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.
Where Purchased: Celtic Chords, Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire, UK
When I started playing in January this year, I quickly outgrew my beginner banjo which had no tone ring etc.
I was looking for a good heavy banjo with a nice sound that wouldn't break the bank, so after a bit of digging around I opted for this one.
The sound from this Banjo is very loud and crisp, there were no buzzes or rattles and it certainly kocked the socks off my first banjo in terms of tone.
It is quite a bright sounding banjo, but I changed the head to a Rennaisance and the tailpiece to a Kershner and the bridge to a Snuffy (all cheap and easy upgrades) and it now sound just the way I like it.
Sound Rating: 8
Yes - no problems with Celtic Chords setup. The owner doesn't really play banjo, but he plays almost all other stringed instruments and is obviously a reasonably adept luthier. String height etc were standard, which is all I need at my stage.
The only adjustments I made were to change the strings to my preferred options (Bill Keith light/mediums).
Setup Rating: 8
It's a good looking banjo with the natural maple used for the pot assembly. The resonator is also natural maple with concentric circle is black and white. The neck is natural maple with a rosewood fingerboard and wreath style abalone inlay.
The banjo look very nice with the rennaisance head fitted.
That said, close inspection does reveal a couple of small dark spots where dust was clearly not cleared before lacquering . I think this is acceptable given the price.
Appearance Rating: 8
It's still early days, but I don't forsee any problems with the banjo. It is solid and well built, and perhaps the only thing that may need attention in due course are the tuning peg buttons which seem a it flimsy.
I've had this banjo apart, it it does seem well made.
Reliability Rating: 9
I've never had to go back to Ozark or Celtic Chords at all, so I don't know.
I can say that the chap at Celtic Chords which is a small locally owned company, was happy for me to spend as much time as I liked playing different banjo's (he had about 12 diiffernet ones in stock) before deciding. He trades on his reputation and I would imagine he would be good.
because it's never been tested I'll make it 5.
Customer Service: 5
I didn't like the clamshell tailpiece. The tuning peg buttons seem a bit flimsy.
Other than that, it seems decent quality.
Components Rating: 8
For the price I paid, I think this banjo is absolutely fantastic value.
It feels and play like a much more expensive banjo. Prior to puurchasing, I played the Gold Tone OB250 and I felt that this banjo was very similar (and almost £500 cheaper).
I am not a pro, I do not play in a band yet, but I DO plays lots (1-3 hours a day).
I am usually quite obssessive about hobbies, and other hobbies such as photography kept me upgrading to different models every year.
I can honestly say, I will not be upgrading from this one unless I am buying a professional (£1500+) banjo - it really is that good.
Overall Rating: 9
Where Purchased: Eagle Music
I am a semi-professional guitar and banjo player with over 10 years playing and set-up experience on banjos (including 100s hrs of set-up time) and over 30 years with guitars. I own an expensive custom made American bluegrass banjo made for me by Steve Ryan, plus 4 others and regularly have tried other makes for comparison by companies such as, Huber, Gibson, Nechville, Stelling, Deering etc.
I was looking for a cheap banjo for US travel and tried this maple resonator banjo which was on sale at the Eagle Music stall at Gainsborough Old Time Festival in the UK in Jan 2005. I could immediately hear and see the potential of this instrument and after a few small changes it now sounds tremendous. It is a naturally bright banjo (too bright for me as standard) with very good volume, good balance and clear tone all the way up the neck. The changes I have made to it so far are fitting a Renaissance head, Price straightline tailpiece, Scorpion bridge and eagle Newtone medium gauge strings (the best sounding and best value I have ever tried). I use Dunlop 0.025" picks and a heavy guage Golden Gate Thumbpick. I was able to try several different bridges and tailpieces from my spares collection and the ones I am using suit the instrument best so far and sound great. There is no universally best bridge or tailpiece for all banjos, despite some marketing claims, you need to try a few and find what suits (the Price tailpiece killed my Ryan banjo). I am keen to try a Z bridge and Fults tailpiece when I get round to it. The sound is still slightly bright and new (not in a bad way) and I would like to find a bridge which retains the, crispness, separation and volume which I now hear, but adds a just a touch more midrange and perhaps bass. This is just for experimentation purposes as the banjo absolutely beautiful already, particularly in double C tuning on slow melodic pieces such as "Steven". The banjo sounds bright and clear and modern and maybe only 5-10% behind the very best banjos I have ever tried (including 2 pre-war mastertones). I expect it to get better and more mellow after a few years of hard playing.
In a recent comparison with a friend's Huber Lexington, my girlfriend thought my Ozark sounded better. The owner said it sounded as good as any Gibson he had heard etc. Whilst I will not go quite so far as saying that it sounds as good as the very best banjos I have played (I actually find many new big name banjos to sound very generic and I have only really been impressed lately with a new Tony Pass equipped walnut Stelling), after the mods I have made, I feel that this is a good enough instrument to suit most beginner and intermediate players sound-wise at a bargain price. The fact that it can even be mentioned in the same sentence as a Huber, an instument costing over 10 times as much speaks volumes about current Oriental manufacture (it certainly doesn't sound $3000 worse). Maybe I got lucky with this particular instrument but I think that the good basic materials, construction, hardware and set-up all inevitably all lead to a good instrument. If you want to spend double the money for totally pro instrument, check out a Goldstar.
I recently saw a video of me playing this instrument outside a shopping mall with my band in an unamplified gig situation. In combination with the natural reverb produced by the surrounding brick walls, the banjo tone sounded absolutely top class on the receiving end and it really surprised me. Even better than I could have imagined.
Sound Rating: 9
The banjo was well set up by Eagle music when I purchased it. I always find banjo nuts to be cut on the "safe" side (i.e high - even on expensive instruments) and my usual set-up is to carefully sand the nut down on a piece of plate glass, adjust the action to my personal tastes (medium) and adjust the head tension. I often also fit bone nuts but have retained the original in this case (plastic I think).
Soon after purchase I dismantled the instrument to fit a new head, bridge and tailpiece as described above. I also had railroad spikes professionally fitted by a luthier(forget fitted 5th string capos, they just get in the way of playing).
Setup Rating: 9
This is a very nice looking natural light blonde maple banjo (gentlemen prefer blondes they tell me !). The resonator is covered with flamed laminate in two halves. The neck is more basic maple, not flamed with a central reinforcing strip of dark wood. It is slightly chunky and generic in profile which is fine for me and may add to the sound. According to the very detailed specification sheet avaiable on the Eagle music website, the inlays are abalone. The fingerboard is Rosewood. Whilst the inlays on the headstock (probably an overlay) sparkle in different colours, the wreath style inlays in the neck appear dull and more pearl-like than abalone (could even be plastic but I think pearl). Laser cut and extremely well fitted with no filler. The other hardware and tone ring are heavily nickel plated to what seems to be a good quality and well polished (look more like chrome but starting to tarnish slightly from playing - clean with Brasso/Simichrome). Tube and plate flange construction. Stamped arm rest.
I much prefer the elegant simplicity of this banjo to the more colourful sunburst models and in my opinion gaudy gold plated models further up the range (one has an eagle inlaid in the back in wood). Your taste may differ.
If if had a flamed neck and better polished neck inlays it would be perfect for my personal tastes.
This is a player's instrument and has everything that is needed and nothing more. It is a well known fact that makers have to choose the best woods for blonde instruments as knots etc cannot be hidden, unlike with a sunburst finish. This often leads to a better instrument overall.
Appearance Rating: 8
I expect this instrument to be very reliable, the only exception is the slightly cheap feeling tuners. They currently work fine and could easily be replaced if necessary.
Reliability Rating: 9
Eagle music are extremely helpful for non-professional musicians and offer very good value instruments for the average man in the street. The owner is a banjo player and sets up the instruments well. He even threw in a free Ozark hard case. Not top quality but fine for the instrument.
I have had no dealings with Ozark directly. As with all instruments it helps if you know what you are looking for and can pick a good one or take along an experienced player to advise. Always good to have a second pair of eyes.
Customer Service: 10
The only slightly cheap feeling component on the banjo are the tuners (compared with the best on the market). Having said that they work fine and hold tuning. All the other hardware looks fine(again slightly less than the best on the market) but I am sure that the instrument will last as long as me if well looked after. The varnish is synthetic, probably polyester which is very durable but not quite as good tonewise as nitrocellulose. Everything polished to a high standard, aside from the neck inlays which are quite dull (maybe could be buffed up by a luthier).
The 4 resonator fixing tumbscrews are a slightly tight fit, but work OK.
The originally fitted head, bridge, strings and clamshell tailpiece were acceptable but the replacement components I have fitted (see above) have really finished the instrument off and elevated it to a professional standard.
Having dismantled the instrument to fit a new head, the fit of components including the tone ring is fine, the block rim construction is good and the fretwork and neck are produced on a CNC to finer tolerances than can be achieved by many hand makers. This instrument is much easier to play up the neck than my expensive banjo with good intonation. The tone ring is somewhat generic but rings cleanly and well. It would be interesting to see if I could fit an aftermarket model (I Emailed Janet Davis with dimensions - but no response) but I see no real need as the instrument sounds fine. I have spent far too much time with set-up work in the past, I have found a winning combination with this instrument and now just want to play it.
Components Rating: 9
This is buy far the best value banjo I have ever played, and sounds as good as most I have played, irrespective of price, after the simple modifications which I have made.
I think that is a good enough bluegrass banjo for 95% of all players at a bargain price. If you are in a position where you are the only limitation to your playing rather than the instrument, then you have chosen it wisely. You could go a long, long way with your playing on this banjo before having to upgrade to a better instrument. Lots of players have very expensive instruments which far exceed their playing capabilites, but I suppose if you have got the money, then why not. What is sad is that many of these instruments are badly set up. My point is that with the excellent instruments now coming out of China etc, you no longer need to spend a fortune to get an excellent performing and sounding instrument.
Recommended without reservation, but as with all acoustic instruments they do vary from piece to piece so if you can, make sure you take someone with you who plays banjos and really knows about them and make sure you pick a good one. I believe that this is a similar, but not identical instrument to those produced by Morgan Monroe in the States (model MNB2?).
I am absolutely delighted with the instrument and it makes me feel like playing and having fun rather than longing for expensive instruments or obsessing about the latest bridge to come onto the market in the quest for "that" sound. With the money you save on this instrument campared with a big name brand you could easily get a very nice Blueridge or Johnson Carolina guitar as well. Get one, set it up well, play a lot and have fun! 10 years down the line when you can really play, then ask yourself if you need a Gibson. Most people won't get that far.
Overall Rating: 10
'Good Monday Morning' 14 min
'Cnc cut necks' 1 hr
'Cnc banjo necks' 1 hr
'The Pet Polka' 6 hrs
'Smith's rag' 6 hrs