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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!

7120 reviews in the archive.

Bishline  Exotic Wood Custom Banjo #129 Banjo Reviews

Submitted by D.W. (see all reviews from this person) on 12/5/2009

Where Purchased: Purchased Direct from Rob Bishline in Tulsa Oklahoma - via the phone.

Year Purchased: 2009
Price Paid: I'm not telling. I am pleased with what I paid. historic exchange rates / currency converter


Sound is subjective.

This was a custom built instrument so it's still green and can probably use more time to properly season.

That said - right now- it has what traditionalists would call a "modern sound". And I am told the sound would would fit well with the Del McCoury type of sound.

The fact that Zebra wood is a harder wood and thus has characteristics more similar to maple means that this banjo might always have a brighter sound. (Banjos that satisfy hardcore traditionalists *please note I am not one of those* tend to be Mahogany).

I have added a sound sampler of this banjo to my BHO homepage profile (please note this is after the small tweaks I made to the set up- see below).

Sound Rating: 7


Set up was good. The Action was low.

I would've been happy with the action, except that there was a string buzz because the action was so low. I liked the action as low as it was. I don't know why there was the buzz, I'm sure it must have developed after they shipped the banjo out, because I know they wouldn't have shipped a banjo with strings buzzing. (Regarding the Buzz. I'm thinking a better player - Rob Bishline for example - could have played the banjo at that very low action without a buzz - so it could be that the buzz is simply the result of a lesser skilled player).

Because of the Buzzing - the Action had to be raised (fella doing it was a former Stelling employee so it got raised to whatever the Stelling spec's are). That's still a very respectable "action" with which I am happy.

In my eagerness to try and find the best possible sound- I jumped off the deep end and started making a lot of tweaks. Most of which were NOT necessary! But hey you live and learn right?

There were 2 main changes I made that had the largest effect on sound.

1. was head tension. I made it less tight. Probably with time and age it would stretch to where I wanted it to be. But I figured I'd help speed it up a bit.

2. Was to change the bridge. I switched out the standard Bishline bridge for a lighter one (1.75 grams weight) made by Tim Purcell which was thinner overall by 1/16th of an inch. The bridge change had the biggest effect on the sound.

I monkeyed around with string gauges. I Tried different gauges and makers.

What I learned from that experimentation was that I did not really need to do any of the string changes. The brand and gauges Rob Bishline originally set the banjo up with- were (after my bridge change and head tension adjustment) what provided the best sound. Again- Live and learn.

By reading this it may sound like a made a lot of adjustments. But (apart from the adjustment to the action) in the end It was only 2 minor adjustments, and a lot of other stuff that wasn't necessary but which I had to be hard headed about and try anyway- learning the hard way that it wasn't needed.

This is my "forever" banjo.

Setup Rating: 7


Visually this instrument is everything I wanted. Everyone that's seen this banjo has been impressed with it's unique look.

The wood (neck, resonator, and finger board) have a visually unique appearance. The neck and resonator are African Zebra Wood. And the finger board is a uniquely figured Madagascar Rosewood.

Rob Bishline told me that only 3 banjo's he has built has had that type of finger board. The 1st- was his personal banjo, the 2nd was my banjo and the 3rd was a custom banjo he built for Steve Miller of the Steve Miller Band. (Steve Miller commissioned his banjo about a week after I commissioned mine).

There is NO inlay on the finger board at all. I wanted a wood grain fingerboard that wouldn't need any inlay and would look fabulous with out it. I got that with this one! (both Rob Bishline and Steve Miller's have inlay).

When planning this banjo I wanted something that had a unique look, but without the over the top frills (meaning without the overly ornate inlays, and all the other places one could go "over the top" on a new banjo). The Zebra Wood looks better with the natural eye than it photographs. In the photos everything looks golden and brown. With the eye, many of the brown grains take on a darker almost black shade.

What was important to me were the performance features- a short scale, radiused fingerboard, and tunneled fifth string. I got all of those with this banjo. And I'm loving it!

Appearance Rating: 10


The hardware all seems fine.

I couldn't afford the (buy direct) price of Bill Keith D-tuners, so I didn't even ask the guys at Bishline about that option. That's an upgrade I will make once my budget will allow it. But there is nothing wrong with the tuners they put on this banjo.

My only other temptation might be to switch out the Presto style tail piece with a Kershner style tail piece. The Presto has a tenancy to buzz -that extra metal piece that covers the strings- but it only does that right after you change strings. Once those get settled in (a matter of minutes) everything's fine.

So right now a Kershner style tail piece would just be an appearance item and not a sound related one.

Reliability Rating: 8

Customer Service

I've never had a better experience with any other company.

They've more than earned the 10 I've given them in this review. I am the customer from hell. I ask a lot of questions. I want to know a lot of different things. In many ways I am trying to learn as much as I can about whatever it is that I am buying. I am giving myself a crash course education on whatever it is I'm buying. As such I as a LOT of questions. And some of them are TEDIOUS. Silly details you wouldn't think important, but they are important to me- simply because I want to Know.

Andy Oatman, Rob Bishline and Dave Haddock all took the time to address the questions I had when I had them, and at the various points of the production process.

As I said they indulged me with all my questions. Answered every email and answered it promptly. And like I said, I am the customer from hell. They more than earned the 10 rating I'm giving them.

The banjo comes with a lifetime warranty, although I seriously doubt I will ever need to take them up on it.

Customer Service: 10


If I had to pick a stand out component. I would have to say it is the uniquely figured Madagascar rosewood fingerboard. To my eye it is beautiful. It has a unique appearance that I think one would be challenged to find on any other instrument.

After that)- I would have to say the overall look and grain of zebra wood would be the 2nd stand out feature.

Components Rating: 8

Overall Comments

This is a banjo that I will own for as long as I have the desire to play a banjo.

It is the 3rd Zebra Wood Banjo that Bishline has built. It is the 2nd Zebra wood banjo that has no inlay (the 1st Zebra wood had an ebony fingerboard no inlay). And it is the first Zebra wood banjo with the unique Madagascar rosewood fingerboard. It's the 2nd banjo ever made with this unique looking fingerboard (Rob's was the first, and Steve Miller of the Steve Miller Band - was the 3rd- and for the record Steve Miller ordered his custom Bishline about 5 days after I ordered and paid for mine).

And I think the "hat's off" should go to Rob's employee Dave Haddock, because I believe the idea for a Zebra wood banjo was Dave's.

Overall Rating: 8

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