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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.

Griffin (James Bowen)  Ariel Banjo Reviews

Submitted by Dabs (see all reviews from this person) on 8/1/2011

Where Purchased: James Bowen

Year Purchased: 2008
Price Paid: 750 (£) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

The A or short scale Ariel travel banjo (number 80) has a surprisingly full sound well focused and warm (all mahogany and brass tone ring). This makes it well suited to song accompaniment as well as playing back up and subtle lead in small sessions it is loud enough when needed. It's an easy banjo to live with when learning new tunes or just lounging about the house ie a comfy banjo

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

The banjo was just about perfect when recieved and not possible to improve upon.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

I like a fairly plain banjo with the emphasis being the quality of the wood and fittings. The mahogany neck has a slim profile with a nice thick top quality ebony fretboard. A No Knot tail piece seems to suite the 10" pot very well. The only mod was to get James to replace the headstock inlay with his latest 'Griffin' motif. As of last month I decieded to try one of Jamses solid stainless tail piece the difference between that and the No Knot is that it is now louder and brighter think I will leave it on.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

built to last no problems in three years

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

help and advise is just a phone call away but none needed so far.

Customer Service: 10

Components

The whole lot stands out to anybody with an eye for detail and fine engineering. I'm very glad that I bought it when I did this sort of quality and attention to detail can only cost more in the future.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

This is as good as it gets I hope to take it travelling to the US shortly. Dont forget to check out Neills excerllent review of his 'De lux' Ariel

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by neillconnor (see all reviews from this person) on 1/4/2011

Where Purchased: from James Bowan

Year Purchased: 2010
Price Paid: 1600 (uk sterling) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

The Ariel is an open back short scale A banjo, with a 10 inch pot. A true frailing banjo well balanced across the whole range, with mellow low notes and sweet singing treble. A wide range of tones are possible from this tiny banjo with volume galore when needed from it diminuative 10" pot. The pot is block constructed cherry, with a simple plain tone ring that produces a well rounded and suprising volume.
I have several G banjos but find myself picking up this little ariel more times than not as its so comfortable to play either in my old banjo chair or equally in my armchair. The neck is slimest and sleekest i`ve ever come across and i swear i could wrap my fingers twice around it. With a medium gauge set of strings, this banjo tunes down to regular G no problem with no intonation problems at all. I can honestly say that i have no dislikes whatsoever with this little beauty, and since i collected it from James in December, have played it several hours a day every day since, much to my wifes distain.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

The banjo was set up very well when i purchased it. The action was just right. Changes to action hieght can be easily made by the twin truss rod adjusters in the pot, but i found that james had got the action spot on for my liking. I put a wound 3rd string on the banjo to get a bit more bass, but that was about it

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

The banjo is a stunner!! The pot ischerry, with herringbone inlay around it and the base has a hoop of madagascan ebony with wonderful smokey swirls in the grain. When i first picked the banjo up i thought this was some kind or artificial material as i have never seen ebony with such a beautiful grain. The hardware on the pot is real good quality thick chrome plated, with a superb tailpice made by James. James too makes the 10" flange, which too is impeccibly chromed.
Now we come to the neck, AMAZING. the neck, made from cherry, is spliced and contains a strip of ebony. the sleekness of the neck is really stunning has to be the most comfortable neck i have ever held and is flawless. I asked for a carved heel and this was done by a master carver friend of James who lives locally to him, Ron Hester. The lines of the deep carving are exquisite. The fret board is thick ebony with mop inlays at the 1,3,5,7,10,12,15,17,19,21 frets and "arial" engraved into mop on the 20th fret. The fret board is edged with ivoriod binding with black positional dots along its length.
The peghead, is also elegant, reminscant of the vaga shape, and has ebony veneer into which is set a full mop engraved griffin, the logo of James bowans banjos. The tip of the peghead has a small mop inlay which looks beautiful. The tuners are by Gotoh. The final finish of the banjo is gunstock oil. I believe there were about 18 coats applied.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

The banjo is so well made it will outlast me and my son, and probably any sons he may have. The hardware and construction of this banjo are flawless in every respect, the metalwork is solid and heavily chrome plated and the woodwork, is perfect. where the neck meets the pot is as perfect a meet as there ever could be......not a fraction of millimetre gap anywhere.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Customer service is excellent. At the outset of the order, i asked james for certain things ion the banjo and he did exactly as i asked if it could be done. He also let me know if some of my ideas would not be a good idea, one of which was to have a staffordshire bull terriers head carved on the heel. I took his advice and went with the classic elegant leaf mottiff.
He regulary wrote to me and phoned me about the progress of the banjo and was always most helpful. The banjo has a lifetime warrenty, which is transferable should the banjo be sold to someone else, but there is no chance of that ever happening. James also gives the banjo regular check ups, the 1st of which is free and additional ones very cheap.
My banjo is No 106, and i received a parchment certificate with the banjo stating my name, the banjo name, its serial no and the date of its completion, signed by the maker.
Just a quick update on 29/04/11. I took my banjo to james for his 6 month free banjo check which he does for all instruments. He stripped the banjo down completly to clean it and then spent a couple of hours showing me how to alter the action etc. This was a really useful exercise and he was most generous with his time.
I really cannot praise his after service enough. Superb.

Customer Service: 10

Components

The beautiful neck, the tailpiece, the pot....everything. I honestly cannot fault any part of this beautiful banjo

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I commisioned this left handed Ariel short scale banjo from mr Bowan, having seen his stand at a music festival in Worcestershire . Words cannot adequatly express how 12 months later i own such a beautiful sounding and amazing looking banjo. The basic price for the banjo was £1400, and the heel carving £200,making a total of £1600 and its the best £1600 i`ve spent .Mr Bowan is an old school gentleman who listened to my ideas, gave me a tour of his workshop, and makes the best sounding, best looking banjos ive had the pleasure to hold. The man is an artist and craftsman. I salute you. I have uploaded a couple of pictures of the banjo on my home page.

Overall Rating: 10

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