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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.

Doc's Banjos  12" Fretless Banjo Reviews

Submitted by OTJohn (see all reviews from this person) on 2/12/2007

Where Purchased: Dealer / Maker

Year Purchased: 2005
Price Paid: Start @ ($US)


As a clawhammer player, I find that that the longer I have played, the more I have developed and appreciation of a full, plunky sound in an open-backed banjo. This one has it. It has a combination of excellent volume, a 'woody' tone and plenty of warmth with clarity. There is a great lower-end depth to it while retaining a clearness in noting often not found in fretless instruments.

Sound Rating: 10


I like the set-up Doc does on his banjos. He seeks a setup that will maximize the wood tone of that particular banjo. This banjo came with a natural skin head and a couple of Doc's bridges (different heights and woods) to experiment with. It came with a fairly high action and I have done some experimenting with lower bridges to bring the action down (I like a fairly low action for a clawhammer player). The frailing scoop is fairly deep, but I have adjusted to that. On my tubaphones and other banjos, I have pretty much gone to using Renaissance or frosted heads to get the sound I want. For some reason the Vega/Fairbanks banjos with heavy tone rings don't always do so well with skin heads - sort of hollow and 'ringy' sounding. Doc's banjos seem to get maximum plunk, tone and volume using skin without that brightness and hollowness. Great sound. (I give him a 9+ on this, only because I can't bring myself to give anybody a perfect score in all areas... ;O)

Setup Rating: 9


I think this is a work of 'wood art,' as well as a fine instrument. This particular banjo was made from Oregon Crabapple wood (yep...that's what I said) that was harvested from an ancient tree on Doc's farm. The tone ring, fretboard and other details are made from a beautiful brown tone wood called Massaranduba. A proprietary polymerized oil finish brings out the best in the natural woods. The metal parts have an 'aged' look brought about through a specialized process. These banjos have a definite look to them that is unique and artistic while being extremely playable and functional.

Appearance Rating: 10


Doc has custom hardware designed and produced for his banjos. Nuts, hooks, and bracket holders are made to order by an excellent machinist. Pat (Doc) has very exacting standards and is constantly monitoring the parts to ensure that they work smoothly, are sturdy, and fit into the overall structure of the banjo to maximize fit and finish. I have owned a number of older 'name' banjos and find it extremely frustrating when the hooks and nuts are rough and do not work smoothly. I think it detracts from the ability to keep the head at a constant tension - thus affecting the sound. The hardware on Doc's banjos works perfectly. Fit and finish excellent.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

While he has some banjos made up already, Doc likes to work with an individual to design and build a banjo to order. His customer service skills (in addition to his craft skills) are excellent and attention to detail superb. I am at somewhat of an advantage here. I live close to Doc and am able to visit his shop on a fairly regular basis. I get to play his many banjos made of a variety of exotic and local woods. Not sure about his warranty policy, but can't imagine him not standing by his workmanship.

Customer Service: 10


As noted earlier, the metal parts are custom made and fit/function well. The banjo has a thick substantial neck and a feature called a 'frailing platform' that I haven't seen on other banjos (you can see it on his website). This was an innovative creation of Doc's. Initially, I was a bit skeptical of the platform but after playing it for awhile, I found it works and seems to draw my hand back to the point over the lower neck that seems to maximize OT sound. The wonderful woods are displayed on his website. Check them out. They are numerous, colorful, many figured, and creat some really unique sounds.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I would indeed recommend this banjo in this price range. While there are a number of excellent instruments in this price range, this banjo is a work of art and a high-quality playing instrument. Truly 'old-timey' looking, playing and sounding. It is not resplendent with engraving and carving. Rather, it takes full advantage of the grain of the wood and the natural beauty of bringing the 'tone' woods together. it reminds me of a fine wood sculpture and yet is designed to maximize sound and playability. I recently had the opportunity to play some of his banjos made from Oregon Myrtlewood, (a unique hardwood found here on the Oregon coast). This wood has a unique natural beauty and a really full old-timey sound. You can get a lot of information and great pictures of the various woods, design features and components of his banjos by going to his website. Lots of options. I truly believe that these banjos will age well and will become collectible in the future as are many hand-made items created by an artisan. Find him at:

Overall Rating: 10

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