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!
6852 reviews in the archive.
I was lucky to find Keith Baumann for a lesson less than 10 minutes from my office. He's toured with the Special Consensus Bluegrass Band and gives lessons in Elmhurst. He's a terrific banjo player and plays mandolin, guitar, dobro, national steel, and pedal steel.
The lesson was an eye-opener for me. Timingwise, I think I'm glad I waited until now, but truly, now it's back to the drawing board.
I had done a pretty good job of working cleanly through Janet Davis. I got a couple pages left on it. By the way, on the disc she has with the book, her "Two Little Boys" recording just sounds great. She smokes the strings on it. I've just started working on it. I can play steady and my right hand and left hand are pretty well coordinated, but …
– What I learned from Keith Baumann:
· I'm really lacking in the rolling speed and bluegrass feel department. I have to spend at least 5 to 10 minutes every day on just playing rolls, and primarily on the 1, 3, and 5 strings to get that "bluegrass sound." With all my work in books I've been so careful about only notching up the metronome when I'm clean where I'm at. – Problem is, I've often walked away from a 30- or 60-minute practice session without ever having really worked my right-hand into a speed and a sound. -- Like Dick Brown says you gotta warm up with rolls. Now I understand.
· My X-position needs to be much closer to the bridge than it had been. The difference in sound is night and day once my ring-finger is about even with the bridge. Plus, since the strings are tighter against the bridge there, there's more staccato attack and firmness in picking. Doing that really brought the sound from my Iida alive.
· Mr. Baumann told me to buy a new Scorpion or Snuffy Smith and get a geared 5th-string tuner. I'd've done that a while ago but was afraid the banjo needed a lot more than that: new neck, new head, tail piece. He thinks not. My set-up was pretty good on my banjo and I’m happy to hear him say that because my banjo set-up was a mess when I bought it and I did the set-up all myself -- slow and steady trial and error style. – Sounds great when he plays on it. I've not been able to find a wrench to mess with the head, but he thought the head tightness sounded good. Other than that, I've changed the action, loosened the tailpiece and moved the bridge, all goofy cock-eyed to get strings 1 through 4 in tune up and down the neck (5 goes flat up the neck, but he says that's the way it always is if 1 to 4 are good). Hey, it helps me a lot just knowing that my banjo is really in good shape.
So, my immediate plans are to get that new bridge and 5th-string tuner, work daily on my rolls, and concentrate on my sound a great deal more especially when my left hand is between frets one and five. I think I’ll also buy Janet’s back-up book, maybe the Pat Cloud book, and a song book from someone else – Trischka, Munde, Wernick. I think I need to start working out by ear something like “Bear Down Chicago Bears” or “Take me out to the Ball Game” to get my head in gear. When I’m digging my sound and my right hand has made some real progress I’ll definitely look Keith Baumann up again -- also Greg Cahill, Jones Family Music, and Brian Munday.
I don't recall the exact cost of the lesson but it was about $40 for an hour lesson. Mr. Baumann plays the banjo very well, and turned me onto some real improvements with my right-hand position and getting a good sound with my rollls. He did not actually assign a lesson.
Overall Rating: 5
Where Purchased: Bud Bennett of BHO
I have a 0.5-inch bridge on my Iida. I was searching for a way to mute the banjo that would allow me to still enjoy good ringing musical sound while it's muted.
Bud Bennett was great to deal with and the mute was what I was hoping for. He sent great pictures because I was a bit uncertain of how it would work with a shorter bridge. In fact, it was clear from the photos Mr. Bennett took of the mute on a 0.5-inch bridge that the screws would need to be swapped out for shorter screws or I would be in danger of denting or puncturing the head.
I believe the Gold Tone mute would work perfectly on a 5/8-inch or taller bridge but on my short bridge the brass and velcro was always in contact with at least some of the strings and really made the muted banjo sound plunky or dead.
By contrast the Fielding-Cutler mute sounds good and I want to continue to play. It also is more quiet than the Gold Tone on my banjo and that is important to my current situation.
Note that my Fielding-Cutler mute does not have the name on it but Bud Bennett believes it to be a Fielding-Cutler. It certainly looks like one. Also, I modified it with shorter screws so that the screws were not pressing into the head thanks to the short bridge.
A mute is critical to me so I wish I had a straight-line tail piece so that the mute could sit more securely without stressing one or more strings so close to the bridge when I'm trying to not mute it but keep it on. Also, for the price of the mute, Fielding-Cutler should save you a trip to the local hardware store to buy shorter screws if you're using a 0.5-inch bridge. They should include shorter screws.
If it were up to me to improve this mute I'd sell it with shorter and longer screws so that the proper length could be selected with respect to bridge heights. Also, I'm now on a quest to mute the banjo just a bit more but still have it sound as good. Seems like it would be possible to add another piece of metal on top of the mute piece or make the mute weight twice as wide.
I have seen mutes very similar to the Fielding-Cutler except for using nylon screws. -- Not certain if the threading of the metal would allow nicely for metal screws, I took a flyer on these other mutes. The metal on the mute is fairly heavy and I have it fairly tight. Also, I anticipate tightening and loosening the mute quite a bit. It's good the Fielding-Cutler uses metal screws.
All that said, I should end with saying this is by far the best mute I've seen or heard and I cannot imagine there a better mute out there for quiet and good quality sound.
Overall Rating: 9
Where Purchased: Perry's Music
-- Good sound picking bluegrass -- especially in first five frets with medium strings: .012, .014, .016,.025w, .011
Sound Rating: 6
-- Was set up with action too low to keep strings from buzzing with heavier strings. Bridge location needed attention. I've added spikes at 7 and 10.
Setup Rating: 2
-- Rosewood fingerboard, block inlays, mahogany neck, nice looking resonator, rosewood arm rest and bridge
Appearance Rating: 7
Tail piece is cock-eyed. -- Friction tuning pegs hold tuning well, except for 5th string peg. I've played it more in the past year than it's been played in its history judging from what I've done to the neck and the head, but it seems built to last if you can put up with that 5th string tuning peg.
Reliability Rating: 7
I've talked to Luthier Bill at Perry's as well as Rob the owner. -- Both very nice helpful guys. I gave Bill my comprehensive laundry list of improvements and he gave me a reasonable price to do the work if I would present him with the new part ... Then I got cheap, worked harder on my playing, and started saving up for my new Sullivan, Recording King, or Gold Star.
Customer Service: not rated
5th string friction tuning peg blows way out of tune if I bump it. I hate that. My upgrades will be a new bridge and a Kroll fifth string geared tuner.
Components Rating: 6
-- Has been a perfect beginner banjo. I'm often surprised by how much I like the sound. I've only ever picked up a couple other banjos. This is a "5" until you consider the $150 price I paid for it, then it's an "9" -- warped neck and all. In the hands of a pro it almost sounds like a professional banjo.
Overall Rating: 5
'dulcijo' 1 hr
'Good Tuesday Morning' 3 hrs
'Centralia Campout' 6 hrs
'History' 6 hrs