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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!

7075 reviews in the archive.

Bridges: David Cunningham bridges

Submitted by dogsplus2 on 12/28/2013

Where Purchased: Dave Cunningham directly

Overall Comments

I'm from the UK, and quality bridges have to be bought from the US.

After a few years of buying (waiting) and trying, I decided that the Emerson Sweet Power II was the bridge for me.  I've rarely taken it off my banjo for more that a few minutes because I like the tone and volume so much.  I tend to tire of new bridges quickly and the ESPII goes back on after an hour or so.

It's been a couple of years since I've forayed into the world of bridges, so I thought I'd take a punt on some less well known makers, and I'm really glad I did.

I got the Zebra Wood/Katalox bridge 5/8th and standard spacing from Dave Cunningham, bought via the classifieds.  His communication is great and I had it within a week (to the UK over Christmas too!).

It looks great.  Really well made, with no roughness.  A nice design (rounded feet for me), and nice solid wood feel.

I put it on, and it sounds really great.  I have a Wildwood Paragon, which is a really loud (and absolutely wonderful!) Banjo, and it really magnifies any quality or tone issues.  There were none.

It sounded great with great note separation and volume both up and down the neck.  Unbelievably, I think it has more volume than the ESPII, but that's the way Iike it.

In short, there is nothing I don't like about it.  

Will it replace the ESPII long term?  I don't know, I'm fairly loyal to it, but what I would say is, I've had it a day and I haven't been tempted to take it off my banjo yet - which is pretty unusual.

A really great bridge and hats off to Dave Cunningham for doing this - it's finding these little gems that BHO exposes you to that makes Banjoing a real treat!


Update:  Still using this Bridge.  I'm massively impressed by the note quality, the sustain remains fully in tune for the entire length of the note with no 'drop off' which is pretty amazing.  Same for all strings.

Overall Rating: 10

Armrests: Nechville Comfort Bevel Armrest

Submitted by dogsplus2 on 1/10/2012

Where Purchased: Nechville - online

Overall Comments

This is a fantastic armrest. I bought it for my Wildwood Paragon walnut banjo - it oozes quality and is really comfortable.

Don't be put off by the colours you see on tthe website (or other sites) - I contacted Nechville direct and they emailed me photo's of the different woods. I plumped for Grenadillo, but they had two different types of grain in that wood so I could select one that was best for me.

The service from Nechville is also first class - Al Price was a great help.

Overall Rating: 10

Steve Martin / Tony Trischka: The Crow

Submitted by dogsplus2 on 6/25/2011

Where Purchased: Eagle Music

Overall Comments

This contains transcriptions of all the tunes on Steve's 'The Crow - new songs for the 5 string banjo' CD.

It contains enough accessable material to keep a good intermediate entertained, and a good few expert tunes to aim for too.

A great book with good descriptions and foreword for each song. There is a variety of Clawhammer and bluegrass tunes, in a variety of different tunings.

A fantastic book and thoroughly recommended if you like the fantastic CD (if you haven't heard it - buy it too!!).

Overall Rating: 10

Wildwood: Peragon

Submitted by dogsplus2 on 2/24/2009

Where Purchased: Ebay

Year Purchased: 2009
Price Paid: 875 (GBP) (bought USED) historic exchange rates / currency converter


This is a 2005 model bought used but kept in mint condition.

I've had this instrument for just over a month now.

Straight out of the box it sounded great, but be warned this is a VERY loud banjo, my ears were ringing!

The sound produced is fantastic, it is a bright sounding banjo with a crisp fullness across both the bass and treble. I like my banjo's to sound like a banjo (if you know what I mean) and so the bright sound, loud volume and clear notes suit me just fine.

It blew the socks off my previous banjo, and made me finally realise why people spend money on expensive banjo's. It's not that my pevious one was bad - it was a very good intermediate - it's just that this is much, much, better.

The block rim construction really gives it the volume I love.

Sound Rating: 9


It was bought second hand, and had a medium set up, with a presto tail piece and standard bridge. It sounded great like this and was really playable, but personal preference made me replace the TP with my Fults Parallel and the bridge with an Emerson Vintage Tone.

It now has a better and more 'luxurious' sound (in my opinion).

Setup Rating: 8


This is one beautiful banjo. It is the Walnut model, with the burl finish on the resonator which is a deep marbled coffee colour.

It has an ivory coloured binding and also lovely wood purfling along the neck and around the resonator.

The slate like ebony fingerobard with MOP inlay is also very nice to look at.

All in all, one of the best looking banjos I have seen.

Appearance Rating: 10


It really doesn't seemed to have been played much prior to my purchase, so it's a bit early to say about the reliability.

That said, it is a very sturdy feeling banjo, and it IS three years old, and there is nothing that looks like it would wear out, snap or split any time soon. It is a really well made banjo.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

Never used, probably never will.

Not rated.

Customer Service: not rated


The components are very good quality. The presto TP that came with it was first class, and would have been fine, but I just like my Fults better.

The tuners are Gotoh and again, of very good quality.

Nothing is cheap looking and nothing would need replaced unless you decided for sound or cosmetic reasons.

***Now had this Banjo for two years and everything about it is quality. I have had no issues with it at all.****

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

It was an absolute steal for the price I paid - these don't come up very often in the UK and new I would have to pay between £1450 and £1800 to have the pleasure of owning one. I would have paid that for this banjo.

It is a professional grade banjo, that will not disappoint you in any way.

The cosmetic side of it really does shine, the Walnut is really one of the finest banjos I've seen.

I've played the Deering Sierra and Boston, and this banjo is better than those fine banjos IMO.

I probably wont buy another banjo, and the quality is such that it could become an heirloom.

If this was stolen I would be gutted. I would want to buy another one immediately (but probably couldn't afford to pay full price for one).

***Two years on - This banjo is fantastic. It stays in tune so well, is loud and meaty and just oozes quality. I still smile every time I play it, feeling lucky that I was in a position to purchase it when I was. I will keep this banjo forever, and will not trade it in when I buy a Stelling or Gibson in a few years - it's going to be an heirloom.***

Overall Rating: 10

Capos: Regan

Submitted by dogsplus2 on 2/24/2009

Where Purchased: Janet Davis Music

Overall Comments

This is great. I had the Eagle Claw sytem until I bought my new banjo - the EC doesn't fit it well, so I was looking for an alternative without damaging the banjo in any way.

This is ace. It works really really well. It looks like it shouldn't but it does.

Buy it!

Overall Rating: 10

Capos: Earl's Suspender Capo

Submitted by dogsplus2 on 2/24/2009

Where Purchased: Janet Davis Music

Overall Comments

It works well enough. Does what it says, and is a good alternative to drilling your neck.

It's cheap enough to 'try it out' to see if it works for you.

Overall Rating: 8

Bridges: Emerson Sweet Power II

Submitted by dogsplus2 on 2/24/2009

Where Purchased: Ebay

Overall Comments

This is a really fine banjo bridge. I had volume problems on some strings, where they just didn't sound as loud as the others - this bridge sorted it out and all strings sound even and crisp. I've used this and the Vintage Tone (same style different wood) for two years, and although I have other makes (Farquhar, Snuffy Smith) I always go back to the Emerson ones. Nothing matches it.

Overall Rating: 10

Bridges: Emerson Vintage Tone

Submitted by dogsplus2 on 2/24/2009

Where Purchased: (direct)

Overall Comments

I love the design of the Emerson bridges, they give great tone and even volume throughout all strings.

The vintage tone is the holly version, and gives a wonderfully crisp and bright sound to any banjo. I think the Emerson bridges are the best you can get, and I've tried many, many, many, others (I went through a bit of a 'bridge' phase).

This one isn't better than the sweet Power II, it's just different, being brighter.

Overall Rating: 10

Tailpieces: Fults Parallel tailpiece

Submitted by dogsplus2 on 1/12/2008

Where Purchased: (Bob Fults)

Overall Comments

I've been looking to upgrade to a quality tailpiece for a while, and it was a toss up between the standard presto or the parallel, but I liked the idea of even pressure on the strings etc so went for the parallel (straight line).

This is a serious piece of quality kit, it is extremely well made (I doff my cap to you Bob) and is solid.

The Mounting system is great, it really holds the TP in place well with no movement, and a large degree of adjustment is available for the string angle.

One slight draw back is that for some, the size of the mounting system makes fitting your strap difficult. That said, with a bit of thought, my strap fitted perfectly, and the TP is well worth the effort.

It gives a great clarity to my notes, and all strings sound even in volume. I've had clamshell and a kershner type TP's before, and this well and truly knocks them out the park. It oozes quality, and although noticeably more expensive than some others, you can see why once it is fitted.

I'll never change this TP again.

Update 23/5/08: This TP is still going strong - I absolutely love it, the aadjustability is fantastic. Bob Fults is also great, I was over eager in tightening (completely my fault too - I have hammers for hands) and broke a bit, Bob sorted me out and never even asked for payment. Thouroughly recommended.

Overall Rating: 10

Capos: G7

Submitted by dogsplus2 on 12/22/2007

Where Purchased: Janet Davis Music

Overall Comments

This Capo is great, it does the opposite of most spring capo's I've tried - you press it onto the strings to lock it, and press the lever to release it.

It's a great piece of kit that is small and tidy. It works really well, and I don't think I'll use anything else.

It is real small.

Overall Rating: 9

Jay Buckey: Bluegrass Banjo Volumes 1-8

Submitted by dogsplus2 on 12/20/2007

Where Purchased: eBook - website

Overall Comments

I used a lot of great books to get me started, but once I felt I had some of the basics covered, I was crying out for new songs to be able to play - it's what keeps me motivated.

I've only been playing a year, but I truly believe that I made a huge leap forward when I started using the Jay Buckey eBooks.

They come with MP3's for all the tunes, many at differing speeds, and if you use Audacity or a similar program, you can cancel the banjo from the left audio channel and you're left with a great set of back up MP3's.

Not all the songs are the true 'as Scruggs played it' arrangements, but if you can get past that, you are left with great arrangements with just the right amount of challenge for a seasoned beginner/early intermediate.

I'm now playing tunes like Ground Speed and Banjo Signal, which I thought were well out of my grasp at this stage, and it just keeps your confidence high, and enthusiasm up.

The books themselves come in PDF format and are professional looking TAB books.

If you want to try before you buy, he even has a a very large selection of free TAB.

Can't recommend enough.

Overall Rating: 10

Straps: Neotech Super banjo strap

Submitted by dogsplus2 on 11/24/2007

Where Purchased: Eagle Music

Overall Comments

This is great. It seems to halve the weight of the banjo. My banjo weighs just over 5kgs, but feels lighter than my starter banjo with no tone ring!!

A strange concept, but works very very well.

It just doesn't look as nice as a leather strap.

Overall Rating: 9

Mutes: Fielding-Cutler Banjo Mute

Submitted by dogsplus2 on 11/6/2007

Where Purchased:

Overall Comments

This banjo mute is extremely easy to fit and remove. The sound with the F-C mute on is very clear with a slight 'ring' to it, and it very effectively mutes the banjo volume.

It doesn't look great, but then it probably isn't meant to, but it's effectiveness is beyond question.

This may just save my marriage!

Overall Rating: 9

Ozark: BJ600-5 Natural Bluegrass Ozark 2141GN

Submitted by dogsplus2 on 11/6/2007

Where Purchased: Celtic Chords, Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire, UK

Year Purchased: Apr 2007
Price Paid: 330 (GBP) historic exchange rates / currency converter


When I started playing in January this year, I quickly outgrew my beginner banjo which had no tone ring etc.

I was looking for a good heavy banjo with a nice sound that wouldn't break the bank, so after a bit of digging around I opted for this one.

The sound from this Banjo is very loud and crisp, there were no buzzes or rattles and it certainly kocked the socks off my first banjo in terms of tone.

It is quite a bright sounding banjo, but I changed the head to a Rennaisance and the tailpiece to a Kershner and the bridge to a Snuffy (all cheap and easy upgrades) and it now sound just the way I like it.

Sound Rating: 8


Yes - no problems with Celtic Chords setup. The owner doesn't really play banjo, but he plays almost all other stringed instruments and is obviously a reasonably adept luthier. String height etc were standard, which is all I need at my stage.

The only adjustments I made were to change the strings to my preferred options (Bill Keith light/mediums).

Setup Rating: 8


It's a good looking banjo with the natural maple used for the pot assembly. The resonator is also natural maple with concentric circle is black and white. The neck is natural maple with a rosewood fingerboard and wreath style abalone inlay.
The banjo look very nice with the rennaisance head fitted.
That said, close inspection does reveal a couple of small dark spots where dust was clearly not cleared before lacquering . I think this is acceptable given the price.

Appearance Rating: 8


It's still early days, but I don't forsee any problems with the banjo. It is solid and well built, and perhaps the only thing that may need attention in due course are the tuning peg buttons which seem a it flimsy.
I've had this banjo apart, it it does seem well made.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

I've never had to go back to Ozark or Celtic Chords at all, so I don't know.

I can say that the chap at Celtic Chords which is a small locally owned company, was happy for me to spend as much time as I liked playing different banjo's (he had about 12 diiffernet ones in stock) before deciding. He trades on his reputation and I would imagine he would be good.

because it's never been tested I'll make it 5.

Customer Service: 5


I didn't like the clamshell tailpiece. The tuning peg buttons seem a bit flimsy.

Other than that, it seems decent quality.

Components Rating: 8

Overall Comments

For the price I paid, I think this banjo is absolutely fantastic value.

It feels and play like a much more expensive banjo. Prior to puurchasing, I played the Gold Tone OB250 and I felt that this banjo was very similar (and almost £500 cheaper).

I am not a pro, I do not play in a band yet, but I DO plays lots (1-3 hours a day).

I am usually quite obssessive about hobbies, and other hobbies such as photography kept me upgrading to different models every year.

I can honestly say, I will not be upgrading from this one unless I am buying a professional (£1500+) banjo - it really is that good.

Overall Rating: 9

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