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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!

6626 reviews in the archive.

Nechville  Atlas Banjo Reviews

Submitted by MrNatch3L (see all reviews from this person) on 5/9/2014

Where Purchased: BHO Classifieds

Year Purchased: 2014
Price Paid: 1250 ($US) (bought USED)

Sound

This is proving to be a nice banjo for the way I do clawhammer/frailing... some traditional style and some not exactly, with some occasional 3-finger without picks.

I would describe the sound overall as "woody with some zing". The zing is not the same zing you'd get with a metal tone ring, but it's there, and you can emphasize or de-emphasize it with setup (see Setup below). I think the stock Renaissance head is a good choice for this banjo, but I'm partial to Rens anyway. You could probably get a more old-timey sound with a Fyberskyn or Elite head. It has a sweet clear tone in general.

Volume is less than a metal tonering banjo, but I think it would hold its own in a string band. In the sea shanty goup I use it for, it needs amplification to be heard with all the voices, an accordion, and Illian bagpipes... an extreme situation you must admit!

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

Setup was not an issue for me, as I knew the strings would be de-tuned and the head loosened before being packed to ship and travel internationally by air. This banjo has the unique Nechville Flex-tone (a.k.a. FLux Capacitor) neck attachment system that makes action adjustment easy for almost anyone. I haven't tried it, but it's supposed to be easy to detach the neck for travel. There's a removable dowel stick that isn't really necessary, as it doesn't have anyting do to with adjusting the neck. I'm not sure why it's there other than it makes the thing look more like a traditional open back banjo.

The action was set very low, even lower than my bluegrass banjo and I was hitting the fretboard all the time, so I raised it some. This has a really interesting approach to a scoop: the fretblard is scooped under the 5th string only, so you have access to all notes up the neck on the other strings. Nice combination of both worlds.

I found there was quite a bit of sound variation possible just form head tension. With the Ren head looser, I got a more plunky, old-timey sound, with more wood characteristics. Tighter head starts brightening things up, bringing out that "zing" I mentioned before. I got a sound I preferred with a pretty tight head... in fact, I was starting to worry that any more might be too tight for the wooden flange.

I took some angle off the tailpiece from where it was set when I got it. That not only got me to the sound I liked, but actually increased volume a bit. Tailpiece is weird - it attaches to the tension hoop with 3 hex (allen) screws. But the mounting is solid, which helps a lot when you change tunings. It takes 2 different size hex keys to adjust fully. (The angle is adjusted with just one). All in all, super easy DIY setup.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

The banjo has kind of an understated look, which I happen to favor in general. There is one block in the rim near the neck that isn't quite flush with the others, and it looks like some glue has dried, powdered, and fallen out of the joint on one side. I suspect the banjo might have been stored in dry conditions and not humidified, especially since the fretboard was in need of oiling. According to the seller it hadn't been used much for quite a while. It's not serious enough to worry me, and I will inject some glue into that joint and keep an eye on it.

Overall the materials and workmansip are what you'd expect from Nechville.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

The person I bought it from is a well known professional musician who, to judge by the case, had traveled and gigged with this banjo. But you wouldn't know it from seeing the banjo without the case. Not enough fret wear to be concerned about, and other than needing the fretboard oiled, the instrument was in primo condition. So I would have to call it solid and reliable.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

Well, even it it has a lifetime warranty, it's in Russia now and I'm on my own something needs fixing. I'm used to that. All the setup adjustments require hex (allen) keys and I didn't know if they were U.S. or metric, and didn't find the info online. So I sent a PM to Tom via the BHO and got a quick reply back.

Customer Service: 10

Components

The neck is a joy to play... slim profile and fairly narrow. Coming from bluegrass banjo, I really like it. But serious clawhammer players might find it a bit too slim and too narrow. It's the "Standard" (i.e. non-radiused) model.

I like the tailpiece, but it's worth mentioning that beause of the mounting design, you couldn't easily replace it with a different one because there's no mounting bolt down thru the flange. The whole thing attached to the tension hoop.

I ended up replacing the Nechville bridge that came with it. I had a Kat Eyz McCormick spice factory maple + ebony bridge lying around and when I tried it I really preferred it. The Nechville is a nice bridge though. In fact, for grins I tried it on my 1924 Vega conversion, replacing a Kat Eyz purple heart top bridge, and ended up keeping the Nechville there. BTW - both bridges are compensated, and this particular banjo seems to need that, at least with the current amount of neck relief, which I don't want to mess with unless really necessary.

Components Rating: not rated

Overall Comments

This "Standard" model openback is the most comfortable banjo I've ever played. It's an all-wood pot (except for the tension hoop), with a walnut block rim and some kind of wood tone ring ("exotic wood", according to Nechville's web site). So it's lightweight, which is great for my bad back. The Nechville arm rest impresses me a lot. If I'd thought they were this comfortable I'd have put one on other banjos I've owned.

Setup is super easy, feel and playability is amazing if you like a slim, narrow-ish neck. I think there's quite a lot of potential for varying the sound... I got quite a bit of variation from head tension, tailpiece angle and bridge. Different head would be a whole new ballgame.

I've been intrigued by Nechville banjos for years but the price was always well above what I felt I could justify given my level of playing skills. This one cropped up in the classifieds at quite a nice price which included a hard-shell bump case. It proved to be in excellent shape, so I'm a happy camper. It's a gigging banjo for me because, in worst case, it's readily replaceable whereas my old Vega is not.

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by wayne77 (see all reviews from this person) on 1/31/2013

Where Purchased: Nechville

Year Purchased: 2012
Price Paid: Don't Remember historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

Love the sound, and others have stated the same.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Perfect setup for myself.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Top Quality !!

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Would appear to last many life times....

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Can't say enough about the service and the time given to me with this purchase. A real treat for me!!!

Customer Service: 10

Components

The most standout component of this banjo is the Sagmoen Neck.

Best advice is try it, as my limited vocabulary prevents me from truly explaining the ease and comfort.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

May I suggest, If one is thinking about purchasing a new banjo, do yourself a big favor and hold and play a Atlas before putting your hard earned cash down!!

I get so upset when I think of the money I could have saved over the last few years, as my search for the perfect banjo has been long and expensive.

NO, surprises with this deal, a real treat for me.....

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by Clawhamr (see all reviews from this person) on 10/29/2011

Where Purchased: Direct

Year Purchased: 2011
Price Paid: Don't Remember historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

The Atlas took the least amount of tinkering to get my sound than any other banjo I own. The blend of "pop", short note duration and mellow tonality is perfect for clawhammer playing. I use a Renaissance head (I spray the back with lacquer to add mass) medium tight and a Sampson "Rivet-Busting" bridge for the desired sound. It's perfect.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

The "Flux Capacitor" neck coupling block makes setup a breeze. Loosen one Allen bolt in the neck heel and slide the neck up or down and re-tighten the bolt; that's it. This enables one to use any height bridge one desires and still set the action to suit. The mount also allows head changing with the neck in place. The truss rod adjuster is (hallelujah!) in the headstock where it belongs, so you can set the relief with the banjo strung up and tuned to pitch. Other builders take note!

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

I chose the Standard model with flat fretboard, a Saturn inlay at the fifth fret and tiny starburst inlays at the appropriate positions. The dark walnut stain is attractive, though I wish Tom would buff out the finish to a smooth matte rather than leaving it in a slightly rougher condition. Still, it feels good to the left hand. The hardware is first-rate, the plating deep and rich and the hoop-mounted tailpiece (a la Stelling) is three-point adjustable.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

The tuning stability seems rock-solid. I would use the Atlas in any playing situation with no reservation.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Tom Nechville is a banjo visionary that cares deeply about his customer's satisfaction. He even made the neck in my desired 25.5" scale length and with a slight V profile. He's always available by phone during business hours and loves to talk banjos. His products carry a limited lifetime warranty.

Customer Service: 10

Components

The elegant engineering evident in Tom's Helimount designs is apparent in the Atlas as well. The all-wood pot (designed by Wayne Sagmoen) does away with bracket shoes, metal flanges and bracket bands, making for a super lightweight instrument that I know will be a delight to tote around at festivals. The dowel stick is not a part of the structure; it's there for looks and to serve as a pickup mount or to hold your choice of tone-modifying "stuffing" in place.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

Since meeting Tom Nechville many years ago at a NAMM show, I've been impressed with each successive innovation in banjo design to issue forth from his shop. His approach to banjo design is function first, and while his instruments have caused some traditionalists to scratch their heads, those pickers that admire original thought will continue to bolster Nechville's reputation and sales. My next acquisition: a Nechville Vintage bluegrass model.

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by Hoss (see all reviews from this person) on 1/27/2011

Where Purchased: the Twelfth Fret

Year Purchased: 2010
Price Paid: 1450 (Cdn) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

Beautifully full, warm and woody.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

The Twelfth Fret knows how to set up banjos, but I prefer a slightly higher action for clawhammer. The adjustable neck on the Atlas made this exceptionally easy with the turn of an Allen key. However the banjo comes with a 5th string spike as opposed to a pip, which results in the 5th string action being pretty low for clawhammer. I'll probably have this changed.
UPDATE: I had the 5th string spike replaced with a pip. A $10 fix. Problem solved.

Setup Rating: 8

Appearance

The 12" walnut block rim with wooden flange is a unique design by Wayne Sagmoen. It has a cocobolo tone ring and comes with a Renaissance head, The neck is walnut with a simple Saturn inlay at the 5th fret and a thumb notch in place of a full neck scoop. I love the appearance of this banjo and it gets lots of compliments wherever I take it. Some however may be put off the fact that it doesn't have that traditional openback look.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

No issues here. It all seems to be of top quality.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

I'd rate this even higher if I could. Tom Nechville and/or Al Price treat you as if you're their most important customer, answering all email inquiries promptly and thoroughly.

Customer Service: 10

Components

Gotoh tuners, Nechville Enterprise compensated bridge, patented adjustable neck. Nothing here which needs upgrading unless you are into radiused necks, in which case you would get the deluxe version of this banjo..

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I waited a year before posting this review to see how I felt about this banjo once the honeymoon period was over. I'm pleased to say that I couldn't be happier with it and have never for a second regretted the purchase. It is in my eyes a beautiful instrument with a gorgeous sound and the most comfortable neck I've ever played. It is also as light as a feather thanks to the pot design. If you like the sound of a wood tone ring you should seriously consider this banjo,

Overall Rating: 10

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