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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!

7079 reviews in the archive.

Bishline: Heirloom

Submitted by wtbryant on 4/2/2019

Where Purchased: Individual

Year Purchased: 2019
Price Paid: $1500.00 ($US) (bought USED)

Sound

Outstanding. Better than anticipated, honestly. I knew the reviews of Bishline were good, but this banjo sounds as good as my Stelling which I've always thought was the best sounding banjo I've ever played.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Setup was fine. I didn't like the light strings, but seeing I bought it used, that was probably the preference of the individual I bought it from rather than Bishline.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

The Heirloom isn't the fanciest banjo Bishline makes. But, for the money it's hard to beat. I don't see one flaw on this banjo anywhere.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

It's hard to believe this banjo is used and has been played as regularly as it has. I don't have to worry as to whether it "seems" it will last, it has lasted!

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

I have interacted with Bishline in trying to ascertain other information about their banjos so I knew about this one (and others I was looking at). They were nothing but outstanding.

Customer Service: 10

Components

This is an affordable yet stage-worthy banjo. All parts are top of the line. The only reason it's cheaper is the fretboard and headstock aren't "fancy". But they're beautiful nonetheless.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

This banjo replaced a Stelling Virginian that I played for 13 years on stage.  I haven't been playing much on stage lately. So, I sold the Virginian in hopes that the Bishline would replace it well.  I am greatly impressed and quite satisfied.  

Overall Rating: 10

Hatfield: Buck Creek

Submitted by wtbryant on 10/1/2009

Where Purchased: Arthur Hatfield

Year Purchased: 2009
Price Paid: 2600 ($US)

Sound

This is a great bluegrass banjo -- as good as any I've heard. It's loud; quite loud. It has a very clear sound.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

The banjo was set up EXACTLY like I requested. Arthur and I discussed pointedly what I wanted in a banjo. He set it up exactly as I requested. I ran by his shop about 4 months later when I was in KY and he re-adjusted a couple of things. Of course, this is normal. Arthur is great to work with.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

I purposely purchased a more plain banjo. It's not showy. Arthur has those, but, I wanted a plain one. The Buck Creek is a beautiful instrument. But, it's not "in your face".

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Top of the line hardware.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

I've never, EVER dealt with a company that was more interested in pleasing their customers. Arthur told me up front that if I didn't like the banjo, send it back. No other banjo maker that I've dealt with is as approachable as him and Beverly.

Customer Service: 10

Components

Again, top of the line.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

As far as the "pre-war" sound goes, this is a great banjo. I've played a Stelling for years (which I love). But, this one is different. This has the "mastertone" sound. It is as good of a mastertone type banjo as I've played -- but, for half the price of some on the market. Honestly, I can't imagine why anybody that was looking for this sound would go anywhere else.

Overall Rating: 10

Other: BanjoMate Tone Enhancer

Submitted by wtbryant on 3/8/2009

Where Purchased: Little Mountain Music

Overall Comments

Great product for a low-mid level instrument.

The Banjo Mate Tone Enhancer really does help lower to mid level instruments find a couple of things that they generally lack. I noticed two changes in my Japanese made Alvarez Silver Belle. First of all, this banjo was already a good solid instrument. I doubt seriously that this or any other product will made a Lotus banjo sound like a Stelling (I'm sure the folks at Little Mountain music would tell you the same).

The first thing I noticed was a little more sustain. Sometimes, upper level instruments have too much. But, more than often, lower grade instruments have no sustain at all. The tone enhancer helped with this.

The second thing I noticed was just a fuller sound. Oftentimes, a lower grade instrument sounds like all the sound comes from the strings. With the tone enhancer, you can hear the sound coming from the resonator.

Honestly, this is a cheap fix to a couple of less expensive banjo problems. Give it a try.

Overall Rating: 9

Gold Tone: BG-Mini

Submitted by wtbryant on 2/25/2009

Where Purchased: Banoteacher.com

Year Purchased: 2009
Price Paid: 548 ($US)

Sound

For the size, it's outstanding. It is a REAL banjo -- just child size.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

Setup was fine.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

Plain, but, attractive.

Appearance Rating: 8

Reliability

I was surprised. The hardware seems top notch.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Banjoteacher.com was great. Their personal service was wonderful.

Customer Service: 10

Components

I think this will perfectly fit any youth wanting to learn banjo, but, too small to play a full size.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

I would absolutely recommend this for the price. The price I quoted above included a Gold Tone hardshell case. There is no other real banjo made in a youth size that I know of. And, this one is great.

Overall Rating: 9

Tennessee Valley Fiddler's Convention

Submitted by wtbryant on 2/14/2009

Overall Comments

Great festival!!!! Great talent and tons of it. 15,000 people there last year. Great prize money. Great food. The people running this festival know exactly what they're doing. That's why it's been going on annually for over 40 years.

This is my favorite festival of the year!!!

Overall Rating: 10

Johnson: JB-060

Submitted by wtbryant on 5/16/2006

Where Purchased: Beanstalk Music--McCalla, AL

Year Purchased: 2006
Price Paid: 200 ($US)

Sound

Considering it's a travel banjo, I think it sounds great. I've never owned another one, but, I can't imagine that one could sound much better.

Sound Rating: 8

Setup

It was fine.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

It's a travel banjo....come on!!

Appearance Rating: 8

Reliability

It's fine.

Reliability Rating: 8

Customer Service

Beanstalk Music in McCalla has always been great to deal with. Shirley seems like a great lady and lends a lot of help.

Customer Service: 9

Components

If I were playing this regularly or on stage, I would surely change some things. But, for an inexpensive travel banjo, it's as good as you'd expect.

Components Rating: 8

Overall Comments

Yes. It's great for trips. It chords true all the way up the neck and has decent playability. The smaller frets take a little getting used to, but, it's necessary. I'd definitely buy this (for the price) over other travel banjos.

Overall Rating: 8

Alvarez: Silver Belle

Submitted by wtbryant on 5/14/2006

Where Purchased: from my banjo teacher

Year Purchased: 1986
Price Paid: 500 ($US) (bought USED)

Sound

This is by far the best mid-priced banjo I've ever played. Many people have been shocked with how good this instrument sounds.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

It was setup perfectly and I haven't changed anything but the bridge out in 20 years. The only reason I changed the bridge is because it was getting weak. It plays almost as easily as my Stelling (though not quite).

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

It is a good looking banjo. Everything has the looks of an upper end banjo.

Appearance Rating: 8

Reliability

Been playing 20 years and everything is still the same. Guess it was good.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Haven't had to.

Customer Service: not rated

Components

All this was done when I got it.

Components Rating: not rated

Overall Comments

I would absolutely recommend Alvarez banjos. They are good. The ones made in the 70's are made better than those made today, but, even those are good instruments.

Overall Rating: 8

Alvarez: 4294

Submitted by wtbryant on 5/14/2006

Where Purchased: Beanstalk Music--McCalla, AL

Year Purchased: 2005
Price Paid: 817 ($US)

Sound

I own a 70's Alvarez and this one is not up with it. Still yet, for the money, it's hard to beat. After doing a couple of things to it, the sound is as good as anything I've heard for this kind of money.

Sound Rating: 8

Setup

Most things were set up fine. The head wasn't tight enough for my likiing, so I tightened it. As with most lower-mid banjo makers, they put what I call "block" bridges on their banjos. I called Gary Sosebee and asked him what the brightest bridge he made was. He sent me a Style #3 Bosnian wood bridge (5/8"). It made the biggest sound difference I've ever gotten from a bridge. This banjo now sounds hundreds of dollars better.

Setup Rating: 7

Appearance

This is one place Alvarez doesn't skimp. They're instruments (banjos, mandolins and guitars) look good.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

I can't see any problem with the hardware. I've had no problems with it.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

haven't had to deal with them.

Customer Service: not rated

Components

Bridge should be upgraded. But, this is the case with most every lower-mid end instrument. I don't even care for the Bridges that Gibson puts on their new banjos. The only banjo I have not changed the original bridge on is my Stelling. Other than the bridge, everything else is OK. But the bridge has a huge effect on the sound.

Components Rating: 8

Overall Comments

I would recommend this banjo for anybody desiring to have a good playing, good looking, decent sounding (for the money) banjo. I don't think you'll beat it. I'd say (after changing the bridge), this one sounds similar to a Gold Star for similar money.

Overall Rating: 8

Stelling: Virginian

Submitted by wtbryant on 4/12/2006

Where Purchased: Janet Davis Music

Year Purchased: 2006
Price Paid: 4725 ($US)

Sound

Best banjo I have EVER played or heard played!!!!

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Setup was perfect. I was quite concerned about purchasing over the telephone. However, I would recommend Janet to anyone. She did a great job. Everything was just as I asked.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

This is BY FAR the most beautiful banjo I have ever laid eyes on. I originally was going with the Golden Cross. However, I am glad I went with this one.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

This banjo is solid.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

They didn't mind me calling several times. They were always nice and knew their stuff.

Customer Service: 10

Components

Nothing needs to be upgraded. Geoff Stelling puts only quality parts in his banjos. Nobody makes a more solid instrument.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

This is the best banjo in the world, as far as I'm concerned. If you are thinking of getting one, go for it. You won't regret it. Get it from Janet Davis and tell her exactly what you want. She will do it.

Overall Rating: 10

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