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!
6920 reviews in the archive.
Where Purchased: Amazon.com
No real issues with the sound. In fact, if sound quality was the only criteria under evaluation, this unit would get a score of 10.0. Its a nice, crisp, bright-sounding banjo, similar to what other Gold Star owners have noted, and exactly what a good bluegrass banjo should be, but unfortunately, there's more to a purchase of this magnitude than sound alone.
Sound Rating: 9
None (i.e., there was no real "setup" on it when it arrived). The banjo arrived from the merchant in "single" boxed fashion, with the banjo itself packed inside its Superior hard case (thank God!), but the hard case itself was placed loosely (flopping around) inside a single cardboard box. So it was simply amazing that there wasn't more damage to the hard case or the instrument while in-transit. The bridge had been removed and the strings had been de-tuned (which is probably a good practice for shipment), but the strings were left slapping up against the frosted head (without a protective shim of some kind), and the tailpiece assembly was flopping around loosely.
Setup Rating: 5
This particular category is a tuff one, but its also where I take exception to the "Gold Star" brand and the Gold Star product hype, as well as its high pricing relative to others including the similarly (Chinese) made Gold Tone.
The finish on the back of the neck and the ebony fretboard were both exceptional. From the fretwork and smooth ebony fretboard, to the flaming of the maple on the back of the neck itself, to the clear-coat finish, to the inlay, to the gold-plated Gotoh tuners . . . everything to do with the neck itself was first-rate. No issues. Score = 8 or better.
However, the same cannot be said for the balance of the instrument:
1) The finish and book-matching of the flamed maple on the resonator was acceptable, but it was nothing particularly special. Score = 6/7.
2) The shine and polish quality of the gold-plating on the flange, tension hoop and brackets was acceptable, but again, nothing particularly special. Score = 7/8.
3) The overall craftsmanship of the wood rim and its finishing, including staining and clear-coating, was nothing short of 'tragic'. Score = 2. In fact, I've never seen a poorer grade of wood or a more 'amateurish' piece of woodworking in all my days! The wood rim itself was visibly de-laminating in several spots . . . it had plainly visible areas of wood putty and some sort of sappy, resinous filler, neither of which stained properly or uniformly . . . it had high spots, low spots, smooth spots, rough spots throughout, and a complete lack of superficial sanding. To make matters worse, there was a whopping 1/8"-3/16" of side-to-side play between the rim and the tone ring. Now, some will argue that a loose fit between rim and ring is a "good" thing (better overtones and harmonics), while others claim that a tight fit is ideal. I can't really say at this point, but all-in-all, the appearance of the rim was a mess! And if you do a search for "replacement rims for banjo", you'll find that Gold Star units have a less than illustrious history when it comes to their rims. Some might say . . . "who cares, most of the rim isn't visible to the eye anyway", but for me, that's not the point. The machining of it and the tolerance specs at the rim-ring interface should have been better on this one.
Appearance Rating: 7
Despite all of its cosmetic flaws, I'd imagine its reliability will be as good as any other model or manufacturer of a similar instrument. In other words, there's nothing sub-standard about the quality of the metals or woods used in producing this banjo, other than the lousy materials and woodworking used on the wood rim (see Appearance section above).
Reliability Rating: 8
I take issue with Gold Star and their less-than-ideal interface with the buying public. I'm a relative beginner to banjo, but I've been playing high-end instruments of various kinds for many years including Tom Anderson and Paul Reed Smith electric guitars, Emmons push/pull pedal steel guitars, and numerous others, and in my view, the folks at Saga Music need to focus on making some improvements. Here's why . . .
Hours after I first purchased this instrument, I removed the resonator and discovered a manufacturer's label (Saga Musical Instruments), affixed to the inside wall of the wood rim. The label has a specific line on it where the serial number was suppoosed to have been recorded, yet the line is completely empty. So, I contacted Saga Musical Instruments to inquire - why was there no serial number recorded for this banjo? Meanwhile. I Googled the term "Gold Star GF-300fe banjo", looking specifically for "images", and I found several photos of Gold Star model GF-300fe model banjos with their serial numbers clearly recorded on the Saga Musical Instruments label affixed inside the wood rim. Yet, in a response to my earlier e-mail inquiry, a customer service representative for Saga stated that "it was common for Gold Star NOT to assign serial numbers to their instrument's internal I.D. label"!@#$%&?? Say what? Seriously?? Color me "principled", but I think that explanation is a bit "lame". At this price point, why have an affixed serial number label, or any other label for that matter, if you're not going to assign the instrument its own unique identifier? Instruments made by other Chinese manufacturers selling at HALF this price have serial numbers. Why not Gold Star? It makes no sense whatsoever.
Customer Service: 5
As I've indicated above, the neck and fretboard were both first-rate. The finish on the resonator was equally high-quality, but the gold plating was nothing special, the wood rim was a joke, and a proper setup needed to be done here upon its arrival. And lastly, the 5th string tuning peg was inserted into the neck at a completely irregular and awkward angle - not 'rearwards' as required to maintain proper string tension on the pip, but visibly 'upwards', such that it failed to align horizontally with the fret wires. Clearly, it had been installed wrong.
Components Rating: 4
I've tried my best here to fully and fairly identify the various high-points and low-points of this so-called "flagship" model of Gold Star banjo, but the bottom line is this . . . if given the chance, would I buy another one? No, probably not. Do I feel like I overpaid for it? Perhaps, but if so, not by much. Do I feel like I've been duped or that its a complete piece of junk? No, not at all. Its a perfectly lovely and beautiful sounding banjo. Do I feel like I can be a fair and equitable reviewer of this product relative to other manufacturers and models? Yes, I do, and here's why . . .
The week that I purchased this Gold Star GF-300fe, I also purchased a Gold Tone TS-250 (tenor), and I went through several of the latter (N = 3), before I found an acceptable one. However, in fairness to Gold Tone, the Gold Star GF-300fe is priced at nearly twice the cost of the TS-250, and for me, that price difference can be largely attributed to three different things:
1) The GF-300fe shipped with a Superior C-1530 hard case (which the Gold Tone TS-250 did not, and should have). This alone is worth about $100 retail, bringing the price paid for the GF-300 itself down to about $1700.
2) Depending on where you look or who you talk to, the gold hardware on the GF-300fe (i.e., the flange, tension hoop, tone ring, brackets and tuners) is worth an up-charge of roughly $400-$600, which brings the price paid for the GF-300 banjo alone down to around $1100-$1300.
3) Amazon provides free shipping and free (no-questions-asked) "return" shipping, if needed, which given my remote location, is well worth another $100-$200, leaving me with about $1200 paid for the banjo.
So all-in-all, I don't think I came out too badly, and for these key reasons, I chose to keep the GF-300, rather than returning it for a refund or exchange. Am I profoundly happy or unhappy with my purchase overall? No, not particularly. Am I now busy rectifying some things? Yes. I'm busy removing the improperly aligned Gotoh 5th string peg and properly installing a Schaller at the correct depth and angle, while simultaneously stripping, sanding, re-staining and refinishing the cheesy Gold Star wood rim, all on an $1800 banjo, that given its relatively high price, should (at least in my view), have been delivered with fewer shortcomings or flaws. But then . . . "that's just like, my opinion, man".
For me, the Gold Star GF-300fe proved to be like the proverbial Prom Queen for whom you wined and dined all evening after buying her an expensive corsage. At first, you could hardly wait to meet her, but by the end of the evening, she proved to be a bit of a dullard - all dolled-up in appearance but with nowhere to go.
SORRY GOLD STAR!
Overall Rating: 7
'Purcell .656 bridge' 20 min
'New strings?' 49 min