all standout components.  I’m no newbie to builders either.  Over the last decade in learning to play, acquire, buy, sell and trade banjos, I’ve had the privilege of owning just about all the top end banjos out there which are all premier instruments for the most part.  It took a while for me to make a decision to find a Pisgah for myself but what I found was a banjo that rates right up there with the best.  This is a keeper.  Its a special build he can and may use as a template for some future builds.  I highly recommend it.

Overall Rating: 10

Quail Creek Banjos: 11" Spirit Bear with Dobson tone ring

Submitted by chambers (see all reviews from this person) on 2/13/2020

Where Purchased: Direct

Year Purchased: 2020
Price Paid: 1450 ($US)

Sound

Worked with Lindsay to describe the sound I wanted and he delivered. I wanted an emphasis on the lower end and the mids, with just enough note separation to cut through and be heard with other instruments. He helped me think through the options to get that and suggested the dobson ring and the goat skin head. Came out exactly how I imagined it.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Setup is great. Neck angle is right, head tension is consistent, action is good all the way to the scoop. Bridge needed minor adjustment for intonation, but every banjo is subject to that. String height coming off of nut is perfect. Break angle to nut looks good.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

People lose their minds when they see this banjo. Worked with Lindsay on a headstock design that has a story behind it, and the antiqued look of the stained goat skin head matches, with the antiqued brass and all the walnut tells a single story. Oh yeah, the black tuners are smoking hot too.

There's an ebony cap on the rim that sets off nicely. Subtle. Walnut staining is clearly hand done, creating minor variations that are consistent with this kind of instrument and make it obvious it wasn't sprayed on in a factory.

Lindsay handcut the inlay, and added brass stars too. Wicked good work.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Of course.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Working with Lindsay is enjoyable. He clearly cares about what he's doing and getting it right. Example - he realized during the sanding of my rim that there was a knot or some imperfection. So he started over. No charge to me. I just had to wait a little longer and appreciated the honesty - when he probably could have easily stained over it or explained it away.

I don't know if it has a warranty. I've played world class banjos for 25 years. I've never needed to use a warranty.

Customer Service: 10

Components

all solid reputable parts. Gotoh and industry standard stuff.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

Just go ahead and get one. Check it out here: https://youtu.be/rInO0O0bMLM

Overall Rating: 10

Stelling: Golden Cross

Submitted by Lefty5string (see all reviews from this person) on 2/6/2020

Where Purchased: Stelling as a custom lefty

Year Purchased: 2020
Price Paid: ~5k altogether ($US)

Sound

It's amazing, loud, crisp, everything you'd expect from a Stelling maple. I don't give 10s for anything but this banjo is the one I will judge all others against when it comes to craftsmanship. Besides, everything getting all 10s all the time tells you nothing. It's the same Stelling reno played and I'm sure he could make it a 10.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

Great, sounds perfect right out of the case even though it is a lefty and i know they couldnt break it in.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

This is a 10. Everything about it is a work of art. far exceeded my expectations. I wanted a big golden sunburst on the resonator and they delivered.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

I haven't had it that long so it is hard to tell. Looks like top quality gear and so far so good but it's only been a month.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

Good. I had to have this made as a custom because i am a lefty and though it cost 10% more they gave me exactly what i asked for. I wanted my Golden Cross to be golden, not just brown with a sunburst and it sure is golden. They forgot to send me my customized truss rod cover with the banjo but one email and it was here in a couple days. It took about 2 months longer than estimated to get the banjo but that is within the range of what you might expect. Murphy Henry brokered this deal for me and got me a nice discount for being a longtime student and she gets a 10 for her communication and efforts to get everything perfect.

Customer Service: 9

Components

It's a Stelling so its all the best stuff right? Everything is exceptional.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

Stellings, especially left handed custom Stellings are fairly, almost ridiculously expensive. I got a discount as a Murphy Method student which is a great way to go if you are unable to find a used one (lefty) and have to have one made but i was still over twice as much as my 2004 Hatfield. Still, if you want a lifetime banjo you can't possibly outgrow or get over what a piece of art it is, get one and you won't be disappointed. I have banjos all over the house sitting on stands and hanging on the walls but this Stelling Golden Cross stays in the case until it is time to play. It is definitely a prized possession. 

Overall Rating: 10

Pisgah: 12" Walnut Dobson

Submitted by Lefty5string (see all reviews from this person) on 2/6/2020

Where Purchased: BHO

Year Purchased: 2020
Price Paid: 1300 ($US) (bought USED)

Sound

its a great sounding banjo with a dobson tone ring that makes it sound like a horse galloping when i play in the scoop.

Sound Rating: 8

Setup

i bought it used but it still was set up well. strings are high which makes playing easy and gives a plunky sound

Setup Rating: 8

Appearance

simple but beautiful. a few minor imperfections in the rim but only cosmetic. it looks like a great player banjo. it's not in the same league as a romero or stelling but i dont see how you could compare these against those price points. dont take my rating as dissatisfaction, it can't be a 10 when some of the high end banjos out there cost 4x as much for their craftsmanship. it doesnt look like a Romero but there isnt a 5 year wait and 5k price tag on it either.

Appearance Rating: 8

Reliability

ive had it a couple months and havent done anything to it. it stays in tune is is rock solid. its a daily player workhorse.

Reliability Rating: 8

Customer Service

i bought it used but have a different Pisgah and they are great to deal with. gave me exactly what i wanted even though i changed my mind on a few components halfway through. I've not had a problem with either Pisgah i own so cant speak to warranty work but i expect they would be on point

Customer Service: 9

Components

parts all seem solid nothing loose or poor quality. i assume it is all the standard stuff. all local woods are great and beautiful.

Components Rating: 8

Overall Comments

If you are looking to upgrade your starter frailer and want a solid workhorse without the frills and extra money get a Pisgah. For less than 2k you can get a very well made openback banjo with tons of customizable features and great craftsmanship. They dont have fancy inlays or bindings but they are very well made and looks and sound great. you can get them with any combination of woods/tone rings/head shapes/fretboard material/ rims you want and you wont be disappointed. An 8 is a great banjo, perhaps not quite a work of art as some but it isn't meant or priced to be. Simple elegance. I personally disregard reviews with all 10s, nothing is all 10s.

Overall Rating: 8

Ome: MIRA 11" (Curly Maple)

Submitted by HERMES (see all reviews from this person) on 1/25/2020

Where Purchased: Vintage Instruments, Philadelphia, PA

Year Purchased: 2020
Price Paid: 3000 ($US)

Sound

This banjo has an 11" pot with Ome's "vintage tonering." It is articulate, but not overly bright or harsh. The notes sound pretty up the neck. It's easy to stuff a knit hat in the rim for smaller rooms or certain styles...but it sounds wonderful with no stuffing in a large room....
This banjo suits my 25 years of playing. I like all the notes and I like finding new combinations in the 2nd, 3rd & 4th positions.....the 11" pot makes each note very tight, but there is an almost reverberating crust that breaks apart beautifully as the notes sound....this is the banjo you play for someone who hates the sound of a typical banjo...Every tune or song I have tried so far instantly sounded better than before...This is not a "roundpeak" banjo or a "melodic" banjo or anything like that...it is it's own monster...ready to flirt with and devour the budding silence...

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Action is fine...but the banjo came with a tool to adjust it if I want higher or lower action.The bridge is great. I could try another down the road, but I am in no rush. The head is the now standard Renaissance. I may add a Goat Skin head...or maybe even a fiberskin....but for right now the Renny is fine....
(The strings on it are store-old. They provided me with two medium sets.)

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

This is a special version of THE MIRA. Ome has been making most of their "old-time" line with raw brass aged hardware and often walnut, mahogany or cherry. It suits the banjos and gives them an antiqued look. This particular version was specked personally by Vintage Instruments. It has all Nickel Hardware. A stained curly maple neck (amazing stain). All the appointments are precise. The inlay in the head stock & neck is otherworldly...some of the most amazing colors I have ever seen inlay-ed into a banjo neck. The faux-dowel is also beautiful and in my opinion so much cooler and more practical than the out-dated "dowel stick."

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Everything is top notch...and covered by warranty. The hardware is solid.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

I have dealt with OME in the past and the experience was always pleasant. My experience at Vintage Instruments was wonderful....The only way to try out instruments is to go where there are many examples and leave your expectations at the door. I tried this banjo on a whim while I was visiting the city.... and it's tone stuck with me while I saved up and eventually made it mine.
I look forward to dealing with both Ome & Vintage Instruments in the future.

Customer Service: 10

Components

Everything is of the highest quality.
But the real stand out? the radiused fret board.
WOW...who knew? I've played guitars with this option, but I'm pretty sure this is one of the few "open back"banjos that features this delightful upgrade.
I really love the arm rest. Not one thing about this banjo that doesn't stand out...except for the renaissance head...i still find them transparently ugly and slightly muddy....
I love the TAILPIECE...however, I think it could be improved. The hook end of the strings do not stay put during installation due to the angle. There is nothing for the hook to cling to. It was difficult to change the strings. I had to come up with another method. I'd like it if they had something on the inside of the teeth to secure the loop while you are fooling with the peg. No knots have a groove...so maybe just a variation on that. That is literally the only negative thing I found.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

60 years of building banjos...OME knows a thing or two...and in my opinion they make instruments that don't sail down standard roads...they invite you to hear new combinations of sound. Some instruments invite you to re-create something from the past, while others help you to serenade the future with fresh visions & tones. OME makes the later & now I'm not sure I need any of the former.

 

(PS... I owned an OME FLORA 12" for a brief period of time...that was a wonderful instrument, but I sold it due to the fact that the 12" pot felt a little uncomfortable to me...but every Ome I've ever tried just oozes charm and playability...I'm thankful they have a precise, yet varied line to suit various people....)

Overall Rating: 10

Criswell Classic " Mahogany ": Classic # 1-9-61-21

Submitted by banjermun (see all reviews from this person) on 1/24/2020

Where Purchased: Criswell Classic Banjo Shop

Year Purchased: 11-30-2019
Price Paid: $3000.00 ($US)

Sound

This Banjo suits my music style perfect !!!!! (Bluegrass) Scruggs Style
This Banjo came set up very well, head tightened about 87 on the drum dial.
This Banjo came setup with a 5/8" Criswell Classic Bridge. I tighten the head to
about 91 and installed a Curtis McPeake .656 Lightening Bolt Bridge and the Banjo came alive tremendously !!!! The tone is Rich and full with a PreWar crack like no other New modern banjo I've ever played. The further I get up the neck it just gets Bigger and Better !!!! There is nothing to dislike about this Banjo.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

The action was set up very well. The Criswell Classic was easy to make changes to the setup to, just tighten the head a little and change out the bridge.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

The banjo looks extremely well with Scruggs Heart and Flowers inlay on an Ebony finger board. The neck and resonator is made out of high quality mahogany and is finished in nitrocellulose. The parts are all high quality and
banjo is constructed very very well no flaws that I can detect. The rim is constructed of a maple Block Rim. It has a Criswell Classic 20 hole Nickel Plated Tonering. Over all a very High End High Quality Banjo.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

The hardware seems very durable and the finish is good enough to last for many years to come. I believe I can soley depend on this banjo no matter what the situation !!!!!

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

The owner of Criswell Classic Banjo shop Mr. Richard S. Criswell is a class act and is willing to go above and beyond of whatever he can do to satisfy the customer !!!!!! AAA+ Rating

Customer Service: 10

Components

The neck and pot to finish is extremely spot on !!!!!
The neck and resonator finish looks great high Quality.
The binding looks great no flaws what so ever !!!!
The frets are fantastically smooth, even and are holding up well.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

Overall Hands down the best sounding (New) 5-String Banjo I've ever owned or 

played and I've owned and played several over a 40 year span !!!!!

Overall Rating: 10

Zachary Hoyt: #127 Cherry 12”

Submitted by Chris Cornwell (see all reviews from this person) on 1/22/2020

Where Purchased: Zachary Hoyt

Year Purchased: 2020
Price Paid: ($US)

Sound

This banjo has a very full, dark tone, and sounds amazing when played in clawhammer or fingerstyle. It’s highly responsive and loud enough to hold its own when I play with guitar and fiddle. It can easily switch between melodic and subtle, or percussive and powerful when needed. The wider nut and thicker neck is incredibly comfortable to play.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Setup on arrival was fantastic including two 5th string spikes I requested.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

The banjo is absolutely gorgeous. The design and execution are simple and elegant throughout the instrument. The cherry rim and jatoba fretboard have lots of character, but the absolute standout for me is the beautifully figured cherry burl peghead overlay.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Construction is very solid, and I have no doubt that this instrument will be here after long I’m gone.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Zach could not be more helpful, and responds very quickly to emails. He’s always more than happy to answer any questions and is one of the friendliest guys you’ll ever encounter!

Customer Service: 10

Components

All components are clearly high quality.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I really can't recommend this banjo highly enough.  It's now my number one banjo and is clearly going to be a lifelong member of my musical family.   With Zach's extremely generous prices, I don't think there's a higher value to be found anywhere.

Overall Rating: 10

Bishline: Danny Barnes

Submitted by camlan (see all reviews from this person) on 1/19/2020

Where Purchased: Morgan Music

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

Sound

For a wood tone rim/ring banjo, this banjo blew my mind. I have owned 2 Hartford banjos and the Danny Barnes has to my ear a richer sound and can get plenty loud with proper technique. It is somewhat warm but surprisingly clear at the same time. For those who cross over to Roots and Newgrass, you will love the different sounds and volumes you can get out of this instrument. Truly amazing! Oh yes, you can also plug it in and rock the house!

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Setup was perfect out of the box, I lower the tailpiece a bit to try to max the volume. The rest was perfect for what I like.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

The photos on the Bishline website do not lie. The wood trim and the quilted Mahogany are truly beautiful. This is a very attractive banjo and I like the black powder coat a modern accent. Very cool looking banjo.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

This banjo looks bomber and all the parts are 1st class.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Both Morgan Music and Rob Bishline (who did not even sell me the banjo) are fantastic to deal and talk to. Morgan Music is a great shop, and Rob is so helpful to people.

Customer Service: 10

Components

Tuners, tailpiece, black powdercoat flange, ring are all winning parts. The pick up is quality as well.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I have owned too many banjos from top builders, and this Danny Barnes banjo is unique sounding in a good Bluegrass & Roots way and is the easiest banjo I have ever played. I absolutely love the feel of this neck, just fits me perfectly. It feels like the next generation of design and quality. I strongly recommend this banjo. For those who play amplified, this is your axe!! Don't be scared by the wood rim/ring, this banjo is plenty loud and gutsy for playing Bluegrass. It is also a light banjo and I would strongly recommend it over other woody resonator banjos I have owned. Oh, I almost forgot, it is a better banjo for a $1500 less than anything in the same quality ballpark!

Overall Rating: 10

Bishline: Harvest

Submitted by camlan (see all reviews from this person) on 1/19/2020

Where Purchased: Morgan Music

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

Sound

This maple Harvest is one great sounding Bluegrass banjo. It is a tad more clear sounding than my Huber, but still delivers great volume and growl. The sound is still perfect for Bluegrass, but those playing more modern genres will appreciate its clarity and balance. It can be played very loudly or can produce sweeter tones at lower volumes, it has wonderful range. See video on Bishlline website to see of what I speak.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

What can I say, perfect out of the box! Great action and I find this banjo super easy to play. It would be my most playable banjo out of the 12 I have owned.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Just look at the website. It reminds me of a Deering Calico at 50% of the price. The quality of the wood, stain, inlays and workmanship are unbelievable. I have owned Stellings and Hubers and this banjo is right there on quality.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

I have only owned it a short while but this thing looks bomber. It stays in tune well and I have had no issues whatsoever.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Morgan Music are great to deal with, Alvin and his team are very polite and service oriented, they try to make things work. My banjo was well shipped and packed. Rob Bishline did not sell me the banjo and yet he was willing to offer all sorts of helpful advice on what model was right for me and even on details of setup. Don't be afraid to discuss your dream banjo with this builder, he'll set you up!

Customer Service: 10

Components

Tuners, flange, ring, hardware, and woods are all top notch, what you would find on a $4500 banjo.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I was going to buy a Deering Calico which is a fine instrument. I had tried several. But I find the Harvest every bit as beautiful and amazing sound-wise but even better on growl, clarity of notes, and it is lighter. I think it is 2+ lbs lighter than my Stelling and I can now stand with my banjo in the Bluegrass circle. It blows me away that a banjo that has this aesthetic, sound quality, and playability is $1500+ less than comparable banjos. Buy this banjo, you will not regret it!!

Overall Rating: 10

Gold Tone: Acoustic Composite AC-1

Submitted by ZenTao (see all reviews from this person) on 1/8/2020

Where Purchased: BAX music

Year Purchased: 2020
Price Paid: 190.00 (GBP) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

My first banjo so, you know, for you guys playing a while you might want to skip. But for anyone just starting out, highly recommend, it’s everything I expected and wanted. Sounds great, looks great, feels great.

Sound Rating: 8

Setup

Remember this is my first banjo and I have zero knowledge. All I’ve done is tune it with an electronic chromatic tuner. I haven’t altered a thing and I love it’s sound. I’m not giving it 10 out of 10 because I lack the experience to know if it should/could sound better.

Setup Rating: 8

Appearance

Personally I like it.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Feels like quality

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Customer service at BAX music was non existent. They missed two delivery dates and failed to answer any emails, the couple of times I tried calling to speak to someone I was just on hold for 10mins and never actually got put through. A real shame because the banjo came well packaged, played virtually out of the box and was approx £40 cheaper than everywhere else. I just can’t recommend them because they don’t respond to you.

Customer Service: 2

Components

Complete newbie to the banjo so I lack the knowledge to be able to answer this. The banjo looks and feels great though.

Components Rating: 8

Overall Comments

Incredibly happy with my first banjo, shame about the suppliers (BAX music) lack of customer service.

Overall Rating: 8

Quail Creek Banjos: 11” Half Fretless Dobson

Submitted by wrj01 (see all reviews from this person) on 12/31/2019

Where Purchased: From maker

Year Purchased: 2019
Price Paid: 1650 ($US)

Sound

11” 3 ply maple pot, regular scale, Dobson tone ring/heel/Cole peg head/ man in the moon / stars inlays/ goat skin head/partial fretless-brass. Fantastic build. Sound is loud and clear. Lindsay is building a great banjo.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

No setup changes needed. Perfect action. May experiment with different bridges, but the Sosebee on it now is great.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Beautiful banjo. Dark stained figured maple pot and neck. Cole peghead, Man in the Moon motif with shooting star. Coffee color stained goat skin head.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Top quality hardware. Tuners are Gotoh. Should hold up under all playing conditions.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Lindsay was great to work with. Kept me abreast of the build with photos every week.

Customer Service: 10

Components

All parts are first quality.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

Fine purchase from an excellent builder.

Overall Rating: 10

Bishline: Midnight Moon Ultra-Light

Submitted by patman1 (see all reviews from this person) on 12/11/2019

Where Purchased: Banjo Bob's

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

Sound

The sound of the Ultra-Light is silky smooth but with plenty of bite when needed. The definition of each string and each note is unlike any banjo I have played before. This banjo has the tone of a vintage instrument and because of the maple tone ring it will only improve with age!

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

My Midnight Moon Ultra-Light arrived in tune and the setup was perfect. I ordered a radiused fretboard and the bridge has the same radius so the action is excellent along the entire fretboard.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

This banjo is a work of art with delicate marquetry on the headstock and beautiful inlays on the neck and even on the resonator. The fret markers are stars or constellations with the Big Dipper on the 7th fret. The binding is Koa and the body and neck are flame Maple stained like a midnight sky. To achieve the Ultra-light weight the flange is powder coated (black) aluminum which gives an understated look.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

This banjo will last for generations. The fit and finish are excellent and all details are precise as you would expect from a custom banjo. As for reliability, if a banjo can arrive in tune after a journey with UPS, it can stand up to more abuse than I'll ever give it!

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

When you deal with Bishline you are dealing with Rob Bishline. His name is on the instrument and he is a talented player and craftsman. He even sent photos of my banjo in production! The instrument has a lifetime warranty (materials and workmanship) for the original owner.

Customer Service: 10

Components

All components are top quality and match the Midnight Moon motif. Tuner knobs are black as is the flange. tail piece and all other hardware are silver.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

If you've read this far, then you know I am crazy about this banjo! Looks are incredible but once you start playing the real beauty comes out. Sweet is a apt term for the sound quality and because the banjo is so light I don't have to listen to my own moaning and complaining about my aching shoulder or back!

I have had the pleasure of owning/playing some fantastic instruments from Deering, Ome, Vega and others and the Bishline Midnight Moon Ultra-Light is my absolute favorite! It combines world class workmanship with leading edge technology to achieve beautiful tone and light weight! A banjo of this quality would cost at least twice as much from more familiar brands.

Overall Rating: 10

Snowbird Banjo Co: 11 Little Birdie

Submitted by Raynna (see all reviews from this person) on 12/8/2019

Where Purchased: The Manufacturer

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

Sound

Little Birdie has suited my music style perfectly. It has a wide variety of rich and full sounds. After nearly a year, there is still nothing I dislike about this beautifully handcrafted banjo.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Little Birdie was set up just right.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Little Birdie is very easy on the eyes. The mother of pearl inlay is my favorite part and is always commented on and praised by others.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Little Birdie is, no doubt about it, a solid build. After a year of ownership I am very pleased with the reliability the creator built into it. I am very proud of owning a Snowbird Banjo.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Customer Service: 10

Components

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

Excellent artistry! I could not be more happy with our banjo. Thank you Snowbird Banjo Co! You have my highest recommendation.

Overall Rating: 10

Grafton: Clipper #4

Submitted by LorraineD (see all reviews from this person) on 12/2/2019

Where Purchased: Andy Perkins Traditional Instruments

Year Purchased: 2019
Price Paid: 845 (UK Pounds) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

The Clipper #4 is effectively a "Custom Build". With a 3 ply maple rim and a 56 Oz 20 hole tone ring it produces a full on "proper flat head" tone. This banjo really clucks and pings together with the most satisfying growl on the 4th string. Very loud and bright with amazing sustain. I like pretty much everything about it as I specified what I wanted and they really delivered!.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Glen at Andy Perkins did his usual job of an amazing set up. Right out of the case this banjo is amazingly playable. The action is very well set, everything on the banjo was superb and just as expected. There was nothing to do to it except raise the bridge and play.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

As with all Grafton banjos, a very plain look, simple black binding, a lovely satin finish on all wood, simple snowflake inlays on the neck and a peg head which features a large single snowflake and the Grafton logo. That plain appearance actually makes it really stand out and the quality of components is all the more obvious because there is no fancy hoo-hah going on.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Very solidly built, just as good as my Clipper #2. Finish is really nice and will likely not wear. I would use it anywhere (if I were good enough!). Hardware is really great - the Straightline tailpiece is a heavy casting and very nicely chrome plated. The tuners are really nice, very smooth and stable, there is nothing hardware wise that i could fault at all. The fit of the tone ring to the rim is really tight and nice to see that of course the face of the rim has no stain at all on it, with the resonator off you can clearly see the line where the stain and finish stop. That means a lovely unobstructed fit between tone ring and rim of course.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Glen at Andy Banjo always does an amazing job. With this banjo i specified MOP buttons, we had a slight issue, the fibre washer on one of the tuners did not like to properly grip the MOP button and that led the tuner to start slipping a little.

Within 24 hours Glen had sent me a complete set of leather tuner washers, I swapped that one out and problem solved.

Great customer service from a company that really care about their product.

Customer Service: 10

Components

I love the genuine MOP buttons - they are the only "Bling" part of the banjo and really set it off. The tailpiece is a really nice quality bit of kit. The tuners are lovely and smooth and hold tune very well indeed. I once again opted for the wide neck - 5mm wider than standard, it is really superb, smooth with incredibly well finished frets and a wonderful feel. I don't see anything cheap on the entire banjo, there is really nothing I would upgrade as it is a solid, well made piece of kit that functions exactly as intended.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

This is effectively a custom build banjo.  I should add it is a lefty with a wide neck.  Sure you cannot specify things like inlays and binding, you have to have what Grafton offer but all else is "custom"".  You pick the neck, the tone ring you want, the tailpiece, tuners etc.  

I also played a Gold Tone BG250L while I was down there deciding - a very nice banjo but the Grafton is easily a match for it, if not even better.  Compare the current prices and factor in that I got what I wanted in terms of being able to specify hardware and tone ring choice.

Just unbeatable really.  This is the second Grafton Clipper I have bought from them, the two side by side look really "family" and i have to say the new one is just amazing.  My current problem is that i keep having to put it down and get on with some work.  I just cannot bear to stop playing it!

You cannot get that for £845 anywhere else in the UK!

Overall Rating: 10

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