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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.

Recording King  RK-O25 Madison open back Banjo Reviews

Submitted by OldiebutNewbie (see all reviews from this person) on 7/1/2016

Where Purchased: Musicians Friend

Year Purchased: 2016
Price Paid: 269.00 ($US)

Sound

I am a newbie but the RK-o25 was a deal I could not pass up. I had already bought 3 of the RK-R25's and wanted a true openback to support my beginners collection. This banjo sounds great, and it is fun to play. Sound is a little softer than the resonator models, which allows me some diverity when I am playing

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

No setup that I am aware of, but after getting 6 banjos in a month, I have learned the basics. Adjust the head, make sure everything is tight and action is low, then set the bridge and intonation, tune it and play. I have 6 Recording Kings and for my type of playing they stay in tune amazingly. Giving lower ranking due to lack of intitial setup, but these are easy if you follow recording kings video.

Setup Rating: 5

Appearance

My rk o25 is perfect. Fit and finish is stellar on a banjo that was at a give away price. Does not have any bling, but I didn't pay for bling

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

I am a 3 week newbie, but I love the qualiity. It never seems to get out of tune, and I have many hours of newgie use on it

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Had 2 small issues on ny other Recording Kings, other than only dealing through email, i am very satisfied with ciustomer service

Customer Service: 10

Components

It is a $500 dollar banjo at full retail. Even at that, the components seem of high quaility. Did I mention they never seem to go out of tune. I expect to add more banjos to the collection, but this one will always have a home with me

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

Love it. Got it on sale, that makes me love it more

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by GrahamHawker (see all reviews from this person) on 5/14/2014

Where Purchased: Thomann

Year Purchased: 2014
Price Paid: 230 (British pounds) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

I'd checked out some clips of this banjo and I expected to get a fairly bright sounding open back and that's what I got. I do prefer mellow but this was such a great price I couldn't resist. I made a couple of alterations (see below) and though it's fairly bright it sounds really nice and not at all harsh.

Sound Rating: 8

Setup

It wasn't setup and the bridge needed to be put on. This is what was expected. besides a couple of brackets everything seemed fairly tight. Action is really good. The strings were lights and as with other banjos I've bought not great at producing a good sound. As usual I added some mediums and it improved considerably. To tone down the brightness a bit I swapped the bridge for a wider one which helped as well. The supplied bridge is OK and this is just my preference. I didn't like the Presto tailpiece cover as that was keen on vibrating and once removed it sounded better still. I intend to experiment with some different tailpieces to see which gets the best results. The Presto is fine but I like to fiddle.

I don't like the arm rest style and as with other banjos I play it without the arm rest.

Setup Rating: 7

Appearance

The satin brown maple look is really nice.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

The hardware seems better quality than my other banjos. The brackets are more substaintial and the deep tension ring has slots for the brackets which seems a much more sensible arrangement. I would not expect any problems with reliability.

Reliability Rating: 8

Customer Service

Thomann delivered from Germany for free and it came very well packed. They have a good reputation but I've never had to contact them. They probably deserve points for selling these Recording Kings at exceptionally cheap prices.

Customer Service: not rated

Components

(edit - it's supposed to have a 3/4 inch 3 ply rim but mine came with the 2ply 1/2inch rim used in the OT version) It has a lovely 1/2 inch maple rim, decent brackets, planetary tuners, Presto tailpiece and standard white frosted head. It doesn't have a tone ring but I doubt you would notice. I don't think you lose anything at all incomparison those banjos with small tone rings typical of this price range. It doesn't have the woody mellow sound that perhaps might be expected.

Components Rating: 8

Overall Comments

I'm really happy with this banjo. I must admit to buying it on a whim because of the price. There's no point me buying another cheap mellow banjo and the contrast is good to have. If you do want mellow at a good price there are other options but for a cheap banjo I doubt you'll beat the quality on offer here. The old time version, which is still a very good price at Thomann at the moment is another good option. I'm not sure why they are so cheap in comparison prices in the USA but I'm glad I took advantage.

Overall Rating: 9

Submitted by Al Handa (see all reviews from this person) on 8/29/2011

Where Purchased: Banjohut

Year Purchased: 2011
Price Paid: 399 ($US)

Sound

Good maple type banjo, came set up for a brighter sound on light gauge strings. Stock frosted Remo head. Banjo had good volume and tone, very woody, much like a Deering Goodtime but louder. I prefer a mohogany type sound, a little darker, but was looking for a bit more sustain and highs so got this one. I swapped out the Remo Frosted for a Fiberskyn type, and used slightly heavier gauge strings (which required a slightly deeper slot in the bridge for the bass string). Basic setup was good, I've made no changes otherwise so far. The result so far is a rich old-timey sound, but less dark. It's perfect for what I intend to play. Also, it's very playable, and easy to hold and play.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Banjo was set up well, even the bridge notches were cut to the string set used. Action is good, I may lower it later on, but as a rule I don't mess with string height if it's working. The pegs are planetary type, and don't have a solid feel, and the tuning ratio makes it feel like friction pegs. I won't know how solid till I use the banjo for awhile, but I'll probably upgrade the pegs at some point, as the pegs work OK, but do only an average job when trying to fine tune a note.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Banjo is attractive, and the brown finish is nice. There was a wood flaw on the inside of the rim, but obviously cosmetic and hidden from view. hardware was in good condition.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

See peg comments above. Overall, the banjo seems like a solid piece of wood, I'd use it with confidence without a backup.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

Company seems friendly, but the 399.99 package deal includes a "premium" gig bag that turned out to be a cheapie without padding and the company when queried on it simply stated that it was the only type available for the open back model. I got a nearly new padded bag for 10.00 from a local music store, so it wasn't an issue, but none of the other components in the package have the same value as a good gigbag, so you might be better off finding a good deal for the banjo itself, and finding a gigbag on your own.

Customer Service: 8

Components

The rim and neck are first rate solid, and the tone of the banjo is superior. The pegs look and feel obviously cheap, but I would hold off on saying the things won't last till I've played the banjo for a while.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

The Madison is a lot of quality for the money. Maybe not as part of this package deal, but you will be getting a very decent banjo no matter what. I'm very happy with the instrument.

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by Jim D (see all reviews from this person) on 4/4/2011

Where Purchased: Elderly Instruments

Year Purchased: 2010
Price Paid: 375.00 ($US)

Sound

This is an "after the honeymoon review." I always take "new, out of the box" reviews with a grain of salt. (Of course you like it... you just paid good money for it! But, what will you think after you've had it a while?)

I bought the banjo from Elderly and reviewed it in October of 2010... so this is now 6 months in. The "new" is gone.

For my comments see way below....



Sound Rating: not rated

Setup

Setup Rating: not rated

Appearance

Appearance Rating: not rated

Reliability

Reliability Rating: not rated

Customer Service

Customer Service: not rated

Components

Components Rating: not rated

Overall Comments

- I noted in the first review that in my opinion, the Madison open back leaned more toward a bluegrass sound than an old time sound. (That's not surprising. Add a tube and plate mounted resonator and you've got the RK-25 Madison, which is marketed as a bluegrass type banjo. )

So, I have "semi-Zeppified" it. I replaced the standard top coated Remo head with a Renaissance head. I replaced the presto-style tailpiece with a no-knot styled one. I changed the grover type bridge for a Moon middle weight, and the D'addario light strings for Vega middle weights. I slackened the head tension just a tad.

Those changes gave me more of a plunky tone and less of a ping... which is what I was looking for. You might prefer the brighter tone, which the banjo supplied out of the box. (BTW I think it would be a good move for Recording King to offer a more old time oriented version of the RK -O25 open back, including those changes I made, or something similar. Maybe add a scoop... call it the RK-O25 OT.)

-- I've become accustomed to the 7.5 pound weight that is the price of the deep, thick, 3-ply tone ring. I've also come accustomed to the increased volume and throatier tone which derive from it. While it's over 2 pounds heavier than either my Vega or my Supertone, I don't find the weight objectionable, just different.

- I am still pleased with fit and finish. The planetaries work well. The durn thing stays in tune for days at a time. Clarity of tone remains excellent with no muddy spots detected... of course I seldom venture beyond the 5th fret and then only to grab a single note on the 9th.

- At a street price of $375.00 with free shipping (Elderly and others), I think it's one of the best banjo deals going for anyone seeking an entry/mid level open back. You may have to tinker to get the tone where you want it… but hey, it’s a banjo, tinkering is part of the attraction.

Although it will be considered intolerable blasphemy to say so a second time, I continue to think that it's a much better banjo in all respects than the equivalent "Goodtime". YMMV!

My rating below is based on the RK-O25 open back being a $500.00 msrp banjo. Compared with a $4,000.00 something else... or even a $1,000 something else... it would not fare quite so well. But for what you'll pay it's a great banjo with no significant faults.




Overall Rating: 9

Submitted by Jim D (see all reviews from this person) on 10/28/2010

Where Purchased: Elderly Instruments

Year Purchased: Oct 2010
Price Paid: 375.00 ($US)

Sound

I lean toward clawhammer/stroke style, playing old time, folk, and traditional pieces. An open back fits that choice, so the Madison was on my short list.

The Madison OB has very good volume, and good, clear, defined intonation. The sustain is a bit longer than I'm used to, but I'll live with it a bit before I start tinkering... heck I might like it. The sound is brighter (aka less "plunky") that my previous banjos. Again I can work on that with changes to head and tinkering with the tailpiece tension IF I decide to do so.

After all, tinkering to get the sound you want is very much part of owing any banjo.

My impression out of the box is that at the heart of the Madison OB is an instrument that was designed as a bluegrass banjo and modified to an open back configuration. I'm already thinking that the Presto type tailpiece may have to go.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

The banjo only required tuning. I did relieve the tailpiece pressure somewhat as the "Presto type" tailpiece was cranked all the way down, making the tone brighter than I liked. As this was a matter of personal taste, I'll give setup full marks.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

The Madison has the typical high quality finish that RK is known for. The inlays are simple MOP dots, which is all that could be expected at this price range. Assembly and fit appear flawless. Many competitors that I looked at, including some US made, weren't anywhere near so well finished.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

I am impressed with the hardware and the finish. It's not the absolute finest of either, but, realistically this is a banjo that arrived at my house for $375.00... shipping included. For that price, I feel that it's a super deal and equivalent or better than others that I've seen at higher prices.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

On receipt, I noted that the co-rods and 6 of the hooks had surface rust. I called Elderly and they offered to authorize my return of the piece for replacement. I didn't really want to put up with the hassle of repacking, shipping, and the 2 weeks or so of turn around. They offered to replace the hooks, but didn't have RK parts to do so. I didn't want to put non-matching hooks on a new banjo. (Let me say that while I didn't get the problem resolved at Elderly, it was due to my choice, not Elderly's willingness to do whatever they could. )

So, I sent an email to Greg Rich at Recording King explaining the issue and asking if he could provide the hooks I needed. They arrived in a few days.

Conclusion: Although I'm surprised that Elderly allowed the instrument to ship with obvious rust, I give both Elderly and RK get high marks for their response to the problem. Problems happen... it's how they're handled that makes the difference.

Customer Service: 10

Components

As stated above for a $500 MSRP banjo, I found the choice of components to be very good.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

Being an open back player, I was surprised at the weight of the Madison OB. The thick, heavy 3 ply maple pot makes it several pounds heavier than either of my other OB banjos (Vega FW-5, Supertone 414). (You Bluegrass types wouldn't think it heavy, but I wouldn't want to play it standing up without a strap. Since I play sitting most of the time, it's a non issue. )
I chose the RK-O25 after a long look at what was available in the under $750 MSRP field. After receiving it and a few days of playing, I see it as a serious contender for anyone wanting a step up from entry level who, like me, is constrained by the realities of cost. I also see it as a good first banjo for those who want to skip the "junk" level entirely.

The Madison could be my long time keeper. We'll see. I hope to do an "after the honeymoon" review in 6 months or so. At this point, if I could give it a 9.5 rather than just a 9, I would.


Overall Rating: 9

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