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!
7075 reviews in the archive.
Where Purchased: Elderly Instruments
Excellent. I prefer the tone of a Remo Renaissance head on my flathead banjos, but that combination needs a very light bridge to bring out the crispness needed for bluegrass without losing the rich tone. I have a medium weight on my Gibson Black Jack and a lightweight on my Fender FB-59. Both sound great, but I would go with the lightweight for both if I had to pick again. (It is barely thinner than the medium-weight, which was purchased at least a year earlier.) I didn't think about it when I made my decision, but the moon shape allows the bridge to be unusually thin without becoming unstable on the head surface.
Overall Rating: 10
Where Purchased: 8thStreet
Year Purchased: 2008
Price Paid: $240 ($US)
Great sound, although I never put on the stock head - I had a Remo Renassance high-crown laying around and put that on right away. I tried the stock bridge and it was OK, but replaced it with a Farquar bridge with a smaller-than-usual footprint and that sounds fantastic (I think a smaller footprint works better with arch-tops).
Sound Rating: 8
Action is slightly high up the neck (compared to my high-end banjos), but it stays in tune quite well and is no problem to play. I haven't tried to optimize the truss rod tension yet.
Setup Rating: 7
I finished it with Danish oil and it looked fantastic. Based on another review, I put paste wax over that and regret it - the paste wax turned white in the grain. I haven't decided whether to try to strip the wax and seal it with something else. Plastic "dot" inlays were a bit too big for the holes that were drilled, so I had to file them down a bit after installation. If I had cleaned out the pre-drilled holes, I might have avoided the problem. Headstock angle to neck is greater than found on many banjos costing several times as much - a pleasant surprise.
Appearance Rating: 8
I was in a hurry so did not try to lacquer the neck and resonator. It is quite playable now, but I will have to do something else in the long run. I wouldn't use this banjo in a gig - but sure would bring it to a jam.
Reliability Rating: 7
I didn't deal with Saga, but 8thStreet was fantastic about e-mailing me the manual that was not in the kit I received. Instrument Alley has a slightly lower price, but so many people had problems with their pre- and post-sales service , that I decided to go with 8thStreet and am glad I did. An on-line coupon will about cover shipping costs, so the final price is well worth what you get.
Customer Service: 10
Saga has apparently fixed many of the earlier complaints, but there are still some minor quality problems. Aluminum rim was thin in one area and the screws that held the tension-hook mounting-blocks to the rim prevented the hooks from passing through unless the mounting screws were backed off a bit. Did not affect the ultimate playability. 3rd string slot on the nut was not cut right and it buzzed. (I replaced the nut with another from an old banjo I had.) Tuners are decent (better than anything you will find on any other banjo in this price range), but you will have to adjust the tension screw carefully to make them work properly. ) I replaced them because I had some good Schaller tuners laying around) Drive in the 5th string peg by putting a socket wrench socket over the tuning shaft and hammering on it. If you hammer on the tuning shaft as the instructions seem to indicate, you will damage the tuner and it won't tune smoothly. Arm rest is now of good quality, but the alignment notches are not spaced the same as the tension hooks, so I had to file it a bit. Waverly tailpiece is designed to be used with its mounting screw exactly vertical, and it is at an angle in this design. I filed a notch in the adjustment plate that normally gets stopped by the screw (to allow the screw head to pass through), so it adjusts correctly now. Otherwise, the strings will exit the tailpiece almost at the height of the head, and there won't be enough play to adjust it.
Components Rating: 7
I bought this banjo kit to replace an old frailing-style open-back whose action was too high for bluegrass (and stripped it for parts). It is my fourth banjo (meant to be left at a place I visit often), so I wanted to pay as little as possible and could not be happier with the choice I made. I took care of any part problems myself, but am confident that 8thStreet would have worked with me to get replacements had I asked.
Overall Rating: 10
Where Purchased: Elderly Instruments and Janet Davis
Surprisingly effective for a little hunk of brass with a slot and a thumb screw (and a bit of felt at the bottom). Best part is that the body of the capo itself determines the string length, so once you know the exact place to put it on a fret, you don't have to retune. Useful even if you have spikes if you ever have to capo at at a fret without a spike. Worst part is figuring out what to do with it when you don't need it. (It's quite quick to put on after you manage to dig it out of your pocket or pick pouch!) Works best on banjos with slightly wider necks to give the capo a better platform. On a narrow neck, the capo wants to rotate off the edge and is less secure.
Overall Rating: 7
'Change' 2 hrs
'May Bell Queen' 2 hrs
'Gentle on my mind' 8 hrs
'need 10 3/4" Ren Head' 10 hrs
'Qustion on value' 13 hrs