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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!

6864 reviews in the archive.

Smith: Walnut Legend

Submitted by FiveStringPop on 5/29/2008

Where Purchased: Strawberry Plains, TN

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

Sound

This banjo was built for my playing style: bluegrass, hymns, traditional music, and even some contemporary praise and worship. Its sound is very difficult to fully describe. Sound files are located at my home page, recorded with a Zoom H2 placed 12” from the head. I would encourage anyone interested to listen to the samples I have uploaded to hear what Kyle’s product is capable of. It has the woody knock and depth of walnut with just enough bite. There is plenty of hollow pop, with sustain for the slow stuff, and enough decay to produce clarity of individual notes on faster material. The third string growls and accents my attempts at 2-3 push-offs, and the fourth string booms, bringing out everything my 0-2 hammer-ons and 2-5 slides have to offer. The 2nd string is fairly strong as well. In fact, the volume of each string is very well balanced in the open positions, fretted low, as well as up the neck. I would say this banjo produces the sound I hear on my favorite classic albums and CD’s: full, deep, rich, musical, hollow, complex.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Set-up is Kyle’s specialty. Kyle set this banjo up in a lower window of head tension, with not a lot of downward force on the tailpiece. The action is easy and the neck incredibly forgiving because the frets run edge to edge, over the binding, with a small bevel at the ends. The intonation is virtually perfect with an almost undetectable skew of the bridge. The 5th string pip is even with the 5th fret, instead of behind it. How Kyle achieves the decay and hollow pop at this “setting”, while allowing sustain to come through on the longer notes of slower tunes is a mystery to me. His electronic voicing of this instrument nailed the tone, timbre, and color I was looking for. He even remembered I like the wider Crowe spacing on the bridge. I have not changed and am not tempted to change a thing.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Incredible burl walnut resonator and very unusual figuring in and around the heel in the one piece, walnut neck. If the outside edges (ears) of the peg head are glued on, I cannot see the joints. The head stock is double cut, with “Smith” inlayed in pearl. It is adorned above the nut with a slender, pearl, truss rod cover. The fingerboard is beautifully grained rosewood with the traditional (and my favorite) flying eagle inlay, finished off with a nut and 5th string pip of pearl, and the “Legend” block at the 21st fret. Features in the fingerboard grain are echoed in similar grain patterns in the walnut neck. The two were intentionally paired together. White/black/white binding dresses the edges of the neck and resonator. All hardware is nickel plated. Very good, consistent, fit and finish work throughout. A classic, timeless appearance to match the sound.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Kyle uses well known, tried and true components and traditional finishing and assembly methods. With the heavier Prucha flange, there should be no problem with it pulling up. The lacquer is of a depth and gloss, and the fit and construction solid enough, that it will withstand any normal handling and playing, allowing this banjo to become an heirloom to my grandchildren. It will definitely outlast me. I have three reasons why I am even considering keeping my other banjo: 1.) for practice, 2.) playing tunes requiring Keith tuners, 3.) and potential pickers coming along in the grand kids sprouting up around me.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Kyle guarantees his work for as long as I have this banjo. He has continued to follow up after the sale to find out how the banjo is settling in. He is definitely concerned that his customer is satisfied with his product. He has even offered a different set up in a higher window head tension should I decide upon more power and authority (with some increase in brightness). Looks like he’s already prepared to make adjustments as I get older and begin to lose my hearing due to this beast!

Customer Service: 10

Components

Waverly tuners on strings 1-4, 5-star on 5th, all with ivoriod buttons. These tuners turn smoothly and hold tension very well. Presto tailpiece; Prucha OP flange and hardware; pearl nut and 5th string pip; Scorpion, purple ebony topped bridge; Remo head; deep, tapered-wall, poplar-lined resonator; and GHS PF175 Sonny Osborne Medium Light Strings, 11, 12, 13, 22W, 11. All of this is wrapped up in a nice TKL Professional Series case.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I took a banjo to Kyle in December for a set-up. The change he made was so remarkable, I was sure I could forget ever wanting another banjo. I was wrong. It turned out I had been given a taste, an appetizer. Kyle is the most under-rated banjo luthier in the business today. His care and concern for the customer, and their instrument is truly unique. Five weeks into owning this Legend, I am more convinced than ever that this purchase has been, and will continue to be, a joint venture. In “birthing” this banjo, he may be aware of its minor flaws and imperfections, but he also “raised” it to a level where its strengths and personality stand out and make a parent (as well as its partner) proud. It will be hard to look anywhere else should I consider another banjo purchase. The variety of sounds he has enabled this thing to produce is my favorite feature. I would buy another banjo from Kyle without hesitation. I got more than my money's worth. Kyle K. Smith is making Legends, one at a time, in more ways than one.

Overall Rating: 10

Kyle Smith

Submitted by FiveStringPop on 2/19/2008

Overall Comments

Kyle Smith performed his renowned electronically voiced set-up on my banjo on Dec. 31, 2007. He was very meticulous in every detail. He listened to my banjo before dismantling it, and cleaned every component prior to reassembly. Based on what I wanted the timbre to be, he offered a selection of heads, and then recommended a bridge material and weight. With those chosen, he began to reassemble the banjo. He had gages and templates for everything, such as string angle as it breaks over the bridge toward the tailpiece. He adjusted the neck relief, bringing the strings closer to the fingerboard, buffed out two places on the resonator that were cloudy, and installed spikes for the 5th string. He installed new strings, selecting a gage that would help in balancing the volume due to the 1st and 5th being louder in the set I had been using. After, a little more tweaking of the head tension, he handed me the banjo to play. Even without the resonator, I could tell there was more than just a shine on this thing, he’d done something serious under the hood!

Then he disappeared for a little while to make his final, proprietary adjustments while Cody showed me around, introducing me to Hot Shot and all the other critters.

When he got back, he reinstalled the resonator and sat me down to play. Wow, what a difference! My banjo is maple with an ebony neck, chrome plating, and has a 2-pc flange. Each of these contribute to making a banjo bright. Over the last year, I have been battling those factors in an attempt to reduce some of the brightness, and I actually succeeded in getting it out of the “tinny” range. Kyle’s changes doubled my original reduction in brightness (it’s still the same components and thus bright) but added a “character” and “body” to the banjo that are difficult to describe. He made the sound three-dimensional, it’s no longer a flat plane. The change in tone from playing near the bridge to near the neck has increased tremendously. The percussive reflex… the slight popping echo, and the balance up and down the neck are really hard to explain, and new to this 30 year old instrument. Each minute I played it in his shop was like it was aging one year in tone. Kyle has invented a time machine!

The banjo will sustain a note when I hold it, great for playing slow stuff, and yet decays fairly rapidly if I'm playing a rapid succession of notes. How is this possible? My set-up created an overflow of notes running together.

After being back home with it for a week, I capoed up to “B” and cranked into Train 45. When I jumped up the neck to play out of the “Em” position, I had to stop. I played it again at half speed, then slower, then faster. Then I stood near a wall so I could hear more. There was another level of the pop and echo coming out, not overpowering, but definitely distinct.

It’s mid-February. The set-up is 1-1/2 months old and fairly settled in. I’m still learning where to place my right hand in order to change the tone from crisp at the bridge, to the sweet spot just out from the bridge where the “echo” is subtle, to just past that where up-the-neck breaks are hollow and growl. Further toward the neck is a rich, mellow response.

I spent less money with Kyle than I had in all of 2007 trying different bridges and heads for one banjo. I had taken a lemon and was making lemonade, but never could get the recipe just right… too tart or too sweet. Kyle has the recipe! He and his methods are a 10! He will get repeat business from me. His prices are competitive and his service is exceptional.

9.277344E-02