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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!

6918 reviews in the archive.

Griffin (James Bowen)  An Coolin, semi fretless sn 114 Banjo Reviews

Submitted by neillconnor (see all reviews from this person) on 9/24/2011

Where Purchased: Maker

Year Purchased: 2011
Price Paid: (3000 historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

This banjo is a semi fretless 26 1/2 scale twelve inch bill rickard pot tubaphone . The first five frets being fretless with a mother of pearl fingerboard in that section. This allows clearl loud silky smooth slides. The fret positions are marked with black epoxy filler as James was unable to get a single sheet of mop to cover the space of the 1st five frets. The banjo has a deep full sound with clear singing trebles up the fretboard and silky smooth slides on the fretless section.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

I have o ly had the banjo a couple of days, but the only change I have made to the set up is to swap the light gauge strings for mediums. The action is low and I can't improve on it in any other way.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

The banjo is made of curly maple. The pot has a tasteful herringbone inlay around it and capped in ebony. A bill rickard bracket band fitted together with hooks and closed end nuts, 12 inch tubaphone tone ring, also from mr rickard. His hardware is absolutely superb.
I had a hand made engraved griffin long tailpiece and custom made armrest, which is the most beautiful armrest I've ever seen together with the pearl engravings done by a friend of James, who's last commission was an engraved silver salver to Prince William and his wife on their wedding day.
The neck is supremely slender which is a trademark of griffin banjos and is exquisite. James used 5 sheets of gorgeous mop separated by fine epoxy inlays. He used epoxy as he said if he had used small slices of ebony there was a small chance such thin slivers may shrink over time. There are fine hand engraved mop inlays along the length of the fretboard and the name of the banjo 'An Coolin' on the 20th fret.
The heel of the banjo has a classic leaf design hand carved by Ron hestler of Shropshire who I believe to be the best carver in the uk, if not the world. He spends most of his time restoring the carvings in cathedrals and national trust properties but is a friend of James and does his heel carvings. It is stunning!
The headstock of the banjo has a magnificent full griffin hand engraved inlay

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

The hardware is, like all bill rickards gear, superb and very well made. The banjo will easily still be here long after I'm gone.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

I have another banjo made by griffin, and being a one man band his personal service is second to none. The banjo will receive a free 1st check over sometime in the next 12 months. When I took my other banjo back for it's service, James spent 3 hours completely stripping the banjo and showing me how the truss rod worked and how to set it up again. I had a tour of his workshop and several cups of tea also.
An Coolin, was personally delivered to me by James, a journey of 45 miles

Customer Service: 10

Components

None of the parts on this banjo are cheap shortcuts, infect, having been to his workshop, there are NO cheap parts to any of his banjos. They are all hand made with the same materials, even the entry level banjos. The only difference in price is the extras like hand carving, hand engraved pearl and other custom enhancements.
There is nothing on my banjo that could be bettered.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I havnt stopped smiling since i received the banjo and don't think I ever will, even when I get frustrated at my lack of playing aptitude....

Overall Rating: 10

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