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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!

6918 reviews in the archive.

Recording King  California Deluxe Banjo Reviews

Submitted by JimThorn (see all reviews from this person) on 7/3/2011

Where Purchased: ebay

Year Purchased: 2011
Price Paid: 750 ($US)

Sound

This banjo comes with a Fibreskyn head. The Fibreskyn head on top of a White Laydie tone ring, which is a mellow tone ring, produces a a nice mellow sound, but it was too mellow until I really tightened the head. The sound is excellent up the neck, slides sound pretty good up there. This banjo sounds nice and twangy picked, even with the Fibreskyn head; it's not too bright, which I like.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Action was set too low for clawhammer, perfect for bluegrass though. The head was too loose out of the box, which made it sound dull and lifeless, but that was an easy fix.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

This banjo is a looker. Beautifully stained walnut wood, nice mother-of-pearl and abalone inlay.

My banjo did in fact have a flaw, although it wasn't marked as a second. The white binding on the neck was shaved down for some reason. I wasn't too happy with that, but it's okay.

Appearance Rating: 7

Reliability

The hardware will last for sure. It won't rub off like some gold-plated banjos do. I had some bad experiences with hardware plating, but I can tell this banjo has good plating.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

I don't know if this is under warranty, it probably is. I never dealt with Recording King, so I'll leave this unrated.

Customer Service: not rated

Components

The only parts I thought were cheap were the bridge, but that's common, and the vega-style armrest, which they had to slightly bend to fit the hooks, but that's common too.

Components Rating: 8

Overall Comments

I love this banjo! This one's a keeper. It has the sound I've been searching for. It sounds great played both bluegrass and clawhammer style.

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by musicologydoc (see all reviews from this person) on 6/12/2006

Where Purchased: Elderly

Year Purchased: 2006
Price Paid: 750 ($US)

Sound

Nice old-time white laydie sound, warm, crisp, and rich. Volume is excellent and the sustain is impressive, depending on the setup. The sound can be overtone-rich, but this can be controlled by stuffing the head or changing aspects of the setup (as I have since done).

Out of the box, with the factory strings, bridge, and Fiberskyn head, the sound was a little thin and disappointing. Had I been playing this banjo in the store as-is, I probably would have passed on it. But since I mail-ordered it, I had the chance to change the strings to GHS mediums and the bridge to a Moon medium, which made a LOT of difference. I also tried a Sosebee Bosnian maple bridge, which mae the banjo louder, with more crack and pop than the Moon. Different sound, much better for being heard at a jam.

Recently I swapped out the head for a Renaissance, and that, too, made a world of difference. The Fiberskyn sounded lifeless and plasticky by comparison. At the moment I've got the Renaissance head fairly loose, giving the banjo a deeper, slightly plunkier sound that I'm currently enjoying.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

As described above, I wasn't crazy about the factory setup in various respects. With the changes I have since made (heavier strings, Moon bridge, looser Renaissance head), this sounds like a different banjo. I guess the nice thing about an open-back white laydie like this is that it is quite versatile, depending on setup. I've got it setup for frailing, but with different head, tension, bridge, strings, and tailpiece, it would be great for three-finger style as well.

The action was perfect for clawhammer out of the box, but began to rise a few weeks after I got it. I discovered that the bottom of the heel was starting to pull away from the rim ever so slightly, so I tightened the long nut on the lower rod at the neck and it's back to normal.

Setup Rating: 7

Appearance

Walnut rim, walnut neck wih maple skunk stripe, ebony fretboard (light colored and striped-- almost looks like rosewood), ebony heelcap, ebony headstock veneer, beautiful headstock inlay, star fretboard inlay at fifth fret. Absloutely gorgeous, but I'm stopping short of a "10" rating for the light colored ebony fretboard (I don't mind it so much at all, but darker would have been nicer) and the lack of a rim cap (ebony would have been beautiful, or maple, to reflect the skunk stripe).

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

Hard to judge this early in the game, but it seems very well-made for an under-$1000 import. I did have a problem with the neck pulling away from the rim slightly at the bottom of the heel (described above), but I think my coordinator-rod adjustment took care of that for good.

I don't think enough time has passed to give it a rating.

Reliability Rating: not rated

Customer Service

No contact with Recording King or The Music Link, though here on the hangout I was pleased that Greg Rich took notice of my comment about the factory strings being substandard and too light in gauge.

Elderly was excellent, as always.

Customer Service: 8

Components

The tuners look good and seem to work just fine. The bone nut was cut a little rough around the edes (literally), but the slots were done perfectly, as was the fifth string nut. Basic no-knot tailpiece, Vega style shoe brackets and ball end nuts. The Vega style armrest was a little bent up when I got the instrument, but it looks and works fine.

The factory bridge seemed especially cheap; perhaps they are figuring that most people are going to experiment with replacements anyway. I thought I liked the Fiberskyn head at first, but now that I've put a Renaissance on, there's no comparison.

Components Rating: 7

Overall Comments

This is an excellent banjo for the money. It's beautiful, well-made, versatile, and sounds very very good, especially considering the price. Not surpisingly (for an under-$1000 import) I've had a few issues with setup, but nothing major. With a little tweaking and experimentation, I'm sure this banjo could be setup to suit any open-back player's style.

Overall Rating: 9

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