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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!

6986 reviews in the archive.

Hugh Hunter: Custom maple tubaphone longneck

Submitted by scruss on 3/26/2010

Where Purchased: Directly from Hugh Hunter

Year Purchased: 2008
Price Paid: 1800 (CAD) historic exchange rates / currency converter


With a long neck, a Fiberskyn head, a heavy Samson bridge and medium/heavy strings, this banjo has a very pleasing deep tone. It's quite loud for an open back, and suits my frailing style quite well.

Sound Rating: 10


I picked up this banjo a couple of days before Midwest Banjo Camp 2008, and it was set up very nicely. While it played beautifully, it took me a while to work out how I wanted it set up.

I added a heavy Samson bridge for a darker tone. Through necessity, I had to change out the Rickard No-Knot tailpiece - there was a flaw in an early batch which caused them to crack at the bolt. It now has a generic Kershner tailpiece. The Shubb long rail capo is almost essential on a long neck.

After nearly two years of playing, I got Hugh to scoop out the neck and raise the action on the fifth. I like a very high action, and I can now play over the neck at all the harmonic points to get a good cluck. With a BanjoMate thinline armrest to replace the nickel stock one, I'm good to go.

Hugh is very good to work with for setup questions. It really helps he's not that far away from me, either.

Setup Rating: 9


From what I learned from owning the Gold Tone BC-350, I was pretty sure I knew what I wanted in a custom banjo. I wanted a long neck, because I'm quite tall and singing in G is a bit of a reach. I wanted a tubaphone, as what's good enough for Pete is good enough for me. The rest, I wanted to be local woods and parts. I also wanted a custom headstock inlay, but otherwise very simple inlays on the neck.

It has a heavy maple block rim, and a five piece laminated maple neck with a beautiful satin finish. Most of the parts are from Bill Rickard. The tuners are Gotoh guitar tuners, as I dislike the weight and inaccuracy of planetaries.

I wanted the banjo to be quite plain, but it's quite pretty in an understated way. Hugh used Bill Rickard's bracket flange, so the pot is undrilled.

Fit and finish is perfect, and still is after nearly two years. There are some pictures in my gallery.

Appearance Rating: 9


I think this will be my banjo for life, and also for several owners once I'm gone.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

I'm lucky that I can get to Hugh's in about 90 minutes. He's very responsive to e-mail queries.

Customer Service: 10


The Rickard hardware coupled with Hugh's woodwork is spectacular. Apart from a faulty tailpiece, everything is perfect.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

This is a custom banjo made to my specification by a local builder. Of course I like it. The price was reasonable, and Hugh is great to deal with. I would recommend his work to anyone.

Overall Rating: 10

Clifton Hicks: Clifton Hicks

Submitted by scruss on 1/31/2009

Where Purchased: (direct from the artist)

Overall Comments

I'd seen some of Clifton Hicks's videos on YouTube, and could tell he was an accomplished old-time player. But the sound quality on those tiny videos doesn't do his playing justice - it's extremely good. He plays a few tunes on low-tuned fretless, and his voice has world-weary edge to it. A couple of the tracks have some background noise, but otherwise this is a truly fantastic album.

Tracks - Jubilee; Cackling Hen; Going Across the Mountain; Wild Bill Jones;
Little Birdie; Morphine; Bright Sunny South; East Virginia; Frankie
And Johnny; Prodigal Son; Single Girl, Married Girl; German War.

Available direct from the artist:

Overall Rating: 9

Mutes: Mike's Banjo Mute

Submitted by scruss on 7/5/2008

Where Purchased: rom Mike Stidd via

Overall Comments

Slightly easier to fit than the Fielding-Cutler, and sounds a little better when installed. There are some rough edges on the aluminium bracket, though, and the nylon bolts may not survive heavy use.

Overall Rating: 7

Gold Tone: Bob Carlin BC-350

Submitted by scruss on 11/21/2007

Where Purchased: The Twelfth Fret (Toronto)

Year Purchased: 2006
Price Paid: $899 (CAD) historic exchange rates / currency converter


Loud, plunky sound - just about right for clawhammer. Initially there was too much sustain, so some foam between the head killed the brightness just right.

Sound Rating: 8


Rather nice - Grant fitted spikes while I waited, which is a tough job with this banjo's very low (mandolin) frets. Head tension just right, and likewise action.

Only major change I've made was shifting the armrest around. Stock, it's just plain in the wrong place. If you shift it round one bracket towards the tailpiece (which requires you to release some brackets and swap the shoes) it's much more comfortable.

Setup Rating: 8


It's a very dignified, simple banjo. Big wide black fretboard, single star inlay on the peghead, and basic dots on the frets. Translucent head and dowel stick make for a handsome banjo.

I'm not wild about the high-gloss lacquer on the neck. It isn't the most enjoyable to play in hot, sticky weather.

Appearance Rating: 8


Tuners have a little more play in them than I'd like, but I haven't had it go wrong so far

Reliability Rating: 7

Customer Service

No dealings with the company, but The Twelfth Fret are great..

Customer Service: 8


Tuners are of middling quality, and no-knot tailpiece is rather flimsy.

Components Rating: 7

Overall Comments

It's a nice instrument and good value, but if you want more plunk for your buck, try the Enoch Tradesman.

Overall Rating: 8

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