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7001 reviews in the archive.
There hasn't been a review of a Kyle Smith banjo in awhile, so I thought I would add one. I have had my walnut Legend now for probably five years and it has grown to be my favorite... while I am not a professional player, I have played banjo for 50 years and have owned probably 2 or 3 (kidding, more like 20 or 30). I just sold the walnut top tension GIbson RB-12 that I thought would be the keeper of the flock, but the Smith has the tone. I still own a Stelling Virginian and an Ome to round out the two extreme ends of the tonal scale, but if you want a banjo that sounds like honey bees singing it is so sweet, yet sharp, you owe it to yourself to get a banjo from Kyle. It will be the one I take to the home with me! (ok, when the time comes!). Hank
Overall Rating: 10
Kyle Smith performed his renowned electronically voiced set-up on my banjo on Dec. 31, 2007. He was very meticulous in every detail. He listened to my banjo before dismantling it, and cleaned every component prior to reassembly. Based on what I wanted the timbre to be, he offered a selection of heads, and then recommended a bridge material and weight. With those chosen, he began to reassemble the banjo. He had gages and templates for everything, such as string angle as it breaks over the bridge toward the tailpiece. He adjusted the neck relief, bringing the strings closer to the fingerboard, buffed out two places on the resonator that were cloudy, and installed spikes for the 5th string. He installed new strings, selecting a gage that would help in balancing the volume due to the 1st and 5th being louder in the set I had been using. After, a little more tweaking of the head tension, he handed me the banjo to play. Even without the resonator, I could tell there was more than just a shine on this thing, he’d done something serious under the hood!
Then he disappeared for a little while to make his final, proprietary adjustments while Cody showed me around, introducing me to Hot Shot and all the other critters.
When he got back, he reinstalled the resonator and sat me down to play. Wow, what a difference! My banjo is maple with an ebony neck, chrome plating, and has a 2-pc flange. Each of these contribute to making a banjo bright. Over the last year, I have been battling those factors in an attempt to reduce some of the brightness, and I actually succeeded in getting it out of the “tinny” range. Kyle’s changes doubled my original reduction in brightness (it’s still the same components and thus bright) but added a “character” and “body” to the banjo that are difficult to describe. He made the sound three-dimensional, it’s no longer a flat plane. The change in tone from playing near the bridge to near the neck has increased tremendously. The percussive reflex… the slight popping echo, and the balance up and down the neck are really hard to explain, and new to this 30 year old instrument. Each minute I played it in his shop was like it was aging one year in tone. Kyle has invented a time machine!
The banjo will sustain a note when I hold it, great for playing slow stuff, and yet decays fairly rapidly if I'm playing a rapid succession of notes. How is this possible? My set-up created an overflow of notes running together.
After being back home with it for a week, I capoed up to “B” and cranked into Train 45. When I jumped up the neck to play out of the “Em” position, I had to stop. I played it again at half speed, then slower, then faster. Then I stood near a wall so I could hear more. There was another level of the pop and echo coming out, not overpowering, but definitely distinct.
It’s mid-February. The set-up is 1-1/2 months old and fairly settled in. I’m still learning where to place my right hand in order to change the tone from crisp at the bridge, to the sweet spot just out from the bridge where the “echo” is subtle, to just past that where up-the-neck breaks are hollow and growl. Further toward the neck is a rich, mellow response.
I spent less money with Kyle than I had in all of 2007 trying different bridges and heads for one banjo. I had taken a lemon and was making lemonade, but never could get the recipe just right… too tart or too sweet. Kyle has the recipe! He and his methods are a 10! He will get repeat business from me. His prices are competitive and his service is exceptional.
Overall Rating: 10
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