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!
6919 reviews in the archive.
Where Purchased: Direct from Mark Platin
Year Purchased: 2014
Price Paid: 3000 ($US)
I ordered this custom with a Tubaphone tone ring. This instrument sounds terrific. It is as bright as I need, but nowhere near as bright as the archtop Stelling I had previously. The Tubaphone ring, combined with the maple block rim assembly make for a lot of sustain. Not everyone cares for sustain, and that's fine, but I like it. It doesn't sustain so long that subsequent notes get in the way of the current one. Like Eddie Adcock has his own sound, Allen Shelton has his own sound, I wanted a banjo that SOUNDED like a banjo but had its own character. This one meets the mark perfectly. Playing close to the bridge gives you a character you'd expect from any bluegrass banjo. Playing close to the neck gives such a different tone, and what a beautiful one. I have noticed this banjo doesn't "break up" as some do when they're driven too hard. I guess it has the capacity efficiently to turn whatever vibration you give it into sound. It's quite loud, too. I think the rim is responsible for the surprisingly deep bass response you can get out of the wound string.
Sound Rating: 9
I bought directly from Mark Platin. Normally I buy instruments new through Elderly because they know the typical setup most players like. Probably it was because it was a brand spanking-new instrument, the setup was not ideal. The fifth string nut, which I love by the way, is nonetheless a bit high. When you want to play in A or above, the string actually has to angle down to the railroad spike from the fifth string nut. This changes the tuning slightly, obviously. Also, I fiddled around with the truss rod for days before coming to a place I was happy with. Again, brand-new instrument. Even the Stelling when purchased brand new through Elderly had these issues. Just warning you: banjos take a while to settle. Finally, I was not in love with the bridge it came with, so I swapped out a few. I ended up very happy with a Sosebee ebony-capped maple bridge. That's when this banjo started sounding like itself. Wow! I was not impressed that the spikes I had installed were turned up toward my face: I had to pull the string over and rub it onto the edge of the neck just to get 'em under the spike. Better setup would be pointing them down.
Setup Rating: 7
I had Mark send this off for a special translucent faded-denim finish. It really is beautiful. It's an all-maple banjo, and the grain is really pretty. I also had the binding natural maple, which is a nice contrasting color. Finally, I special requested no inlay on the maple fretboard, and it looks great, elegant.
Were I to do this again, I would have requested maybe to be more choosy about how white the maple would be: the faded denim blue in places takes on a slight marine-blue or greenish tinge due to the natural yellow in the maple. Somehow the PRS people have found a work-around, but this was a first time, one-shot banjo. That's not a complaint, just word to the wise. I love the banjo, and it really looks like no other one I've seen.
Appearance Rating: 9
Finish looks terrific. The armrest is the standard one put on every banjo, and I'm not fond of those. I bought a maple one to match my binding trim, then carved and sanded it into an arm-friendly configuration. It's great now. Otherwise, all components definitely appear built to last. Maybe one of the tuners is not as secure to the back of the headstock as necessary, but that's a tweak I'll get in next time I change the strings.
No banjo can be trusted without a backup...what if a head pops? But sure, I'd play this and only this, and probably will for life.
Reliability Rating: 9
Mark Platin is a really open-minded, easygoing guy. He will build what you ask for, and he's extremely responsive to customer inquiries. I applaud him for going out of his way to make me a one-of-a-kind banjo that sounds great.
Customer Service: 10
The Tubaphone tone ring is a feature I would like to promote. Everyone seems to be in love with vintage tone and everything related to Earl, Don, and Ralph. Those guys were fantastic, but they didn't go buy what everyone else had necessarily. I would encourage people to experiment. This banjo is NOT an archtop Stelling, and you can't play it like one! You alter your technique and style to suit the instrument in your hands. The point is to make music, and I am really pleased with the direction this banjo's specific sound points me in.
I'd also like to mention this: I am a pretty physically fit guy, but banjos are heavy to me. The Tubaphone ring makes the banjo much lighter, and I don't feel I have a compromised sound in any way. For anyone who has not already decided what "the only" banjo tone is, you owe it to yourself and your back to try a Tubaphone. The longer you can stand with the banjo, the longer you're playing it, the better you get, and the more songs you learn!
Components Rating: 10
I don't think there are enough Wildwood banjos out there for people to have enough reviews. I took a chance on a type of banjo I'd never heard or played. I guess I trusted the fact that Elderly has stocked and sold these for years as proof they're good. They really are. There is not another major maker of banjos to my knowledge that is making a higher-grade professional banjo than Mark Platin. Ultimately, the banjo is limited to the player once you have a high grade instrument. Wildwood makes distinctive, high grade professional instruments. Give 'em a shot; it may be your ticket.
I would also like to reiterate what a step in the right direction a Tubaphone tonering was for me. I think anything that makes an unwieldy instrument more ergonomic is the logical choice. The combination of Tubaphone ring with the Renaissance head, Sosebee bridge, and block maple rim is a wonderful machine both sound-wise and weight-wise.
Overall Rating: 9
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