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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!

6776 reviews in the archive.

Carl Arcand

Submitted by R.D. Eno on 12/3/2015

Overall Comments

Carl Arcand, Second Life Banjos, in Ulverton, Quebec just completed -- after only a couple of months -- a custom neck for a Vega Style M tubaphone pot, and I couldn't be more thrilled with his work.  Last summer, I ran across Second Life Banjos' website with images of many vintage banjos that Carl has restored or remodeled, and I was planning to drive up and have a look at a Dobson Carl had built a neck for, but someone bought the instrument on line before I could get there.  Not long after, I was offered this old pot, in great condition, and Carl was the first luthier to reply to my request for an estimate.  He also told me he could complete the job before Christmas.  And he has.  He made the bird's-eye maple neck to my specifications -- wider at the nut and slightly short of scale to accommodate my short, stubby fingers, the fifth string dropped down to the sixth fret, a frailing scoop, paddle peg head and low action to make it easy for me to play up the neck.  It is perfectly mounted, using the original dowel stick, and the banjo just sings -- it's bright and pocky at the same time, with terrific volume but not so much sustain that I can't play complicated figures and hear them with great clarity.  Carl also performed a few small repairs and adjustments to flaws I had overlooked and created the instrument of my dreams -- a classic specimen of banjo history mated with a beautiful example of contemporary craftsmanship.  A match made in Second Life Banjo's workshop.  The cost was reasonable, the aesthetic result beyond value, and when Carl begins to fabricate his own pots, I believe the Arcand original will be quite stunning.

Overall Rating: 10

Second life Banjo

Submitted by R.D. Eno on 12/3/2015

Overall Comments

I posted this review under Carl Arcand's name, but for those who search and find Second Life Banjos, I'm re-posting it here.

 

Carl Arcand, Second Life Banjos, in Ulverton, Quebec just completed -- after only a couple of months -- a custom neck for a Vega Style M tubaphone pot, and I couldn't be more thrilled with his work.  Last summer, I ran across Second Life Banjos' website with images of many vintage banjos that Carl has restored or remodeled, and I was planning to drive up and have a look at a Dobson Carl had built a neck for, but someone bought the instrument on line before I could get there.  Not long after, I was offered this old pot, in great condition, and Carl was the first luthier to reply to my request for an estimate.  He also told me he could complete the job before Christmas.  And he has.  He made the bird's-eye maple neck to my specifications -- wider at the nut and slightly short of scale to accommodate my short, stubby fingers, the fifth string dropped down to the sixth fret, a frailing scoop, paddle peg head and low action to make it easy for me to play up the neck.  It is perfectly mounted, using the original dowel stick, and the banjo just sings -- it's bright and pocky at the same time, with terrific volume but not so much sustain that I can't play complicated figures and hear them with great clarity.  Carl also performed a few small repairs and adjustments to flaws I had overlooked and created the instrument of my dreams -- a classic specimen of banjo history mated with a beautiful example of contemporary craftsmanship.  A match made in Second Life Banjo's workshop.  The cost was reasonable, the aesthetic result beyond value, and when Carl begins to fabricate his own pots, I believe the Arcand original will be quite stunning.

Overall Rating: 10

Louis Freilicher

Submitted by R.D. Eno on 12/3/2015

Overall Comments

I just posted a review of another luthier and noticed that Louis Freilicher's name was not on the BHO luthier list.  I hope this review corrects that omission.  Louis, whose website is freilicherguitars.com, has done many jobs for me over the years on the vintage banjos I own.  He has built two necks, a long neck and a flush-fret, both of them gorgeous, remodeled an old Buckbee to give me fretless to the fifth fret, reset a Washburn and re-mated a 1962 Ode aluminum pot with its original extended neck.  His work has always been exemplary, fairly priced, and, what's more, he's a great guy and fun to work with.  

Overall Rating: 10

Mutes: Mike's Banjo Mute

Submitted by R.D. Eno on 3/28/2015

Where Purchased: www.mikesbanjomute.com

Overall Comments

I've tried different banjo mutes over the last 55 years, and I've found Mike's to be the best.  You don't have to take it apart to mount it; you can put it on and take it off with one hand.  It fits every bridge I own, including the Moon Bridge, except the 5-footed minstrel style.  The muted sound is clear to the player but nearly inaudible ten feet away.  At $36 it isn't cheap, but it is fair, and if you want cheap, you can always use a clothespin.  Mike fulfilled my order promptly.  What more could you ask?  

Overall Rating: 10

Barry Sholder: Gourd Banjo #026

Submitted by R.D. Eno on 4/27/2011

Where Purchased: eBay

Year Purchased: 2011
Price Paid: 300 ($US)

Sound

The number 26 is, I believe, an item, not a model number. Each of Barry's gourd banjos is unique, and this one has a distinctive "Woodspirit" carving on the peghead. Fretless, with a tacked goatskin head and a sound hole in the gourd, it produces a powerfully deep and cavernous tone with a soulful, thumping bass. Even my wife said: WOW the first time I played it. It's no longer difficult to imagine how a banjo's voice might have carried in Congo Square or an early 19th century music hall. Perfect for minstrel repertoire, it's a little juicy for high-velocity old-time and late rococo clawhammer (like all gourd banjos, it's not crisply responsive), but it's strong enough to hold its own in sessions, so some stylistic accommodation is in order.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

The banjo played splendidly right out of the carton. I plan to lower the action a little -- easy with the removable nut -- and experiment with bridges, but the hardest adjustment for me is getting my arm around that 11" gourd and keeping it in playing position. The cherrywood neck is a bit long for my short arms and small fingers (and it is designed to wobble slightly against the gourd, which takes some getting used to), but the gorgeous voice just keeps me playing instead of tinkering.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

It's a pleasure to look at, simple and unadorned, with a single ogee scalloped rosewood fingerboard "scooped" at the base, five violin pegs (that hold firmly and turn easily) and a hand-carved tailpiece. The bridge resembles a "Fielding", with five holes and a single continuous foot. The gourd is thoroughly finished and sealed with "automotive clearcoat" that gave off a chemical smell for a couple of weeks and is now odorless. The old man carved into the peghead gives the banjo a distinctive character. I've called him Quickdraw, after my wife's late bridge partner.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

There's no hardware, and the neck is lightly oiled but unfinished, as far as I can tell. The gourd will probably outlast me. I think I've got an heirloom here, but it's not like playing a museum piece. As for gigging with it, its voice is so distinctive I can't imagine what I'd back it up with except another Sholder.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

I didn't even ask about a warranty. It's hard to imagine anything going wrong with this instrument, and Barry offered it at such a reasonable price I jumped for it as soon as I saw it on eBay. He shipped promptly, packed well and corresponded faithfully.

Customer Service: 10

Components

I suppose the gourd itself is the banjo's most outstanding feature. It's thick and robust but not grotesquely huge. Barry has sanded and finished it thoroughly (though not "authentically" -- I don't think they had clearcoat on the plantation) and placed the soundhole facing up so the player can hear as well as the listener or other musicians. The neck is rather wide and flat on the back, and my only suggestion would be to offer narrower necks and alternative nuts and bridges with closer spacing.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I've wanted a gourd banjo for my small collection for many years but never played one that made me want to play it again. I'm glad I didn't get impatient and waited until this one came along.

Overall Rating: 10

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