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!
6935 reviews in the archive.
Where Purchased: Showroom
I pick 3 finger, bluegrass. Hobby, intermediate. I own a Sierra and a Staghorn. Looking for a lighter and quieter banjo.
At showroom; More old time relaxed sound. Sustain and clarity was limited mostly to 3&4 strings and so was the volume. Up the neck was even less in these areas.
After Deering setup and arrived at my doorstep;
Much improved; the head had been tightened some, the bridge properly set, responsiveness was up and some of the hollow sound was gone.
Sound Rating: 7
The setup after I received it was good. The head was noticeably below a G but ok. No truss rod in this model. Everything was clean and wiped down nicely.
The one big thing I did for setup was tighten the head up to a G. Improved responsiveness greatly, added a little volume and evened out the sustain.
Setup Rating: 7
The Artisan Openback is a basic model, with nicer inlays, dark stain, and RR spikes. It looks good for a $600 banjo without unnecessary, cheap looking components.
Appearance Rating: 9
I think 2 things about this, first I think it's made well and for light playing everything is going to be just fine. The finish on the hardware is thinner than my Sierra but it's ok
Reliability Rating: 7
I have worked with CS a couple of time and it's very easy. Good warranty on this and all Deerings.
Customer Service: 10
I mentioned the finish but here I'll say that the tailpiece was a bit basic and the tuners not as smooth as my Sierra but still, it's less expensive and I've no issue with them otherwise.
Components Rating: 8
What I have done is to replace the tailpiece with a Pisgah Hawktail, a very nice tailpiece indeed.
I tightened the head.
I had a scorpion bridge, wow, nice improvement especially up the neck.
last was I replaced the Deering light strings with my favorite 5-Star lights.
Now it sounds wonderful, 9 of 10.
Overall Rating: 8
Where Purchased: eBay music store
I picked this up as a warranty return. I was looking for a travel banjo that wouldn’t break the bank. Out of the box it was bad. 5 string buzz, unresponsive, dull and hollow. Sustain 2 out of 5.
Sound Rating: 5
Between Ibanez and the retailer someone really dropped the ball on this. Starting at the top the strings had too much wound on the post. 5th string had cut into the binding and buzzed on the 5th fret as the peg was cut too deep. The neck was loose as was the head. Tailpiece was non adjustable because it was mis-stamped during manufacture. Resonator was loose and couldn’t tighten it due to jacked thread inserts.
Setup Rating: 1
The tree inlay up the neck is the one and only one feature that’s nice on this instrument. The gloss shellac is thick as on most Asian banjos. Hardware is devoid of flash but looks like what it is, cheap. Under the resonator, base of heal were a couple nicks from something. Did it leave the factory like this? I hope not.
Appearance Rating: 6
Hardware is thin and while shiny it’s still grainy because plating is so thin. 2 piece flange is OK overall. Tuners are ok with a moderate amount of slop in them. 5th string tuner seemed out of position. The tailpiece like I said, not made right and thin, just not good.
Reliability Rating: 2
N/A on this one. I can say that I got some of the original paperwork with the banjo and no customer service # anywhere. The website does have contact information but I have no experience.
Customer Service: 5
The acrylic neck and headstock inlay are nice.
The pot and neck made from sapele wood. An African mahogany replacement. The block rim has 4 blocks.
Armrest is ok.
Chip wood resonator.
Felt on resonator heel notch not glued in.
Components Rating: 2
Avoid unless it's free. Sorry to say.
so I fixed each and every issue and sound was improved from a 1 to a 5. All the money here is in the neck so the pot is so cheap as to ruin the whole thing.
Overall Rating: 3
Where Purchased: Sevierville Pawn, Sevierville, TN
Year Purchased: 2017
Price Paid: 1400 ($US) (bought USED)
l play 3 finger bluegrass mostly so this fits pretty well at this price. If I had to describe Deering banjos with the 3-ply maple rim and the 06 tone ring that I've heard/played I would have to say the sound is vanilla. This late model Sierra has good tone bottom to top except the 2nd and 3rd string way up seem a little weaker than the rest. It doesn't really growl but it is clear and deep. Highs are clear and bright but lack a little dry crispness you might hear in an old Gibson or others. Bing maple, it's very responsive and a little clearer than the regular mahogany so to say it's less forgiving is true. A lighter touch immediately turns down and softens the tone.
Sound Rating: 8
So I picked this up in late 2017 from a pawn shop. Original case and original shipping box so I was able to determine that this was made in 2016 and was purchased at a music shop that year. Sometime after it was pawned. This Sierra had been taken apart by a non-qualified someone or at least put together like so. Point being it had no setup when purchased. I had to take it partially apart and get it right from the bottom up. These days it has mostly the Deering set-up tolerances except the tailpiece is just off the tension hoop instead of being right on it. It came with a regular Deering bridge and I switched to a Deering signature which was ok but now I actually have a no name bridge on it that came with a used Stelling I bought and that bridge sounds the best. I use Mapes strings on it and that's where it's at these days.
Setup Rating: 9
it's really nice that Deering upgraded all Sierra's with the inlays in 2014. Other than that, once again it's pretty vanilla. Bound resonator but no neck binding. Sierra's are all matte lacquer which is just fine, nothing too fancy and actually the neck is great with that matte finish. All the hardware looks great. No flash left on, everything is smooth and glossy.
Appearance Rating: 10
All good materials here sans the lacquer on the headstock which has some slight moisture clouding. Strong and well built mostly. Note that this Sierra came with factory RR spikes, great but the tops were sharp until I removed them and smoothed them down a little.
Reliability Rating: 8
I've contacted Deering twice about this instrument. This first was to ask when this banjo was built and the second was about the headstock finish. Both times it took about a week for a response and no warranty for the finish for an original owner, so certainly not a second owner. No worries, I picked up a 3000 banjo for 1400, I'm happy.
Customer Service: 7
All together it's a great entry/pro banjo that's make with quality parts right out of the box. While you may not see any headliners with a Sierra, I strongly suspect that there are plenty of pro "practice" banjos with the Sierra name on them and studio banjos as well. I did put Kieth tuners on mine but not necessary.
Components Rating: 10
It's a good instrument for the $3000 price tag and even better as a good used model for less. It looks good and sounds good overall.
Overall Rating: 9
Where Purchased: Banjo warehouse
For 5 string bluegrass style the Staghorn by Stelling is not the best choice for the twangy Gibson prewar sound. This banjo is loud, precise, and crystal clean. Full and bright from bottom to top. Of course this causes a couple of problems. One being tuning MUST really be precise. Any variation in tuning is immediately noticeable. Another issue is it really takes a deft and gentle touch to tame the beast so it goes hand in hand with no forgiveness. So these are really not problems if you can handle them. Geoff has a particular tuning sequence he prefers and it helps make tuning easier. Adjusting is pretty simple and the banjo reacts immediately and as expected. I should say that this banjo is maple and has an original 3 ply rim. All adjustments are within Stelling specs.
Sound Rating: 10
When purchased it came with a Deering head and a no name bridge. I replaced them with Stelling parts. The felt washers on the tuners were worn out so I replaced those with leather. The pancake tuners have a touch of slop wear in them but not ready to change yet. I really like the floating tailpiece and of course the wedge fit tone ring is the way all banjos should be made. Update 2 changes I’ve made; 1 is the head is now a 5 Star and 2 I went to a scorpion bridge. The sound is just incredible!
Setup Rating: 10
For a 32yr old instrument it’s in great shape. Flamed maple neck and the resonator looks like quilted maple. No horns on this resonator but that’s ok. When it arrived a few spots were dull but a few minutes with Mothers chrome polish on the metal and wood worked wonders. All the inlays, perfling, and binding look great still, no problem whatsoever.
Appearance Rating: 10
As expected all hardware and the finish is top quality for its day so it’s difficult to tell from 5 feet away that this banjo is 32yr old. This is not my primary banjo but I do play it 2-3 hrs/week. Holds a tune within reason and I’ve never had any issue with it.
Reliability Rating: 10
Geoff has answered several questions I had about this particular instrument and recommended parts and procedures so I could get the most out of it.
Customer Service: 10
It’s well known that many pickers are also tinkerers. I try to be reasonable with changing things so that’s why I went back to original parts on this and then to the head and bridge upgrades. The Staghorn is usually walnut and this one is maple.
Components Rating: 10
This Staghorn was beautiful when it was made and it’s just as beautiful today, and most likely sounds better. This is a professional instrument capable of a vast array of sounds and adjustments to suit the needs. It’s also an investment as outside of old Gibson’s, Stelling holds value, attesting to their quality.
Overall Rating: 10
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