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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!

7077 reviews in the archive.

Harmony: Butterfly

Submitted by Properpat on 6/19/2016

Where Purchased: Private sale

Year Purchased: 2016
Price Paid: 200 ($US) (bought USED)

Sound

Great tone and serious volume from a brass mastertone style ring. I am a learning clawhammer player. About a year of experience. I have owned three other banjos before this including: an Oscar Schmidt open back, a recording king rk-20, and a recording king ot-25. The tone from this banjo is far ahead my favorite of all four I have owned.

Sound Rating: 8

Setup

Needs a new bridge, because the one included is chipping. Aside from that, the previous owner had it set up very well, and took great care of it.

Setup Rating: not rated

Appearance

This is a beautiful banjo with fantastic butterfly inlay work up the neck, on the peghead, and on the back of the resonator. Two rings in the resonator with a gorgeous large butterfly in the center. Best looking banjo I have owned hands down with a great gloss finish.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Zero reasons to ever doubt the reliability of this banjo since it's already at least 20 years old and still going strong. Time will tell though.

Reliability Rating: 7

Customer Service

N/A

Customer Service: not rated

Components

The planetary tuners feel great. Tail piece is solidly built giving me no reason to doubt it. Dual coordinator rods for adjusting the neck. Mastertone style brass tone ring. Basic bridge could use an upgrade. I enjoyed my spillway bridges in the past and will be ordering another for this.

Components Rating: 8

Overall Comments

Absolutely love this banjo, and considering the ridiculously low price I paid for it, I find it hard to see any significant upgrade in my future.

Overall Rating: 9

Bridges: "Pineywood" dam spillway bridge

Submitted by Properpat on 8/4/2015

Where Purchased: BHO From Don

Overall Comments

I dont know what else to say but whoah....

 

Until this point I had only ever used the stock bridges that came with my banjos.

I never in a million years thought that swapping the bridge on my banjo could make such a huge difference.

It literally is like playing a brand new (and much more expensive) instrument for the price of 12-15 bucks.

I bought the three pack to swap between my two  'jos and the Pineywood has found a permanent home on my

open back converted RK-20.

 

Sound wise I noticed a pretty significant increase in highs and a slight decrease in lows, with an overall boost in volume throughout.

 

THese are handmade by Don himself. The turnaround from my order to shipment was 2 days. 2 DAYS!!! In less than a week I had 3 new bridges to experiment with. The craftsmanship is outstanding!! They really are just cool looking bridges that are very pleasing to the eye. 

 

Do yourself a favor.... spend the very minute amount of money on these... the difference they made is priceless

 

Overall Rating: 10

Bridges: dam spillway bridge

Submitted by Properpat on 8/4/2015

Where Purchased: BHO Directly from Don

Overall Comments

I dont know what else to say but whoah....

 

Until this point I had only ever used the stock bridges that came with my banjos.

I never in a million years thought that swapping the bridge on my banjo could make such a huge difference.

It literally is like playing a brand new (and much more expensive) instrument for the price of 12-15 bucks.

I bought the three pack to swap between my two  'jos and the Original Spillway has ended up on my Oscar Schmidt fretless conversion.

 

The amount of power this bridge can produce on such a cheap instrument is mind blowing. Volume literally shot through the roof on a basic wood pot fretless. Ill never go back.

 

THese are handmade by Don himself. The turnaround from my order to shipment was 2 days. 2 DAYS!!! In less than a week I had 3 new bridges to experiment with. The craftsmanship is outstanding!! They really are just cool looking bridges that are very pleasing to the eye. 

 

Do yourself a favor.... spend the very minute amount of money on these... the difference they made is priceless

Overall Rating: 10

Bridges: DONALD NEW SPILLWAY BANJO BRIDGE

Submitted by Properpat on 8/4/2015

Where Purchased: BHO Directly from Don

Overall Comments

Until this point I had only ever used the stock bridges that came with my banjos.


 

I never in a million years thought that swapping the bridge on my banjo could make such a huge difference.


 

It literally is like playing a brand new (and much more expensive) instrument for the price of 12-15 bucks.


 

I bought the three pack to swap between my two  'jos and the Original Spillway has ended up on my Oscar Schmidt fretless conversion.


 

 


 

The amount of power this bridge can produce on such a cheap instrument is mind blowing. Volume literally shot through the roof on a basic wood pot fretless. Ill never go back.


 

 


 

THese are handmade by Don himself. The turnaround from my order to shipment was 2 days. 2 DAYS!!! In less than a week I had 3 new bridges to experiment with. The craftsmanship is outstanding!! They really are just cool looking bridges that are very pleasing to the eye. 


 

 


 

Do yourself a favor.... spend the very minute amount of money on these... the difference they made is priceless

Overall Rating: 10

Recording King: RK-20

Submitted by Properpat on 7/28/2015

Where Purchased: Craigslist

Year Purchased: 2015
Price Paid: 250 ($US)

Sound

So I am a beginner level clawhammer player who to this point had only played a cheap open back banjo that I had converted to fretless. I love that cheap banjo... but wanted something with a little more umph.

The RK-20 delivers that umph and a whole lot more. The flat brass tone hoop sounds beautiful compared to my wood rimmed open back. The resonator adds some serious volume as well.

Heres where things got interesting. I bought this wanting a resonator back to add some volume to my playing. I decided to experiment and pulled the resonator off. As an open back banjo, the RK-20 just sings!! It sounds way too good for the price I paid.

Dont let anyone fool you... This banjo is serious, and that flat tone hoop adds some beautiful intonation!

:::Update:::

I removed the resonator and flange permanently. This banjo just sounds utterly amazing as an open back. The brass tone hoop really fits with the open back sound.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

I purchased this from a man through a local craigslist ad.
He had it for three years. He played it one time and stored it away in a closet.... A SINGLE TIME!! He said he had it professionally set up when he purchased it locally. But after three years of sitting, it needed a tiny bit of work. I tightened the head, added some new strings, and made a minor adjustment to the action and she sang!

Setup Rating: 5

Appearance

I have heard that this is a generic banjo made in a factory and sold under many different brands. This does not bother me in the least bit.

My friends were so used to me playing my matte finish, basic dot inlay, open back for so long, they literally gasped the first time they saw this banjo. Hahaha it was a nice stroke on my pride hahaha.

This banjo is absolutely beautiful. Mother of pearl floral inlay in the peg board. Flower MOP inlays in the finger board. Chrome hardware. A wood finish that brings out the fiery red in the wood. It really is a show stopper for a banjo costing less than $500. You really cant find a better looking banjo in this price range. Whatever factory that is churning these out, knows how to make a banjo look great.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

The fit and finish on this banjo are just stunning. I have no reason to believe that this banjo wouldnt be reliable for gigging... but I didnt get into banjo for gigging. Just a time consumer for me. Playing on camping trips and what not.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

N/A

Customer Service: 5

Components

I have owned this banjo for just a week or so. SO only time will tell. The tuners seem to work perfectly. A little touchy compared to my cheap banjo's guitar tuners. But everything feels like this will last for years to come.

I just ordered the three pack or the Spillway Dam Banjo Bridges from Don right here on this forum. From what I have read, a bridge upgrade is the best first thing to upgrade and I have heard nothing but awesome things about these bridges.
A rennaissance head will be next as well.
These changes are being made, not because they are needed, but because half the fun of playing banjo, is making your banjo yours.

Components Rating: 7

Overall Comments

For anyone who tells you that this isnt a step up from a bottom of the barrel banjo is just a banjo snob. I had a bottom of the barrel banjo, set up right and sounding awesome... and this RK-20 still blew my mind. Having a heavy weight banjo with such a nice finish and beautiful sound just forces you to be more confident in learning and playing. 

I got this banjo for about half the price it actually sells used for. I would have easily paid double or triple for it without hesitation. 

This is only my second banjo and, for my needs, I dont think I will be stepping up to anything pricier for a VERY long time.

This banjo just struck a note with me. (haha puns). 

I love everything about it. 

 

:::Update:::

To anyone contemplating this banjo for both a resonator and an open back model, dont be afraid to take the resonator and flange off of this banjo. It just sounds so good, both ways!! But I have decided to keep my resonator off for the time being. 

Overall Rating: 9

Oscar Schmidt: OB3

Submitted by Properpat on 7/8/2015

Where Purchased: Ebay

Year Purchased: 2014
Price Paid: 135 ($US)

Sound

First off... this is my first banjo.
I wanted to learn clawhammer for camping trips.
This banjo sounds pretty damn good for what I paid. Its obviously not an RK or GT or Deering. But its a fraction of the cost of any of those brands starter banjos.
Its got a great plunky sound to it with lots of resonation. The notes will resonate on and on. I love it.

Sound Rating: 6

Setup

Needed what any banjo needed after being shipped.
Bridge placed, head tightened, action adjusted. Took me all of thirty minutes of my time and some youtube videos to get it sounding pretty fantastic.
Im sure if a pro set it up it would sound twice as good.

Setup Rating: 6

Appearance

Wood pot.
Chrome plated components.
Satin finish, which i highly prefer to gloss.

It has the basic dot inlays, the peg board has decals rather than inlays.
Its not a beauty pageant winner... much less a contestant... but it feels old timey and looks awesome.

Appearance Rating: 7

Reliability

This is where this banjo shines.
I have had this banjo for 6 months and there is zero sign of wear on anything...
The guitar style tuners hold their tuning for weeks.... im not even kidding... took this on a camping trip to Big Bend National Park... from humid to dry... to 5000 ft elevation... to being tossed in a van and a trailer.... (all of which took place without a case of any kind).... this thing NEVER came untuned! Blew my mind.

Everything has held up wonderfully thus far in the first 6 months... no complaints at all.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Havent dealt with the seller. No need to.

Customer Service: 5

Components

Like I said... the tuners are guitar tuners. You may hate that... but they work better than perfectly.
The 5th string tuner is geared... thats great!
The head is a remo head.
Real rosewood fretboard... deering goodtimes dont even have a fretboard!!
The strings that came with it are medium gauged and have held up for 6 months with little to no untuning! I have a set of lite gauge on their way in the mail.

Components Rating: 8

Overall Comments

::::Update::::

So I decided to do a DIY conversion to fretless on this banjo. Its cheap and thought... what the heck why not. I really love the sound of fretless.

I pulled each fret by using a soldering iron to heat the glue. Followed by using a pair of needle nose players to pull each fret. Worked a charm.

I filled the fret slots with wood putty of the cherry color nature. Sanded the fret board. Oiled with canola oil. Swapped the medium guage stings for lite gauge and VOILA!

Im even more in love with this banjo than before... Its almost like it was meant to be played this way. There is no way I should be getting this good a sound from such an affordable banjo. 

Click on my profile to see a photo of the before and finished neck. Not beautiful but pretty unique and fun.

 

 

I have literally... ZERO complaints about this banjo...

 

I mean come on... less than $150 bucks.. I kind of knew what I was getting into.

A cheap, no nonsense banjo, that keeps its tuning and sounds great when im hammering away on it in front of a campfire.

I cannot recommend this banjo enough for someone looking at getting into frailing and clawhammer. 

It just works.... even after being tossed around and being put through hell... it continues to just work.

 

This banjo has only confirmed that this is an instrument I want to pursue learning.

I will eventually be upgrading when the money is right... but until then... I love this 'jo.

Overall Rating: 8

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