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!
6920 reviews in the archive.
Where Purchased: Received as a gift from my wife
I play a modified Scruggs style (using three finger picks). The Tranjo has a very unique sound. It is certainly not the hard driving blue grass sound of a traditional bell tone ring banjo, but it is not at all unpleasant. It is more of a soft, woody sound. The tone can be modified easily by tightening and loosening the head. It is perfect for playing in a hotel room or crowded camp ground where it is not your intent to entertain the entire place. It is perfect around a camp fire. A profesional picker friend of mine described it as "sort of a resonator sound".
Sound Rating: 10
As for setup, about the only thing I can comment on is the bridge. It is a plain jane hardwood bridge. Nothing fancy, but works fine. Hight is just about perfect for me. Adjusting the setup is simple, which is a good thing since it is nearly impossible to break down the Tranjo for transport without the bridge falling. Mark the head and your set to go. Intonation is very good all the way up the neck.
Setup Rating: 10
My Tranjo was disounted because it had a blemish. I actually pollished that out and it looks great!. My instructor remarked that it looks kind of Gothic. It has a very nice, very simple oiled wood finish. I oiled it today and it looks fantastic. I love the look of this thing!
Appearance Rating: 10
Hardware is outstanding. Some of the best tuners I have ever used. Very fine adjustments are easy. The hardware that is unique to the Tranjo (head adjustments, loop string pins, breakdown hardware) seem plenty sturdy. Build of the expected use (travel).
Reliability Rating: 10
After the initial day of playing my Tranjo I broke a string. I looked over the Tranjo and noticed one of the loop string pegs was missing (it came with ball end strings but can use either). I'm not sure if it was missing when I opened the instrument package or if it fell out while I was playing. I sent an email to Farris Travel Banjo Company on a Sunday afternoon explaining I needed a new pin and that I had broken a string. Sam responded to my email that very evening! He asked for my address, saying he would send me a new pin (he sent two) and send me teflon washers to put between the string rollers to help them roll more easily. That would prevent string breakage. A few days later my new pins and washers with instructions for installation arrived. Included was a note saying if I had questions about installation to give Sam a call. The instructions were clear and the whole upgrade took me about half an hour. 10 is not high enough for this kind of service. Ferris is easy and fun to deal with!
Customer Service: 10
The outstanding component of the Tranjo is undoubtedly the wood work. This instrument would work as a wall hanging; it looks that good. I can find nothing cheap or in need of updrade.
Components Rating: 10
As I'm sure you can see from my ratings above, I love this banjo! I have owned it for over a month now and I play it almost as often as my other banjo. It is fun to play and is soft enough that I can play in another room while my family watches TV. I think I would want one of these even if I was not traveling. Get one; you'll be glad you did.
Overall Rating: 10
Where Purchased: Banjo.com
Year Purchased: 2007
Price Paid: 600 ($US)
It has a surprisingly good sound for a 'travel' banjo. I find that while I can practice bluegrass-style picking on it, the thing actually sounds *much* better as a clawhammer banjo. I prefer it for clawhammer over my fancy full-size D.P. Hopkins banjo!
I bought this banjo to take with me on frequent airplane trips around the country; I was eager to play in random local bluegrass jams wherever I could find them. It's great being able to fold the entire banjo into my backpack along with my notebook computer -- sure makes air travel easy! However, my sad realization is that it's just way too quiet to play in a jam of 12+ people; it gets easily drowned out to the point where I can't hear it anymore. So in that sense, it's probably best suited for people who want to *practice* while travelling, not jam in large groups.
Sound Rating: 6
The banjo was set up just fine, and it has high-quality tuners.
My big complaint, though, is that the act of tuning this thing can be incredibly frustrating. Banjos are already difficult to tune as-is: the tuning is extremely sensitive to the tiniest turn of the knob. With this banjo in particular, the act of tuning one string affects the pitch of all the other strings! Big fancy banjos don't have this problem. Tuning this banjo, however, is like playing a game of whack-a-mole. Get one string in tune, all the others fall out of tune. It's gotten to the point that after I reassemble this banjo from my backpack (which takes ~3 minutes), I deliberately leave myself *30* minutes to tune it. Crazy!
Setup Rating: 3
It's finish and construction seem solid and attractive to me; it certainly sports a unique look!
Appearance Rating: 7
It definitely seems well-built enough for travel; it's not a cheap, junky object by any means. I would expect it to last many decades. But no, I wouldn't use it for a real gig -- it's too quiet (see my prior explanation.)
Reliability Rating: 7
Customer Service: not rated
The standout design of this banjo, of course, is the fact that (a) the tuners are inside the head (!), and (b) that the neck pops off with the removal of a single thumb-screw. It's hard to judge this against other banjos, since it's an oddity of design, created to serve a very specific purpose. I don't know of any other 'folding' banjos!
Components Rating: 7
I would recommend this banjo to people who want to practice by themselves while traveling -- it's particularly great for camping or air-travel. I wouldn't use it in a large group gig, it's just too quiet. It sounds much better frailed than picked. It's definitely better than all the "mini" travel banjos out there, if only because it has a FULL sized neck.
Overall Rating: 7
Where Purchased: Hillbillys, Wales UK
Overall I am very pleased with the sound. It takes some getting used to being much more muted than a full bluegrass banjo, but its very pleasing. Mine sounded a littel muddy to start with so I experimented with head tension and string types and mixes. I have now returned to medium strings, but have changed the head from the clear Remo Ambassadour that came with it to a coated one of the same type. To my ears it sounds much clearer and I am very happy with it. Contentment! But its nice to get back to my Gold Star when I get the chance to play loud. Full marks to Tranjo design though and full marks as a practice banjo if you want to use something with a full size neck tuned to G. Ingenious. I can recommend it.
Sound Rating: 9
As this wasn't a full banjo I wasn't expecting it to come with all the set up requirements, but did expect it to come with a properly tensioned head. This one was very loose but easily adjusted to taste.
Setup Rating: 7
Personally I like the quirky look of the Goldtone Tranjo. I think it looks quite pleasing to the eye. It certainly attracts some attention from others. But I wasn't happy with the finish of this particular instument. I'd have packed it straight up and sent it back if I didn't need it for an imminent long business trip. The celluloid stained finish has what looks like a rag mark in it on the face of the intrument and there is an ugly dark patch where grain has risen to meet the surface but hasn't been properly sealed and sanded so stain has soaked in. To be honest the celuloid finish may be a good choice for toughness, but the way the stain is obviously incorporated into the finishing coats rather than pressure-applied beforehand means that the instrument shows up every slight dink and sratch as blonde. I think itwould have been better to leave the finish as natural. More vexing was the fact that I couldn't tune the damned thing without breaking strings until I discovered that 2 of the rollers were stuck fast and two others were fairly stiff on the spindle. I had to ease them off and use a piece of rolled Emery paper to sand them out until they would spin easily on the spindle. (And yes, the instrument was settled at room temperature/humidity for some hours before I tried to tune it). With a bit of graphite here and there she then tuned like a dream. I also discovered that the little wooden plate designed to hold the stings in place during transit just wouldn't hold the 5th string at all. It kept slipping out which meant yet another string change because it got kinked the first time I travelled with the instrument broken down. The other real frustrating niggle is that the truss rod hole is slightly off center. So threading the 2nd string can be a major headache because it always emerges into the truss rod hole and I have to fiddle about until I can find the other hole (hidden in the truss rod hole) so I can feed the string out over the nut. Not happy about that. But the parts are very well machined otherwise, to good tolerances. Excellent, and the neck is easy to attach and remove but with no sloppiness whatsoever. I was also impressed with the quality of the neck and fingerboard (apart from that slightly off-center truss rod!) which is an absolute pleasure to use.
Appearance Rating: 6
Well, there isn't much hardware to worry about on the Tranjo, but I was very impressed with the tuners Gold Tone have used. Smooth and no slip. They seem top quality to me, although being 16:1 ratio means its rather a wrist-aching exercise to restring without a guitar string winder. And it was surprisingly easier than I thought to string the tuners and do routine tuning - you just have to train your mind!
Reliability Rating: 10
I haven't dealt directly with Gold Tone, but I think I will write to them to give them a gentle nudge about watching the quality control at their factory. I wasn't expecting absolute perfection in a production model, but don't think this particualr Tranjo matches up to their obviously well earned reputation for producing quality finished instruments. As for Hillbillys, I found them to be very helpful and friendly on the phone and with a quick servcie, but I wasn't a 100% happy bunny. They very kindly threw in a gig bag for me, but it was far too long and bulky to be of use for a travel banjo. But what erked me was that I didn't get a manual, didn't get any Allen keys for head and truss rod adjustment, and didn't get a Tranjo strap or even an elastic capo (necessary to grip the strings to the neck when breaking the instrument apart for travel). Just the Tranjo. For the money I felt this was not a thoughtful service. The instrument also arrived with a minor but annoying dink on its trailing edge that wasn't obvious transit damage.
Customer Service: 5
Apart from that slightly off center truss rod hole (which may be a necessary part of the design??) and the sticky rollers I think this Gold Tone Tranjo is well machined and put together. The Gold Tone site mentions a bone nut, but my instrument appears to have a standard fret for a nut. I also wonder if polished steel rollers would be a better option than wooden ones. Smoother action? But maybe they would cause unnecessary buzz. But I do think that the channels, where the strings emerge through to the face of the instrument ready for running over the bridge, could be given more thought. The strings bite into the channels slightly following the wood grain and this must cause some unnecessary friction and added tension when tuning, although this isn't a major issue given the hardness of the maple used in construction.
Components Rating: 7
In the UK we pay top wack for any imported banjos what with import tax and value added tax, so probably tend to be more critical of value for money. That said I would certainly buy another Tranjo if mine got lost or stolen but I'd buy one directly from Mr Farris and pay the extra few bucks to have guaranteed quality straight from the designer. I am sure there are lots of very contented Gold Tone Tranjo owners out there, but I think my instrument escaped their quality control which is a pity. The design is remarkably clever and its perfect as a practice/travel instrument. Mine sits next to my armchair ready for noodling about on during odd free moments and has brought my confidence on in leaps and bounds. I probably use it more than my precious Gold Star GF100 which I tend to be more careful with (it stays in my 'practice' room out of harms way and domestic traffic!)
Overall Rating: 8
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