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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!

7121 reviews in the archive.

Replacement Tuner Buttons: MOP buttons

Submitted by The Pope on 6/22/2018

Where Purchased: Direct from Ron Barnes

Overall Comments

I inherited a bag of MOP buttons from an old friend that I had taught to play the banjo (along with 4 instruments, a 60" Pioneer Kuro TV & a $35,000 surround sound system!). I had read that Ron makes amber buttons but also would adapt MOP knobs to Keith tuners (which have splined knobs), either twisters or normal. I sent him an e-mail about his service & he said he could adapt mine to my tuners. I sent him my 1st, 4th and 5th string tuners & about a week later they came back. I was amazed at the fit & finish of his work, just wonderful. His price was not outrageous either. He also sent me an amber button to show me his original work & it was quite nice as well.

Anyone who needs button work of any kind would be encouraged to contact Ron & he should be able to take care of you...

Erik The Pope

PS I already had MOP's for my Keith twisters. The knobs are about 49 years old & I have no idea who adapted them.

Overall Rating: 10

Heads: Donnie Lott's Warhead

Submitted by The Pope on 2/9/2014

Where Purchased: From Donnie himself...

Overall Comments

This is a review of a new head (well, new coating for heads) that Donnie developed. He titles his new head "Warhead". He strips off the old coating & sprays a new coating on it. (Mine was a Remo) I put it on my banjo "The Pope" (FF rim, Blaylock ring, Robin Smith neck, Keith tuners + Jim Burlile's copies of the old Pittman twisters) and let it settle in for a week.

Then I did some playing with it. I found that the surface had a sort of annoying feel to it but I got over that pretty soon.

As far as the sound is concerned, it seemed to make The Pope seem brighter & the notes were "pingier", more like an arched top, which I don't like. (I had an AT for years but as those years went by, I liked the "Scruggs" sound better & now own 4 flatheads, 0 AT) That is why I only gave a rating of 6: not because the head wasn't good, just that it made my banjo brighter & I want it to be bassier. (Maybe that's because I also play electric bass...) Perhaps later I will put it on another banjo & give it another try...

Erik The Pope

Overall Rating: 6

Chris Cioffi

Submitted by The Pope on 8/13/2013

Overall Comments

My review of Chris Cioffi:

I noticed that my Williams Kenny Ingram Spl. #9 was getting so it wouldn’t fret right & the capo wouldn’t even make a true note on the second fret so I proceeded to look for a luthier that I could trust to do a good job refretting my banjo. There is a guy in the Bay Area (Larry Cohea) who builds good necks, a couple luthiers in my area, Frank Ford in Palo Alto & a guy in LA (where I used to live) named Randy Broyles who I’ve never met but have heard good things about. I also read all the reviews on the BHO & finally decided on Chris Cioffi to do the work. First off, he only works on banjos, second, he’s not afraid of stainless steel frets & third, he has OCD, which for a luthier, I think that puts him one step ahead! He also worked for Steve Huber & Robin Smith, both well-known banjo people. (I have two Robin Smith necks & they are nice!)

So I called him one weekend & we talked for 45 minutes about banjos in general & my KI specifically. I decided Chris was the luthier for me & I proceeded to make arrangements to go to Nashville & meet him. (I also have a good friend who’s a barbeque judge & the annual barbeque contest in Memphis was the weekend I was going; I knew I would eat well & plenty!)

I had a couple more e-mail conversations with Chris over the next weeks. On my appointment day, I spent about 6 hours with Chris. First, he showed me some banjos with SS frets he had just finished so I could give them a try before it was too late but each one was done well & he explained what was unique on each one, which also gave me confidence that he was extremely knowledgeable about resonator banjos in general.

I played my KI for him & then he played it himself. He didn’t say so explicitly but I could tell from his expression that he was not taken with its sound. Then we took it apart so he could tell how it was put together. Fretwork was not the only concern on my part: the fingerboard was butting up to the tension hoop & I was concerned about the tone ring fit.

So Chris took the reso & strings off & then proceeded to tear it down to parts. We noticed a couple things at this point: the coordinator rods were not parallel with each other, the holes in the rim were drilled improperly (which caused the coordinator rods to be off) and slightly elongated & Chris thought the neck was sitting too high on the pot. The tone ring fit was just right – it fell right off when we turned the rim over. However, the tone ring had moved so that it was sitting on the wood of the rim, probably because of tightening the head in the 6 years I had had it.

So what did Chris propose? Filling the holes in the rim & re-drilling them to fix the coordinator rods & also to lower the neck on the pot, a thorough refretting with stainless steel frets, steel coordinator rods, cutting the skirt on the rim down just a bit so the head wouldn’t bottom out when compressed by the tension hoop, new nut & pip & a new Huber head. (Chris likes using Huber’s because he put so many of them on when he worked there & is used to bringing them up to tension correctly.) The neck was about ¼” above the head & Chris said they should have the same height; this made me adjust my playing to avoid my thumbpick hitting the head. Haven’t quite accomplished this yet…

Chris has built a jig for refretting so that he can put the curve in the neck like it would be when strung up. A nice touch was that he sanded the fingerboard down to 2000 grit & it’s as smooth as a baby’s butt!

Chris warned me in advance that he likes to keep banjos for a while & would ship it back to me when it was finished. I had some concerns about shipping it but Chris did shipping for Steve & Robin for several years & I figured he would know what he was doing. (This was the first time I’d ever had a banjo shipped to me – I even went up Idaho & picked up the KI from Will Williams.)

He shipped in on Monday & it got here on Thursday. I had an afternoon gig that day so I didn’t get it ’til the next day at the manager’s office of my apartment. The box didn’t even look like it had been shipped. (Chris uses the USPS, not FedEx or UPS – I’ve had stuff come via those & they looked like apes had handled them!) It was also packed with lots of padding in the Calton case & more padding in the box itself.

So, how did it sound, Pope? Well, it was like getting a new banjo & I had to get used to it, mostly because of the neck re-setment. It sounded fabulous! It still had the bottom end that I liked from the get-go but now the volume was consistent from the open D string up to the last G position. You can feel the neck vibrating when you play it. My tuning problem got better as well; it stays in tune a lot better now, probably because it is put together better. My playing, once I got used to the banjo, has improved as well. I’ve found that I can now play stuff that I avoided (like the 10th fret choke from How Mountain Girls Can Love) & twister stuff like Flinthill Special. I used to put pencil lead or stuff like Lizard Spit or Slick Nutz on the bridge/nut but Chris recommended that I not do it because these things are sticky & will attract dust, etc., and end up not doing what I expect them to do, which is to make tuning and/or twisters work right (IOW, to come back to the correct note after tuning).

Ed Stacy (pipefitter61) quote:

Uhmmmm. I JUST played your banjo, Erik! One word: WOW!

I saw your case laying on the bench, and he obliged me by getting it out and showing me first hand some of the issues he had attended to. The frets looked fabulous. He picked on it, and offered it to me for a ride. The neck just hums inside your hand. Volume, and tone out the roof, dude. Effortless playability, and VERY responsive. I would play that banjo out ANYWHERE, against ANYTHING!

Anyone who’s been on the Banjo Hangout for any length of time know who pipefitter61 is and also knows that he knows his way ’round a banjo so I take that as a real complement!

I did spend more money than I had expected to but this was not Chris’s fault, it was that there were things that I hadn’t counted on repairing, such as moving the neck position. All in all, I was blown away by Chris’s knowledge of banjos & his way of doing things (like his fretting jig). He also communicated with me on every step of my banjos revitalization.

I’ll give him an 11!

Erik The Pope

Overall Rating: 10

Bill Evans

Submitted by The Pope on 12/4/2011

Overall Comments

This is a review of Bill's banjo web seminar on the BHO Chat. This was an advanced look at Earl Scruggs' banjo techniques, especially the left hand fingering. Obviously, Bill is a master player but he's also been banjo teaching for years and knows how to teach. He sent out tabs of several of Earl's tunes but I think the good part was that he would tab out students requests. (I made a couple myself) This seminar lasted two hours & went by fast. The only thing wrong with it was that the banjo was somewhat distorted but Bill wasn't so everything was easy to follow. Good job, Bill!

Overall Rating: 10

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