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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.

Griffin (James Bowen)  High leveller Banjo Reviews

Submitted by ummy123 (see all reviews from this person) on 7/8/2006

Where Purchased: Direct from James Bowen2003

Year Purchased: 2003
Price Paid: £995 (GB£) historic exchange rates / currency converter


This banjo was described by my tutor Bill Forster of the 'Acme' band as being the 2nd best banjo he has EVER played( his own being the best) Everyone who plays it, including several top American players, are always very complimentary about this banjo. It has perfect tone and pitch all the way up the neck and lends itself to classical and clawhammer alike. It is a delight to play and a pleasure to own and as my tutor is so enthusiastic about this instrument each time it is played it will be passed on to him eventually. There is nothing to dislike about this work of art from James Bowen and I think it is one of very few 'High Levellers' he has made.

Sound Rating: 10


The set up is as James handed over to me, nice and low with a Snuffy Smith bridge and a No knot tailpiece. I would not change this set up and my tutor insists that I never change anything about it. Strings are Medium type and supplied by James. It has an 11" pot with a Weatherking head and is a match made in heaven.

Setup Rating: 10


As well as being 'sweet on the ear' it is of exceptional beauty having 11 inlays (fancy) down the fretboard. A special feature of this instrument is that I specially requested that all the inlays were engraved by a gun engraver friend of James. The finished article is really first class and truly 'one of a kind'. It has a Griffin head at the peg head and a mother of pearl truss rod cover engraved to my own design. The maple has now matured into a nice warm mellow 'treacle' shade. It has an ebony fretboard and being open backed it is finished with a full ebony bound pot and ebony (Gibson shape) tuner buttons.There is nothing I would change about it and I am proud to show it to or let any admirer play it because I know it will receive complimantary accolades when it is handed back.

Appearance Rating: 10


There is not one blemish on this instrument and the nickle hardware is as bright as the day it was made. I have no doubt that it would hold its own in any company

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

James Bowen can only be described as a Gentleman. I have known him for some time and he has always been more than helpful, he gives help and advice freely. This banjo as been loaned several times for display on his stall at festivals. It comes with a lifetime warranty. James took my ideas on how i wanted this banjo to look and carried out my wishes perfectly, I would recommend 'Griffin Banjos' to anybody seeking quality and perfection.

Customer Service: 10


There is no part of this instument that I would now consider changing. I did try it with light strings but soon found that medium strings, as it was strung by James, were perfect for it, giving it 'plunk' 'sustain' 'ring' call it what you like, but it sure 'Sings'

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

This banjo is the best 'grand' I have ever spent. I would recommend the 'High Leveller' to anyone wanting a banjo to be proud of. If it was stolen..................I would have James try to make a perfect copy! My favourite feature is the engravings on the inlays making it so special.
I dont think that James has ever made another like it. As a player, I cannot do justice to this instrument but as an owner I cherish it to the point of obscenity! Bill Forster, my tutor, will end up with this banjo and I know it will have then found an owner with the musical ability it deserves. THIS BANJO HAS NOW BEEN GIFTED TO MY FRIEND BILL FORSTER (updated July 2008) Before giving this banjo to Bill Forster it was refitted with a full set of Ebony tuner buttons which matched the whole theme of the banjo. (see pictures)

Overall Rating: 10

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