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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!

6918 reviews in the archive.

Brooks Masten  30L Special Banjo Reviews

Submitted by Clawhamr (see all reviews from this person) on 11/26/2008

Where Purchased: From the maker

Year Purchased: 2008
Price Paid: 2200 ($US)


I was looking for a sound unlike any of the other banjos in my stable. This unique combination of a spunover rim and a Bacon tone ring provides a full, bell-like quality that recalls the 1890s New York banjos, but with LOTS more power and presence.

Sound Rating: 10


The bridge that Brooks made was too mass-y for my tonal preference, so I subbed an 11/16" Moon bridge in the heavy weight. Perfect. The quality of Brooks's self-made hardware, as well as the solidity of his woodcraft make this banjo a pleasure to tweak.

Setup Rating: 9


Done up in the style of the turn-of-the-century NY school, this banjo is spartan in a appearance, with small dot inlays in the fretboard and on the side of board facing the player. The only other ornamentation is Brooks's trademark Indian head penny inlaid in the headstock, and the stunning grain of the Oregon walnut neck. Also, the interplay of the unplated brass tension hoop, brackets and nuts against the nickel-plated tone ring and the brushed nickel-silver spunover rim is a delight for the eyes.

Appearance Rating: 10


First-class hardware, meticulous fit and superb finishing would seem to ensure decades of reliable use. I would rely on this puppy in any playing situation.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Brooks kept me up to date during the whole construction process with emailed photos of the banjo from its first day to its completion. He built exactly what I asked for and delivered it in just ten months from the date of order. UPDATE: After much discussion with Brooks regarding several issues, he graciously volunteered to make a new neck to address my concerns. The result is perfection. This underscores the benefits of working directly with a maker to achieve the exact result you desire, as well as finding a maker that stands behind his work and is committed to customer satisfaction. Bravo Brooks!

Customer Service: 10


I plan to replace the repro No-Knot tailpiece with one of Will Fielding's new tailpieces; other than that, there are no inferior parts on this instrument. Brooks makes ALL of the hardware used on his banjos except for the tuning machines (Five Star planets and a Waverly fifth string peg, all with black buttons), the tailpiece and the dowel brace.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

Since I already own several other banjos of various types (Tu-ba-phone, Whyte Laydie, and Fielding) I was looking to have something made for me that was completely different from anything I have. I heard of Brooks last January and contacted him. After talking my ideas over with him, he enthusiastically took up the challenge of building something he's never attempted: a spunover rim with a Bacon-style tone ring. The result is far more satisfying than I could have imagined. I love it. My favorite feature? The true old-timey vibe coupled with modern precision and superb craftsmanship.
UPDATE: I've replaced the Bacon ring with a Rickard Dobson-style ring, and fitted a beautiful 1920s walnut resonator from a Slingerland tenor. Wow. I'll have it with me at Clifftop 2011 if anyone's interested in trying it...

Overall Rating: 10

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