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!
6862 reviews in the archive.
Where Purchased: From Tim
I emailed Tim about making me a custom bridge. I know he mostly makes bridges for bluegrass/resonator instruments, but I'm a clawhammer player and the banjo Tim's bridge went on is an open back with an aluminum pot made from a Buick torque converter. I had built the banjo meaning to use a 3/4" bridge, but when I got it together the action was too low for my liking.
After discussing different tones, options and the type of banjo I'm playing, Tim made me a locust bridge with an ebony cap in 7/8" height. It worked out great. The action is a little high, just like I like, and the banjo sounds very nice. Tim couldn't have been better to deal with. I think I emailed him about making me a bridge on Monday night and he had it in the mail on Wednesday morning. It was on my banjo by Friday night.
The tone is percussive and has quick decay. Note seperation is very good, and there's a nice woodiness to the sound. The bass response is full and the high end sounds pretty good too. Pretty much exactly what I wanted for accompanying fiddle tunes.
In short, if you're looking for a bridge, I highly recommend getting one from Tim. The product is great and the customer service is even better, all at a reasonable price. Can't ask for more than that.
Overall Rating: 10
Where Purchased: local shop
Year Purchased: 2010
Price Paid: 100 ($US) (bought USED)
For what it is, this banjo sounds great. It's louder than one would expect with a decent old timey tone. I'm playing it clawhammer style and it works well for that. I did stuff the head with some foam to kill some sustain. The banjo came with a resonator from a different, but same model, Harmony (it's a different color) which made the banjo a little louder and ringier, though I don't use it.
Sound Rating: 8
The banjo was made in the late 50's or early 60's so commenting on setup would be a little silly. That said, when I bought it, someone had installed a geared 5th string tuner and a plastic head (though I would have prefered the original skin) which was nice.
Setup Rating: 8
The neck is all one piece, meaning no seperate piece of wood for the fingerboard. It's some type of hardwood which may be maple that's been dyed on the fingerboard and painted a muddy brown color for the neck. The pot is plastic, bakelite actually, also a brown color, but warmer and darker than the neck. The non-original reso is black so it looks like a bit of a mutt, but in a way, it's so ugly it's cool.
Most Harmony banjos I've seen have a music note and "steel reinforced neck" below the name on the headstock, but this one just has the name. I don't know if that means it's a lower model, or earlier or what.
Personal I like the no-frills-cheaper-than-dirt look these 'jos have going on.
Appearance Rating: 8
The banjo's been kicking around for half a century now, so it'll probably hold up to about anything. About the only real problem I can see developing, is the pot cracking and breaking. I've heard there's no glue that'll hold bakelite, but I really don't know. I'm not sure how well the brass frets will hold up either, but time will tell I guess.
A big plus with these banjos is their ability to cope with the elements. This is a banjo that could get wet, muddy, whatever and take it because of all the synthetic materials.
Reliability Rating: 7
Harmony (at least the Chicago produced Harmony) went belly up long ago - N/A
Customer Service: not rated
Once again, the bakelite pot and brass frets have me a little concerned about reliability, but other than that the components seam sturdy. The neck has a steel rod in it, the tuners are guitar style, except for the upgraded 5th tuner, the hooks and nuts seem decent quality. The nut is a cheap plastic, and the bridge is a cheap, all-maple, two-footed unit, the tailpiece is a functional, but cheap stamped metal piece, all upgradable if one had the desire.
The paint that's on the neck and headstock isn't in the best condition, some chips and such, but seems thick and probably does offer a fair amount of protection.
Components Rating: 8
I bought this banjo to travel with, take camping, leave at work, etc. so I have no complaints about the quality or price, especially considering that this thing sounds good. I wish it had the original skin head, or at least the flesh hoop, but that's life. Overall, these Reso-tones make good beater banjos or started banjos for someone just learning. I don't know that I'd pay much more than 100 bucks for one, but for what they are, they're fun to have around.
Overall Rating: 10
Where Purchased: private individual
Year Purchased: 2008
Price Paid: 650 ($US)
The Tradesman has a unique tone. I assumed with a 12" pot and no tone ring it would have a mellow plunky tone. While I would call it mellow, it has more of a chimey or jangly tone. It's brighter than I expected. It's not a bad tone, just not what one would expect. It's a very pretty sound that definitely has it's place. The low end is very nice. While not the loudest banjo, it holds up fine around the house or if you're singing playing with just a fiddler, etc. If you're playing a barroom though you'll probably want to amplify it. Percussive techniques are easier on this banjo than many I've played. I have a feeling a different head or bridge would change the tone quite a bit if one wasn't happy with it. As always playing style alters the tone.
Sound Rating: 9
I bought this banjo used so I can't comment on the factory set up, but if it's bone stock (which it may well be) it's set up great. Elderly warns that the action is high on these, but I'm not sure where they're getting that from. I'm thinking of trying a skin head to see how that sounds though. Mine does have a little fret sprout, but that's because of a cold Ohio winter and electric heat, not Kevin's craftsmanship. His craftsmanship is of the utmost. For all intensive purposes, flawless. This is a banjo that feels great in your hands. This is a scooped model and I love the action of the neck.
Setup Rating: 10
The Tradesman is plain, plain, plain. I consider that a bonus though. Who needs a bunch of gaudy inlay and binding driving the price up? I love the way this thing looks. The walnut neck has beautiful grain. I love how traditional this things looks, but some may want more flash.
Appearance Rating: 10
I'd gig without a back up (if I were gigging). The hardware is all quality, but it is built pretty light. I wouldn't treat it like I do my Telecaster, but I don't see where anything is going to go wrong with this banjo that wouldn't go wrong with any other.
Reliability Rating: 9
Never had a problem with the banjo, but I know Kevin's a forum member and he's responded to my emails before. I'm not too worried about it.
Customer Service: 10
Nothing NEEDS to be replaced or upgraded, but you know how we get sometimes. Swapping parts is fun. I might try a different bridge or a skin head to see what sound I get out of it, but in stock form this is a great banjo. All the parts are great. My personal favorite details are the V-neck and the curving heal.
Components Rating: 10
I'd like to see someone find a better deal on a handmade banjo. No frills mean you're not paying extra for things you don't need. If it were stolen, I'd look for another. I've owned 4 banjos (granted none were too high end) but this is head and shoulders above all of them.
Edited to add: I've had my Tradesman a few months now and have messed around with the setup and bridge and strings. To my ears this thing sounds great, and I mean great in it's current configuration. I found that by tightening the head up (pretty tight, the bridge barely sinks in) I could bring out a lot more tone and a little more volume. I tried a Katz Eyez Old Growth Bridge for a while, but I think the stock one actually sounds better. I was going to replace the head but after going to .11 gauge strings I see no need. Everyone that's played it talks about how good it sounds so if you're considering picking up a Tradesman, go for it, but don't be afraid to tweak the setup to suit your taste. I highly recommend tightening the head up and using heavier strings, that's certainly all mine needed.
Overall Rating: 10
'"Greg Rich Era..."' 3 hrs