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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!

7100 reviews in the archive.

Noel Booth

Submitted by dvstllrd on 12/9/2008

Overall Comments

Noel, if you're unaware of him, makes really nice banjos in Western North Carolina (Waynesville--Old Fiddle Road Banjos), including some really interesting and experimental stuff as well as some pretty great conventional modern open backs and civil war era tackheads... And now, having taken a couple banjos to him last month to have a bunch of stuff done, I see that he also does awesome lutherie work at a fair, very reasonable price, and at least in this case, with a really fast turnaround.

Over the years, I have had a lot of work done to a lot of different instruments. My experience with Noel Booth is only the second time ever that I've had such great lutherie work done that it was like getting whole new, radically improved instruments back. It's just such a nice thing to have your stringed instruments worked on in such a masterful way.

The more conventional stuff that I had done included an overall light fret dressing, but with cleaning up a few quite uneven frets (apparently a couple sorta loose ones, too), filing their rough-even-in-summer edges, rounding off the upper edge of a frailing scoop on the neck (so the thumb isn't hitting a sharp corner), removing the railroad spike and filling the hole, and putting on a skin head. Beautiful, beautiful job all around. The head sounds and looks beautiful, was artfully done, no scratch marks on tension hoop from trimming its edges (which seemingly a lot of people will leave--why do they do that?) So after spending a couple weeks with this one, I can say that overall, Noel has taken a sloppy Ramsey banjo that at times had seemed like a curse, and made it a great and rather more lovable thing.

Then there was the Deering bluegrass banjo. I do love that banjo, but don't play three-finger much anymore. I had found that when played above the neck, and with the right head and bridge, it also has an enjoyable clawhammer sound, but that was hardly doable (for me) without any room for my thumb. So Noel made a mini little cutaway only under the fifth string. Beautiful job. It is this very perfect-looking micro, one-string frailing scoop that he worked very neatly around the inlays and within the binding. The way he did it, it really seems to be in keeping with the style of this banjo, which was surprising. It is a pretty darn strange thing to do, I think, to that banjo, but the way he did it, it just looks very... "right." He also put the fifth string up on a nut, but he put that nut up at the sixth fret, so the string could remain under the fifth-fret railroad spike that these Deerings come with. My objective there is that this banjo can relatively easily be put back into three-finger set-up in case I want to sell it or, heck--even play that way again. He put that nut in exactly the right place so that the fifth string is on the same plane as the other strings, and spaced the same as the rest of the strings. I've seen too many people NOT bother to put that fifth string exactly where it should be. And he also raised the action slightly. So... what I love about this one is Noel was really willing to be creative and unconventional and work with me to do this unusual, and I'm sure some would say kind of perverse thing to this valuable bluegrass banjo. And this is now a much more usable and versatile instrument, and more interesting. And very playable. I love it.

I also got the feeling that in general, maybe Noel was trying to perceive what my style and tastes are, and exactly what these particular banjos are about, so that his work would be in harmony with all that. In any case, I think he accomplished that.

This dude knows what he's doin'. And he cares to do it right.

Overall Rating: 10

Paul Hostetter

Submitted by dvstllrd on 8/3/2008

Overall Comments

Used to be fortunate enough to live near Paul (he's near Santa Cruz, CA), and took fiddles to him for repair. Have not had any banjo work done by him, but I can say in general the work that he does is like magic. Have not had any repairs done by anyone else on any other instrument that pleased me as much as his work did. And he's a very great guy to deal with, too.

Overall Rating: 10

Rover: RB-30 Open Back

Submitted by dvstllrd on 4/9/2007

Where Purchased: Elderly Instruments

Year Purchased: 2005
Price Paid: 175 ($US)


Very very bright sound. I love it. You'll hear among old-time players boasts about their banjo being "never tinny." Well, the deep plunky thing is great. I gotta have it. But I'm sorry, tinny is nice, too. It's a different sound, but it's really a fun one. Bright, shimmering, electric-sounding. Great for Wade Ward songs. And for the price, my God!

Sound Rating: 8


Setup was different on this banjo than any other I've owned, in that you cannot change to a different type of string. The first time I replaced the strings, the sound was ruined. It hardly played. They totally choked it off, and I had to contact the store and the manufacturer and find out exactly what strings were on there... Also, I've tried a bunch of different bridges. The one it came with was best. As for the nut, it needed some work. It was sticky. The guys at Elderly said they must have overlooked that, and they reimbursed me to get that done where I live, about five states away from that store... But the bottom line is, the way the head and the strings and the bridge were... made it sound perfect when I bought it.

Setup Rating: 7


It's pretty plain-looking, but it looks like it's got some quality. The head and neck look better than almost any banjos in this price range, if you ask me. All the others look chunky and cheap. And the aluminum pot is sorta neat-looking. It looks like something you would have ordered out of a Sears catalog in the 40's or something. Kinda archetypal. Maybe from outer space.

Appearance Rating: 7


I don't see what reliability problems I might have with this thing. It's solid. The tuning machines were crap, but I replaced them promptly. Everything else is completely serviceable.

Reliability Rating: 7

Customer Service

It had a one year warranty. I don't think I was able to find out from the manufacturer about the strings--I found out from Elderly. But this thing cost $175. What can I really ask for from them for that?

Customer Service: 6


The neck is nice. Maybe the nicest one in this price range. However, there was no way I could have used the tuners that came with this thing. I replaced them, and now I have a really solid banjo. They were horrible. Hard to turn, and wouldn't keep a tune. You can replace them with pretty cheap tuners and still be happy. I mean, even the tuners that come on a cheap Gold Tone or something are plenty good, Kimosabe. I don't know why Rover used such cheap tuners. This was a few years ago--maybe they use a different supplier now...

Components Rating: 6

Overall Comments

I absolutely would recommend one of these. If you hate the "tinny" sound, okay, don't get it. But I can't do without bright or plunky. That's why I need multiple banjos. Moreover, this banjo does exactly what it's trying to do. Whereas, a $200 banjo that's trying to be plunky will not succeed very well. It's an unusual banjo. If you're a beginner, even in three-finger style, you have to try one of these, because the quality and price are great. And I mean that even though it's open back, it can work also for learning bluegrass style because it's so bright. You may need a different banjo for that once you start gigging, but... Also, It's a great kicking-around banjo. It's inexpensive, but solid, and you just don't feel like you have to worry about it they way you do with most musical instruments. It's a neat thing. And satisfying.

Overall Rating: 8

Noel Booth: Antebellum model

Submitted by dvstllrd on 4/9/2007

Where Purchased: Acoustic Corner

Year Purchased: 2007
Price Paid: 575 ($US)


As good a sound as any of this type of banjo that I've played. Warm, deep, plunky, full... good volume. Good balance. Man, that low string is nice!

Sound Rating: 10


Setup was great... and actually, I've played a lot of different individual instruments of this model. I kept going back to Acoustic Corner to look at banjos over the course of four or so years, and I would play these Antebellum models every time and loved every one of them. Finally bought one this year. But setup was always great.

Setup Rating: 10


Soooo... beautiful. I have a number of instruments hanging on the wall in my den, and this is the prettiest.

Appearance Rating: 10


It seems like it will last. I mean, it's got friction peg tuners for god's sake. The only think I worry about is that the head is gonna break someday (it's real skin, tacked on) and that will be a pain to replace, but it can be done. Really, I'll let you know in five years what the reliability is like. But I would certainly use it on a gig "without a backup."

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

Very friendly, very helpful couple of folks. I don't know if they have a formal warranty, but I'm also not worried at all that if something went wrong they wouldn't take care of me. I have communicated with them about one or two questions, and they helped out right away.

Customer Service: 10


The cocobolo fingerboard is especially nice. Unusual, and it feels and looks great. The handmade bridge is really nice, too.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

This banjo is very lovable. It sounds great. It looks great. It feels great. It even smells great. I want to eat it.

Overall Rating: 10

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