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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.

Gold Star  GF-85  Banjo Reviews

Submitted by quickmill (see all reviews from this person) on 10/7/2010

Where Purchased: Amazon.com

Year Purchased: 2010
Price Paid: 588 ($US)

Sound

Great sounding intermediate bluegrass banjo. Plenty loud. Not too harsh on the high end. Low D has some thump. This banjo has some depth to the sound compared to my starter banjo. As nice sounding as anything I've played which is, admittedly, somewhat limited.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

Obviously Amazon does no setup. That being said, this banjo was playable right out of the case. There was some buzz on the 5th string due to the flat neck (very little relief). Action was slightly low (3/16" at 12th) but head was a little loose. Tightened head and action came to 1/8". Loosened truss rod to get .015 relief. No buzzing after that.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

It looks pretty nice for what it is. This isn't trying to be a stunningly beautiful banjo. It achieves a simple dignity. The inlays look good, the finish looks good. The front edge of the resonator is unfinished & although this doesn't show much, I think it could look better. I also can feel a piece of dirt in the finish at one spot on the neck. It also has a few spots on tone ring plating as previous reviewer mentioned.

To be fair, this may be a factory second. I base this on the purchase price entirely as I have nothing stating it to be so.

Appearance Rating: 7

Reliability

I completely disassembled this after playing about 2 weeks. This thing is built very well. The neck joint is solid and the tone ring fits well ( tight but not too tight). The hardware is good. Unlike previous reviewers, mine came with Gotoh tuners which are very nice. I suspect I would never need another banjo after buying this. I expect it to last me for life.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

Lifetime warranty to original owner.

I've not needed it yet.

Customer Service: 9

Components

This whole banjo feels quality to me. I love the feel and playability of the neck. I'm a simple guy when it comes to bridges and tailpieces and am quite happy with the factory supplied parts. Some others may want to upgrade these although I see it as unnecessary.
As stated earlier, the tuners are no longer an issue and I think most anyone would be happy with them these days.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

I know my numbers don't add up to 10 but I'm comparing this to higher end instruments. For the price this thing is incredible. I would pay the $975 street price and still feel good about it. For the price I got it, I almost feel guilty. This is not just a very good banjo for the money, It's a very good banjo.

Overall Rating: 9

Submitted by crane hill (see all reviews from this person) on 9/12/2009

Where Purchased: Mountain Music, Old FOrge, NY

Year Purchased: 2009
Price Paid: 699.99 ($US)

Sound

Very loud, rich full sound. Sustain is incredible. I play 3 finger style and this banjo rings forever. Shouldn't have any problem being heard in my band now.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Set up was so-so. Some fret ends are a little sharp and the nut is a little off-set. The action is a tad low. There is some fret buzz when picked hard.

Setup Rating: 7

Appearance

Mahogany neck and resonator. Nice inlay work, no filler present. Finish flaw on the name inlay. Only the word "Gold" is visible unless the head is tilted a certain way in the light.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

Finish is nice and even. Not too thick. Plating flaw on the tone ring. Hooks were replaced upon setup according to the dealer. This is my main banjo now when I perform. It is HEAVY. Around 13 lbs.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

Haven't dealt with the company so far. Only the dealer. He does not do mail order, only pick up from his shop. He is knowledgeable and lets you take your time trying out different banjos. He appears to be an expert on banjos and banjo history.

Customer Service: 10

Components

Components seem well made. No problems so far.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

This banjo was a "B" stock banjo due to the plating issue on the tone ring and the inlay flaw on the head stock. It is still a great banjo and a much better instrument than my previous banjo (a MM MGB-1). I am very happy with this instrument despite the finish flaws.

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by snapjackson (see all reviews from this person) on 2/13/2009

Where Purchased: Janet Davis Music

Year Purchased: 2007
Price Paid: $950 + tax historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

A rich full sound up and down the neck. It has a nice warm mahogany tone on the low end and rings like a bell up the neck. I play in a four piece americana/bluegrass band and the volume is where it needs to be. I have been lucky enough to play on some higher end banjos and this one definately holds it's own.

Sound Rating: 8

Setup

Tom at Janet Davis Music took care of me. I had the action lowered and I bought a 5/8 Scorpion bridge which I REALLY like (see review). I recently took my banjo to Larry Cohea. He is a fantastic luthier and a saught after set up guy in the Bay Area. He suggested tightening my head slightly and trying a lighter string set (9.5 10 13 20 9.5). It seems to cut through a little better now.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Simple and clean...It's purdy :) Looks like a Gibson RB250.

Appearance Rating: 8

Reliability

I have had zero problems thus far. Knock on wood!

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

I highly recomend dealing with the nice folks at Janet Davis Music. Reliable, kind and helpful. Ask for Tom.

Customer Service: 10

Components

The only thing I would like to change are the tuners. They are not as responsive as I'd like but they are still pretty decent.

Components Rating: 8

Overall Comments

A great solid banjo at a more than fair price.

Overall Rating: 8

Submitted by kwlawson1 (see all reviews from this person) on 12/29/2008

Where Purchased: Instrument Alley

Year Purchased: 2008
Price Paid: 830.00 ($US)

Sound

The sound is tremendous.....Very loud and distinct

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

All I did was place the bridge and started playing. After a few days I replaced the strings with almost mediums and plan to change the bridge. Other than that I am not sure if I will chagne anything else.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

Very nice and clean

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Hardware looks great. Looks like will last for a long time.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

I dealt with Ben at Instrument Alley.......The first banjo I received was damaged and Ben replaced it in a timely matter. I never had to chase him down for answers. He responded to my emails daily.

Customer Service: 9

Components

Components Rating: not rated

Overall Comments

With out a doubt. Great price for this banjo. I would have to replace it if stolen. It sounds great and is very eay to play. I can play songs on the GF85 that I could not on my old Kent from the 80's.

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by Goldstar Kenny (see all reviews from this person) on 5/8/2008

Where Purchased: Janet Davis Music

Year Purchased: 2008
Price Paid: 899 ($US)

Sound

I love the sound it packs a punch and grabs peoples attention quickly perfect for the scruggs style bluegrass jam sessions It will hold its own with a Gibson all day All my jam buddies love it

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

tom did an exellent job on the set up the only thing i changed othe than strings and bridge was to tighten the head skin from about a C to a D flat. As for strings i put ghs jd crowe signature series medium light 10-11-12-20-10 and a snuffy bridge

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

flawless very beautiful banjo for the money

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

very dependable

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

havent so i guess a 10

Customer Service: 10

Components

everything for the most part is great i would opt for different tuning pegs

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

it is as good as any GIbson ive ever played (a few) i would recomend this banjo highly it s as good as a 3000 dollar gibson i do think the Stellings i played were a tad better but all in all this banjo will jam with the best of them

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by Hedge Hog (see all reviews from this person) on 3/25/2008

Where Purchased: E-bay

Year Purchased: 2008
Price Paid: 690 delivered ($US) (bought USED)

Sound

When I got this banjo it was not setupl. After some attention and a set of American Made Banjo Co. Cryo strings it was ready to play. This banjo can sit up and bark when asked.

Rated an 8 because I don't want to over rate the sound, but it's very nice.

Sound Rating: 8

Setup

The banjo was purchased used from E-bay, but it was as close to brand new as any used banjo can possibly be. The original owner said the banjo was only a month old and it shows. I don't believe it was ever touched. The head was loose and unevenly tightened, and brackets were loose as well. I was an easy job to correct all these problems. The action was nice without any buzz. The setup could probably be better, but so far I'm impressed with the banjo.

I gave the setup a 5 mostly because the action was spot on. The other adjustments were straight forward with no problems.

Setup Rating: 5

Appearance

People say this model is plain, but I find it to be just right as far as inlays and glitter is concerned. The finish is as close to perfect as I could ask for.

I rate this a 9 because there's always room for improvement, but to be honest this thing is beautiful in my eyes.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

At this point I can't comment on reliability. Everything seems well made and strong. If I was pressed to mention something it would be:

- One of the tuners doesn't seem as smooth as I'd like it to be, but it responded to preload adjustment well and time will tell. (it turned out that the tuner knobs were very loose, after some shimming the tuners are much better)

Edit: After shimming the tuners were far bette, but after about a year they started to loosen again. they were replaced with Waverly tuners, a great upgrade to a very nice banjo.

- When the banjo arrived the 5th string tuner was knocked loose, UPS handling no doubt, it was easy enough to put back in and seems tight, I'm sure there will be no further problems

I rate this an 8, but can't actually fault the banjo at all.

Reliability Rating: 8

Customer Service

Haven't dealt with Gold Star at all.

Customer Service: not rated

Components

As mentioned above:

One of the tuners is a bit rough, but fussing with the pre-load screw helped. (the knobs were very loose on the tuner shaft, after a little shimming the tuners are much better, Edit: Shimming worked well, but the tuners were replaced with Waverly tuners)

Everyything else seems well built and strong.

Rated an 8 over all, but I have no real complaints.

Components Rating: 8

Overall Comments

I would definitely recommend this banjo for the price I paid for it, but I got a screaming deal, I'd also recommend this banjo for it's for the normal retail price.

At this point I'm definitely beginning to love this banjo. It's got good weight, it sounds great and is getting better all the time. The finish couldn't be better. Others claim the GF-85 is plain, but to my eyes it's about perfect for a mahogany (sp) banjo.

I rate this banjo an over all 9. Yes, I know if you average my other responses the 9 doesn't work, but I think an over all 9 is fair, after all this is not a $3000 banjo, you can't expect everything, but this banjo really delivers all I wanted and then some.

Overall Rating: 9

Submitted by ramsesdk (see all reviews from this person) on 2/11/2007

Where Purchased: Musical Instruments of Quality (UK)

Year Purchased: 2005
Price Paid: 678 (£) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

This banjo is great. It's not that expensive, but it has the real bluegrass tone. I upgraded from a Fender FB54, and the difference was enormous.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

I purchased the GF85 from an internetcomp. and the set up was very poor. I bought Steve Hubers KillerTone DVD, and I did the set up myself.
Set the action, tightened the head, changed the bridge to a Soosebee submerged Wood 5/8", new strings, etc.
I like to experiment with the set-up, and the GF is nice to work with.

Setup Rating: 4

Appearance

I like the looks of this banjo. Not too fancy. It's the sound that is important.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

This is a quality-instrument, and it looks like everything will last forever.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

The tuners were very bad. The were 'slippy' and very hard to tune. I had a correspondance witk MIOQ, and without any discussion they sent me a set of new tuners under the warrenty, and the problem was solved.

Customer Service: 9

Components

Apart from the tuners everything works well.
Came with very nice harsshell case.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

I would definately recommend the Gold Star GF85. It has all I want, and for the price I believe it's one of the best banjos on the marked.
Only reason I don't rate 10 is that there should be something left for Gibson.

Overall Rating: 9

Submitted by washburn picker (see all reviews from this person) on 1/12/2007

Where Purchased: local music shop

Year Purchased: 06
Price Paid: Don't Remember historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

this banjo sounds the best of all new banjos but the older goldstars sound better

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

the banjo setup was allrite from factory but i did a little work

Setup Rating: 7

Appearance

the apperence couldnt be better

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

tunners are not good at all

Reliability Rating: 1

Customer Service

Customer Service: not rated

Components

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by Big John (see all reviews from this person) on 8/24/2006

Where Purchased: Elkins Acoustic Instruments (517) 545-8179

Year Purchased: 2006
Price Paid: 1300+ ($US)

Sound

Lot's of Pop, very sharp, crisp and clear both up and down the neck.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

The set up was done by Gene Elkins, a very fine banjo player of over 30 years, and designer and builder of the Belltone banjo. All the actions are set up like Earl Scruggs has on his banjos. Gene also includes his own hand made bridge, fits the neck to the pot, resets the tone ring to the rim, and adds D tuners and Scruggs strings for excellent sound.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Nothing fancy which is fine for me, but a very good finish on all the metal parts and the Mahagony finish is great

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

I haven't had this banjo very long, but as I see it, I have no doubt that this is a life long member of my family. It is very solid and built as strong as I could expect it to be.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Not sure about the warranty. But between the quality of this banjo itself from the factory, and the special work Gene has done as he does on all his instruments to set it up for durablity and playability before selling them, I see no reason whatsoever that if I take care of this instrument like it should be, it will never let me done.

Customer Service: 10

Components

Gene Elkins added his custom made bridge to enhance the sound and volumn & added D tuners

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

I can say that I have heard a number of other banjos not to mention any brand names because each person has there preference's, but I feel as though this banjo the GF-85 could keep up with the best of them side by side, although if I were to ever trade up which I will some day, my next Banjo will be the "Belltone" that Gene Elkins builds.

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by JAVink (see all reviews from this person) on 7/25/2006

Where Purchased: Elderly Instruments

Year Purchased: 2006
Price Paid: 775 ($US) (bought USED)

Sound

As other have said, this banjo has a good sound. It has a basic bluegrass banjo sound as one would expect. I find that there's just something missing when I dig in hard though. On higher end banjos you can play as hard as you want and the sound just follows. It's almost as if the Gold Star gives up after a bit.

Sound Rating: 8

Setup

Banjo was set up perfectly by the folks at Elderly. I haven't changed anything but strings thus far.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Very plain banjo compaired to others. The inlays are simple and not too flashy. There is no engraving or other fancy eye candy. Straightforward looking banjo. I bought it used, so it did show some wear, nothing that wasn't caused by normal play though.

Appearance Rating: 8

Reliability

For the most part, this banjo seems rock solid. The only thing I don't like are the tuners. They are starting to slip and their replacement is is the near future. Everything else is great. I would not hesitate, if I was good enough, to use this banjo without a backup.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

Never Dealt with Gold Star. The people at Elderly can't be beat though.

Customer Service: 10

Components

The only parts I don't like are the tuners and the tail piece. The tuners I mentioned before, a bit weak. The Tail piece has a little flap that covers part of the strings that becomes loose and rattles. I've removed it and there is no problem. Everything else in the banjo seems well made.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

I would recommend this banjo all day everyday. If you can pick one up in great condition used, go for it. If this was stolen, I'd probably search around for something better, but would never hesitate to buy another. A good setup and you have a great sounding banjo that will last years and years.

Overall Rating: 9

Submitted by Unknown on 10/20/2005

Where Purchased: Traded a guitar for it

Year Purchased: 2005
Price Paid: Don't Remember (bought USED) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

When I got this banjo it had a "tinney" sound to it. The head was loose and the bridge was a very thin and light replacement for the original. I tightened the head and put on a Scorpion 2.1 gram bridge I had on hand and this banjo really came to life. This banjo really sounds great and has all the volume one could ask for. I gave it a 9 on the sound because I'm still not finished playing with everything.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

The action was fine and no changes need to be made there. The head was loose as I said above and the bridge, although not original to the banjo, was basically junk to me. It hasn't taken much at all to get it to sound great.

Setup Rating: 7

Appearance

It is a very nice looking banjo. The finish looks well done. I'd heard about the poor quality on the polishing under the plating but, although it could be better, it's not as bad as I would have thought.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

It looks to be finished as well as any other banjo I've owned including my current RB-250.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

Since this banjo was acquired used I won't be using their customer service although I have heard that they have taken care of any major problems.

Customer Service: 10

Components

Pretty much everyone has said that the stock tuners are junk, they were all dead on with this statement, they are. The tuners had to be tightened so much to keep them from slipping that they were then hard to tune. I already had a set (including the 5th) coming in from banjo.com to replace these so no big deal really although I'm glad they showed up on the same UPS truck! The 5th string tuner was the dog of the bunch. You could actually turn the button between a 1/4 and a 1/2 turn without moving the string, now that is some serious slack.

These were replaced with Gotoh tuners and I can't say enough about how nice these are, they are fantastic and in my opinion the very best on the market.

The banjo did come with a set of Schaller "D" Tuners. I may never actually use them but since they work ok I'll leave them on there, if they ever give problems I have the remaining two Gotoh tuners ready to replace.

Components Rating: 7

Overall Comments

Actually I traded a guitar for this banjo. It's funny, I made the mistake of thinking I might want to play a guitar and the guy I traded with made the mistake of thinking he wanted to take up banjo after all his years of playing guitar...worked out fine for both of us!

For the price these things can he purchased I'd highly recommend them to anyone interested. I'd say that they are definately the best out there anywhere near this price range. Go ahead and order all 5 tuners at the same time and you'll have a great banjo.

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by banjopicker257 (see all reviews from this person) on 10/2/2005

Where Purchased: wiresonwood.com

Year Purchased: 2005
Price Paid: 799.00 ($US)

Sound

Super bluegrass sound! Rich and full with lots of pop and crackle. I read lots of reviews before deciding on the GF85 and I am extremely pleased with this purchase. It sounds to me like the bluegrass banjos I hear on my tapes a videos and that is exactly what I was looking for!

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

The bridge was a bit off, but it didnt matter. The first thing I did was change the bridge to a Kelly Emerson "Vintage Tone", changed the tailpiece to a straightline and put on a set of Gibson Earl Scruggs medium gauge strings. The tension hoop was a bit loose on one side and not even around the rim,, an easy fix.
The action is a bit high, but not unplayable, just higher than I am used to,,I am getting used to it and havnt decided if I will lower it a bit or not.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

The color is beautiful and is especially so on the back of the resonator where the grain really looks super. The inlay work is fantastic and the finish is smooth and shiny. All plated parts are excellent with no flaws.
Not a bunch of fancy inlay, but nice classy look with bow tie inlays on the fingerboard, and pretty scrilpt inlay on peg head.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

I have not had any problems with slipping tuners as I have read that others have had. All the plated parts look fantastic and look and feel like they will last forever.
I truly beleive I have found MY ultimate banjo. The search is over! Nothing left to do but pick n grin and grin and grin...

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

When I received the banjo direct from Saga, I immediately noticed a small chip on the back of the resonator appx 1 inch from the edge and about 1/16th inch in size. It was through the stain and showed white so it stuck out like a sore thumb. I called Jim at wiresonwood.com and Jim then contacted Saga. Arrangements were made to repair the resonator. I sent the resonator to Saga and they repaired it and sent it back. Fantastic job. My hats off to Jim at wiresonwood and John at Saga. The level of customer service including the constant communication and their desire to make sure I was completely satisfied is a tribute to the quality of the company and the instrument!

Customer Service: 10

Components

I did not find any parts on this banjo that were of low quality! My reasons for changing the bridge, strings, and tailpiece immediately were simply a matter of preference and not a reflection of the quality of the parts that came on the banjo.
The hardshell case is outstanding. With 5 latches, a lock, and a raised top, it is durable and snugly holds the banjo in place with is soft furry lining.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

If you are looking for a high quality banjo that has THE blugrass sound, maybe I can save you some time. You can not find a better banjo with a better sound or quality of fit and finish for this price anywhere. The GF85 would be a bargain at twice the price! And, I dont think you will find a better price than Jim at wiresonwood.com .
I could have paid a bit more from another dealer and recieved the banjo completely setup, but, I am a tinkerer anyway and like to make little tweakes here and there so it would have been a waste of money.
You can contact Jim at wiresonwood@tampabay.rr.com
Good luck with your search, I hope my info has helped.

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by tex1958 (see all reviews from this person) on 9/14/2005

Where Purchased: wiresonwood.com

Year Purchased: 2005
Price Paid: 799 ($US)

Sound

rich full and bright, sound, great for blue grass

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

well set up from dealer, just needed a little tweaking.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

looks great not fancy, but stunning finnish.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

tailpiece and tuners look like they may need some attention.

Reliability Rating: 7

Customer Service

great cannot speak highly enough of jim at wiresonwood.com, he let me pick my banjo up from his house while on holiday saved me the shipping fees. i must thank him and his wife for the great hospitality they showed me, thanks.

Customer Service: 10

Components

tailpiece & tuners.

Components Rating: 7

Overall Comments

great banjo buy one if you can.

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by fixdent (see all reviews from this person) on 8/31/2005

Where Purchased: Front Line Music

Year Purchased: 2005
Price Paid: 1250.00 (Canadian) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

Very Nice sound

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Action was a bit high when purhased.

Setup Rating: 8

Appearance

Great Appearance

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Appearance is top notch.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

I just ordered replacement tuners, they have been shipped without question.

Customer Service: 10

Components

Tuners are questionable. But I do not have experience with other makes.

Components Rating: 7

Overall Comments

Great banjo...don't hesitate on purchasing one if your interested.

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by BanjoTroy23 (see all reviews from this person) on 8/10/2005

Where Purchased: Wiresonwood.com

Year Purchased: 20056
Price Paid: Don't Remember historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

Great Banjo! Sounded decent out of the box. Good bass, very nice pop to it.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

The head was a little loose when I got it. The bridge is not very good that came on it.

Setup Rating: 7

Appearance

It is very nice looking. Simple, clean, just what I like. Bowtie inlay. All the finish work was perfect on it.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

The tuners are a little shabby. They dont want to stay in tune too well. But other that that I think it is really nice. I would use this banjo on stage in a heartbeat. I think it would stand next to any professional grade banjo without any problem.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

I bought it from a dealer. Didnt really interact much with them. I just purchased it from them and it came directly from SAGA's warehouse.

Customer Service: not rated

Components

I put a Price straightline tailpeice, and a Snuffy Smith 3 11\16 bridge on it from the start. Man it made it nice! Really is a professional grade banjo.

Components Rating: 7

Overall Comments

I think that this banjo is a must for anyone, begginer or pro. Most people say "for the money you cant go wrong". Which is definatley true. But even if this banjo was priced up in the 4 digits it is worth it. Unbeleivable deal for 800 dollars.

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by pickinchik (see all reviews from this person) on 7/28/2005

Where Purchased: Banjo.com

Year Purchased: 2005
Price Paid: 950 ($US)

Sound

This banjo has a wonderful, bright sound that pops! Of the banjo's I tested, Deering Sierra, Gold Tone OB-250, MM Foggy Mtn Series, this one sounded the best. If you are looking for the bluegrass sound, this banjo is for you!!

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

The setup was performed at the shop and I tested it out there. I replaced the stock bridge with a Sosebee Cottonmill in the shop. I had Barry change the action for me, but that is really a preference thing.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

This banjo is beautiful to me. It might not have all the flash, but who needs that?

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

I am proud of this banjo purchase. I have played it almost every day since it was purchased in May 2005. I can't say how long it will last but I know I will have it a long time!

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

N/A

Customer Service: not rated

Components

The components that I hate are the crappy tuners that will not stay in tune. I constantly have to tighten the screws because they keep coming loose. Once they are properly tightened, the banjo will stay in tune for a few days. I will definitely be replacing these ASAP. The bridge that came on it sounded OK, but when I had them put on the Sosebee Bridge it made such a difference that I got it. The little flap on the tailpiece is stupid also, it starts to rattle and buzz. The thing is just for looks anyhow. No complaints on the other components.

Components Rating: 6

Overall Comments

For the price I paid I would definitely recommend this banjo to anyone. If you just think you need to spend more money, upgrade your tuners, tailpiece, and bridge. The sound on this thing is so amazing that you won't believe your ears!!!!!!

Overall Rating: 9

Submitted by murfeeman (see all reviews from this person) on 3/10/2005

Where Purchased: littlemountainmusic.com

Year Purchased: 2005
Price Paid: 950 ($US)

Sound

Great sound for bluegrass. I prefer a warmer sound, so the mahogany neck and resonator influenced my decision. I also prefer phosphor bronze medium strings (GHS PF 160). I mainly play with a small group of friends, so I am not looking for a hard cutting sound. This banjo comes with a standard Presto tailpiece which I have never liked, so I have replaced it with a Price Straightline. It also comes with a frosted Remo head. The bridge is not marked by brand name, but seems to be of good quality. I replaced it with a Nechville compensated bridge because I had one on hand and I wanted to tinker. There is a slight improvement in intonation, but the tone remained much the same. I have a soosebe submerged wood bridge on the way, but the tone is so good now I don't really expect much improvement. I am extremely happy with this banjo and consider a far better instrument than the Deering Sierra I had before.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

The action was correct and the bridge placement perfect. However, the head tension was uneven. The lugs were snug on one side but loose on the other. Correcting this oversight made a significant difference. I don't expect much in the way of setup from a dealer because a banjo's sound is so subjective. They can set it up to their standard of perfection and still not please a customer who was looking for a different sound quality.

Setup Rating: 7

Appearance

There are no discernable flaws in the appearance. It is a "plain Jane" style which suites me fine..............I have never been into gaudy. I love the feel of the neck, and the playability.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

The construction seems sturdy and durable. The finish seems to be of excellent quality. It is hard to rate reliability on an instrument I have had only a week, but I would feel secure in using it at a festival jam or going somewhere to play with it as my only instrument. I'll give it a provisional 10.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

This will be difficult to rate without some explanation.

1) I want to give high marks to the dealer I bought it from, which was littlemountainmusic.com in Ohio. They had the lowest advertised price plus free shipping. They included 2 free sets of strings, a Gibson polish cloth and a can of Gibson pump polish. Their banjos come with a Banjo Mate tone enhancer installed. Because my primary instrument is guitar, he also included a free Platemate bridgeplate protector. (These two items can be seen on their website.) After I had received my banjo and expressed some concern over the Saga Company warrantee, he contacted the company for a clarification.

2) I am totally pleased with everthing concerning the purchase of this banjo except for the warrantee which is only for one year from date of purchase. There is no registration with the manufacturer, you have to work through your dealer for any repairs. I have voiced my displeasure of this policy to the Saga company and would urge any other Saga owners to do the same. (Contact them at info@sagamusic.com or (650) 588-5558) They also have this primitive policy on their Bluridge guitars and Kentucky mandolins.

Customer Service: 8

Components

As mentioned, it comes with a Presto tailpiece, Remo head and unknown brand of bridge. Also stainless steel strings of unknown gauges. I don't think the strings or tailpiece provide the best possible sound, but everything else seems solid enough.

Components Rating: 8

Overall Comments

I would definitely recomment this banjo, it is an excellent value for the price and even a higher price. I like it much better than the more expensive Deering Sierra I sold last November. If I had to replace it I would with another Gold Star. My only disappointment was the warrantee policy which I don't expect to be an issue on a solidly built instrument.

Overall Rating: 9

Submitted by murfeeman (see all reviews from this person) on 3/10/2005

Where Purchased: littlemountainmusic.com

Year Purchased: 2005
Price Paid: 950 ($US)

Sound

Great sound for bluegrass. I prefer a warmer sound, so the mahogany neck and resonator influenced my decision. I also prefer phosphor bronze medium strings (GHS PF 160). I mainly play with a small group of friends, so I am not looking for a hard cutting sound. This banjo comes with a standard Presto tailpiece which I have never liked, so I have replaced it with a Price Straightline. It also comes with a frosted Remo head. The bridge is not marked by brand name, but seems to be of good quality. I replaced it with a Nechville compensated bridge because I had one on hand and I wanted to tinker. There is a slight improvement in intonation, but the tone remained much the same. I have a soosebe submerged wood bridge on the way, but the tone is so good now I don't really expect much improvement. I am extremely happy with this banjo and consider a far better instrument than the Deering Sierra I had before.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

The action was correct and the bridge placement perfect. However, the head tension was uneven. The lugs were snug on one side but loose on the other. Correcting this oversight made a significant difference. I don't expect much in the way of setup from a dealer because a banjo's sound is so subjective. They can set it up to their standard of perfection and still not please a customer who was looking for a different sound quality.

Setup Rating: 7

Appearance

There are no discernable flaws in the appearance. It is a "plain Jane" style which suites me fine..............I have never been into gaudy. I love the feel of the neck, and the playability.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

The construction seems sturdy and durable. The finish seems to be of excellent quality. It is hard to rate reliability on an instrument I have had only a week, but I would feel secure in using it at a festival jam or going somewhere to play with it as my only instrument. I'll give it a provisional 10.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

This will be difficult to rate without some explanation.

1) I want to give high marks to the dealer I bought it from, which was littlemountainmusic.com in Ohio. They had the lowest advertised price plus free shipping. They included 2 free sets of strings, a Gibson polish cloth and a can of Gibson pump polish. Their banjos come with a Banjo Mate tone enhancer installed. Because my primary instrument is guitar, he also included a free Platemate bridgeplate protector. (These two items can be seen on their website.) After I had received my banjo and expressed some concern over the Saga Company warrantee, he contacted the company for a clarification.

2) I am totally pleased with everthing concerning the purchase of this banjo except for the warrantee which is only for one year from date of purchase. There is no registration with the manufacturer, you have to work through your dealer for any repairs. I have voiced my displeasure of this policy to the Saga company and would urge any other Saga owners to do the same. (Contact them at info@sagamusic.com or (650) 588-5558) They also have this primitive policy on their Bluridge guitars and Kentucky mandolins.

Customer Service: 8

Components

As mentioned, it comes with a Presto tailpiece, Remo head and unknown brand of bridge. Also stainless steel strings of unknown gauges. I don't think the strings or tailpiece provide the best possible sound, but everything else seems solid enough.

Components Rating: 8

Overall Comments

I would definitely recomment this banjo, it is an excellent value for the price and even a higher price. I like it much better than the more expensive Deering Sierra I sold last November. If I had to replace it I would with another Gold Star. My only disappointment was the warrantee policy which I don't expect to be an issue on a solidly built instrument.

Overall Rating: 9

Submitted by Paul Bock (see all reviews from this person) on 2/25/2005

Where Purchased: Janet Davis Music

Year Purchased: 2005
Price Paid: 995.00 ($US)

Sound

GF-85 #040137 was shipped to me via UPS after set-up by JDMC and it sounded terrific - full & rich with great tone, volume & sustain all the way up the neck. The clarity of the notes is wonderful. I'm very impressed that a banjo at this price level sounds this good. I put on a Huber bridge, changed the strings (I prefer something slightly heavier than what came on it) and raised the Presto tailpiece a bit and it still sounds great, just a tad less treble. Be careful, though, it responds so well that any carelessness in playing technique will stick out like a sore thumb - but then, that's the sign of a really good banjo, i.e., it will respond to the player's every touch.

Because of the price I think this banjo deserves a 10 for sound. You'll have to spend a lot more on another brand to get one that sounds as good as the GF-85.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Jim Davis at JDMC set the banjo up using a Snuffy III 11/16" bridge and put HO spikes in the neck for me as well. I think he did a great job. The action is extremely good, just a hair over 1/8" above the FB at the 12th fret which is exactly where I like it. The frets are just about the perfect size, IMO. Jim said that it set up to the higher bridge with no problem so changing from/to a 5/8" or 11/16" shouldn't be any hassle for the owner. The Presto tailpiece adjusts very easily using the adjustment screw.

In summary, JDMC did a great job of setting it up for me and it looks to me like making changes won't be hard at all, i.e., there are no potential hassles that I can see. A very well-designed and constructed banjo.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

The finish is flawless and I didn't notice any flaws in the metal work. There is a small amount of filler in some of the inlays but the slots may well have been routed using a template so some filler is inevitable since the inlay pieces probably are not precisely uniform in size & shape.

The flange doesn't sit precisely at the same position below the edge of the resonator all the way around, and after careful examination I determined that the resonator itself is not perfectly symmetrical, i.e., if you turn it over on a flat surface it "rocks" back & forth. Since the wall lugs are set at exactly equal distances from the edge of the resonator and the flange is precisely located on the rim, the slight distortion of the resonator cause the flange to be even with the edge of the resonator at the heel and below the edge at the tailpiece. Not a biggee, but it is something I noticed. Also, there were two thicknesses of felt in the neck notch which exacerbated this appearance issue, so I replaced the felt with a single layer and now it isn't as pronounced and might not be noticed by most people.

This is a "plain Jane" banjo in terms of overall appearance because it isn't highly decorative or ornate in any way, but except for the comments above it looks great!

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

Based on the construction and the quality of materials I think this banjo is about as dependable as one can have. Everything is solid and well-constructed. Some people have reported tuner problems but I haven't noticed any issues at all. I would not hesitate to use it "as is" for a gig.

That said, I'll be adding Keith tuners at 2&3 and changing out the other three for 5-Star tuners because I like 'em and I know them to be 100% reliable no matter what. For that reason I'll derate reliability a tad because I'm not convinced that the "as supplied" tuners can be depended upon for the long haul.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

There is not anything about JDMC that I can say good that hasn't already been said by many others, so I'll just say that whatever good you've read or heard before is true and I have absolutely no complaints of any kind. I'd buy another banjo from them in a heartbeat.

Customer Service: 10

Components

As mentioned above, I think that the tuners may possibly be suspect in terms of long-term reliability but everything else looks first-rate.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

I've been playing since 1956, so I've owned a lot of banjos - some good, some not so good. This one equals or beats anything I've ever owned sound-wise or playability wise, and frankly I just can't see how they do it for the price. To beat it with another brand I think you have to be prepared to pay between $2000-$2500, and there are probably some models that cost even more that don't sound as good. If I had a student who had gotten beyond the very basics and wanted a decent banjo for the longer term the GF-85 would be my recommendation. If you have very deep pockets and want to own something really fancy just for the "name" that's fine, and I wish you well. But if you want great sound & great playability in a nice-looking banjo that leaves most of your money in your wallet, this is the one to buy.

BTW, I know Tom Adams personally and IMO he and his 1981 GF-100W are proof that the player makes the banjo and not the other way around.

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by nightrain (see all reviews from this person) on 2/16/2005

Where Purchased: Janet Davis Music

Year Purchased: 2005
Price Paid: 950.00 ($US)

Sound

I have spent the last 3 months looking at banjo's. In Idaho there arn't to many to be found but out of the banjo's that I have "plucked", this Gold Star sings. The sound is full and loud. Did I mention that she can "SING".

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Janet did a fantastic job, the instrument was well packaged for shipment, the action was set up good and easy to play. All I had to do was tune her up.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Wood work on this instrument is excellent. Haven't found any inperfections in the wood yet. Inlay is beautiful and seems to be well done.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

Give me a few years.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

Service was great. Originaly, I was going to purchase from another vendor but their Gold Stars were on back order (their price was the best). I emailed JDM regarding price matching and they did. And they were prompt to answer all my questions.

Customer Service: 10

Components

I think she is built like a tank, weighs about the same too. Beautiful instrument. The case that was included is ok. There are better cases out there, but if you take care of things like I do, it should last a long - long time.

Components Rating: 8

Overall Comments

The price for the sound is a great deal. I don't think more money would buy a better sounding banjo, just more frosting. So far I am in love. I would highly recommend a Gold Star GF-85.

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by larushka (see all reviews from this person) on 1/31/2005

Where Purchased: Elkins Acoustic Instruments (517) 545-8179

Year Purchased: 2005
Price Paid: $1,395.00 historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

This banjo has the "sound" that I like in a bluegrass banjo. Lots of "POP", great tone up and down the neck, just incredibly crisp.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Gene Elkins does a custom set up on these banjos. The action is set up exactly how Earl does it. Gene puts on his own bridge, shapes the neck to the pot, and fits the tone ring to the rim and adds D tuners and Scrugg strings. The banjo cost a little more than other Gold Star's on the market, because of the customizing and set up, and I can't empahsize enough on how IMPORTANT that is, to get that sound I was lookin for.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

The banjo is just simply pretty but not gaudy. Finish on the mohagony is flawless. The cast flange finish is a little rough but barely noticable

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

Because of the custom hardware it will last longer than the Ever Ready Bunny or me. This banjo is just "rock solid".

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

I did not deal with Gold Star and because Gene Elkins has personally gone over every inch of this banjo, I don't ever anticipate having to deal with Gold Star. I am not sure what the warranty is from Gold Star.

Customer Service: 10

Components

The tuners and Gene Elkins custom bridge standout on this banjo. There are no weak or cheap parts that need to be upgraded.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

I took my time in buying this banjo; I played a number of banjos mostly in the $2,500+ range and up. I've been playing for over 3 years now and I wanted a particular sound and I've found it in this banjo. I thought 3 other banjos that I tried over the past few days sounded a little bit better than what I've got and that was a Prucha and a Belltone (custom built by Gene Elkins) and the Crafters Of Tennessee. For my level of playing; this is by far the best banjo for the money, giving me that particular sound I was looking for. I would recomend this banjo the way Gene Elkins set this up to anyone.

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by shalsey (see all reviews from this person) on 12/30/2004

Where Purchased: Turtle Hill Banjo Co.

Year Purchased: 2004
Price Paid: 1075 ($US)

Sound

Big, bright bluegrass sound. Played both a used RB-250 and RB-3 standard and this blows them away for less than half the price.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

Dave at Turtle Hill threw in a new Scorpion bridge and I installed new GHS JDC's and the thing really cranks.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

Beautiful wood finish. Some rough spots in the metal finish before it was plated. Looks like a classic pre-war instrument.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

Seems very durable and heavy. Should be a lifetime instrument.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Lifetime warranty for the original owner. No need to contact Saga's customer service yet.

Customer Service: 10

Components

Tuners were pretty weak. This banjo is #030030 so it is a part of the second batch of production models. I've upgraded to 5-Stars already have ordered a custom pearl truss rod cover. I can't imagine having to do anything else to it but routine TLC.....

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

Only reason this isn't a ten is that it's not one of the 12 Granada's like Mr. Scuggs. It's just a fantastic instrument.... especially for the money.

Overall Rating: 9

Submitted by Unknown on 10/22/2004

Where Purchased: Janet Davis Music

Year Purchased: 2004
Price Paid: 995.00 ($US)

Sound

I love the feel of the neck and the bright crisp clear sound. Rings like a bell. You just will never ever find a banjo with this sound for this kind of money.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

I had to tinker with it. No problem as I like that and also what I like in a sound is not the same as the person setting up sometimes. The important thing is after changing to a Emerson Bridge and tightening the head, moving the tailpiece, changing strings etc it is perfect for me

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Fit and finish is excellent with the exception of the plating on the flange etc. They should have done more buffing before plating. ( I am a perfectionist though) The wood and all fitted parts are perfect

Appearance Rating: 8

Reliability

Only been playing it for three months but it sounds better each day. Should last forever, very well made and very heavy

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

If you call Janet Davis Music ask for her husband Jim or her - The clerks get everything srewed up. She will alwyas talk to you so it is fine.

Customer Service: 8

Components

The wood finish is by far the best you clould ask for. The Tuners need upgraded in my opinion and I will upgrade to Keith or Waverly.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

It aint for sale ever. I am upgrading to a Sonny Osborne Chief but mostly because I a long time fan of the Osborne Bros. I will keep the Goldstar to leave my kids.

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by Unknown on 8/18/2004

Where Purchased: Janet Davis Music

Year Purchased: 2004
Price Paid: 995.00 ($US)

Sound

Sounds great, lots of ring and volume.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

Set up perfectly by Janet Davis Music when I got it.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Very high quality and beautiflu banjo

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

No reason to yet

Customer Service: not rated

Components

Hard to beat for the price.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I think it is a wonderful buy. If it was stolen I would consider spending more money but staying in the below $1000 area I would order it again

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by Unknown on 8/14/2004

Where Purchased: Elderly

Year Purchased: 2004
Price Paid: 975. ($US)

Sound

Great sound; very typical of a quality mahogany banjo.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

Great setup prior to delivery. Very nice action and accurate intonation. After experimenting with heads and setups, I've been using a Fiberskyn head set at a head tension of 90 at the edge (about 87 at the bridge), and a Fults Blue Ridge 30 tailpiece set perpendicular to the head. I use a 5/8" Sosebee Cotton Mill bridge and SIT stainless steel strings (#B51024, 10-13-15-24-10).

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

Good fit & finish. Inlays are well done.

Appearance Rating: 8

Reliability

Seems OK.. The tuner complaints of earlier models (dead space slop in tuners) was not the case on this banjo, although I have been having some problems with the tuners in that the button screw works loose as a result of normal adjustments, resulting in me having to carry a screwdriver while jamming. Saga has provided replacement tuners, no questions asked, but I have upgraded to Waverly V2 tuners... which I would recommend to others. They made a big difference.

Reliability Rating: 6

Customer Service

Elderly has requested replacement tuners from Saga Music, and Saga provided them without any problems at all, as warranty service should be. Tuner issue reported to Elderly on 8/24/04, all new tuners received in mail from Saga on 9/24/04.

Customer Service: 8

Components

The sound is it's strong point. The parts seem as good as any in this price range. This banjo is SN 104 of reissue model. Photos of it are on Elderly's website.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

Great banjo for the price. I recommed it highly. It holds it's own with banjos costing twice as much. The case needs a redesign. 6/2005: I have removed the resonator and stock flange, and replaced the flange with a laser cut flange from Bill Rickard, so the banjo is used as an open back (with attitude). It's got a great hollow sound and gets many compliments at jams.

Overall Rating: 9

Submitted by tridentum (see all reviews from this person) on 4/19/2004

Where Purchased: Elderly Instruments

Year Purchased: 2004
Price Paid: 995.00 ($US)

Sound

Quintessential bluegrass sound; full-bodied low end with plenty of punch; juicy bell-like sound up the neck; outstanding balance across all strings with good sustain and quick response; no dead spots. Ample volume

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Set up by Elderly Instruments; medium low action with light gauge strings and standard 5/8 bridge. I may try an 11/16 bridge but this banjo is happy with the set up as is.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Attractive late 1930s Gibson RB-75 style; flawless mahogany with excellent finish; rosewood fretboard; inlay work is well done; little or no filler. Flange is less refined; some casting flaws. Would rate 10 otherwise.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

Dependable banjo; professional quality. Should stand up to the rigors of performance.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

One year manufacturer's warranty and one year from Elderly. Don't anticipate any problems.

Customer Service: 9

Components

20 hole flathead tone ring with long skirt - very nice; Presto tail piece and armrest are adequate. Tuners have a little extra play in them but keep it in tune. Should be upgraded to Waverlys or 5-Stars. Would rate higher with better tuners.

Components Rating: 8

Overall Comments

Competes favorably with banjos in the $2K range. This is NOT an intermediate instrument but rather a professional axe. As good or better than vintage Gold Stars. Best deal on the market.

Overall Rating: 9

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