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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!

6857 reviews in the archive.

Enoch: Tradesman

Submitted by Stev187 on 8/5/2007

Where Purchased: Clifftop, WV (from Kevin)

Year Purchased: 2007
Price Paid: 925 ($US)

Sound

I am still getting used to this one. It's much brighter than I expected. Because there's no tonering, I expected a thumpier sound. When I got home from Clifftop I immediately switched to a Fiberskyn head, which to my ears is much better. In fact, when Kevin gave me the banjo, he gave me this little "lufa" piece of fuzz to stick inside to, in his words, "calm down some of the overtones." For my ears, it needed more than calming down with that Renaissance head on there; it needed some valium or something. I like the sound now, especially in a jam setting.

Sound Rating: 8

Setup

As Elderly notes, the set up on these is higher than most, which is fine by me. The scoop makes clucking really easy. My understanding is that Kevin doesn't build these himself.

Setup Rating: 8

Appearance

Very simple. That's what I wanted. I love plain. This thing is brown paper bag plain, though. I mean, you can't get much plainer.

Appearance Rating: 8

Reliability

Partly the nature of this banjo, its construction is a bit lighter than some others. You could gig with it without backup. It was a perfect festival banjo--in a gig bag, it weighs nothing. It was easy to carry it AND a large string bass at the same time.

Reliability Rating: not rated

Customer Service

Kevin was a dream to work with. He responsed promtly to e-mails and talked with me on the phone. He hand delivered the banjo to Clifftop. He put up with my request for no "burning" logo on the back of the peghead. He gets highest marks for service.

Customer Service: 10

Components

I'm not nuts about the Gotoh planet pegs on this thing. They seem to work fine, but they have a "light" touch and require a little more re-tuning than the 5-Stars I am used to.

Components Rating: 6

Overall Comments

I would recommend this banjo, yes. For what it is, I think the price point could be a bit lower, but I obviously felt it was worth $900.

Overall Rating: 8

Ramsey: Standard

Submitted by Stev187 on 2/1/2007

Where Purchased: from Mike

Year Purchased: 2006
Price Paid: Don't Remember historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

Great sound. Just excellent. Mike shipped it with a fiberskyn head (that's what I said I wanted). He didn't try to talk me into a Renaissance head, but I bought one from him anyway. I put it on about 2 days after I got the banjo and it's staying on. The Renaissance head really completes this banjo. Also, the 12" pot makes this a "boomy" kind of banjo. I'm still getting used to it. As a former electric bass player, this banjo is my Fender P-Bass, and my Reiter is the Fender Jazz.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

The banjo was set up very nicely when it arrived. I'm still learning to play fretless, so it's rather difficult for me to tell. Mike set it up with a 5/8" bridge.

Setup Rating: 8

Appearance

I am a sucker for simplicity. This banjo really does it for me. It has absolutely no inlay whatsoever--by my request. The wood is very nice, and the finish is smooth and shiny. This is an instrument that won't call attention to itself, and that is by design. The peghead shape is beautiful, and I am still getting used to the thickness of the peghead vaneer. It's a stunning banjo.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

This banjo looks like it will last forever. Mike shipped it in a TKL hard case, which is equally tough.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Mike is great to deal with. I know he's backed up on the banjos he's making, but this one was really simple. I really appreciate him working on it for me. As others have mentioned, you need to work to get a hold of him sometime, but he's reachable, reliable, and fun to talk with.

Customer Service: 9

Components

Mike uses really good stuff--5 star planet pegs, etc. It has a no-knot tailpiece. I'll probably lose the bridge and get something nicer. I am also going to replace the plastic tuner buttons with ebony. Apart from that, it's your basic banjo parts. I did notice that the 5 star pegs aren't as solid and accurate as the Schallers on my 1984 Reiter. But, as Mike says, those Schallers are "fugly."

Components Rating: not rated

Overall Comments

I've never had an instrument built especially for me. It was cool. This will be my banjo forever, along with my beloved Reiter student. They make a good pair. I would recommend Mike's banjos to anyone. There is a reason he has the reputation he does.

Overall Rating: 10

Bart Reiter: Student

Submitted by Stev187 on 2/1/2007

Where Purchased: Elderly Instruments

Year Purchased: 1995
Price Paid: 500 ($US) (bought USED)

Sound

This is Bart Reiter banjo #46, his former "Student" model made back in 1984. This banjo is my soulmate. It has a crisp, clear tone that is just plunky enough. The sound decays at a moderate rate, but it can also sustain notes well. This was the perfect banjo for me playing in a string band.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Soon after I bought the banjo, I had David in the Elderly repair shop scoop the fingerboard, add a taller bridge, and tweak the banjo for my agressive bass-player like clawhammer. Until now, I have had the same funky, discolored fiberskyn head on it. Lately I have been experimenting with new ones.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Bart no longer makes the student model. He told me that he upgrated the appointments on this model, which became his Standard. This banjo has a one-piece mahogany neck with a thin, dark Rosewood peghead vaneer. It has a rosewood fingerboard. The lines are subtle and elegant. Can you tell I love this banjo?

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Everything is very basic (the type A tailpiece, for example) and yes it has lasted. The finish is ROCK SOLID. This instrument has been ridden hard and put away wet for years. I used it for many years on gigs without backup.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

I've never had to work with Bart about the banjo. When I inquired with him about the model, he sent a very prompt (but brief) reply to my question. He's earned the reputation he has--he's a great banjo builder.

Customer Service: 10

Components

The Schaller tuners are functional but ugly. They are more accurate and dependable than any I've seen, which is why I don't replace them (though just about anything would look nicer). The Type A tailpiece is kinda cheap, but it's still working.
[UPDATE: I have replaced the tailpiece and tuners: No-Knot tailpiece and 5-Star tuners. I'm really happy with them--I had to use acid to dull the finish so they would match the other hardware.]

Components Rating: 8

Overall Comments

I can't be objective about this banjo. I feel very fortunate to have found it used when I did. If something happened to it, I would be very upset. I'd probably try to have Bart build another, but I'd get a 3-piece neck. This neck has stayed straight over the years, and I love it.

Overall Rating: 10

Saga: SS-10 Pony

Submitted by Stev187 on 12/26/2006

Where Purchased: eBay

Year Purchased: 2006
Price Paid: (bought USED) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

This banjo and I are still getting used to each other. Cheap banjos don't offend me--I still love my old Harmony which is on indefinate loan to a buddy in another state. This is definately a "cheaper" make, but I am impressed with it for the price. I don't have the instrument set up the way I want it, so it's hard to judge tone. It's really balanced below the 5th fret, and a little too quiet farther up the neck. It's got more personality in the bass than I figured it would. I currently have it in an open E tuning ( bEBEF#) and it seems to like that one.

[NOTE: I no longer own the SS-10P. I sold it on eBay for about what I paid. I'm glad I had a chance to hang out with it, but I wasn't playing it much, and I reinvested the dough into instructional materials]

Sound Rating: 5

Setup

Set up well, but not for me... I'll be adding a taller bridge and a fiberskin head.

Setup Rating: 5

Appearance

It's actually nice. I could lose the "saga" script, but it's growing on me. Again, the workmanship is factory-like, but there are no flaws. Nice looking.

Appearance Rating: 7

Reliability

I think this will hold up, perhaps not as well as the Stewarts that inspired it. I am really glad that someone is making a decent clawhammer banjo in the $300-$400 price range.

Reliability Rating: 8

Customer Service

n/a

Customer Service: not rated

Components

The planet pegs are el cheapo, but they work and keep it in tune. Part of me wants to replace them, but why? Save that moolah for another banjo, eh? Everything else appears middle of the road--about what you'd expect.

Components Rating: 5

Overall Comments

I won this auction by mistake--that is, I put in a low bid, expected to get outbid and didn't. I was kind of bummed about it, but I follow through on everything, so I send off the dough. It's actually been a cool addition. I have a rag stuffed in the back, and it's my "after dark" banjo now; I can play it in the living room after everyone goes to bed and nobody comes down to tell me to knock it off. In my house, nobody is my wife and two small kids. If it's not bothering them, that's okay with me.

Overall Rating: 8

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