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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!

6953 reviews in the archive.

Griffin (James Bowen)  Ironmaster GB 055 RB 1 Banjo Reviews

Submitted by mwblake (see all reviews from this person) on 11/3/2004

Where Purchased: Didmarton Bluegrass Festival, Cirencester UK

Year Purchased: 2004
Price Paid: £1800 (Sterling (GBP)) historic exchange rates / currency converter


This is a very classy brand new, hand built resonator banjo, modelled on the Gibson Mastertone and it has a vast tone range, depending on how it is played. Its JLS tone ring is perfect for hard driving bluegrass and is equally happy playing softer melodic classical tunes and Celtic airs, etc. I haven't found anything I don't like about it yet!

Sound Rating: 10


I am quite new to banjo playing so I experimented with the setup to see what it can do. I adjusted the bridge and tailpiece very slightly and tried different gauges of strings, but eventually returned the setup to where it was when I bought it, having replaced the .022" 4th string with a slightly heavier .024". The action is low and fast, with no hint of a buzz. Absolutely luscious!

Setup Rating: 10


This banjo is very pretty. The neck is of American Black Walnut, with a mother of pearl inlaid ebony fingerboard, nickel plated hardware, Ludwig head. The resonator is of maple ply construction with a one-piece black walnut burl veneer on the back, beautiful to look at. This banjo was completed in James Bowen's workshop in July 2004 and is in perfect condition.

Appearance Rating: 10


It has been made to very high specs all round. I don't fear for its durability at all. It is the only banjo I own and I would rely on it to deliver the goods!

[Update, March 2006]: I have owned this banjo for 18 months now and it just gets better and better. I can't praise it highly enough. The head is now getting a nice weathered look about it too. Man, I love my banjo!

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

James Bowen is a very nice bloke who knows how to make a very high class instrument. He is exceedingly helpful and very friendly. The banjo is guaranteed for life (well - his life, anyway!)

[Update, March 2006]: James continues to make outstanding instruments at his workshop in Shropshire and his after sales service is marvellous - mine goes back to James about once a year for a regular service, to keep it in tip top condition.

Customer Service: 10


As far as I can tell, everything about this instrument is top class. That is why James has a waiting list of close on to 2 years at his workshop in Lydbury North, Shropshire, UK. The only thing that I find a bit odd is the new Cox tailpiece, that is very heavy and made of brass. It is quite difficult to change the strings and they get big bends in them. The 3rd string sits at a slightly sharper angle over the bridge than the others.

[Update, March 2006]: I've got used to the tailpiece now, thrown away the mute (what on earth did I think I wanted one of those for?) and got the knack of how to change the strings so I have upped the rating here from 9 to 10...

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

This is a peach of an instrument. I would recommend Griffin Banjos to anybody. It is not ostentatious, but very very handsome and plays and sounds like a dream. If it was stolen I would relentlessly track down the thieves and do merciless, unspeakable things to them even after they had returned it. I was very lucky to get this instrument and I ain't letting go of it for anybody!

Overall Rating: 10

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