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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.

Brooks Masten  Spartan Banjo Reviews

Submitted by oldtimecorner (see all reviews from this person) on 3/24/2015

Where Purchased: From Brooks

Year Purchased: 2014
Price Paid: Don't Remember historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

The banjo suits my style perfect. I'm using no effects or mics. Just plunking it straight. Deep, rich, recording quality instrument. Goat skin head provides a very unique earthy sound. Has 1/4" brass round as a tone ring

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Set up perfect. No changes made thus far.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Dear lord, are you kidding me? You gotta see this neck. Extremely figure Oregon walnut. Fancy brass shoes and indian head penny inlay.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Heavy duty beautiful brass. This hardware will be around after a nuclear blast.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

I dealt with Brooks one on one. Very helpful for a guy who's running the show himself. Matter of fact, with the amount of questions I emailed him, I'd be suprised if he made $5 an hour on my banjo. Very generous with his time.

Customer Service: 10

Components

From the wood to the hardware to the goat skin head, it's all 100% quality. No cheap crap.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

So I've played all types of banjos, from the banjos that I build to china made crap to ome to historic banjos to even a enoch dobson. The brooks is on par or better than anything I just mentioned. Just go to his website. You'll see everything you need to see. If you wanna know about the sound then think, earthy, plunky, sweet spot. The best way I can explain the sound is "recording quality and clarity". And one of the hottest clawhammer players, Gabrielle Macrae plays a Brooks. YouTube "hopping jenny" and watch her play her  Brooks.  Then go buy the Macrae sisters album. 

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by existential_banjo (see all reviews from this person) on 1/1/2011

Where Purchased: From the maker

Year Purchased: 2009
Price Paid: $1450 ($US)

Sound

This banjo has a medium to full sound. It is not as full as my Flesher Promenade, but it has its own color and character that is very nice. It is an open back 5 string built for down picking and frailing. The notes are clear and not blurry. The bass is full, but not booming. The low D string doesn't have quite the sustain as my wood rimmed Flesher or my rolled brass ring Stu-Mac kit banjo. Initially I found the tone a bit dull and muddy, but appealing. I did some adjusting on the instrument (see below) to get what I consider a fuller, more clearly defined tone.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

My instrument came with a fairly high action and I believe excessive bow in the neck. Through e-mail, I discussed this with Brooks, and finally adjusted the neck myself, which was extremely easy to do. I think the 5th string nut is a bit high, and I may adjust that some time.

Setup Rating: 8

Appearance

This is a beautiful banjo and is the polar opposite of my Bob Flesher Promenade banjo. It has a square peg head, no fingerboard inlays (there are pearl side marker dots), and an unplated, notched brass tension hoop. The neck is dark grained walnut with an oiled finish. The maple rim is stained to match the walnut. I had Brooks put a Renaissance head on it, and it looks great. The tuners are 5 Star with black plastic buttons. It has a no-knot tail piece. Brooks uses his own butterfly lugs for the tension bolts which adds to the antique appearance.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

This is a solidly built banjo. I would not hesitate to put it in a gig bag and take it as carry -on luggage on an airplane. I have played it for a year and it holds up well. I would take this instrument without a back up any day.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Brooks is very helpful and wants to make the customer happy. I was able to meet him at his workshop in Portland, Ore. before I ordered my Spartan. He was most accommodating. I was also happy to get the banjo in about 4 months after I ordered it. I consider that excellent.
Brooks was also very helpful when I asked him to make a 5th string-only scoop at the end of the fingerboard. That makes it easy to play over the neck, but I can still note up to fret 22 on the 4 higher strings.

Customer Service: 10

Components

This banjo stands out by its simplicity. The components are solid, well built, and well assembled. It has 14 lugs, and that is plenty for the job. The critical fit of the neck to the wood rim was very well done. The 5 Star tuners have functioned well and I have no complaint about them. I noticed that there was some kind of tape on the ends of the brass tone ring where they meet to form the tone ring. It is not soldiered together. I removed this tape and used emory cloth to take the sharp edge off the cut ends of the brass. I then remounted the head over the ring. I feel that that gave the instrument a clearer tone to the notes. Brooks told me he put the tape on to keep the edges of the brass from cutting into the head material. I haven't had a problem yet.
The neck of the banjo is a bit wider than any of my other banjos. It takes a slight technique adjustment when playing this banjo.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

One of the most appealing aspects of this banjo is how light it is. It has a 1/2 in. wood rim, a 1/4 in. brass tone ring, and 14 lugs for the tension hoop. It is my newest instrument, and I still play it more than the other two in my home. It is a great, great instrument. I love it.
You can see and hear my banjo on Brooks web site. It is Spartan model #152.

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by clawhamper (see all reviews from this person) on 6/19/2006

Where Purchased: from the maker, Brooks Masten

Year Purchased: 2006
Price Paid: call Brooks ($US)

Sound

3" deep open back pot, goat skin head, walnut neck. This is the perfect clawhammer banjo. This banjo can make a wide range of sounds. Everything from a bright ringing tone, to a deep plunk depending on how you hold it and where over the neck you play. The volume is excellent also. This would be a perfect choice for someone playing in a band.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

I had Brooks set mine up with pretty high action. He'll do what you request with respect to setup. Brooks is also a player, familiar with a variety of playing styles and can help a person choose a good setup depending on what style they're into.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Incredible!! The look is what initially attracted my attention. Brooks has done a masterful job of building a solid banjo that plays great and has the look of a 120 year old classic. The rectanular peghead with Indian head penny inlayed into the headstock (his personal tribute to the late great musician/folklorist Blanton Owen), the walnut neck, the burgundy pot, the striped ebony fingerboard, and the hardware all give the feel of a banjo era of old. This banjo has very cool remanufactured butterfly shoes he found on an old Civil War era banjo U.Utah Phillips gave to a friend of his. Brooks 'antiques' his hardware upon request, which I find very appealing. The goatskin head is beautiful also. Brooks stretches his own. The contrasts in the goatskin and the specs of hair give this banjo an amazing, real, and charming look.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

This banjo is only about 1 month old, but it sure seems like a solid piece of machinery. I believe this will be my 'workhorse' banjo. I have two other 'nice' banjos, but at this point, ths seems like the one I'll take to jams, trips, etc. In fact, a couple of weeks ago my Brooks banjo was my traveling companion when I went to Midwest Banjo Camp up in Michigan. It still plays great after I used it to beat off the mob of wild eyed pickers that tried to take it from me.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

This is a one-man operation. Brooks Masten is a great guy. Easy to get in touch with, easy to deal with, and one heck of a craftsman. In fact, he rushed it to me so I could take it on the trip to Michigan. He told me that he'd like me to send it back so he could do some more work on the finish. I told him it wasn't necessary - I love the thing just the way it is.

Customer Service: 10

Components

The hardware is beautiful. Brooks uses a variety of hardware from the 1800's that he remanufactures. He can also do custom hardware if you like. Check out his website: www.brooksbanjos.com for pictures of the hardware he uses.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

Buy one. Brooks is an incredible artist. This banjo bridges the gap between the past and present beautifully. This is my third 'nice' banjo. I also have an Enoch 100 and a custom Chuck Lee. All three are amazing instruments...and all have very different personalities. Brooks is newer to the scene (in his 6th year of making banjos) than Kevin Enoch or Chuck Lee, but Brooks Masten's work puts him in their league. This banjo is a handmade work of art by a master in the making.

Please don't hesitate to email me for pictures/sounds of my Brooks banjo.

Overall Rating: 10

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