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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!

6773 reviews in the archive.

Hopkins: Woodie

Submitted by Grum on 1/22/2012

Where Purchased: FingerStyle Productions

Year Purchased: 2011
Price Paid: 3,200 (AUS) (bought USED) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

For Bluegrass playing Scruggs/Melodic at jams and festivals. A full, round and "woody" sound! It is almost as loud as a tone ring banjo but the Tony Pass rim ensures a quality sound. It was the sound that grabbed me the moment I began playing it. Quite different to my Stelling MasterFlower (but in a good way)

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

Wendy from FingerStyle Productions had it all nicely set up and ready to play. Very, very playable neck.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

A very attractive banjo without too much glitz. Beautiful Walnut burl on the resonator. Faultless inlay, tastefully understated. Tiny indentations from belt buckle on resonator.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Paul Hopkins sent me a free replacement 5th string tuner peg so it matched the others, even though I was not the original purchaser. This is a relatively early model (2007) Woodie so has 5 Star tuners. Later models come with Waverly 2 band tuners. Plating is Chrome rather than Nickel. Fingerboard is ebony. Flange is 2 piece (tube and plate) so it can be removed for conversion to Clawhammer banjo.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

This banjo was 3rd hand (one owner never played it!). FingerStyle Productions are excellent to work with. It was sold on commission so any bargaining was done through Wendy Holman. I was able to play it repeatedly while making up my mind.

Customer Service: 10

Components

This is a Hopkins 'Woodie' - no tone ring but a special Tony Pass rim, therefore it's noticeably lighter than my Stelling. Resonator is really beautiful Walnut burl. Neck is very comfortable in the hand. It seems much more responsive to variations in technique, X vs Y position etc. It seems to have more charm and character that the Stelling. As mentioned above this early model has 5 Star tuners. Irrelevant since I'm about to put Keith D Tuners on it.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

A tastefully understated, lightweight, characterful banjo. A full, warm, deep tone with much more volume that you'd expect from a Woodie. It's become the preferred banjo to play at home (competing with a Tranjo 6.0 and Stelling MasterFlower)

Overall Rating: 10

D.P. Hopkins

Submitted by Grum on 1/22/2012

Overall Comments

I bought a 3rd hand Hopkins Woodie in Australia. I emailed Paul Hopkins to ask a few questions about setup etc and he was very, very helpful. He offered to take me through the setup procedure over the phone but Australia to US made that impractical, so he said he's send me a free setup DVD. I mentioned that the 5th string tuner button was a different colour to the others. He said that was standard on the older models but would send a free matching replacement button with the DVD.

When the parcel arrived from the US it contained a copy of his own CD, 'Something Old, Something New', the setup DVD, the tuner button, some strings, a Hopkins bridge, and some promotional T shirts and hats!!! I must point out that I bought this banjo 3rd hand in Australia! The parcel cost more than $16 US to post!!!

That's amazing service from someone who is obviously dedicated to their product and customers. I must also mention that he has kept up an email correspondence with me as I sort out details like recommended string gauges etc

I would thoroughly recommend Paul Hopkins' service and banjos.

Overall Rating: 10

Tranjo: Standard Maple

Submitted by Grum on 8/22/2010

Where Purchased: via internet direct from Sam Farris

Year Purchased: 2010
Price Paid: 800 ($US)

Sound

With a 6" head this banjo is not going to sound like my Stelling but it does have a perfectly acceptable banjo type tone. The 1st string sounds a little thin while the 4th sounds surprisingly full and meaty. The harmonics are clear and loud. I've added a compensated Snuffy Smith bridge which had fixed any intonations issues up the neck. For a travel banjo I would say the sound is very good.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

I tried to tune it for quite a long time before I realised the bridge had been shifted about 1cm during transport. After setting this right it tuned up well, though it is awkward with the tuners in the body (rather than on a peg head) Action is excellent, head tension fine.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

I opted for the ebony fingerboard and radiused neck. All woodwork is excellent in appearance with a very nice satin lacquer which is not "grippy" against your skin. Most people immediately comment on the quality of the appearance when they see it up close.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

I noticed that it would go out of tune easily. I assumed this was due to things settling in. Eventually I realised that the fit between the neck to body was not tight sideways. There was 1-2mm clearance on each side, allowing the neck to rotate sideways if bumped putting everything way out of tune. Tightening the single bolt would not help. I was disappointed at this apparent lack of quality control on an otherwise beautifully made instrument. Rather than complain, I applied a shim of "iron-on" timber veneer to each side of the socket in the body. This has fixed the problem perfectly. After my "repair" the Reliability Rating would be 10.

Reliability Rating: 5

Customer Service

I have not yet informed Sam Farris of the neck/body fit issue. Purchasing and delivery issues were fine.

Customer Service: 10

Components

The strings start at the tuners inside the body, bend 180 degrees around wooden pulleys before running over the bridge, along the neck to finish at the nut. The wooden pulley wheels seem to add a little friction to the tuning action. Perhaps some ball bearings would be good here. Maybe Sam could offer this as an optional upgrade.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

I am VERY pleased with my Tranjo, now that I have fixed the neck wobble issue. It's simple to take apart and reassemble. It looks good, is light weight and is very nice to play (full length neck). It's not loud enough for jamming but that's not it's purpose. I've had to rate it as a 7 due to the neck issue but that was a simple fix. If not for that I would have awarded a 10. I really love it now.

Overall Rating: 7

Ralph Stanley (Dr): Man of constant sorrow

Submitted by Grum on 1/4/2010

Where Purchased: Amazon

Overall Comments

I have never seen Dr Ralph Stanley perform and only have a few recordings of his work but, after reading his book, "Man of Constant Sorrow", I feel like I have known him personally for years. He has made me feel like I know what it's like to tour the country, sing and play banjo professionally and to live with triumph and tragedy.

The book is an entertaining and educative read from cover to cover and is written in a style that makes you feel as though he's sitting in the room with you yarning away. I thoroughly recommend this book to anyone interested in Mr Stanley, the Stanley Brothers, the Clinch Mountain Boys, Old time music, Bluegrass or general folk culture.

Overall Rating: 10

Other: Agile Partners Guitar Toolkit App for iPhone

Submitted by Grum on 11/2/2009

Where Purchased: Apple iTunes Store

Overall Comments

This is an App for iPhone. Despite the name it is not limited to guitars. It performs equally well with banjo, bass, mandolin, fiddle, uke, 12-string, etc,etc. There is a Tuner which is far more sensitive and smoother than a clip-on type.

It has a metronome with 13 sound effects and a full chord library (500,000 chords!) Chords sound realistically when screen is "strummed". Has left-handed feature to flip chords and scales around. Scales charts for each instrument in alt tunings. Has alternative tunings for each instrument. Very, very useful. Scored 4.5 / 5. Costs $12.99US. Only negative is it doesn't clip on and sense vibrations. (ie not too good in a noisy environment.)

Search iTunes App Store for "Guitar Toolkit"

Overall Rating: 9

Mutes: Mike's Banjo Mute

Submitted by Grum on 3/2/2009

Where Purchased: From Mike via PayPal/BHO

Overall Comments

After some difficulties with PayPal processing my order I finally received my 'Mike's Mute' and am very pleased with it. Nicely made, little velvet bag to keep it in, easy on/off the banjo, no interference with right hand, sound is definately muted but not too quiet. It sounds like a banjo. It allowed me to hear certain faults in my left hand technique of which I was unaware. Mike's Mute - It's Beaut ... mate!

Overall Rating: 10

Stelling: Master Flower

Submitted by Grum on 8/12/2008

Where Purchased: Janet Davis

Year Purchased: 2008
Price Paid: 3,850 ($US)

Sound

It just sounds beautiful. Clean, clear, sharp and balanced all the way up the neck. People said Stellings are "loud" but that certainly does not mean coarse or harsh. It plays beautfully at whatever volume you choose to pick it.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

It was shipped across the planet to Australia from a Northern Summer to a Southern Winter and it was still in tune!!! (well almost) Setup was perfect.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Flawless. I searched it meticulously trying to find some microscopic flaw and failed. It had obviosly been polished within an inch of it's life before packing and posting. Inlay is wonderful. The unstained walnut was a little lighter in colour than I expected but that's because I'm used to Queensland 'walnut' which is a much more chocolate brown. I bought the walnut for the sound, not the colour.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

I've only had it for a fortnight but it seems to exude quality. The plating is deep and brilliant.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Very prompt until it got to Australia. The Australian delivery service was slow and frustrating and customs delayed it for days.

Customer Service: 10

Components

Everything seems wonderful, but then you'd expect that on a $5,000 banjo. The TKL case seems to be of top quality as well.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

Janet Davis has genuine sales every month. When I ordered my banjo the Master Flower on the web page disappeared. The price was $3,850 while Banjo.com and FQM and Stelling itself had it listed for $5,000. It feels great. It sounds great. and I think I'm a better player already as a result!!!

Overall Rating: 10

Tuners: Intelli MT500

Submitted by Grum on 6/12/2008

Where Purchased: Aust. Luthier's Supplies

Overall Comments

After writing my earlier review I disassembed the tuner, jiggled everything inside - nothing seemed obviously broken or loose. Reassembled it and VIOLA! it works. Now its as good as new. When it works it's very.very good.

Overall Rating: 8

Tuners: Intelli MT500

Submitted by Grum on 6/9/2008

Where Purchased: Australian Luthiers Supplies

Overall Comments

Opened the packet, set it up. Nothing happened! Dead as a Dodo. Sent it back. Got a replacement quite quickly. Worked OK for 3 weeks, then began failing to register on the low D string. Replaced battery. Then it failed altogether. It lights up but the needle just sits there while I twang away in frustration. When it worked it seemed terrific. Now I just want my money back.

Overall Rating: 1

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