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!
7170 reviews in the archive.
Where Purchased: Online (backyardmusic.com)
Year Purchased: 2007
Price Paid: 139 ($US)
I'm learning clawhammer, and this banjo fits it fairly well, particularly if you have a back-porch attitude, as I do. This banjo has a relatively quiet, mellow tone. It's got a wooden head (with medium strings on it) and compared my other banjo (a secondhand "you can learn on it, but it ain't much" job) it has a smooth, not nearly so jangly sound--just right for practicing, because it's quiet and you can hear what you're doing. It rings fairly well, altogether, but it's more a round-the-house kind of sound--not loud enough for jam sessions or anything, but I can sing along with it and not feel drowned out, even though I don't have too strong a voice. My wife calls it "rather pleasant, and not intrusive" (which counts for quite a lot after you've run through "Old Joe Clark" a dozen times).
Sound Rating: 7
Tune it up and go. Nice action, very playable, and It holds tune really well, by the way--much better than my old one--and it retunes real quick and easy. To be fair, I am a novice, and haven't put my hands on too many nice instruments, but I was definitely impressed.
Setup Rating: 9
It looks homemade, but not in a bad way. Nothing fancy, but it doesn't look slapped-together either, if you know what I mean. You can see the pictures on the website (www.backyardmusic.com).
Appearance Rating: 7
It's light in the pot (it is a fiberboard/resin hand drum ring, after all), and takes a little getting used to (it helps to screw a couple eye bolts into either end and put a strap on it), but don't let the "cardboard" bit put you off--it's felt pretty sturdy thus far (a week or two), and I have no intention of leaving it out in the rain anyway. The first one I got had a couple of glue issues (see below), but now that that's all sorted it feels pretty solid.
UPDATE: four years later, and hundreds of hours played, and it's still solid as a rock. No issues at all with reliability.
UPDATE: 2016, still solid. No issues.
Reliability Rating: 10
Best ever, and I mean that. Much more than anyone deserves for a $140 banjo. As mentioned above, I had a couple glue issues with the first one (head came loose), but I was able to send it back and get it fixed up with no hassle at all. Beyond that, I've kept in touch with the maker, and have been able to ask all sorts of questions related to setup, strings, troubleshooting, etc. (he's the one who told me about putting on a strap to counteract the light pot). But here's the kicker: he let me try it out before I bought it, and the glue issue and all the other stuff took place before I'd even paid for it--he's a really nice guy who seems genuinely interested in the wants and needs of his customers, which is far too rare a trait in my experience.
Customer Service: 10
Overall, it feels and plays better than my old secondhand import, and while it's certainly inexpensive, nothing seems weak. The components are working well enough I don't have to think about them, which is all I need.
UPDATE: still rollin' four years later ... The only thing that I've come up with here is that the fifth string can be hard to change, but it's not too big an issue if you're a little patient.
UPDATE: 2016, and no issues with the hardware.
Components Rating: 8
This is a great starter or practice banjo. It's easy to play and has a nice not-too-jangly sound. It isn't loud enough for jam sessions or anything, but that also means that it isn't quite loud enough to irritate spouses, housemates, or neighbors when you're playing "Old Joe Clark" for the hundredth time. I haven't had it long enough to tell yet, but I suspect it will hold up for a good long while, and in any case, if you're just starting out, you can probably get pretty good playing this one to death (quietly) before you move on to bigger investments and bigger sounds. In any case, at 140 bucks you're not losing much, and it beats the pants off the secondhand "you can learn on it" banjo I started with. I don't want to overdo the review, because it is what it is, and I don't have a lot of comparative experience, but overall I'm pretty impressed.
As of May 2009, I am still playing the heck out of it, even though I now own a couple of nice "real" banjos. It's held up really well--no issues at all, still solid, still holds tune really well. If it was stolen, I'd definitely get another, and if I ever decide to go fretless, I'll start with a fretless fireside.
As of May 2016, this thing is still rolling ... I don't play it as much as I once did (three kids in, since the last update), but I bring it out a couple of times a week, and it has survived six years of small children trying to help me play.
Overall Rating: 10
'Morgan Monroe Admiral' 2 hrs