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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!

7124 reviews in the archive.

Deering: Classic Goodtime Special Openback

Submitted by Strumbody on 9/8/2016

Where Purchased: Musician's Friend

Year Purchased: 2015
Price Paid: Don't Remember (bought USED) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

Loved my basic Goodtime, but I wanted an open back that looked a little more traditional and was a little louder. The tone ring maks it louder and brighter and gives it a more "chimey" and less "plunky" sound than the base model. I can still play fairly quietly, but I can get quite loud if I hold it out perpendicular to my stomach and play hard. My favorite openback for tone, competes with some expensive classic openbacks I have tried.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

It was a return to the store, so it's hard to tell if it came that way set up from Deering or if the first owner had tried to set it up. I'm going to guess the former, though, since it didn't look like it had ever been played. Arrived with the bridge in place, which I don't usually expect, but I had to set it anyway, which I did expect. Other than that, it was VERY playable and well adjusted on arrival.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Pretty. Serves the need for a more traditional-looking instrument. Deering has replaced the Classic with the Artisan, which has the stain going all the way through the fingerboard - I expect that I'll wear the stain down a little on the fingerboard of this one. But EVERYTHING about the banjo is top quality, including the finish, etc. Giving it a 9 because I still think the star looks a little silly. :-)

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

The finish is satin, not shiny, but seems top quality. The tuners are very nice. I have used it on gigs with out a backup.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

I've never needed repair on a Deering product, but I've rebuilt two of their better models, and they were always very helpful.

Customer Service: 10

Components

Planetary tuners, geared 5th string, 3-ply maple pot, spikes at frets 7, 9, and 10. I can't imagine this needing repair unless I drop it down a flight of stairs or something.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I wouldn't hesitate to use this one for any professional open-back application.  If it gets lost, stolen, or strayed, I might replace it with the Artisan equivalent, which fixes the two cosmetic things that I've mentioned - the Goodtime Star and the surface-only stain of the fretboard. 

Again, if you have your heart set on some fantastic, expensive, classic open-back collector's item, do an A/B test with one of these and see if it's really worth the difference in price.

 

 

 

Overall Rating: 10

Rogue: Starter Banjo Kit

Submitted by Strumbody on 5/22/2015

Where Purchased: Springfield Pawn

Year Purchased: 2015
Price Paid: 125 ($US) (bought USED)

Sound

Bought used banjo and original gig bag together. The last "beach banjo" I bought (my Samick) turned out to be so nice I am using it for good. I also wanted backless, because I don't need a loud vacatoin banjo, and I don't need the extra size or weight. The Remo fyberskin head also contributes to a more plunky, pre-Bluegrass sound. The wrench(es?), booklet, dvd were missing, but I don't need the latter 2 and can borrow the wrenches from my other banjos when needed, so that doesn't count against the banjo itself.

Full scale is nice. I love my Deering Goodtime, and sometimes having a shorter scale is convenient (like when you're trying to squeeze a banjo into an already packed van). But I have to adjust my playing when I go back and forth from the thing.

Back to sound - if you like the Cold Mountain sound track, this banjo will get you started in the right direction.

Sound Rating: 6

Setup

Head wasn't remotely tightened. I placed the bridge while I was in the store - the thing was in between the strings and the head but not close to where it needed to be - not a problem for me. Action is high and neck is a little bowed, but there is an neck adjustment rod for that. One coordinator rod that seems like it might be looser than it should be, but I always adjust those last.

To me, buying a mail order banjo is a lot like bringing a piece of furniture home from IKEA. Or as the toy comercials used to say "Your parents have to put it together." This one is like new, which means it was never set up, which also means it was never played, which is why it's like new, which is sort of a good thing.

Sometimes when you buy used, you get one that is already set up, so that's not necessarily a disadvantage. I'll update this bit after I turn this "banjo kit" into a real banjo.

On reexamination, the fifth string is too close to the fourth string, which could cause problems for some people, depending on the picking pattern they used. Also, I couldn't figure out why the neck felt narrower than my other 5-strings, even though they're all nominally 1 1/8" wide. I think the nut slots are too close together. From the fourth to the first string, the distance is only about 1/8" less than on my other banjos, but it's enough to throw me off. If I get the thing where I need it to be otherwise, I may invest in a replacement nut.

Except for the string placing issue, every "complaint" about setup applies to EVERY BANJO THAT SHIPS FROM CHINA DIRECTLY TO YOUR DOOR.

Setup Rating: 5

Appearance

Finish is sprayed on, but it looks nice. The Fyberskin(sp) head is a nice touch. Logo looks silkscreened rather than inlaid, but that's not a problem either. In other words, NOTHING fancy on it at all, but it just looks more traditional that way. Seven rating because it's a better-than-average-looking starter banjo.

By the way, this looks more traditional than my Deering Goodtime, which is a much better banjo but looks a lot more like a toy. 7 rating because it's better than the average mail-order starter banjo. If you were comparing it to a Maple Blossom, it would be a 1. :-)

Appearance Rating: 7

Reliability

I can tell they used relatively inexpensive components, but as long as neck and rim hold up, the rest could be replaced eventually if necessarily. Glad the fifth-string peg is geared. One reviewer on MF replaced the other tuners with planetary and loved it. That might be in the future if I hang onto this.

Wish it had an arm rest, but I have the same criticism of my Deering Goodtime. :-)

Brackets are not evenly spaced, but that shouldn't affect reliability or tone to speak of.

6 rating because it's better than the average mail-order starter banjo.

Actually, compared to the ceramic/plastic/composit-rim banjos that some folks are making now, it should probably be a nine.

Although if you were comparing it to a Maple Blossom, it would be a 1. It is what it is, and better than most in its price range.

Reliability Rating: 6

Customer Service

Three rating, because they don't actually seem to exist as a company. However, MF does service them if you complain within the return period.

Customer Service: 3

Components

Nothing outstanding except the price and the good taste to put an appropriate head on the thing. That said, there are about a dozen other "starter banjos" in this price range that are JUST wall decorations. So, compared to its peers, I guess it is outstanding.

BTW, the gig bag that comes in the bundle is lightly padded and too big for his banjo - the banjo slops around more than I'd like. THAT said, the bags in most starter bundles are much thinner and less durable.

Components Rating: 6

Overall Comments

Before the last few years, so-called "starter banjos" always included resonator-shaped salad bowls that clipped to the banjo with cheap brackets.  I'm assuming that buyers thought an open-back banjo looked incomplete or something.  But I'd rather see an open back banjo that could be made into a playable instrument than a resonator banjo that the manufacturers couldn't afford to put a good neck on because they were paying for the salad bowl. 

You can LEARN Bluegrass on an open-back banjo, if that's your wont, and you won't drive the rest of the family out of the house while you're doing it.  On the other hand if you're partial to strum-heavy styles like clawhammer, this banjo will serve you better than a resonator banjo anyway.

Again, there are issues with all mail-order banjos. The main difference between this one and anything else use see under $300 is - excepting shipping damage or poor quality issue, which you should spot the day it comes on your doorstep - this one can be made playable, and many of them are giving excellent service as I write this.

If this works out as well as I hope it will, I expect to be abusing it on mountain trails, beaches, and pizza-money gigs for years to come.   Overall rating is based on comparison to other $200-ish  banjos, not on comparison to $2000-ish banjos. 

Again, I'll revisit this review after my adjustments have had a chance to settle in.

 


 

Overall Rating: 7

Deering: Goodtime

Submitted by Strumbody on 5/20/2015

Where Purchased: Springfield Pawn

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

Sound

Neck a tad shorter than standard, don't care for the blond color or GoodTime stamp on the head, but the thing is SO DARNED easy to play, I couldn't put it down. Basically, it rekindled my interest in a lot of 5-string styles I'd been neglecting. Also, there's a lot to be said for having a banjo that weighs almost nothing to take on vacation, etc. I like the "plunky" 1800s sound of the thing, although I know some folks would wish it had the resonator and tone ring.

Sound Rating: 8

Setup

Banjo was grimy from the pawn shop floor (apparently guys who come in to pawn power tools they've stolen from their job site couldn't keep their hands off it). But it was set up very well. Cleaned it up, reset the bridge, changed the strings, didn't even need to adjust the neck or tighten the head, so either the initial owner or whoever he got it from had done a nice job of setting it up.

Setup Rating: 8

Appearance

Natural light wood doesn't say "banjo" to me. It looks like a toy. It ISN'T a toy, though, it has the best neck I've ever owned on a banjo. No mechanical or cosmetic problems at all. If I didn't already own two backless banjos and needed to order one, I'd probably order the version with the darker finish that has come out since.

Appearance Rating: 8

Reliability

Wish it had an arm rest. Other than that, I suspect the hardware will last another 50-75 years. Would I use it on a gig without a backup? I trust the banjo to last indefinitely. Eight instead of 10 because of lack of arm rest.

Reliability Rating: 8

Customer Service

Deering is very nice people. I didn't deal with them about this banjo, but they've been very helpful with others.

Customer Service: 9

Components

I would prefer planetary tuners, I suppose, but the geared tuners are well made and the 5th-string tuner stays in tune, which isn't true of a lot of more expensive banjos

Components Rating: 8

Overall Comments

This is the best beginner banjo in the world.  I've set up a number of "beginner banjos' and made them playable for friends or family, but none was a pleasure to play like this one.

When I see a "like new" beginner banjo on Craig's List, I assume someone got an import on a lark or as a birthday present and one of the reasons he never learned to play it was that it was never set up.  In other words, the banjo had problems that the owner either didn't know how to get fixed or didn't have the determination to overcome. When I see a 'like new" Goodtime on Craig's List, I have to assume that the fault was the owner's, NOT the banjo.

Also the slightly short neck makes it more useful for people who have smaller arms.  The light weight, even in the Deering gig bag also makes it suitable for smaller people than most starter banjos.

 

 

Overall Rating: 10

Deering: Deluxe D6 6 string

Submitted by Strumbody on 5/20/2015

Where Purchased: Ebay

Year Purchased: 2015
Price Paid: $700 ($US) (bought USED)

Sound

After trying some Chinese-made 6-strings, including an upgrade model, I was getting into 6-string banjo enough that I thought I'd like to start adding it to my performing arsenal. But the 6-string I had wasn't cutting it. I would have looked at Gold Tone, but they don't sell 6-string banjos, only something they call a "banjitar," and I won't buy from a company that doesn't even know what to call its products. So I found a well-used 1990s lefty Deering on eBay, made a low bid and got it, with the idea that I might be able to replace the nut, reverse the bridge, and move the tailpiece. Turns out that the nut is 1/16" wider than it's "supposed" to be based on the original product description, which means that a new nut would have to be custom made. Plus, it looks like the varnish was added AFTER the nut went in, so my local guy said he was afraid that prying the nut out would destroy the finish on the head. I toyed with the idea of sending it to Deering for a redo, and the people there were VERY friendly and helpful. But they said that since the engineering for the D6 has changed since the day this was made, they couldn't just put a new D6 nut on it. Or a standard D6 bridge, either. So it was going to need a custom nut AND bridge, plus shipping - I was likely to have another $300-400 into it in a hurry. It would have been worth it on one level to have a "like new" D6. But I was more concerned about my present needs than my pie-in-the-sky wishes.
In addition, nearly every metal surface was damaged by fingertip acids. The owner's fingerprints were litterally etched into the nickel plating a couple of places. So I figured I'd clean it up, then decide what to do with it. My local guy suggested trying to notch the 5th and 6th-string slots enough to take bigger strings and seeing how far that got me. So after I got it more or less presentable, I tried that, turned the bridge around, and moved the armrest. The banjo played fine. Nine instead of ten because of all the work this particular banjo required.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

See above - I ran into obstacles trying to convert it from left to right hand, but other than that there were no huge issues. I haven't even adjusted the neck yet. I figured I'd give it time to set with the new strings, etc. BTW, what's the deal with not accepting loop strings? Bought a highly recommended set of 6-string banjo strings, then wound up pulling the little balls out of the old set to put in this one. A nice guitar string set I COULD have used was too short - the windings on the D string didn't go all the way to the peg. Nobody near here sells the Deering 6-string set, so i guess I just need to order a couple to have on hand for next time. 9 instead of ten because of the string issue.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

Now that I've cleaned it up, it's pretty. By current D6 standards, it's pretty basic looking. No really fancy inlays, etc. Quality of parts is 100% Nine rating only becase the new ones are prettier.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

Seems VERY solid, I expect it to last another 50-75 years, properly cared for. I would take it to ANY gig without a backup. Case is VERY solid, too. Of course the combination weighs something like 40 pounds. :-)

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

They are VERY helpful. There was no warranty for the work I needed done (nor should there be), so it wouldn't have been covered. But they put a lot of thought into their suggestions. As it turns out, I was able to get the things done here that needed to be done, so I didn't send it for repair. Probably should be a ten but since I didn't actually send it in . . . .

Customer Service: 9

Components

The tuners are VERY finely graded, so it takes a LONG time to change strings without a string winder. I suppose that helps them keep the banjo in more consistent tune, so it's an advantage of sorts. That said, I can't help wondering if there's a planetary set I could try on the thing. If nothing else, just to watch the banjo bigots at the back of room crossing their eyes trying to count the strings.

All of the parts should last a lifetime. Even the bridge, which I could/should have considered replacing works fine. Wish the nut wasn't varnished into the banjo head. Also there's a tiny bit of varnish failure near the nut on the edges of fretboard. Which makes me wonder if that is even original - who varnishes the edge of ebony or rosewood fretboards ? Nine only because of the varnish issue. Again, that may not be original, but i have no way of knowing that one way or the other.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

I'm sure this will need adjustment as it settles in with the new strings and as I adjust to the full-scale neck (my other 6-string banjos had 24.3" scale).  But I don't see any reason I would expect to replace it in my lifetime.  GREAT banjo!

Overall Rating: 9

Dean: Backwoods 6 "Poptop"

Submitted by Strumbody on 5/20/2015

Where Purchased: Craigs' List

Year Purchased: 2011
Price Paid: 200 ($US) (bought USED)

Sound

I bought to play in the orchestra for a faux-Dixieland Musical (The Boy Friend). So strummed with a pick, emphasizing the higher strings. I put a cheap piezo in and brought a small guitar amp in case it wasn't loud enough for the 700-ish seat house, but it almost was. Very bright, a little tinny, but that was fine for this use. It also sounds good picked a note at a time, Irish pub-band style.

Set it up myself - the previous owner had bought it from a "Big Box" store that hadn't set it up, tightened the head, placed the bridge, adjusted the neck, or ANYTHING. After the musical was over, I tried using it a lot of different ways, decided that it rings a little long for most of the things I'd like to use it for. I'd take the back off but the one piece metal flange is pointed all over.

Plus, even with repeat adjustments and even lightly filing one fret, the neck was never quite what I wanted it to be. If someone wants to play Irish-style single-note-picking, this would be great. Also worked out fine for the faux-Dixieland use. It would be okay for someone who wants to try 6-string banjo, and a LOT better than several other 6-string banjos I tried. But not my cup of tea for overall usefulness.

Sound Rating: 6

Setup

As noted above, the "big box" "music store" the previous owner bought it from hadn't even opened it for inspection when he took it home. He decded that six string banjo "wasn't for him," without ever having a chance to try one that was playable. I suspect this happens a lot. The rods, etc. for setting it up were all there. The neck just wasn't quite what it needed to be for optimum playing. Again, it's still heads and shoulders above most Chinese-made "starter six-string banjos."

Setup Rating: 6

Appearance

Looked fine, hardware was decent. Reminiscent of the Korean-made pop-top banjos of the late 1970s.

Appearance Rating: 6

Reliability

I gigged with it several times. It's fine for what it is, mechanically and cosmetically.

Reliability Rating: 7

Customer Service

I didn't talk to Dean about this, but I've talked to them about other instruments, and they've always been VERY helpful.

Customer Service: 8

Components

You never see a very cheap or very expensive "pop-top" banjo. It is what it is. I would expect it to last for decades with no serious problems. Other folks have reported that the little pieces that the flange bolts to in the resonator are loose or misplaced, but that's an easy fix, and a common problem in Chinese banjos.

Components Rating: 7

Overall Comments

Good for what it is.  Too much ring for some purposes, would drive a guitar player used to strumming with a flat pick crazy.  Neck wasn't 100% of what I needed, but I AM used to pro instruments. 

An excellent choice if you're a guitar player who wants to add Irish single-string-picking banjo sound to a Celtic group, or if you're dragged into a Dixieland setting and know jazz chords on guitar but not on tenor. 

With all my disclaimers, it's still better made than a lot of starter six-strings.

 

 

 

Overall Rating: 7

Samick: SB2 Greg Bennett

Submitted by Strumbody on 3/18/2015

Where Purchased: Springfield Pawn

Year Purchased: 2013
Price Paid: 125 ($US) (bought USED)

Sound

I play it without the resonator to get a plunky, early Mountain music sound, but it is louder than my backless Goodtime. When I hold it out away from my belly, it's plenty loud and bright enough for my taste. Without a tone ring or solid resonator flange, it doesn't have enough ring for "pure" Bluegrass, but that's not what I play.

Sound Rating: 7

Setup

One reason I bought it was that it had nice planetary tuners, which the SB-2 doesn't come with. So that was a nice upgrade, courtesy of a previous owner, I suppose. I set it up, tightening the head, replacing the strings, cranking back the neck, placing the bridge for best intonation - something I've done for every banjo I ever owned, except for the Goodtime, which had been set up for the previous owner. That said, it took the neck about a year to settle. Originally it was a millimeter concave between the nut and fifth fret, even when the rest of the neck was a couple millimeters convex. That may or may not have been the result of neglect or bad setup in a previous life. Now it seems to have evened out. Action isn't like my Deering, which is PERFECT, but it's quite playable. I also like the full scale, something my Goodtime doesn't have. I need to get a compensated bridge for it, though. Notes played on the third string are sharp even when the rest of the banjo's intonation is good.

Setup Rating: 5

Appearance

It has fancy inlays on the fingerboard, and a dark finish overall, which I prefer to the natural finish of my Goodtime. Frankly, the only thing that detracts from the appearance of the thing is the big S logo on the end. On the other hand, cosmetics are unimportant to me, unless the thing is so ugly it detracts.

Appearance Rating: 7

Reliability

Hardware seems very solid. It has a single bolt, but on a backless that's not as big a problem for me as it is on a heavy banjo. I had to tighten the head some, and the brackets seemed pretty good. I expect it to be quite durable. I have used it on gigs without a backup, but if I went on the road with it I'd take a backup along regardless. I plan to install a cheap piezo pickup for "pickup gigs" where I don't know what kind of PA or whatever will be there.

Reliability Rating: 7

Customer Service

No dealings with Samick at all.

Customer Service: 5

Components

It's solid enough for my purposes.

Components Rating: 7

Overall Comments

This was a nice surprise. I bought it for a "beach banjo," but it's turned into a favorite.  Again, having upgrade tuners is a big plus.  And having it "settle in" so I can get reasonable action without fret buzz helps. Again, without a tone ring or solid resonator flange, it wouldn't be bright enough or have enough sustain for Bluegrass, but that's not what I use it for anyway.  (Think "Cold Mountain" soundtrack.)

Overall Rating: 7

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