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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!

6919 reviews in the archive.

Deering  John Hartford #1 Banjo Reviews

Submitted by snapjackson (see all reviews from this person) on 7/17/2016

Where Purchased: Deering Banjo Co.

Year Purchased: 2015
Price Paid: Don't Remember historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

I am absolutely amazed that Deering has found a way to pack so much volume and tone into this light weight banjo! The note separation is incredible, the volume is neck and neck with my Deering Calico, and the satin finish feels great to the touch. Many sound engineers have commented on how beautifully the banjo comes across on a microphone and after listening to our live recordings, I couldn't agree more. The tone variation between the x and y positions (close to the bridge/away from the bridge) on this model is remarkable! I can dig in and play straight ahead powerful bluegrass, or by moving my right hand closer to the neck, I can evoke a beautiful fat warm tone, all without sacrificing any volume.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Zero complaints.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Now, this review would not be complete without mentioning how absolutely gorgeous this instrument is! Perfect fit and finish, wonderfully understated inlays, silky satin finish, and a handsome dark chocolate wood stain. Easily one of the prettiest banjos I have ever seen.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

I look forward to seeing how this banjo will evolve over time and I'm excited to create many great memories with it in the years to come!

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Top notch!

Customer Service: 10

Components

Solid construction all the way around.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

See above :)

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by paulac7 (see all reviews from this person) on 7/21/2011

Where Purchased: online

Year Purchased: 2011
Price Paid: Don't Remember historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

The sound of this banjo is incredible! It has a nice, deep tone to it, and the 4th string has a surprising 'growl' to it, especially as this is a woodie. Can't wait to see what it sounds like in a year or three when it 'plays in', as it definitely holds its own in jams, even ones with electric guitars!

I noticed there is a wide range of sounds that can be produced, depending on where your right hand is--down by the bridge, it will just about knock your eyeballs out of their sockets, and up by the neck, it is much more mellow--amazing how an inch or two can change the character of the sound.

Oh, I play 3 finger, no amps, as none are really needed.

I fell in love with the Hartford tone about a year ago, as nothing sounds quite like it. Also the fact that it weighs about 10 pounds is a major plus, as I have shoulder issues, and can't sling a full-bore 14 pound banjo around.....

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Setup was the basic factory Deering setup--not too bad, but need to tweak the bridge just a bit. Action was perfect--little bit of a buzz on the fourth string, but will address that when I finally put it down long enough to mess with it.

Setup Rating: 8

Appearance

This is a beautiful banjo--the best way to describe it is 'understated elegance'. I love the Deering neck with the satin finish--it doesn't stick to my hands, and plays like a dream.

I've gotten a LOT of compliments on this banjo from non-banjo people.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Everything about this banjo is top quality--I think this is my 'forever' banjo.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Never had to deal with the company--I've only had it for 3 weeks, so time will tell on that one

Customer Service: 10

Components

I've been all over this thing with my x-ray vision, and cannot find a flaw in the finish anywhere--the inlays are simply amazing.

Nothing cheap or weak about this one.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

This was my dream banjo, and I still find it hard to believe that I own one--I was pig-lucky to get it. Deering builds a quality instrument, and I would recommend the Hartford to anyone. If someone stole it, I would have hunt them down!

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by banjori (see all reviews from this person) on 10/29/2010

Where Purchased: Twelfth Fret (Toronto)

Year Purchased: 2010
Price Paid: 3000 ($US)

Sound

Maple neck and resonator with a wooden tone ring. The sound is amazing - clear, clean and rich. It's exactly what I was looking for. A beautiful tone without the high end shrill that I hear in other high end maple banjos.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

The set up when I bought it was just right. Since then I've had to tighten the head a few times and adjust the neck angle once to lower the action. I switched to a Nechville compensated bridge.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

The banjo looks amazing except for the binding, which because of the flat finish, looks too much like white plastic (which I believe it is). Probably a glossy finish would have masked that plastic look. The flat finish on the wood is lovely otherwise. The only other complaint I have is that the lovely MOP inlays on the neck is a bit confusing for me when I play. I'm used to seeing markings at the 7th and 10th frets but the Hartford has the inlay at the 8th and 9th frets. I'm getting used to it now.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

The hardware is perfect except for the tuners which have given me problems, especially in hot weather. If I were to upgrade anything on the Hartford it would be the tuners.

Reliability Rating: 8

Customer Service

I've been in touch with Deering by email about the tuners and they are in the process of sending me a couple of new ones. They have replied to my emails promptly and seemed interested in helping me out.

Customer Service: 8

Components

I love the narrow neck. I love the wooden tone ring and don't at all miss the shrill jangle of most maple banjos with tone rings. Don't much care for the tuners.

Components Rating: 8

Overall Comments

I've only been playing a few years and have already owned four banjos. The Hartford is a keeper for sure. I couldn't ask for a banjo with a nicer sound - warm, strong and clear. I'm still on the lookout for a bluegrass banjo with a brass tone ring, but right now I'm loving the sound of the Hartford. It's fine for bluegrass but also great for other styes. No doubt it will not be my last banjo but most certainly it will be my main banjo for years to come. I don't think there is an equivalent to it on the market today and if it was stolen I would definitely buy another one.

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by Oplunk (see all reviews from this person) on 1/8/2008

Where Purchased: Elderly Instruments

Year Purchased: 2001
Price Paid: 1750 ($US) (bought USED)

Sound

I have to admit that I have not given this banjo the praise it deserves. Last month I put on a new Weather King top frosted head (tap tuned to a G#) and the sound came alive!! I replaced the orignal bridge with a Snuffy Smith. Using Roger Siminoff's suggestions, I spent a lot of time tuning the head and making sure little things like string angle between bridge and tailpiece were optimal. I also put on medium gauge LaBella strings. It now sings perhaps better than my Stelling Master's Cross Deluxe. I have played it pretty non-stop for 3-finger style stuff.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

No. It came pretty close to "as is". It had a clear Remo head which was not installed properly. The tension ring was lopsided and the bridge was pretty sucky (technical term).

Setup Rating: 3

Appearance

It is beautiful and relatively lite because of the wooden tonering. All hardware is nickel-plated to perfection. The armrest has a little wear, but not excessive. And, I love the "riverboat" style headstock and neck inlays.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

It is now a work horse with style. I love the satin finish and the fingerboard is clean, well-proportioned and well-balanced. The fret work is flawless (smooth, no snags or rough spots). It has a slightly wider fingerboard, so Crowe spacing on the bridge works great.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Elderly Instruments has provided high quality products and services to me for many years and I have never had a bad experence with them. I can't blame the set-up on them because I bought the banjo "as-is".

Customer Service: 9

Components

The first head was not original manufacture nor was it the original set-up. It clearly had fallen into the hands of an inexperienced set-up/repair person. The banjo itself is pretty close to perfect in all respects. I use it for both bluegrass and clawhammer and it just sings everytime.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

I was reluctant to even play this banjo for several years. It was always my first choice to trade, but I couldn't get anyone to take it. Then, I decided to spend a little cash a lot of time to make it sparkle. And, it paid off big time. I would now put this insturment up against any other banjo anywhere. So, yes, I would recommend it. But, before you trade a banjo, try getting it set up properly and see you still want to get rid of it.

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by maryzcox (see all reviews from this person) on 8/12/2007

Where Purchased: Deering custom shop

Year Purchased: 2007
Price Paid: Don't Remember historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

Wow! Light weight, wooden tone ring, big sound. 22 fret open back--it doesn't need a pop on resonator. :)

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Awesome--it arrived in the mail set up wonderful!
I'll put a bronze fourth string on it when I change strings--other than that--wonderful!

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Regular steamboat inlays--dark wood finish--very awesome.
I ordered gold hardware and a black head and this combo looks the best I've ever seen a John Hartford look.
This is an expensive banjo, though, and feel for the price, it should have heel carving and a little inlay on the little heel spot. :)
The front of the banjo is exquisite and think it should have just a touch of extra on the back.
Also--it would be nice for the tuning pegs to be black instead of white.
On the extreme end--it would be nice to replace the white plastic with real black pearl--but that would add a huge custom expense.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Yes! Especially love the Deering gears--they stay in tune better than anything!

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Custom shop is friendly and has made me two awesome banjos. :)
Carolina Bridges has been a very helpful and cheerful saleswoman.
Her phone number is in my cell. :)

Customer Service: 10

Components

Top woods with great sound
Beautiful inlay pattern
Beautiful concert quality banjo
One of the lovliest banjo voices I've ever heard!

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

Love this banjo. I've always wanted a John Hartford model.
I am chronically on "banjo restriction" so I sold a beloved Ramsey Woody to help finance this banjo. I thought I would be pleased--but wow--I was unprepared for the wonderful tone and appearance of this banjo. My husband was against this project from the first, but when I pulled the Hartford from its case and began to play--he nearly fell off his stool ! "Wow! No wonder you wanted that banjo!" he said.
Now--you know it is one heck of a banjo that would make a confirmed banjo restrictor agree that this was a good banjo buy. :)

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by pdorrell (see all reviews from this person) on 5/15/2007

Where Purchased: MusicRoom Online (UK)

Year Purchased: 2006
Price Paid: 1900 (GBP) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

Great... the wooden tone ring does give a nice rich sound .

Sound Rating: 8

Setup

Initially the sound was a little muted. The action was very high, and needed a little adjustment, and a new set of strings made all the difference. The only other change was the addition of a pair of D tuners.

Setup Rating: 6

Appearance

Excellent finish, looks great. No complaints at all.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Very solid build. Can't see any problems with it for the future

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

The retailers were very friendly; however they omitted to send me the warranty card for the banjo. Will have to chase them up on that.

No contact with Deering required.

Customer Service: 7

Components

So far, I've been pretty happy with everything.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

I'd certainly recommend this banjo to anyone. The prices are high in the UK, but that seems to be a problem for most manufacturers.

Overall Rating: 9

Submitted by japus (see all reviews from this person) on 11/22/2006

Where Purchased: Professional Music..Greensburg, Pa.

Year Purchased: 2004
Price Paid: 2400 ($US)

Sound

Had this banjo now for 3 years and wouldnt trade it for another of any brand or model, not even Deering's Banjosaurus....I changed the head to a fibreskin, tried a few different bridges, but all in all this is one terrific instrument, I have had people play it and all told me it is a keeper...ONly change I would make if buying it again would be to purchase the one with the pop off resonator..

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Very easy to change settings, made changes to action a few times in order to get it to my liking...

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

I like the finish on it..takes a little time occasionally to clean it all..doesnt everything?

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

I am pleased with everything on this banjo..the only one I use now, for clawhammer and 3 finger style

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Cannot say enough about Deering and emplyees,,everyone is helpful, courteous, and informative, any questions I had and couldnt answer they did send me an answer..even with my first purchase..goodtime2

Customer Service: 10

Components

Cant find anything cheap about this one

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I recommmend this to anyone, especially someone seeking a litgher weight banjo..the granadillo tone ring is superb and I just love it
I would replace with a pop off john hartford..
My favorite feature is banjo lays in my arms just like a baby
Havent found another banjo I like as much as this one

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by ryanidol (see all reviews from this person) on 10/10/2004

Where Purchased: Elderly Instruments

Year Purchased: 2004
Price Paid: 2300 ($US)

Sound

Thsi banjo has terrific sound. The wood tone rings produces awesome low end and it has a quality sound. Sometimes i miss a real tone ring, but i think its just because i play it so much i get frustrated with sound. You have to play one to decide for yourself. The tone is amazing though, and I think most people would be impressed.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

The head was pretty loose, everythign else was allright. I definitly did my share of tweaking. I have put a snuffy smith head on it along with a sosobee submurged wood bridge. This improved the tone.

Setup Rating: 7

Appearance

Thsi banjo is beautiful. The inlays are very distinct and very neatly done. This banjo is virtually flawless.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

Built very solid, also very light. This is a big plus. I use this banjo without a backup banjo, even though i own one.

Reliability Rating: 8

Customer Service

Never dealt with them except for ordering. No complaints there.

Customer Service: 8

Components

Presto tailpiece rattles, but they always do. The tonering is amazing. High quality tuners. I like the snuffy smith head i put on it.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

I would recomend this banjo. The tone is fantastic, it is very light, and the playability with light strings is flawless. I would recoment playing one that is proferly setup before making your decision though. This banjo lacks a little bit of the crunch that a regular tone ring banjo has, but it is made up for in other aspects of tone. The sustain is a little longer on it also. One flaw that i have with this banjo is not being able to change tone rings. It would be nice if they could have carved the grenadillo wood into the shape of a standard tone ring and placed it on the rim, this way a tone ring change would be possible. Other than that this banjo is awesome.

Overall Rating: 9

Submitted by Muttcaster (see all reviews from this person) on 7/25/2004

Where Purchased: Direct at Winfield

Year Purchased: 2003
Price Paid: 2000 ($US)

Sound

Full and rich. You can really hear the wood in the tone ring. Being primarily a guitar and mandolin player, I wanted something a little different than your typical bluegrass banjo. I've had a friend's Gibson Granada in the house for several months and I almost never play it. Everyone here prefers the Hartford's tone.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

Excellent. I do lutherie work and setups for a living and the only thing I've done to the Hartford is decrease the neck relief a little. I let a friend of mine swap bridges and he ended up with the stock bridge. I'm still using light strings on it, too. I just like the

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

This is a gorgeous banjo, IMHO. The inlays are different and the brown stained maple is really sharp looking.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

No real comment. I've had it a year and it hasn't broken down and left me stranded on a dark dirt road yet. Just looking at it and applying my lutherie experience, it's a well-built instrument. Not going to give me any problems.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

I bought the banjo at Winfield and Barry was really helpful and patient. I've had supper with Janet and Greg Deering well before I was even remotely interested in banjos and feel sure they'll back up their instrument.

Customer Service: 9

Components

I haven't changed a thing and don't see any reason to. If I were going to fool with something, it would be the tailpiece and I might try and adjustable tension t/p, but I'm in no hurry to do so. Everything else is just fine.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

I really like this banjo. I had been playing an OB-250 for a few months and decided to look at higher-end banjos at Winfield. I went down the line of Ome and liked them, but nothing grabbed me. Got to the Deerings and liked them. The instant I pulled the Hartford off the shelf, the lighter weight got my attention. The neck felt instantly comfortable. I sat down and played my beginning version of Cripple Creek and thought Hey, this banjo sounds GOOD!!! At this point I knew nothing about the Hartford- this was the first I'd ever heard or seen of the thing. I went back several times over the next day and finally the next morning I dragged my friend Keith Yoder down to the booth. We jammed for about an hour with him on banjo and me on guitar. Hearing the Hartford from out front and getting Keith's opinion was the clincher. I bought it. It's way more banjo than I need but I've never regretted it for an instant. What I notice when A/B'ing it against my friend's Granada (which I've had for several months) is that the Hartford's tone changes more as the right hand moves around. The deep notes are deep but not muddy, and the highs are high but not shrill. The overall tone is just more musical- less bell-brass ringing and more fundamental notes. Yeah....I'd say that I like this banjo!

Overall Rating: 9

Submitted by Unknown on 5/1/2002

Where Purchased: Allen Music

Year Purchased: 2001
Price Paid: Don't Remember historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

I am a rookie player but I would say it has a full sound with a lot of volume.

Sound Rating: 7

Setup

The action is high at present. That is the way it was at purchase. I would like lower action.

Setup Rating: 5

Appearance

It looks great. Classy but not fancy.

Appearance Rating: 8

Reliability

Too soon to say.

Reliability Rating: 7

Customer Service

n/a

Customer Service: not rated

Components

Wood tone ring... provides great sound.

Components Rating: not rated

Overall Comments

I love my banjo. But I am always looking.

Overall Rating: 8

Submitted by Road Dog (see all reviews from this person) on 1/12/2002

Where Purchased: Elderly Instruments

Year Purchased: 2001
Price Paid: 2069 ($US)

Sound

Loud, rich/full sound. The Grenadillo wood tonering gives this banjo a "vintage" tone (sounds good and old) - to my ears anyway.

Check out the review of my Stelling Bellflower Top-Tension.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Excellent setup. The guys at Elderly do a great
job. Action is 1/8" at the 12th fret. I haven't made any changes (none required).

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

This banjo is too beautiful for words. Flamed
maple (neck and resonator) stained a rich brown. Hand rubbed finish - great vintage look - not glossy. Inlays are
described as "Steamboat Gothic." Very elaborate, multi-color pearl headstock inlay. Unique inlays at frets 1, 8&9 (inlay covers 2 frets), and 21&22. Small pearl dots at the "usual" frets.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

So far so good. The finish on the wood is described above. Nickel plating on the metal parts is flawless. I'm trying to do my part - diligently wiping the plated parts down after each use - to hopefully prevent (or at least delay) tarnish.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Deering has been great to deal with...so have the
folks at Elderly Instruments.

Lifetime manufacturer's warranty. Elderly has a 90-day to one year new instrument warranty in addition to the manufacturer's.

Customer Service: 10

Components

Excellent components.

This banjo has a wooden tonering - Granadillo
wood - same wood used on marimbas. Amazing
tone!! It also has a zinc flange...makes for a very
light banjo...probably 6 or 7 pounds lighter than my
Stelling. It's said that because of the wooden
tonering, the Hartford will "play in" like a violin (become louder and develop more presence the more it is played).

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

Well worth the money. It doesn't sound like a pre-
war Gibson or a Stelling, so it's probably not for
everyone, but it's perfect for me. I love the sound
(loud, not clangy, lots of mid-range), and the great
vintage look. It's a unique banjo, and has all ready
become my favorite.

I'd have to say my 21+ year old Stelling is a much
more "modern" banjo - and it has never let me down - but I'm really liking the Deering.

Overall Rating: 10

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