Banjo Hangout Logo
Banjo Hangout Logo

Premier Sponsors

203
Banjo Lovers Online


Banjo Reviews

Review Categories

Most Recent

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!

6752 reviews in the archive.

Dave Rice

Submitted by jellowaydan (see all reviews from this person) on 9/19/2018

Overall Comments

I live in northern Ohio and needed fret work done on a Gibson conversion. I heard about Dave Rice at  Family Learning Center for Music and did some research and took my banjo to Dave. I am very pleased with his quality of work. He replaced some frets, leveled and crowned the frets, and fixed a string slot in the nut. The banjo plays great and looks great. I highly recommend Dave Rice for instrument repair. He is located in Twinsburg, Ohio...Phone...330-487-1171  Thanks...Dan Fruth                                                                                                                                                                                  

Overall Rating: 10

Smakula Fretted Instruments

Submitted by kimmattis123 (see all reviews from this person) on 8/29/2018

Overall Comments

I've know Bob many years through the Augusta Heritage Festivals at D&E College in Elkins, WV.  He has repaired many of our club instruments- He has fixed and set up two of my banjos [ both vintage with Dowl sticks].  He is one of [ if not the..] best person for this.  He has sold me a vintage fiddle  set up and ready to go [ an great old Nippon, great instrument].  If you need vintage instruments or any repairs of them-- Bob is you go-to guy.  I go out of my way to send him my repairs or parts problems.  His work could could not be better.

Overall Rating: 10

Terry Bell

Submitted by Londobanjo (see all reviews from this person) on 8/2/2018

Overall Comments

I have ordered and paid for a fretless banjo but have not heard from Terry Bell for over a month. No answer to my emails or phone calls from London, UK.

Mal B

Overall Rating: 1

John Boulding

Submitted by loggerhead (see all reviews from this person) on 6/29/2018

Overall Comments

For the past couple of months I have been playing and enjoying a neck that John has re-shaped and re-stained. I was taking a few Skype lessons with John when I happened to ask whether the profile of the neck on one of my banjos could be re-worked to be more comfortable and user friendly. The answer, I can attest, is a resounding yes, and John did a first-rate job of shaving down and thinning a far-too-beefy neck into one that is a pleasure to play. He matched the original stain exactly, and I am a happy dude. His work comes highly recommended.

Overall Rating: 10

Chris Cioffi

Submitted by Haard (see all reviews from this person) on 6/3/2018

Overall Comments

I have always wanted a full flathead tone ring banjo but never found one with the depth and clarity that satisfied. Chris rebuilt a custom banjo with a major makers tone ring for me and while good it didn't have the punch and clarity I was looking for. Chris's work was damn near perfect as usual, the problem was me. I came to the conclusion that I couldn't get that I wanted in a full flathead banjo.Chris and I have spoken alot about tone and what different rims, flanges, tone rings and / or tone hoops have to offer. We rebuilt a 1954 RB-100 with the tone hoop and it has great clarity and a nice tight base response. We also did a TB-1 shoe and plate tone hoop banjo which is really clear and has great growl to it. However, I still coveted a one piece flange flathead style banjo with the right sound.

Russ Carson visited Chris and videoed a banjo that Chris had put together for his wife. It had a TB-00 thin rim, resonator and neck from Chris's days at Huber's shop. I was amazed by the tone that Russ got out of the banjo. I called Chris and we discussed the banjo. No tone ring, no tone hoop just the original 1/2" vintage rim with turned wood bead. I was sold.

I searched the 'net and found a pristine TB-00 at Intermountain Guitar and Banjo. The banjo didn't look like it had ever been out of the case. The finish was perfect and the flange was flat with no pull. I bought the banjo and had it dropped shipped to Chris. Then i had to notify Chris of our new project!!! He was gracious enough to take the job on. (I would suggest you call Chris first before sending a project, I took advantage of our friendship...a little).

Chris called one day and let me know that he had a lightly used Huber Workhorse Walnut neck become available. We decided to use that neck for this project. We also changed out the thin tension hoop to the pre was grooved version (still with flat hooks) and a Presto style tailpiece. 

Chris did his usual perfect job on the fit of all the banjo parts. He emailed me that I would be satisfied with the banjo. He had several professional musicians come up from Nashville and they were blown away by the banjo and couldn't believe that it had that tone without a tone ring.

I got the banjo in September and I do not know how I could be more satisfied. It seems that with every banjo Chris has done for me (and this makes the 4th) that he raises his "game" every time. This banjo has everything I have been looking for in a full flathead banjo. It has the "hollow deep" sound that flathead experts talk about that I never understood...until now. It's really responsive and punchy also. Chris commented that it turned out sounding better than his wife's banjo and it holds it's own.....tone ring or not.

I feel lucky to have run across Chris Cioffi and now have a long distance friend who happens to do some pretty awesome banjo work. 

Highly recommended.

 

Overall Rating: 10

Don Bryant - Thurman NC

Submitted by possumontherun (see all reviews from this person) on 5/1/2018

Overall Comments

  After recently acquiring a prewar conversion banjo Don built for me i could not be more pleased. After my initial visit and much discussion Don had a clear understand of what i was seeking in my new banjo and made many recommendations. Wow...what can i say, the neck fit-up & finish is flawless and the setup is spot on. Don recommended that we use the original rim and tone hoop (what...no tone ring?). The tone and power up & down the neck is unbelievable.

  If you are seeking a honest first class luthier that's committed to satisfying you as a customer i strongly recommend giving Don a call. A true gentleman and now a friend!   

Overall Rating: 10

Chris Cioffi

Submitted by Texican65 (see all reviews from this person) on 4/16/2018

Overall Comments

     I met Chris by chance, through a random WANT add that I had created on BHO, looking for an old Morrison banjo. He ended up selling me an old Morrison that he had had for years, at the same cost that he had payed for it, a very stand up thing to do. Throughout that interaction, Chris had been so pleasurable and easy to deal with, and happy to talk banjo and share knowledge on the instrument in general. Having never met him, I could still tell that he was highly dedicated to his work, not only as a respected professional, but in a recreational aspect also, he has a true love for anything banjo. And aside from the whole business perspective, I also made a friend through Chris, he is now somebody that I can talk with anytime about banjo, music in general, or really anything in life. He's a wealth of knowledge and wisdom, and his steadfast attention to detail and dedication to perfection are what set his work ethics above other luthiers. So, as it turns out, with all this in mind, it came easy for me to select Chris out of a long list of luthiers for a challenging banjo restoration project that I have had for sometime. I wasnt comfortable enough with just "anybody" re-working this banjo, and after interacting with and then later researching Chris' qualifications and work history, I felt like he was the right man for the job.

     The banjo in question was a 1963 Earl Scruggs model Vega. They are quite rare, and although they bear Earl's name on the truss rod cover, they are also not the best designed/built banjo straight from the factory. I had had mine for 15+ years, and it was a COMPLETE DUD. ZERO volume, ZERO tone, hard to play, just downright embarassing, especially with Earl's name on it. Some of them are better than others, but many of them all suffer from the same flaws...mainly a poor neck heel to rim fit, which kills the tone. Mine, like several others, had a 1/4" gap at the bottom of the neck heel when attached to the rim. And there is a metal plate between the heel and rim that 2 allen screws butt up against that are used to adjust the neck left or right. Some argue that this is a good set-up, but most of us with these models, and who have had them re-worked, have seen the dramatic change in the instrument once the gap and metal plate are addressed. This banjo needed several other little things as well, but the neck fit was the main focus of the restore. 

     Since I live near Seattle, and Chris in Tennessee, I couldnt just walk onto his shop every weekend to discuss plans. But it did not hinder this project in the least sense, Chris dedicated many hours of conversation over the telephone and also through email. He took several hundred pictures throughout the project, of before and after, as well as current step by step detailed procedural photographs showing me just exactly what he was doing, and this was all free of charge. It was very convenient for me to be able to track and keep up on his progress. 

     The work he did to transform this banjo was phenominal. He completely disassembled, inspected, cleaned, polished the brightwork and wood finish, giving this instrument a sparkel it never knew. Sanded and polished the fretboard and fretmarkers to a luster never acheived before, the pearl went from a greyish white to a beautiful shiny silver with hints of red, blue, and yellow. Replaced the old frets with new stainless steel frets, which will not only last longer, but assist in better sound transfer through the neck. COMPLETELY rebuilt and had re-finished the neck heel, which allowed for a super flush/tight fitting result afterwards, no more gap and tone loss. Refit the tonering to the rim, and flange to the rim. He made several other slight alterations here and there for optimum performance. Rebuilt all 4 original Elton pancake tuners, and also installed a set of Hoppers cam D tuners in the peg-head. He had several other chrome parts re-chromed, where the chrome was damaged and flaking off, he installed anew arm rest per my request also. And top it all off with an expert set-up afterwards....VIOLA! 

     This instrument was transformed from an introvert into an ANIMAL! Before it was gutless and embarassing, where as now it has piercing tone and volume, and great playability and response. i'm very proud of it and the work Chris did. It sounds easy on paper, but it was not. This was a lengthy challenging project, but it did not deter Chris at all. He persevered and presented me with a very special banjo that I will always enjoy having in my posession and playing. Where it was shunned in its case under a bed before, it now will be proudly displayed and make music for people for years and years to come. Chris is a true genious in banjo restoration, and I consider myself lucky to have been able to work with him, and have him bring this banjo back to life, it was an honor. 

 

Dow Douthitt

Overall Rating: 10

Gorden Groves

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

Overall Comments

Gorden is a guitar maker but has worked on a number of my banjos and banjo ukes.  He does excellent work at reasonable rates and in a timely manner.  His shop is in Tucson, AZ.

Overall Rating: 10

John Boulding

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

Overall Comments

I had been searching for a luthier to do some work on my banjo.  Main focus was the neck.  I had a custom neck built several years ago and felt like some fine tuning still needed to be done.   The biggest issue was in fretting the fifth string with my thumb at the 7th and 9th fret.

Somewhere along the way I came across John Boulding.   I knew of him from the Lick of the Week videos he has shared here and elsewhere.   We got in touch and I paid him a visit up in Mt. Airy, NC.   

He and I talked for a couple of hours and he made some recommendations.  Eventually he did some re-shaping of the neck and reduced the profile slightly.   He also made some very astute observations about the action of the 5th string in particular and the overall neck alignment and action.

Other items were take into consideration as well.  John dis-assembled the pot, cleaned all the parts and check the fit of the tone ring to the rim.

He also helped complete some details to my speed neck finish.   Dressed the frets and oiled the fingerboard.

I just could not be happier.  John is an excellent craftsmen and super knowledgeable about banjo anatomy.  As a professional banjo player he totally understands the big picture with these instruments and has the skills to get the job done.

I give John the highest rating.  He is a good listener and is very easy going.  The pricing was incredible too!!

If anyone would like to ask me more about my experience you are free to contact me via email - stevedyr@gmail.com

Setup, repair, custom work ... John has earned my business.  If you need work done I highly recommend him.

 

Overall Rating: 10

Ron Coleman

Submitted by plars (see all reviews from this person) on 3/7/2018

Overall Comments

Ron has built 2 banjos for me in the last couple years and both of them are in a league of their own. They were both built around Yates ring/rims but Ron did the neck build, fit/finish, assembly, and resonator. He was very communicative from the first conversation and timely with the build.

I have owned all the major builders banjos (Huber, Hatfield, Heartland, Neat, Deering, Stelling, OME, ect) and Ron's belong in the same conversation as far as quality. He passes along savings and his prices are substantially less than the above mentioned builders. For any other future builds, I'll absolutely be reaching out to Ron Coleman.

Overall Rating: 10

Chris Cioffi

Submitted by Haard (see all reviews from this person) on 1/12/2018

Overall Comments

Banjo Late 1920's Oriole (Gibson Mfg.) 5 string conversion

This banjo was featured on one of Russ Carson's youtube videos featuring several of Chris' tone hoop banjo conversions.

I have been lucky enough to become long distance friends with Chris Cioffi while having him rebuild and setup several banjos. This review covers a late 20's Oriole (made by Gibson) 5 string conversion. This banjo is a shoe and plate, tone hoop banjo.. 

What we started with. Chris has been very patient with me on this banjo. We did not start with a complete Oriole tenor, but I built this one up from parts I bought here on the HO and through BBay. While the metal parts were pretty solid, the rim and resonator were not in the best of shape.

Rebuilding the pot. Chris cleaned the metal parts and even had some orphaned parts for the project. The rim had some delamination issues which he fixed and the lag bolt holes required rebuilding. Chris takes the time to make sure the tone hoop seats in the rim perfectly. The worst part was the resonator. While the finish had a great vintage look the sidewalls had delaminated and were warped. Chris figured out a way to fill the delaminations where if you do specifically look for them you would not notice.

5 String neck. Chris found a second hand un-used 5 string, gull inlayed, maple neck that was perfect for the project. The heel had not been cut so it would fit the shoe and plate rim perfect. The fretboard had already been bound in black binding that matched the Oriole resonator binding. Chris did one of his great stainless steel fret jobs. To match the binding we used ebony tuner buttons so the banjo would have a "old time" look to it. A little profiling and we were ready for finishing.

Finishing. Chris arranged with Robin Smith to do the finish work on the neck (the resonator has the original brown paint that has great vintage crazing). Mr. Smith's finish work is first rate and matches the resonator perfectly.

Finished product. This is one great banjo. These tone hoop banjos have their own sound. They don't sound like a full flathead or a raised head. They have a pure banjo sound (some would call it "dry") without overtones. This banjo has a growly, metallic 4th and 3rd string . The setup is fantastic as with all the banjos Chris does. This is a professional grade banjo.

This makes the 3rd banjo Chris has either built or rebuilt for me. The first was a Masterclone with a famous makers tonering. The second was a 1950's RB-100 all original and now this Oriole. This banjo holds a special place for me due to it's tone, response and simplicity.

I cannot think of any banjo luthier that would take any more time or care than Chris on a project like this. He is readily available to talk to and sends many photos of project progress. I highly recommended Mr. Cioffi for any of your banjo work. 

 

Overall Rating: 10

Don Bryant

Submitted by greenbriar (see all reviews from this person) on 12/10/2017

Overall Comments

I highly recommend Don and his work. His work is flawless. His 37 years experience and commitment to detail and customer satisfaction is as good as his work. I understand that Sammy Shelor is using and endorsing Don Bryant. That is understandable now that I have mine.  Neck and fingerboard "feel" is a big deal to me. Many profiles seem narrow and slim. I have had several banjos that would have never been sold if the neck had been easier to play. Don allows 1/8" on the outside of the 1st and 4th strings. His string placing is perfect.  I had a Sumi mandolin, it was clear that he a master luthier. Don's attention to detail is equal. The fingerboard is crazy perfect. Hand cut inlays, the fit of the neck to the pot, is amazing. All of the aspects and  details are appreciated when I pick it up. It is a beautiful creation and the fit and feel is mighty fine. We are fortunate to have so many luthiers. The decision of who to hire to make a neck or to do work for you can be tough. Communication with Don is excellent. He backs his work up. He is a very good picker and has refined his talent to an amazing degree. Perfect is a strong word, but it is accurate in this case.

Overall Rating: 10

John Boulding

Submitted by kjcole (see all reviews from this person) on 12/7/2017

Overall Comments

Just want to give a big thumbs up to John Boulding of Mt. Airy, NC.  John refretted and set up a professional grade banjo for me, which I also consigned to him to help me sell.  Since the used market is flooded with great banjos, it took quite awhile to find a buyer.  John displayed the highest level of integrity and provided great communication and advice, besides a high level of lutherie.  It's always great to do business with someone who operates with such honesty and integrity, especially when entrusting them with expensive goods.  Highly recommended!  Thanks John.

Overall Rating: 10

Carolina Banjo Co., Ryan Navey

Submitted by Stuart Hughes (see all reviews from this person) on 11/28/2017

Overall Comments

 

 

Carolina Banjo Co 

I recently purchased one of Carolina Banjo Co.’s  banjos and can’t say enough about the instrument, luthier Ryan Navey, and the entire experience. 

    The design of his banjos is unique, elegantly efficient, and creates amazing sounding instruments that are lighter in weight. I acquired  a cherry banjo with a brass tone ring. It has lots of color and precision to the tone, and dependent on how it’s played, can create the most delicate of sounds and alternatively be played with a lot of punch.

    The absence of tension hooks, rim bolts and nuts makes the banjo so light to handle. Ryan’s angled internal pot design again reduces the weight of the instrument, but adds to the pots amplification potential.

     The esthetic look of the banjo speaks of another era of craftsmanship and luthiers. With unique, individual hand carvings, the  banjo is beautiful to the eye and touch. 

     Ryan was fantastic to deal with in every way. He talked me through the various attributes and distinctive qualities of each instrument he had, and helped me find the instrument that best suited  my needs and desires. He answered all my questions with patience, good humor and vast amounts of knowledge. His passion for his instruments, and banjo design in general is infectious. He clearly loves what he does and you can feel his quiet pride, skill and graceful esthetic in the banjo. 

      Brett Ridgeway has made a fabulous documentary on Carolina Banjo Co., that gives a great sense of the company and maker. 

     Stuart H.

  

 

 

 

 

 

Overall Rating: 10

Chris Cioffi

Submitted by Ichiban Jo (see all reviews from this person) on 11/3/2017

Overall Comments

In short, Chris Cioffi is a master luthier.  Contact him now if you are in the market for luthier services and rest assured that your instrument will be in the world’s most capable hands.  I am a recent client and am amazed by the result of Chris’s work on my original Goldstar GF200 every time I play it.  I was initially skeptical that an instrument could be so drastically improved, but after watching a few of the available Youtube videos that addressed his Goldstar improvements and reading reviews about the work that comes out of his shop, I decided to engage him to do the work on my instrument.
This man is a perfectionist and nothing leaves his shop unless it meets his standards; that’s a good thing because as an incredible musician and craftsman, they’re likely a lot higher than yours.  His initial assessment of my 200 pegged it as an average instrument with potential; the result of his expertise is an instrument worthy of the industry’s most respected hands.  I realize that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and sound may fall into the same category, and everybody is looking for that pre-war sound (I’m getting a little tired of hearing that term), but if this banjo falls .005% short of whatever perfect is….I’ll save my hard earned dollars and giggle knowing that I get to play a truly phenomenal instrument.  Can you seriously tell yourself that you’re done looking for your “keeper” banjo?  I can…I’m done.  Thank you, Chris.

The work accomplished essentially amounts to the reconstruction of an instrument.  Here’s a list of most the work performed..

Complete disassembly, evaluation, reassembly

New head

New bridge (selected by Chris for optimal tone match to this instrument)

Neck reset for proper fit, angle, etc

Remount lags in neck heel for proper neck-to-pot geometry (I’m a woodworker and his work is impeccable)

Refit rim to tone ring

Refit rim to flange

Repaired several delaminated flaws in binding

Reassembled/rebuilt/lubricated tuners 

Metal parts cleaned/buffed

Planed and Re-fretted neck with stainless.  (a truly masterful piece of work)

New polished bone nut and prewar-style 5th string nut

New spikes

Remounted/installed new L brackets for resonator

Repaired damaged and delaminating resonator

The last item on the list warrants an explanation.  Shortly after I purchased this banjo, I noticed some damage to the resonator.  It had been dropped at some point in its life and wouldn’t seat correctly with the pot.  I wondered for years what may have happened and why the existing fix was so substandard.  After having the instrument for a while, Chris offered his explanation of what probably happened and how someone attempted to repair it.  I’ve no doubt that he’s right on the money in his estimated account of the damage.  I kidded him and said he needs to list his occupation as “Forensic Banjologist”…In actuality, it’s a worthy title.  The resonator now fits perfectly and shows no previous indication of delamination.

I have no doubt that one of the key ingredients which separates an average instrument from a priceless sounding and coveted creation is the heart and soul of the human who created it.  Maybe that’s the “IT” that people are always looking for but can’t explain.  My original Goldstar had all the right ingredients but never had the “IT” that banjo players are perpetually in search of.  After spending some needed time with Chris in Tennessee, this “Goldie” finally has the undeniable “IT”.  My banjo received the same attention as one owned by any professional.  I’ve got an older Goldstar GF100 that will be making the same trip to Chris sometime soon.

In conclusion, if your banjo needs work and you’re looking for a professional luthier, stop looking.  Set up an appointment and get your banjo to Chris for some heart and soul.  I noticed that after reading most of the luthier reviews on this site, scores of “10” are commonplace.  Why can’t I rate my review an “11”?  Please contact me personally if I can offer any further details about my experience or why this is the best place to take your prized possession.  I couldn’t be happier with the service and level of professionalism offered by Chris Cioffi.

 

BJ Williams

bjwilliams1@gmail.com

 

 

 

Overall Rating: 10

John Boulding

Submitted by nashvillebanjo (see all reviews from this person) on 9/29/2017

Overall Comments

I sent my main banjo neck to John to do a re fret this week and he installed EVO Gold man its great!

John's workmanship is the best! he has re fretted my necks many times and like I say his work is

just awesome! this EVO wire feels great and will last a long time if you need a re fret hes the man

and hes also a very nice guy.

 

Todd

Overall Rating: 10

warren yates

Submitted by mhammer (see all reviews from this person) on 9/17/2017

Overall Comments

I recently had Warren build a pot for a neck I acquired. From the beginning, we discussed all the options and what sort of tone/sound I wanted to achieve. He was communicative, responsive and honest about the entire process.

The end result was simply fantastic. I got exactly the tone I wanted from the banjo and it plays like a dream.

If you want to work with a luthier who really understands tone dynamics, Warren is your man.

Here is the video sample of the banjo before shipment: https://youtu.be/y11TCwYtCtU

Overall Rating: 10

Clifford Seales

Submitted by BTuno (see all reviews from this person) on 9/12/2017

Overall Comments

Clifford provided inlaid rosewood fretboard, and ebony peghead overlays for the neck of a very special 1925 Gibson Style 5 neck that I assembled and finished.  The wreath style inlays were skillfully hand cut and inlaid into the fretboard and overlay, and sent to me for assembly.  He made the inlays exactly as I specified which included an unusual configuration that was on the original tenor neck.  His inlays are the highlight of the new neck!    He also provided me with some handmade style 5 marquetry binding for the neck.  I could not find anywhere else and his marquetry is beautiful.   Thank you Clifford, it was a pleasure working with you on this project, and I would highly recommend talking with him before you start your next neck project.   He's the man!!! 

Overall Rating: 10

John Boulding

Submitted by jgbryant (see all reviews from this person) on 8/18/2017

Overall Comments

Just wanted to thank John for the fine job he did on the speed neck for my Crafters Classic mahogany.  For those who are considering doing a speed neck themselves, I would recommend that they have it done professionally.  I removed the neck and shipped it for only $15 and the cost to have the speed neck made was very reasonable.  I should note that the stain John used to match the dark mahogany finish has lightened over time, but that doesn't bother me at all. 

Overall Rating: 10

Robin Smith

Submitted by HenrytheCat (see all reviews from this person) on 8/16/2017

Overall Comments

Rob built a banjo for me last year. The more I play it, the better I like it. I run out of superlatives when I describe it; it is a work of art. The fit and finish are perfect, the neck is a pleasure to play, and the sound is great. In addition to doing great work, he is a very nice guy and a pleasure to deal with.

Overall Rating: 10

Hangout Network Help

View All Topics  |  View Categories

0.09375