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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.

Brooks Masten  Custom 12- inch slothead Banjo Reviews

Submitted by WGE (see all reviews from this person) on 7/25/2008

Where Purchased: from the maker

Year Purchased: 2008
Price Paid: 1975 ($US)

Sound

Lovely tone. Brighter than my Lee 12-inch Rose Hill woody, but with a sweet elegance when played softly. It has a nice bite when played with gusto. It is set up with a rolled brass tone hoop. I toyed with having Brooks put a Dobson ring in it, but I think it turned out just fine. Couldn't be happier with its tonal character and versatility.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

The setup was spot on. It came with a custom made bridge that is 11/16ths and which looks pretty beefy. The action is fine for my tastes and playing style. It has a nice wide fingerboard and narrow frets. It has turned out to be the easiest playing banjo I have ever owned; like a knife through hot butter. Update: I have since replaced the original bridge with an 11/16ths Crowe spacing Sampson walnut and ebony bridge. This has really toned down some of the undesireable overtones. This has taken the edge off and really rounded out the tone.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

It really looks great. I wanted the combination of cherry and rosewood which I find is a beautiful contrast and which has wonderful sonic properties. I also wanted a slothead design with a slotted fifth string. Brooks has come up with a nice slotted fifth setup. I had him put the fifth string nut just behind the sixth fret. The neck is nicely carved for the Waverly tuner. The hardware I choose was Brooks butterfly shoes and I specified all the hardware to be antiqued. The tension hoop is raw brass as well. I had Brooks put a stylized cherry blossom at the fifth fret. The entire banjo really exudes "old time" but in a very modern package. There isn't another banjo like it!

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Too soon to judge but I doubt there will be any problems. Update: Brooks uses mandolin fretwire on his banjos. As I understand this duplicates the narrow frets on vintage instruments. The downside is that fret wear is pretty rapid. This banjo will probably need pretty frequent fret work given the heavy play it is getting. NEW UPDATE: I've had this banjo refretted with Evo FWG74 fret wire and I find the wider and slightly taller frets are very comfortable. The Evo wire is supposed to last almost as long as stainless steel frets. I will report back in a year or two.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Brooks was very easy to work with through a number of design changes during the banjo's gestation. He was very quick to answer e-mails and I had a nice time talking with him on the phone a time or two when we discussed the banjo's and features. He was very good about sending photos at various stages of construction.

Customer Service: 10

Components

Most all the components are hand made. The hardware is just fantastic. I also really have grown to like the Waverly tuners. Very precise and they hold tune great. The custom bridge works great with the goatskin head. Update: the bridge got replaced but I really do like that goatskin head!!

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

With any custom project you worry about how it will turn out and if you will like the end result. I had great luck with a really nice Romero banjo I had done up a few years back and my luck has continued with the Brooks. I got exactly what I wanted, it is unique, it is beautiful, it sounds great, and it plays so very easily. The banjo is very light in weight but very responsive. I feel blessed to have really neat banjos from some of the top custom builders; they aren't cheap but they are worth every penny, in fact two pennies for the Brooks, one on each side of the peghead. I will treasure my Brooks and Romero banjos and try my best to have my playing live up to them. If you are looking for something special, give these guys a call. Update: this banjo is a real headturner. Everybody who has played this banjo has really liked its playability and sound.

Overall Rating: 10

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