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: Music Makers, Inc.
Year Purchased: 2008
Price Paid: 450 ($US)
"Riverboat" is a kit banjo that Music Makers no longer stocks. They had one finished model on the shelf and agreed to sell it to me. It's an all-wood, open-back banjo with a spruce tone ring, cherry pot, cherry neck, and paduak fretboard. When played, it's got a rich voice with some nice base notes. Play it down by the bridge and it's got the punch of a standard bluegrass resonator. Play it up by the neck and it's a little mellower. You could frail it pretty well, I imagine, but I'm not a clawhammer or frailer myself. I like the sound very much. It's loud enough for ensemble playing.
Sound Rating: 8
Matt at Music Makers checked the banjo out before sending it off to me. He put new strings (medium gauge) on, tested it, and shipped it out. The action is low. There is no buzz anywhere down the neck. I haven't made any changes to the set-up. All I had to do was unpack it; set up the bridge; tune 'er up; and Riverboat was good to go!
Setup Rating: 9
If you appreciate fine woods, you'll like a Riverboat. The pot is block construction, lightly stained, with a matte finish. The staining and finish bring out the grain in the wood and it has a very warm appearance. The neck is equally well done: slim, with substantial heft at the base where it joins the pot. The padauk fretboard is about 1/4" thick and well bonded to the cherry neck. I love the shape of the peg head. I can't really place it, but I know I've seen the design on other, higher-end resonators. It looks a little like the "maple leaf" design you can find on some older Deerings...or is it Nechvilles? Anyway, it's pretty. There are no finishing flaws in the instrument that I could detect. An occasional rough spot on the inside of the pot but nothing that constitutes a "flaw," in my opinion. I'm impressed with the quality of the materials and the assembly. The fretboard is unbound; there are no side-markers, but there are MOP dots down the 'board in the usual positions. The frets are well-seated and smoothly finished at the sides...you won't scratch a finger while playing.
Appearance Rating: 9
I'm not much judge of hardware. But I think the quality is high. Since it's an all-wood banjo, the only metal components are the tuners, strap buttons, and screws holding the ring on the rim. The tuners are nickel or chrom-plated friction tuners, I think. The 5th-string tuner is geared and also plated the same. I think all the hardware will last until you decide you want to upgrade the tuners...but it won't be because they failed. If you're playing in gigs, you will probably want to bring a back-up, especially if you're playing bluegrass and your pals expect a resonator. Riverboat comes with a frosted head.
Reliability Rating: 9
I will use Music Makers again. Matt was the customer service person I dealt with on the purchase and he was very helpful. Orders are processed promptly and correctly the first time. Riverboat came in one of the best shipping containers I've seen (and I've shipped 5-6 banjos in the last two years). There's been no need to send it back for adjustment or repairs. It came without a warranty, but that's not an issue for me. Music Makers stocks all the parts for a Riverboat, and the plans for building one, so if you're determined to acquire one, contact Matt and ask him to help you pull all the pieces together. There's even a brass (I think it's brass!) tone ring available through Music Makers, so you could upgrade for a brighter sound with a little more "bite" for under $100.
Customer Service: 10
The woods used and the overall design of Riverboat are its best features. This is a big banjo -- about 17" across with a substantial pot that's about 3" thick. It looks like it would be heavy, but it's surprisingly light -- I weighed it in at 7 lbs., give or take an ounce or two. The fretboard might have been a little smoother, that's the only reason I give it an "8." Oh yes, the tailpiece is also wood, very well made, and firmly attached. A Riverboard takes ball-end strings. Music Makers sells extra sets.
Components Rating: 8
Music Maker's Riverboat model was originally advertized at $699 for a finished instrument. Since mine had been sitting in inventory for quite some time, I purchased it for considerably less. It's definitely worth the price. It's got a deeper voice than my Deering Goodtime open-back and it's not as punchy as the Morgan-Monroe Rocky Top I used to have, but it's got its own character and no "identity crisis." I really enjoy playing it.
Overall Rating: 9
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