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: From a friend
Year Purchased: 1988
Price Paid: 150 ($US) (bought USED)
This is an aluminum-rimmed archtop, with the rim coming in and topped with a brass tone ring (of sorts).
It takes careful setup to optimize the tone of these instruments. The combination of aluminum ring and archtop virtually guarantees a lot of top end but not much down low. A skilled setup person can coax more depth of of them, but that depth is somewhat limited. Additionally, note separation leaves a fair amount to be desired - for clear note separation you really have to play close to the bridge. The right bridge will definitely help, and there have been some interesting approaches to improving the tone with assymetric head tensioning. I've not done this, but if you're interested you should contact Hangout members (and hard-core Ode buffs) Mike Stanger or Ed Britt for details.
Sound Rating: 6
Odes are known for slim necks and close action and this puppy has both. It was a used instrument when I got it so specific setup commentary is really more general - See comments above with regard
Setup Rating: 7
This is an entry-level banjo and as such is very basic in appearance. For what it is, it's just fine.
Appearance Rating: 6
This is a Baldwin or Gretsch era banjo. It's well built (with one caveat - see below). Now that I have my "lifetime" banjo, I now use the Ode primarily for traveling - it's ideal for taking camping or on the boat, and it's relatively sturdy.
Reliability Rating: 7
Customer Service: not rated
The neck is slim and the action is very close - which makes it an easy instrument to learn on. I've not touched the truss rod since I bought the banjo and the neck is still true.
The biggest weakness I see is the way the resonator is attached to the flange - directly, through the flange, into lugs on the sidewall. There is no secondary bracket to the rim. I've had lug failure as a result of the case being dropped (thanks, USAir!) that I suspect would have been avoided if a more sophisticated attachment system had been used.
The banjo came with a compensated Grover bridge. Greg Boyd replaced it with a Prucha bridge, which definitely improved the sound
Components Rating: 7
It was a steal for the price I paid, and it proved to be an excellent starter banjo and a good one to have in the quiver for taking to places you wouldn't want to take your primary instrument. As such, I'd happily recommend one to a beginner or someone who wants a good-quality "beater."
Because of the growing Cult of Ode, these banjos sometimes trade in the $900 range nowadays. I think it's possible to get better sound out of some of the newer instruments today - for example, you can get a truer bluegrass sound for the same money with a lightly used Recording King - but that said, these are very sturdy, well-playing banjos with some attributes worth considering.
Overall Rating: 7
'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