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!
7076 reviews in the archive.
Where Purchased: Directly from builder, Bill Van Horn
Year Purchased: 2009
Price Paid: 950 ($US)
This banjo, to my ears, fully embodies the old-time sound. The banjo has a wide range of tone. Its lower range sounds warm and plunky while its higher range has a bright, lilting pop. It can sound either mellow or brash, depending on my playing. While I try to keep my volume lower, the Dobson tone ring provides plenty of punch.
Sound Rating: 9
The banjo was set up perfectly for clawhammer. It has an A-scale neck and a 12-inch pot, with a Dobson tone ring and no-knot tailpiece. The banjo plays most comfortably over the neck scoop. The string action is a bit low over the head, but there is still plenty or room to play closer to the bridge, which is set close to the center of the head for a mellower sound. The neck is thicker than typical factory banjos and has a wide string spacing, which is very comfortable for playing and fretting.
Setup Rating: 9
This banjo was built for me, so this is the exact appearance I wanted. The banjo’s simple elegance brings out the beauty of the woodwork. The neck and dowel rod are Walnut with a Chechen fingerboard and peg head overlay. Bill Van Horn's take on the Dobson heel is very reminiscent of the boat heel. The fingerboard has Mother-of-Pearl dot inlays and a star at the fifth fret, and an Indian head coin adorns the “paddle” style peg head. The Chechen has golden figuring that is further enhanced by the raw brass hardware. The banjo has an overall old-timey look.
Appearance Rating: 10
The matte Tru-Oil finish has shown no evidence of rubbing off on my skin or clothes. The hardware and components are all of good quality. This banjo is not only beautiful, but sturdy as well.
Reliability Rating: 9
I dealt directly with Bill Van Horn (BVH here on BHO), first meeting him to look at and play some of his previous builds. I ordered the banjo in early September 2009 with the expectation of waiting until after Christmas. Bill followed up by phone and e-mail almost weekly with updates or questions for me, and he delivered my banjo earlier than I expected. He says if I ever have a problem to call him, and he will fix it. I have no reason to doubt his word.
Customer Service: 10
Bill builds his necks from scratch, using a carbon fiber rod inside for stability, with scales lengths of 24, 25 and 25.5 inches. Hardware and components: Gotoh tuners; Bill Rickard Dobson tone ring, raw brass tension hoop, hooks and nuts; a Keller drum shell (1/4-inch thick, 3 inches deep) for the rim; Fiberskyn head; and a Moon Bridge.
Components Rating: 9
This is the perfect banjo for me, and I expect to keep it as long as I play. The price suited what I feel is "next step up" from my beginner banjo, but the quality far exceeds what I saw in similarly priced instruments. It is a pleasure to play, and I am continually impressed with its looks.
Overall Rating: 9
'5-String Viola' 57 min
'5-String Viola' 1 hr