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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!

6991 reviews in the archive.

Truss Rod Cover: Tim Davis

Submitted by revellfa on 4/20/2015

Where Purchased: From Tim

Overall Comments

Tim did a great job with a Pearl Truss Rod Cover for my Dad's 1932 TB-3 Conversion.  It was the right size and the lettering was fantastic.  Tim is a great guy to work with who will bend over backwards to please you.

Overall Rating: 10

Necks: Ken Spiers

Submitted by revellfa on 2/24/2015

Where Purchased: Ken Spiers

Overall Comments

Ken built a five string neck for my Dad's 1932 Gibson TB-3 Archtop.  It is now a family heirloom since my Dad passed away a few months ago.  Since this banjo is so special to me I was very choosey about who I wanted to build a neck for it.  After doing a little research I was approached by Ken Spiers who is going to be building necks in his retirement  I told Ken what I wanted.  #1) that the neck be exactly as it should have been in 1932, #2) playibility was the main factor to me, and #3) I didn't want a lot of lacquer on the finished neck.  Ken delivered on all fronts and exceeded every expectation that I had.  The turnaround time was also very fast.  I had my new neck in no time.  I couldn't believe that he was able to make a neck of this quality in so little time.

The Style 3 Inlays were Hand-cut and very, very professional.  Everything was authentic right down to the thin fingerboard (just like Gibson did in the pre-war years.)  Ken used top notch materials all the way.  

The banjo plays like lightening.  The frets are very well done and the neck just feels right to me. This is the best playing neck I've ever had in my hand and I've had em' all--Huber, Neat, Robin Smith, Wyatt Fawley, Bales, Deering, Nechville, you name it.  Ken makes as fine a neck as you can find out there.  Per my request Ken buffed the back of the neck with 000 steel wool.  

Ken was quite patient and answered all of my questions along the way.  We conversed several times during the build and Ken would call me with questions and kept me very well informed.  

Ken works quicly and efficently.  On this particular neck he offered me a money back guarantee.  This neck ain't going back to Alaska, she is staying on my dad's banjo just like his neck stayed on it for over 50 years.  Durability?  This neck will be around when I pass this banjo onto my kids.  I recommend Ken's banjo necks without reservation.  If you are looking for somebody to build you a neck call him now before he gets busy with reqests because he's too good to be a secret for too long.

 

 

 

 

 

Overall Rating: 10

Gibson Kalamazoo: K-RB

Submitted by revellfa on 10/1/2013

Where Purchased: eBay

Year Purchased: 2008
Price Paid: Don't Remember (bought USED) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

Totally unique. You can't get it anywhere else. Funky old sound that will inspire you to pull songs out of a banjo that you didn't know existed. Flatback resonator adds to the unique tone. The tone with the original skin head is fantastic. You will struggle to get volume but tone is fantastic.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

I've never seen one of these five strings that didn't have a bow in the neck. The skin head can be fickle as expected but the banjo is well made and setup fine.

Setup Rating: not rated

Appearance

Simple, straight ahead and beautiful. I love the look with no flange. If you get one with the original skin head that is a bit yellowed you are very lucky indeed when it comes to appearance.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Incredible. Some of these Gibson budget brands look like they left the factory yesterday. The've been around this long but the bow in the neck concerns me with this model. I've owned three five strings and about five tenors. All of the tenors had perfect action and all of the five strings had bows in the neck. That I don't get. The friciton tuners are actually not a problem. I've had Kalamazoos with the original friction tuners that stayed in tune better than any other banjo I've had. Seriously, I've had these friciton tuners stay in tune unplayed for months.

Reliability Rating: 8

Customer Service

doesn't apply.

Customer Service: not rated

Components

Components were the bottom of the line for Gibson at the time but hey, the've held up. No complaints whatsoever. These Gibson budget brands are amazing.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

One of my favorite banjos of all time for two-fingered, clawhammer and general old time music.  Very highly recommended.  Benton Flippen and Doc Watson played these for their entire lives.  Just think of how many times they could have traded up but decided to just keep the old Kalamazoo--that tells me all I need to know about these fine "budget" brand pre-war Gibson banjos.

Overall Rating: 10

Nechville: Vintage

Submitted by revellfa on 5/20/2013

Where Purchased: Goldstarman on the Hangout

Year Purchased: 2012
Price Paid: Don't Remember (bought USED) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

A variety of voices. You really had to "dial in" the tone that you wanted. With a loose head it sounded "plunky" (I imagine an Amber Elite head would really make it sound good this way) and with a tight head the sound was piercing. With a tighter head the sound was piercing. It really had a bark and a pop but it wasn't overly loud and powerful. Not mellow exactly either.

Cut through a mic and recorded like a dream. No unpleasant overtones whatsoever. When you hit it you got just what you needed. Barley needed to play it to make a sound. Very even up and down the neck. This banjo was also good for clawhammer believe it or not. Very versatile and pleasing banjo. Crisp and clear.

Sound Rating: 8

Setup

Unsurpassed. You can adjust this banjo to do anything in the world. Once you adjust it--it stays adjusted. Just unbelievable. Radiused neck and very comfortable to play.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Fit and finish was spectacular. Beautiful traditional inlays. The stain was done to perfection. However in this price range I would expect some fancier binding, perhaps even of abalone. The fit and finish and traditional appearance are good enough keep it from being a seven instead of an eight. Mine had the older black "flange" (not really a flange) which was different and not what some people prefer. They now make them to look like a regular flange. It looked pretty good to me though.

Appearance Rating: 8

Reliability

This banjo stayed in tune from the day I got it until the day I sold it. Unbelievable. I would play 3-4 hours and NEVER have to tune ONCE. This is a great stage banjo for that reason alone. The Heli Mount (I think it's called) stripped out once while I was tightening the head (and you do really have to crank it with all of your strength to get it as tight as I like it.) It was no big deal as there were many more threads to use. Tom sells a special oil that you can use to lubricate the wrench--perhaps I didn't start with enough lubrication. I'm sure it will survive a long time.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

Just call Tom and he will bend over backwards.

Customer Service: 10

Components

Non-traditional design means non traditional components. First of all this banjo has a smaller rim. The diameter was still 11 inches but the depth of the rim didn't seem to be as large due to the design of this banjo. Also, because of the unique design, the neck doesn't meet the rim.
It took me FOREVER to get the head tightened to where I wanted it but after I got her there she didn't move.

Components Rating: 7

Overall Comments

This is one I'd still like to have in the stable. With it's tuning capability, reliability, versatility, construction, and sound it would be a great performing banjo.
IMHO the fact that the rim is more shallow than other banjos and the fact that the neck does not contact the rim sacrificies the volume of this banjo. To me those are two of the strongest components in a banjos sound. Overall still a great banjo as the price reflects.

Overall Rating: 8

Andy Boarman: Dixie Grand

Submitted by revellfa on 4/18/2013

Where Purchased: Private Owner

Year Purchased: 2012
Price Paid: 3500 ($US) (bought USED)

Sound

Suits my style perfectly--I'm a hard driving bluegrass player and also do some Reno Stuff. It can also handle the melodic stuff very well. It has a very bright sound with the flamed maple and the nickle plating. It cuts through a mic like a dream and records very well. It is rich, full, loud, and bright all at the same time. You can hear it from a mile away. The sound is so unique it can fool you into thinking it is mellow when you are playing behind it. Get in front of it and listen to somebody else play it and you will change your mind in a hurry--you can barely be in the same room as this thing yet it isn't a brash sound--it is very pleasant. Nice even sound up and down the neck. Truly rings like a church bell especially in the higher registries. In a jam it seems like I'm the only banjo in the room. It has a 20 Flathead ring (and a heavy one at that I suspect) but you would swear that it is a solid no hole tone ring.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

Set up like a dream. Sound was kinda lousy at first but I knew what I had in my hands and what I could make it sound like. It came to me as a 10 year closet queen. It had been under the bed. The head was very loose and it came with a cheap newer thick grover bridge which I immediately replaced with a Bart Veerman Archtop Woodie (even though this is a flat head banjo. The tuners haven't really been tested yet but I'm sure that they will be fine as they are five-star tuners. Andy was a small maker so the neck and frets could be a bit better--that's why this gets and 8. It plays fine but now that we have all of the production banjos and the smaller makers that have perfected their game and put out some GREAT necks this one could be slightly better when compared to those. The neck is a nice size though--not small but not bulky.

Setup Rating: 8

Appearance

Second to none. Intricate, engraved inlays, abalone up and down the side of the neck, eagle carved into the resonator. All of this on top of some gorgeous flamed maple. Beautiful truss rod cover, brass plate inside designating it as a true "Dixie Grand", Andy's signature and initials on the inside as well. The only thing keeping it from a 10 is the fact that the neck doesn't have binding (although it does have abalone going up and down the side of the neck) and it doesn't have engraved hardware. Those things would have really put it over the top. It also looks like the outside of the rim could have used a little better laquer--it looks a little worn. But what a beautiful banjo--I love looking at it while I play and seeing that beautiful abalone--I just can't stop looking at that!

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

Is there a 10 plus? This thing would survive nuclear war, I'm sure of it. It was built in the era of "the heavier the better." The only problem I could see with this banjo would be the frets but that is true of every instrument so I can't fault it there. I can't see why you would need another banjo as a backup (but that won't stop me from having another ;) Andy knew exactly what he was doing and this banjo will outlast me I'm sure.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Well Andy is dead and has been for about 15 years. When he was alive you could bank on him--his word was everything to him and he was a fine man. I guess I can't rate this one. If I could have rated it when Andy was alive--it would have been a 10.
Andy was regionally famous in the Mid-Atlantic headed South. Folks like Don Reno, Bill Emerson, and Little Roy Lewis (just to name a few) trusted him without the benefit of a warranty card (I miss the good ole' days.)

Customer Service: not rated

Components

All top quality for the period. Andy used only the best on his Dixie Grand banjos. The hardware is solid and this is one heavy, high quality banjo. Andy spared no expense here. I'm guessing the hardware to be Five Star (Stew Mac) and the tone ring to be a Sullivan. This banjo was apparently put together circa 1979-80 so i think these were the only after market hardware and tone ring options at that time. I guessed Stew Mac for the hardware because it does have five star tuners on it. The resonator has tapered wals and the pot is very deep which contributes to the pre-war type sound that you can get from this banjo.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

This actually has the potential to be my lifetime heirloom banjo. I've owned plenty and will be slowing down my banjo consumption so I decided to post a lot of reviews based on the banjos I've owned or played. This one is in the top three no question. The only ones ahead of it are my father's TB-75 pre war conversion and my grandfather's old Bow Tie RB-250 and this one really isn't far behind. The sound is totally unique--bright yet full and resonate. Powerful and loud but not in a brash way. I've never heard or seen another banjo like it. The combination of sound, uniqueness, and quality make this the finest banjo that I have owned overall. If this banjo were stolen I really would cry because there are only about a dozen Dixie Grand models and I'd never find another one like this one anywhere close to this price range. It's a quality American made banjo from a trusted small builder. I really miss Andy.

Overall Rating: 9

Aria: Pre-Pro II, likely late 1960s

Submitted by revellfa on 1/12/2011

Where Purchased: Black Cat Music, Berkeley Springs, WV.

Year Purchased: 2010
Price Paid: 210 ($US) (bought USED)

Sound

Overall very, very good and much better than expected. I am a hard driving picker and this suited my style very well. Great tone, but it lacks the volume needed to play in a jam situation. Very bright and punchy tone.

Sound Rating: 6

Setup

The setup on this thing was good and bad. The good--somebody had shaved the bridge to adjust for a crooked neck. The bad--the neck was about 1/4 inch away from the pot which was a cheap, weak, multi-laminated plywood. It didn't even have a fifth string nut! The string was sitting in the glue that used to hold the fifth string nut! The action was close and it played very well. The neck had a great feel and was very smooth.

Setup Rating: 6

Appearance

Beautiful. Rosewood/Abalone headstock. Brazilian Rosewood fingerboard and resonator. Clear head and Bow-Tie Inlays.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

Cheap all the way around but you know what it is still together, is playable, and has a good sound so I can't give it a bad rating.

Reliability Rating: 7

Customer Service

No idea.

Customer Service: not rated

Components

The standout components had to be the five-star tuners which were fantastic. The resonator was also very nice and I believe was Brazilian Rosewood. The neck was a very nice and attractive mahogany. The multi-ply rim, alum tone ring, tailpiece, and bridge were all light and cheap. Only one coordinator rod.

Components Rating: 5

Overall Comments

Cheap components and mediocre set up didn't make any difference when it came to sound. I got A LOT more out of this banjo than I expected. Honestly, it sounded on the order of a 2005 Gold Star that I used to have in my possession. I traded this to my uncle (he worried me plus I owed him one anyway) but I would jump on the chance to own this puppy again. Overall, for what it is, it is a stellar banjo with the second best sound to price ratio I have ever experienced--the first would be an Aria DeLux that I owned.

Overall Rating: 6

Gold Star: GF-100FE

Submitted by revellfa on 12/30/2010

Where Purchased: Private Party

Year Purchased: 2010
Price Paid: 650 (bought USED) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

Nice mellow, mahogany tone. Not what you would call loud. Don't even think of comparing it to a Gibson.

Sound Rating: 7

Setup

The action was a bit high when I got this banjo. The tailpiece had raised up and looked like it was ready to crack in half which it later did.

Setup Rating: 7

Appearance

Beautiful, classic appearance. Nice grain on the wood, nice finish.

Appearance Rating: 8

Reliability

A wonderful banjo for the price but not as sturdy as the older Gold Stars. The cheap Presto tailpiece did eventually crack in half and had to be replaced.

Reliability Rating: 7

Customer Service

Never dealt with Saga.

Customer Service: not rated

Components

As we know this is the weakness of the modern Gold Stars. The tuners are bad, but not as bad as some of the others that I have seen on the Gold Stars.
The tailpiece was absolute, flimsy, weak junk. When I got this banjo the tailpiece had "given" and was almost as high as the bridge. I tried to adjust it by bending it a little bit and it broke in my hands. I was amazed to see just how cheap and thin it really was. I replaced it with a modern Kershner and the difference was astounding.
Other than those two things, the components are fine.
Again, these are not reproductions of the older Gold Stars which were heavy and sturdy. The modern Gold Stars are lighter and do not have the long-skirt tone ring.

Components Rating: 4

Overall Comments

I bought this banjo to resell which I have now done. Having owned a 1981 Gold Star GF-100 FE I wanted to see what I could do with a modern Gold Star.
Overall the older Gold Stars are much better in every way (except for price!)
This is a decent banjo and I don't know where you would get more for your money. However I don't see any difference (other than the concentric rings on the resonator and choice of inlay pattern) between the GF-85 and the GF-100. So as we always say, "if this one were stolen..." I would find a good deal on a used GF-85 as I believe sound wise and structurally they are of the same mold. Better yet, I would seek out an old Gold Star and really be in business.

Overall Rating: 7

Deering: Goodtime II

Submitted by revellfa on 5/28/2010

Where Purchased: Guitar Room, Martinsburg WV.

Year Purchased: 2003
Price Paid: 365 ($US)

Sound

She had a great punch sound much like the old Gibson kalamazoo banjos of the 1930s.

Sound Rating: 7

Setup

This was the most well set up, easily playable banjo that I have ever owned. The fingerboard was absolute butter! The adjustability of this banjo is amazing. The coordinator rod scheme is like a cross between a Nechville and the older Japanese Alum. rim banjos. Quite fascinating. The easiest banjo I have ever played.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Well, for what it is it was great. The natural finish kinda grows on you after a while. The peghead design has also grown on me. You either like them or you don't and I like them.

Appearance Rating: 8

Reliability

The hardware was fine. The lack of a truss rod bothered me a little bit. Time will tell how the necks hold up in the future. I'm sure that in the future they will be regarded as very reliable instruments.

Reliability Rating: 7

Customer Service

Never had to deal with Gregg and Janet.

Customer Service: not rated

Components

The best component was the neck--very easy to play. The tuners and tailpiece could have probably been a bit better but they can always be upgraded later. However I do think these are like the old Kalamazoo banjos--just leave em' like they are and appreciate em' for what they are.

The multi-ply birch rim on these older ones are pretty good. I've learned to appreciate them as they do produce a great bright tone.

Overall, for the price, a real winner!

Components Rating: 8

Overall Comments

One of the best banjos for the bucks on the market. At home with any playing style--equally at home with two-finger, clawhammer, and bluegrass. If anybody ever stole it, I'd...Oh wait, I already sold it (and even made a little money on it too!) I do however wish that I would have kept this banjo, they are developing a "cult following."

Overall Rating: 7

Recorders: Zoom H2

Submitted by revellfa on 11/12/2009

Where Purchased: Best Buy

Overall Comments

A SUPRURB device. Easy to use, can handle a lot of memory, easy to carry, durable--got rained on for half an hour and didn't miss a beat. Can be used as an audio interface. Can be plugged right into the board during a live show and records great. No need for anything fancier in a portable recorder. VERY easy to use and not intimidating at all. Lets you choose a variety of audio formats, etc. The only thing I would like to see is greater gain adjustability rather than just low, medium, and high.

Overall Rating: 9

Vega: SR II Earl Scruggs Model

Submitted by revellfa on 11/12/2009

Where Purchased: eBay

Year Purchased: 2006
Price Paid: 1500 ($US)

Sound

It has a very loud, tubaphone sound. Lots of volume, cuts through a mic and records extremely well. A very, very quick decay. Awesome and unique sound. More of a Deering sound than a Gibson sound.

Sound Rating: 8

Setup

I was trying to get a pre-war sound out of this banjo so I experimented a lot with it over the few years that I owned it. I made the action a bit lower, added a banjomate tone enhancer and used an Emerson Sweet Power II bridge. I used a thick-frosted five-star head which I kept pretty tight. With this setup I was able to get the most out of this banjo. I have some soundclips on my homepage.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

This was a beautiful banjo. Flamed maple, ebony peghead with Gold MOP on the headstock. "Earl Scruggs Model" in red on the truss rod cover. MOP trapezoid (kind of like a cross between traditional Vega crown and Mastertone Bow-Tie) inlay.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

The finish is famous for wearing on the Vega's of this era (1969) but this one held up pretty well. It was a sturdy banjo.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

no longer in business as this was one of the last Vega's made in Boston before selling out to Martin.

Customer Service: not rated

Components

Kind of bare minimum. Multi-ply (9) rim, three-piece neck, four-piece flange. The tuners were pretty good, as well as the tone ring which was entirely unique. Vega used the Auto-Sonic (or some would say modified Tubaphone) tone ring on these banjos and they are HIGHLY underrated! That is the reason that this banjo gets a 7 and not a 6 in this area.

Components Rating: 7

Overall Comments

This banjo was very adaptable, it was equally happy with bluegrass or with clawhammer and also was not bad for melodic/chromatic picking. Not a bad banjo, but I don't regret selling it as I am more of a traditional, hard-driving banjo player.

Overall Rating: 7

Vega: Vega by the Galaxy Corporation No Ser. #

Submitted by revellfa on 11/7/2009

Where Purchased: eBay

Year Purchased: 2004
Price Paid: 600 ($US) (bought USED)

Sound

Really had a Masterclone sound. Very nice bass. Very loud and full sound. It could hold its own in a jam. You could however tell that it WAS NOT a Mastertone on the last few frets which is totally understandable.

Sound Rating: 7

Setup

Setup was excellent--better than any banjo that I have owned. It looked as though there was a shim near the heel. The action was perfect--close to the fretboard with about an 11/16th bridge on er'. I wouldn't change a thing about the setup on this banjo.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Beautiful. I think it was mahogany, but I don't remember. There was an eagle inlayed in MOP on the resonator as I recall. Rosewood fingerboard, Ebony peghead overlay. Tube and Plate Flange. It had Martin-VIP style MOP inlay and an ample amount of that good ole' Asian lacquer.

Appearance Rating: 8

Reliability

It looked like a good sturdy banjo. Dual coordinator rods, tone ring (tubaphone style I think.) It was a very tough and solid banjo.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

Galaxy Corporation has been out of business for some time and the Vega name now belongs to the Deering Company.

Customer Service: not rated

Components

The neck was nice, but a bit thick. The flange could probably have been replaced. I think the tailpiece was a Waverly. All very high-quality parts.
This was a heavy, well-made, Masterclone banjo.

Components Rating: 8

Overall Comments

For the price it was probably a better overall deal than a Gold-Star from the same time period, so it gets a 9.
I regret selling this banjo, but not every day of my life. (I sold it to take a trip to the Middle-East.) I would jump on the chance to buy another.

Overall Rating: 9

Other: standard

Submitted by revellfa on 12/1/2007

Where Purchased: Janet Davis Music Company

Year Purchased: 2007
Price Paid: $20 historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

It makes the banjo sound great. I noticed an instant increase in volume and tone.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Easy as pie. It is interesting how you can experiment by turning it to get different tones.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

n/a unless you have a clear head--even if you do it still wouldn't look that bad since it is made out of a thin sheet of brass. I'm not too crazy about sticking the adhesive to the inside of my resonator, but I guess there is no other way to do it.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

I can't see how anything could go wrong with it.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

JDM is always great.

Customer Service: 10

Components

just two little pieces to stick together--no problems.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I heard that the old timers used to put a pie plate inside the resonator of their banjo to perk it up a bit. When I saw the Banjomate Tone enhancer I thought it would have the same effect, so I figured that I would try one out. You can't go wrong with the price. It gives the banjo a lot of bang for not a lot of buck. Excellent add-on to a banjo of any quality for that extra zing!

Overall Rating: 10

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