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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!

6919 reviews in the archive.

Lyon and Healy: College Line

Submitted by tridentum on 11/20/2010

Where Purchased: Purchased from collector

Year Purchased: 2010
Price Paid: Don't Remember (bought USED) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

Nice rich mellow sound. Set up with nylgut strings and original calfskin head. This is a true parlor banjo. It's not going to cut it in a band situation but it works well for relatively quiet solo playing.

Sound Rating: 8

Setup

Original head. Previous owner used light gauge steel strings. Banjo did not have a bridge when purchased. Put a Moon bridge on it and a set of nylguts. Action is perfect. No need to do anything else.

Setup Rating: 8

Appearance

Very nice tastefully engraved inlay and carved heel. Spun over rim and talon style tailpiece. I believe this banjo dates from 1906-08. Metal in surprisingly good condition. A little checking on the peghead overlay, but otherwise in very good condition given its age.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

Nylon strings will keep it safe and sound for another 100 years. Tuners are original, but no need to replace them.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

NA

Customer Service: not rated

Components

Components are consistent with a 100 year old banjo. Tuners are 1888 patent friction types, but they work well enough. No need to change.

Components Rating: not rated

Overall Comments

This old banjo has survived for over 100 years. It should last another with proper care.

Overall Rating: 8

Bowlin: Bowlin 1865

Submitted by tridentum on 11/27/2008

Where Purchased: From John Bowlin

Year Purchased: 2008
Price Paid: 995.00 ($US)

Sound

Low, resonant sound. Pretty much what you'd expect from a reproduction mid-19th c. banjo. Exactly what I was looking for in this type of banjo. Sounds good when you are laying into it and sounds great played quietly. What else do you want?

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Setup perfectly by John. I don't think he lets anything leave his shop without a perfect setup. I won't make any changes to the setup. Skin head was tighter than I thought it would be, just right not to tight but not too loose.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Flawless workmanship, simple yet very attractive. The one-piece neck is a work of art and the "ebonized" rim with antiqued hardware give it a really nice look. Perfect combination of aesthetics and playability.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

John makes his own hardware with the execption of the tuners. All good quality stuff. This is a solid banjo.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

John is a true gentleman; excellent communicator and very patient. There is a warranty but I don't anticipate having to use it. Another thing, when John sets a schedule you can take that to the bank. My banjo was ready on the day he said it would be finished. Few if any makers can deliver on a production schedule with that sort of accuracy.

Customer Service: 10

Components

No need to upgrade anything. Everything is hand crafted, except the tuners which have a nice antique finish to go with the look of the banjo. Grade A stuff.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

If you are searching in vain for an original mid-19th c. banjo to play you can call off the search. John's Bowlin 1865 will fill the bill and be playable and reliable. Great sound, great look and reasonable price. There are a lot of great banjo makers producing early banjos - none are better than John and few can match his customer service. Basically, everything that has been said about the Bowlin is true.

Overall Rating: 10

Buckeye: Custom 12" WL

Submitted by tridentum on 7/15/2008

Where Purchased: Directly from Greg

Year Purchased: 2008
Price Paid: 1550 ($US)

Sound

Ok. I've had this banjo for a year now, and here's the straight skinny - its sound is exactly where I want it - good bottom end with clarity on the hight end. The balance I prefer. Check out my sound clips for an example.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Action was set up perfectly and this banjo is a joy to play. I made some significant changes to set up to suit my personal taste and the skin head has finally settled in for the winter. Greg sets them up nicely but with a skin head you're going to spend some time in the first few days tweaking. I did swap out his bridge as it appeared to choke off some of the sound. and response - at least to my ear, but now I am back to it as the head has tightened to a point where a light bridge was counterproductive. I'm sold on his bridges now as it has settled in nicely. Anyway, I didn't need to change much to move it along - some head adjustment and I ditched the light gauge strings for Ome heavies, which are the only strings I'll put on this banjo. Skin head is now at home and happy.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

An absolute beauty. We went with dark-stained walnut no inlay (by the way, Greg does some beautiful inlay work). Square headstock with routed corners, walnut verneer on the rim and a beautifull ogee at the 5th string; black knobbed tuners. All of the work is flawless. Can't say enough about the neck. Greg's stuff really reminds one of the classic open backs of the late 19th and early 20th century.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Solid banjo, built well, with good components. Should be a horse.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Greg is a fine banjo maker and a swell guy. Communicates well and understands what you want. Plus he tosses in a free t-shirt with your banjo.

Customer Service: 10

Components

All comnponents are of the highest quality. Love the Gotoh tuners.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

Another small-shop banjo maker who is really making a name for himself. This must be the golden age of old time banjo making because there are a host of these guys out there. What separates Greg is his customer service and price range. A custom 12" WL for under $2K is unheard of among the established makers, and Greg's work is outstanding. Do yourself a favor - check out his website and see what he is doing. You cannot go wrong with a Buckeye banjo. Excellent workmanship, great sound at an outstanding price. Well done, Greg! I've had it for a year now and it keeps getting better. If I can scrap together some dough, I'll have Greg make me a Dobson with some of his super inlay work.

Overall Rating: 10

Jeff Menzies: Gourd Banjo

Submitted by tridentum on 1/12/2008

Where Purchased: Straight from Jeff

Year Purchased: 2008
Price Paid: 600+ ($US)

Sound

Typical deep gourd sound. Jeff routed a sound hole in the gourd and it really opens it up. You can actually vary the sound by moving the gourd position. Love the deep resonant tone.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

It's a gourd not a Mastertone. Jeff made a nifty little antique heart of pine bridge that works really well. Action is perfect - high enough over the neck to play off the head. No need to monkey with this one. Nylgut strings with a really nifty bone tailpiece.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

I chose the Jacobs style neck. Jeff used maple with a dark natural stain. Very attractive yet simple. The neck is perfect. Got lucky with a gourd that is close to being perfectly round.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

It's a gourd. It should last forever unless I sit on it.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Now here's the deal. There are a lot of great gourd banjo makers out there, so you can't go wrong with most of the established guys. The thing that might separate Jeff from the others is his personal touch. We were in constant communication during the process. He even went as far as to send photos of the banjo in process. Not many makers do that. He made this banjo in a little over ONE WEEK! Years ago I gave one well-known maker a deposit never got the banjo and had no communication during the ordeal. Jeff is the kind of guy that will bend over backwards to ensure your satisfaction. I'm certain that if anything went wrong he'd fix it in a timely manner.

Customer Service: 10

Components

Nice ebony tuners. Not the cheapies from Stew Mac (which are fine tuners by the way). Nice carved bone tailpiece and the handcrafted bridge of pine. Everything works together to produce a solid banjo.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

Love the banjo. Jeff is a real artist and a great guy on top of it. Buy from him. You won't be disappointed. I'll have him do a custom tackhead for me someday.

Overall Rating: 10

Ramsey: Amish

Submitted by tridentum on 4/17/2006

Where Purchased: Zepp Country Music

Year Purchased: 2001
Price Paid: 664.50 ($US)

Sound

Wonderfully full and dark with enough clarity to cut through in any band situation. Excellent volume and tone. Good quick response for an open-back. 12-inch pot with brass hoop tone ring makes smaller open-backs run away and hide. This bad boy is the perfect clawhammer banjo. It was a custom job that someone passed up. I'm glad that they did.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Zepp had this thing set up perfectly with a Fiberskyn head. I put a 12" Renaissance head in its place. Made a slight difference for the better, but it sounded great with the Fiberskyn as well. Came with a 5/8 bridge that I promptly swapped out for a no-name 11/16 bridge. High action for playing over the scoop. It was custom ordered with guitar frets and they really do the trick. I'm sold on them. Has a wider neck than most banjos out there and the extra width really makes a difference in playability. Gives you a little extra separation between the strings. Tough to describe but it translates to a really nice feel.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Plain Jane banjo with simple MOP dot inlays. Dark stained two-piece maple neck with Martin style tenor guitar headstock. The rim is painted black. Nothing fancy but not ugly. It ain't called the Amish model for nothing. Finish and fit are typical of Mike Ramsey's banjos - very good.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Should last forever.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Ramsey gives you a 5 year warranty. Haven't used it.

Customer Service: 10

Components

5--star tuners, no-knot tailpiece - all good quality components. Hooks, brackets and tension hoop are top quality too. No need to upgrade.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

Great open-back banjo. It has beautiful tone and the larger guitar frets make it a joy to play. Really great feel. For the price, it was a steal. I'll die with this one.

Overall Rating: 10

Gold Star: GF-85

Submitted by tridentum on 4/19/2004

Where Purchased: Elderly Instruments

Year Purchased: 2004
Price Paid: 995.00 ($US)

Sound

Quintessential bluegrass sound; full-bodied low end with plenty of punch; juicy bell-like sound up the neck; outstanding balance across all strings with good sustain and quick response; no dead spots. Ample volume

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Set up by Elderly Instruments; medium low action with light gauge strings and standard 5/8 bridge. I may try an 11/16 bridge but this banjo is happy with the set up as is.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Attractive late 1930s Gibson RB-75 style; flawless mahogany with excellent finish; rosewood fretboard; inlay work is well done; little or no filler. Flange is less refined; some casting flaws. Would rate 10 otherwise.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

Dependable banjo; professional quality. Should stand up to the rigors of performance.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

One year manufacturer's warranty and one year from Elderly. Don't anticipate any problems.

Customer Service: 9

Components

20 hole flathead tone ring with long skirt - very nice; Presto tail piece and armrest are adequate. Tuners have a little extra play in them but keep it in tune. Should be upgraded to Waverlys or 5-Stars. Would rate higher with better tuners.

Components Rating: 8

Overall Comments

Competes favorably with banjos in the $2K range. This is NOT an intermediate instrument but rather a professional axe. As good or better than vintage Gold Stars. Best deal on the market.

Overall Rating: 9

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