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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!

7065 reviews in the archive.

Gibson: J. D. Crowe Black Jack

Submitted by ac5aa on 1/15/2010

Where Purchased: Gibson Nashville Showcase

Year Purchased: 2008
Price Paid: Don't Remember historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

I played a Blackjack a year ago at FQMS and fell in love with it. At that time I couldn't afford to buy one, and had just gotten my Greenbrier to settle down and sound really great. This past December, FQMS didn't have one in stock, so when I went thru Nashville I stopped in and played the one at the Gibson showcase. Wow. Tone galore with notes just popping out, and with that dry tone with a bit of a hollow sound that somehow gives my playing better articulation. Tune after tune that I played sounded precise and super, though the 4th string was not as strong as my Greenbrier's. I think that will gain as the banjo settles in more. (UPDATE - 8 months later - the 4th string really barks now - incredible tone & volume.) I loved the tone, and couldn't pass it up.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Setup was not the best - the strings are a bit high for me - set up for someone who really tears it up. Since it comes with Scruggs medium gauge strings, I'll try moving it back to my favorite GHS PF-145 med-lights and see if that drops the action a bit. Even though it's a bit high, it still plays well and intonation does not suffer. I really like that as my Sullivan is a little more sensitive to that. (UPDATE: I have never replaced the strings yet - I love the tone that much. I did find that the neck had too much bow, and I removed most of that, bringing the action down to a very liveable height now.)

Setup Rating: 8

Appearance

Wow, this banjo looks sharp! The burnished gold is the only gold I'd want on a banjo, and it is very tastefully done on this one. I managed to get a better than usual discount on this one based on the really sloppy job on the resonator rings which are not level with the back and have bubbles in the finish. Finish on the neck is fine, and while the tuners are the ones specified, the 5th string tuner has slop in it that makes it a bit more difficult to tune, but not much. They forgot the JD Crowe signature truss rod cover, but quickly mailed me one once I pointed that out. I'll just store it in the case in the event that I ever want to sell it - not very likely, I'm thinking.

Appearance Rating: 8

Reliability

OVerall, the hardware looks solid (except the 5th string tuner), and should last fine for years. At least that's my hope. My RB-250 looks and acts as solid as when I got it, and I expect this one to be as good.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

Dealing with DJ a the retail store has been a pleasure. I had had bad experiences in that store in the past, but this time easily made up for the earlier ones. He was very cordial and helpful, and has responded quickly to after-sale requests. Since he works for Gibson, I will let that reflect on the company.

Customer Service: 10

Components

As mentioned above, the 5th string tuner is the only part that doesn't look sturdy and robust. However on a banjo in this price range, there should be zero issues of this type. I'm not sure Gibson's quality control is quite up to snuff when it comes to comparing with Sullivan, Huber, Stelling and the other wonderful makers.

Components Rating: 8

Overall Comments

This is the finest sounding banjo I've ever played, and so it is a real pleasure to call it my own. I love my Sullivan Greenbrier also, but it has a completely different tone - richer, warmer. The Blackjack really captures the punch and drive of the pre-war sound that makes my ears pick up and say, "Wow, do I love that sound!"

Overall Rating: 9

Sullivan: Greenbrier

Submitted by ac5aa on 11/12/2008

Where Purchased: First Quality Music

Year Purchased: 2008
Price Paid: Don't Remember historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

I play bluegrass, and my other banjo is a Gibson RB-250. I wanted one with more of the brighter maple tone, and this one really delivers. I'm not sure how they do it, but the sound is reminiscent of the older banjos you hear in the music from the 30s and 40s. I ordered mine with the Old Growth factory floor rim. Tone is good across all strings and up the neck. Moving from X to Y position gives quite a difference in tone, allowing the player to play sweet or bright. Great tone.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

Setup was fair. There were two issues which should not have happened, and my guess is that they have had a slight lapse in quality with Bill's passing. Mine was guilt in January of this year, and when I received it, the spikes which I had asked tob be installed on 7-10 were set too close behind the fret (3/16" instead of 3/8"). FQMS/Sullivan took care of that quickly moving the spikes and repairing the holes. The other setup issue was that the nut slots were not cut properly. I had a local technician take care of that. Otherwise, the banjo arrived spotless and in good playing condition.

Setup Rating: 8

Appearance

It's just beautiful - sunburst finish over flamed maple, vintage tuner knobs, vintage binding with double black stripes, very nice MOP position markers, all make this a very pretty banjo.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Very solid - the Sullivans are very well made banjos, and the Greenbrier is really a prime example of that.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Customer service is the best, bar none. I recently had a problem with the banjo that I couldn't explain well, but which was really starting to bug me. I sent a note to FQMS, and got an immediate response from Eric Sullivan giving me his cell phone number to call him. They shipped the banjo back to the factory, did some rebuild on it (refit neck, adjusted coordinator rods, new head, new bridge) and shipped it back to me all at their expense. Murrell had checked it when it arrived, verified the problem, and then played it again when it was done and pronounced it fixed. It certainly was - it sounds outstanding, and it was accomplished quickly and with smiles from their end. I've never had this kind of positive customer service before, and they've earned my repeat business.

Customer Service: 10

Components

All are top notch components. Some may not like the Presto tailpiece, but I think it's fine and it's a good quality one. I understand much of the hardware is Prucha, and since the Sullivans have been providing much of the top banjo hardware to builders, you know they have the pick of the best available. It's obvious to me that they are choosing that. I love the tone provided by their exclusive tone ring and the Old Growth rim.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

This banjo was not cheap, however, for the price, it offers easily what the more expensive brands offer in outstanding tone, high qualilty materials and workmanship, and, overall, a beautiful and rewarding experience as a banjo player. I would definitely replace this with another Greenbrier if ti were stolen, but I'd hunt down the thief first to try to get this one back. This is easily the best banjo I've ever played.

Overall Rating: 10

Tuners: Intelli MT500

Submitted by ac5aa on 2/22/2008

Where Purchased: Janet Davis

Overall Comments

This little tuner is just barely adequate. It will get your tuning in the ballpark but you'll still need to do final tweaking by ear. Works better on a banjo and a mandolin than on a guitar - it has real trouble with low E. And the buttons rattle, so you won't want to leave it on the instrument while you play.

Overall Rating: 6

Sullivan: Festival

Submitted by ac5aa on 2/19/2008

Where Purchased: Hangout Buy/Swap

Year Purchased: 2007
Price Paid: $1350 ($US) (bought USED)

Sound

I had occasion to stop by FQMS to try out one of the Sullivan banjos. As luck would have it, they only had the Festival, which is the least expensive in their line. They gave me a room to play it for a bit, and I was in love with the sound immediately. If they had had one in stock, I would have bought it and tossed it in with the Gibson RB-250 that was already in my truck. They didn't. When I got home, I checked the Hangout and found this one. Wonderful tone. Rings long and clear, and yet has that "vintage" shading to it that I just love.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

The setup when I received the banjo was excellent, and I have not had to check it in the past couple of months. It just keeps playing well and sounding great. The last owner changed out the stock (Snuffy Smith?) bridge to a McPeake.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

I'm not completely crazy about rosewood fingerboards because the wood is light and finger oils stain it dark turning it a bit splotchy. They have upgraded the inlays from simple MOP dots to something more fancy, and I like that. The fret position markers on the side of the fingerboard are white dots on the amber binding, which makes them a bit more difficult to see in marginal light. Those are very minor quibbles on a banjo that is beautifully put together. Assembly, and component quality is superb throughout. Have I mentioned how wonderful the tone is?!

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

This banjo holds its tune and its setup much better than my 2004 RB-250. So far, it has had no problems, and I don't expect any. There are no chintzy parts - all appears to be top quality. (or should I say, "First Quality?")

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

I have dealt with FQMS, and for $50 they will extend the lifetime warrantee from the first buyer to a subsequent buyer. These guys are outstanding, and I've had excellent dealings with Murrill.

Customer Service: 10

Components

I've read there is a cheaper part of the assembly, I guess it would be the Cooperman rim, but one would never know playing it. All parts seem to be of top quality.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

This instrument has quickly become my "go to" player. The action is fast and smooth. Frets are exactly the right height instead of the very tall ones on the GIbson (which make it so easy to push a note sharp.) It has good tone all the way up the neck, and it rings forever. It's easily as good as the GIbson, maybe better at a far lower price point, if such things matter.

Overall Rating: 10

Eddie Collins

Submitted by ac5aa on 9/28/2007

Overall Comments

I'm returning to playing after having taught myself from Pete Seeger's and Earl Scruggs' books back in the early 1970's. Eddie has lost no time in helping me straighten out some posture and playing position errors, and has improved both my tone and confidence. I've had teachers before who think my lesson time is time for them to chat instead of teach. Eddie uses every minute of our lesson time for instruction and advice. There is no wasted motion or moment!! Lesson time flies, and yet each week I leave richer and excited to try the new things I've learned. He's easily the best music teacher I've had, and his rates are reasonable. For those interested in Eddie's books, they contain a significant portion of his teaching in the text. Very helpful.

Overall Rating: 10

Gibson: RB-250

Submitted by ac5aa on 9/24/2007

Where Purchased: Heart of Texas Music (Austin)

Year Purchased: 2007
Price Paid: historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

As a returning bluegrass player, I decided I'd jump right to the sound I've always liked instead of buying inexpensive, wishing I had better, and upgrading several times. I lucked out finding a new/old stock 2004 RB-250 at a local shop after trying banjos most of the day going shop to shop. This one blew me away when he brought it out. Sounded just like I remembered Earl's banjo sounding on all those recordings I'd listened to for years.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Setup, as delivered, was a little buzzy, but then the shop owner had played with it a bit, and I think he sells mostly electric guitars. So, I can't tell if he set it up or it was that way from the factory. Adding a slight bit of neck relief solved the problem, and it has played great since. A few months ago I took it to FQMS for setup check and to have HO railroad ties installed for the 5th string - thanks to Tim (?) for the help and instruction. Outstanding folk at FQMS.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

Sparse but tasteful inlays, very nice looking mahogany on both the neck and the resonator are all easy on the eyes. Nickel plate is fine, although it's a bear if you want to keep it shiny. I don't bother.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

So far, so good, but then I've only had it for eight months.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

Twice I've tried to contact Gibson about incidental topics, and both times I was given the impression that they really don't care about their banjo customers. My dealer had a very low opinion of them after he was treated badly by them (but he had a lot of class in telling me that if GIbson didn't handle something I needed to bring it back to him and he'd see it got taken care of. So Gibson zero, Heart of Texas Music = 10!

Customer Service: not rated

Components

I'm not competent to answer this question. The tuners seem to work fine, have no backlash, and are smooth. Everything seems to fit together well, and, as noted above, sounds great, so I guess it's all good.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

While the prices on banjos seem to be a lot higher than I had expected (you can buy some extremely nice guitars in this price range), I'm very happy with the quality delivered and the sound that it provides. I love it, and would track down the thief if it were stolen. Compared to the other banjos I tried out the day I found it, this one was head and shoulders above them. I've been very pleased with this instrument.

Overall Rating: 10

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