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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!

6628 reviews in the archive.

Stewart MacDonald  Five Star Kit Banjo Reviews

Submitted by existential_banjo (see all reviews from this person) on 7/19/2010

Where Purchased: Stewart-MacDonald catalog

Year Purchased: 1985
Price Paid: 300 ($US)

Sound

This is a bright sounding, open back banjo assembled from a kit. I put an Emerson Power Bridge on it, and it sparkled. Perhaps there was too much brightness. It was my first open back instrument, and it fit my claw hammer style very well. Its current set up is bright, but with plenty of bass on the low D string. It probably is the loudest of my 3 open back instruments. The action is medium low and very playable for claw hammer and what little 3 finger I can muster.

Sound Rating: 7

Setup

I call this my "mule" banjo. I have tried a Kershner, Waverly, and No Knot tail pieces on it. I don't think any made a bit of difference in the sound. I have tried Emerson Power, Emerson II Sweet Power, light Moon, and even a birch Sosebee bridge. The Emerson Sweet Power II and Sosebee gave it the best, fullest tone. I use medium strings and a regular, 5 Star head. Set up was a challenge because the coordinator rods were drilled for a blue grass tone ring, instead of the rolled brass ring in my kit, so I had to re-drill a few holes. I had a difficult time getting the heel of the neck to fit solidly onto the 3 ply rim. I have never had to adjust the neck, and it is still straight as an arrow.
The kit wasn't quite "finish, assemble, and play" that I thought; especially the heel to rim fit. I have had that recently re-cut by a set up guy, and it seems better.

Setup Rating: 6

Appearance

The quality of woods were excellent. The neck is mahogany, and the rim is 3-ply, 3/4 in. straight grained maple. The fiddle shaped peg head was highly finished to the nut, but the rest of the neck was only rough shaped, with the rest of the shaping left to me. There were many an evening of me with my banjo neck, Sure-Form rasp (straight and curved form), and C-clamp to hold it to my work table. I learned a lot from that experience, made no mistakes, and neck came out outstandingly well. I stained the wood rim almost black, and left the neck unstained red. I put a gloss varnish on the neck and a semi-gloss on the rim. It is a little funky, but not garish.
There is a star on the peg head, and position dots on the ebony finger board. The neck also has a nut heel on the opposite side of the peg head veneer. I also tone-belled the rim, and accidentally put an additional router gouge on the inside edge of the bottom of the wood rim. Oops! Fortunately, you can't see it unless you look at the back side.
None of the metal components were anything less than first class. They still look great after 25 years with no rust, oxidization, or flaking. The 5-star tuners still function well.

Appearance Rating: 6

Reliability

This banjo is a tough, work-a-day instrument that sounds great. I take it camping. It has never let me down. As I said above, the metal pieces are bright, not tarnished, and have no rust or flaking plate. The finish has held up quite well. Their only flaws are where I clunked the instrument against something harder than its wood. I think you could drive a pick up truck over it, and it wouldn't break, yet still sound great either frailing or Scruggs picking.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

I have had no need to contact company. In what I have learned from building this instrument, I would use Stu-Mac again in a heartbeat (though the myriad of rim and component makers available now is tempting). I can't give a rating.

Customer Service: not rated

Components

The woods are great. The finger board was fretted, dressed, and attached to the rough cut neck, and has been highly accurate. The nut is bone, and it has weathered nicely. The 5th string goes through a slot screw head, then crosses over the 5th fret. I haven't replaced the head, and it has held up well. I probably should have left the No Knot tail piece on it, and I have since misplaced it. But the Kershner tail piece works well. The rim is outstanding, first class. As a matter of fact, I wonder how my Fender-Salstrom Artist would sound with a better, 3-ply (instead of multi-ply) rim.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

About 5 years ago, I bought a Bob Flesher banjo. I took it and my Stu-Mac to some friends to play and compare instruments. Bob Flesher's workmanship and highly figured neck wood made the Stu-Mac look doudy, but my friends actually preferred the sound of the Stu-Mac. I do prefer the Flesher, but the Stu-Mac has a quality to it that doesn't keep it in the corner gathering dust. I'm giving it a "7" because of my mistakes and the difficult heel to rim fit.

Overall Rating: 7

Submitted by 5-stringreiny (see all reviews from this person) on 2/25/2008

Where Purchased: Banjo hangout classifieds

Year Purchased: 2008
Price Paid: Don't Remember (bought USED) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

The Stewart-Mac 5-star bluegrass pot makes up the hear of my custom Gibson Earl Scruggs Standard banjo - and the sound is unbelievable! The 20-hole "pre-war" tone ring and 5-star head give the banjo a full, deep sound with plenty of ring up the neck - and the 4th string growl is as good as any banjo I've heard. The carry, intonation and volume are on par with any top of the line banjo!

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

The banjo was already set up. I changed the bridge to increase action - I like a high bridge.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

It's built with a Gibson ESS neck and resonator - curly maple with plenty of sunburst color - nice!

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Appears to be a quality pot that would rival any high-end stuff - I'm satisfied it would be totally reliable under any normal conditions.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

N/A

Customer Service: not rated

Components

All components on the 5-Star kit seem to be fine - no upgrades needed.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

I'd highly recommend the Stew-Mac pot to anyone looking for a great sounding kit banjo!

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by stan (see all reviews from this person) on 10/12/2002

Where Purchased: Steward MacDonald Catalog

Year Purchased: 1981
Price Paid: 700 ($US)

Sound

I play Scruggs style, traditional & new bluegrass. My Diamond Eagle (DE) sounds as good as any professional banjo. It has all the bright, full, rich, sound that I thick most folks are looking for.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

Being a kit banjo the set-up and action had to be done by me, but the fit and quality of the parts were excellent. The only thing I don't like is the truss rod adjustment. The neck has to removed to get to the adjusting screw. I have thought about drilling a hole through the wood rim to give access.

Setup Rating: 8

Appearance

My (DE) is beautiful. When I first finished it, I used polyerathane, but after a few years I refinished it in clear lacquer. The wood is mahogany and I left it as is, no stain. The inlay is a custom set and just recently I engraved it. The only things I would have done different, would be a multi-binding and a bound peghead.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

The hardware is great and has held up well. The arm rest has a worn spot from playing and I did change the tail piece to a Presto. My (DE) is very dependable and is my main and only banjo.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

Stew Mac has always been very helpful and I only regret they now are more guitar oriented then banjo. Thank goodness First Quality has stepped in, FQ now has a banjo only catalog!

Customer Service: 8

Components

All of the components have faired well except for the tail piece, which has been replaced.

Components Rating: 8

Overall Comments

I highly recommend a kit banjo to any person that likes the idea of building and playing their own handy work. I have a greater respect for the folks that build banjos for a living. If my banjo were ever stolen; I would hope the poor soul would enjoy and care for it as much as I did and I would certainly be ordering a new KIT Banjo right away.

Overall Rating: 9

Submitted by Unknown on 10/4/2002

Where Purchased: mail order

Year Purchased: 1990
Price Paid: 400 ($US)

Sound

You need high action and heavy strings, but then it sounds just like a good Gibson. Brassy, gutsy, dark and warm.

Sound Rating: 8

Setup

I had to make it myself. It was pretty easy, tho, cuz they do all the cutting for you. Again, you have to keep the strings high and heavy for it to sound good.

Setup Rating: 7

Appearance

I put pearl inlays in her and gave her a nice orange finish. She's beautiful!

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

Great first-quality hardware, as good as Gibson.

Reliability Rating: not rated

Customer Service

I order, they mail. They give good advice, too.

Customer Service: 10

Components

Tone ring is surprisingly good -- nice and clear and bright, but not quite loud enough for a band situation.

Components Rating: 7

Overall Comments

It's good. It's the minimum you all need to play professionally.

Overall Rating: 8

Submitted by Unknown on 1/1/2002

Where Purchased: Catalog

Year Purchased: 1980
Price Paid: 750 ($US)

Sound

Sounds as good as any banjo I have ever heard.
Produces a lot of volume with a good low end tone.
As a novice player, it more than meets my needs.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Built from the the kit myself, so setup was to my
personal preferences.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

I upgraded the inlay pattern from the stock offering.
Used the hearts and flowers pattern. Peg head
design was my own. No stain was used, left all
wood

Appearance Rating: 8

Reliability

Top quality hardware came with kit.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Have ordered parts for the banjo and other
instruments from their catalog. Great company to
do business with.

Customer Service: 10

Components

Originally had a Waverly tailpiece that failed a year
ago. Replaced it with a heavier Kershner.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

I can highly recommend this banjo. I am not too
good with woodworking projects, but this turned out
pretty good. If anything happened to this banjo, I
would build another in a minute. While Stewart
MacDonald no longer offers a banjo kit, they still
offer the individual components. Would have to do
some looking to find the pre-cut pearl inlays similar
to what I used. I wanted an instrument that
sounded and played well and I am totally happy
with the results. I have played a lot of banjos since
I completed the build and have not found anything
that has a better sound.

Overall Rating: 10

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