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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!

6991 reviews in the archive.

Williams: Kenny Ingram Model

Submitted by jbalch on 5/25/2007

Where Purchased: from the maker

Year Purchased: 2007
Price Paid: Don't Remember historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

I'm revising this review in March 2008. This banjo was delivered about ten months ago. It has really opened-up in that time. I'm really amazed at the unbelievable tone. It has a very big, strong sound. The tone is woody, deep and very "musical." It is very well balanced. It has got "the" tone that I was seeking for sure!

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

When this banjo arrived brand new, everything was assembled well and perfectly fitted. It required a few minor adjustments (head tension, etc.) to make up for things that might have moved during its three day UPS road trim to Tennessee. The playing action was ideal for me. Will Williams included two really great Wadsworth bridges.

Early-on, I experimented with several bridges and a range of different head tension settings. This banjo responds extremely well to set-up changes.

The set-up I've settled on is: Original Wadsworth piano wood bridge, Old REMO Pre-EPA head tuned to between G# and A (see note below), and GHS strings (Arthur Hatfield Custom set).

Note about head tension: I watched Jim Burlile adjust the head tension at IBMA in October 2007. He did so by making very small incremental adjustments and listening to the sound. When he had it "just right" there was a beautiful clarity to the notes up high...and a "open" power to the bass tones. That is the kind of set-up I strive to replicate.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Not fancy...but simply elegant. In my opinion...the look matches the sound.

Nice touches: the pearl work by FQMS is first-class. The pearl has a nice amout of color (but not too much). I love the flying eagle pattern. Will adds a mother of pearl trus rod cover and grained tuner buttons. The mahogany is well-chosen and attractive too.

Imperfections: the traditionally cast Burlile tone ring has some visible porosity (Greg Rich claims that it has some singed eyebrow hair in the mix too). If that sort of thing bothers you...be warned. Personally...I wouldn't have it any other way.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

This thing is solid as the rock of Gibralter! The Hatfield neck is awesome! Everything fits together so well! It just needs to be played.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Will has been great to work with. His promise is simply my complete satisfaction...and he has delivered!

Customer Service: 10

Components

This is where a rating of "10" is just not enough...

Jim Burlile tone ring,
Sullivan Historic factory Floor Rim,
Arthur Hatfield neck,
Recording King pot metal flange,
Keith tuners,
Wadsworth bridge,
Dogwood Designs Strap....

Simply said...everything is very well chosen (thanks Kenny). Each of these components is arguably the best money can buy!

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

This is without a doubt the finest bluegrass banjo I've ever owned.

Back in the 1970s I had a Gibson pre-war flathead parts banjo. That was my only instrument for about ten years. I really cut my teeth on that banjo...and the tone is deeply impressed in my memory. I can't really explain it...but something about these Burlile-based banjos reminds me of that tone and satisfies my ear better than any of the others I've played.

If you are considering one of these...I think you'll be pleased...but my sincere recommendation is to get your hands on one and give it a test run. If you are like me...you'll know that this is the right banjo.

Overall Rating: 10

Wildwood: Balladeer

Submitted by jbalch on 8/27/2006

Where Purchased: Received in trade

Year Purchased: 2006
Price Paid: Don't Remember (bought USED) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

This banjo has a very pleasing "tubaphone" sound. It sounds really good even compared to the vintage Vegas I've owned. It has plenty of sustain. The tone is rich and balanced. It has great volume. It sounds like a tubaphone should.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

It was well set-up as follows: Fyberskin head (fairly taught), standard unmarked bridge, stock Waverly style tailpiece, light gauge strings.

Not one to leave well-enough alone, I plan to install a calfskin head from (www.banjoseen.com), Sosebee bridge, no-knot tailpiece, anf GHS PF150 strings (bronze 4th). I think these changes will thicken the tone a bit and open it up.

Setup Rating: 8

Appearance

Very fancy! The figured maple wood is excellent! The block wood rim is very nice as well. The vine-of-life inlay is detailed and very well executed. Even with a very close examination, I can't see any filler around the intricate inlay. The abalone and pearl is very colorful and well-chose.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

All standard professional grade hardware. No problems at all...however, better tuners would be fitting on a banjo of this grade.

Reliability Rating: 8

Customer Service

NA ...Had no need for any contact. I'll give them a 9 for building a great product that requires no service.

Customer Service: 9

Components

Being a traditionalist, I might prefer dowel-stick construction over the single co-ordinator rod.

But, with it's block rim, unique peghead shape, and vine-of-life inlay, this is not a "copy" banjo. It is a great sounding, great playing, thoroughly modern instrument. As such...I guess the coordinator rod is OK (did I say that?).

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

The neck on this banjo is a bit wider than my others. Yet it is very comfortable. This would be a good banjo for a player with large hands. It is heavy and solidly built. I think Wildwood banjo are very good values compared to other tubaphone banjos available today.

Overall Rating: 9

Ramsey: Maple Special

Submitted by jbalch on 4/17/2006

Where Purchased: Used

Year Purchased: 2003
Price Paid: Don't Remember historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

This custom 11" Maple Special is great for old time. It is mellow and sweet...not to bright...not too much sustain. It is a bit more "tubby" than my Bart Reiters (see reviews).

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

This banjo was bought used. It was set-up with a standard Grover style maple bridge and Elite Fiberskyn head. I tried several other bridges for comparison and returned to the original. The only adjustment has been to set an even tension on the head with a Drum-torque tool.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

Great figured wood! Simple decoration. I really like the style of these banjos.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

Very well made! Extremely reliable. This is a great every-day player.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

None required.

Customer Service: 10

Components

All standard professional grade parts. Nice tuners w/grained ivroid buttons.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

This is a great every day player! I use it in double C or G-modal tuning for a fantastic old-time sound. Check out my other reviews and see www.johnbalchmusic.com for photos and more information.

Overall Rating: 9

Ramsey: Maple Special

Submitted by jbalch on 4/17/2006

Where Purchased: The Music Emporium

Year Purchased: 2002
Price Paid: Don't Remember (bought USED) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

This banjo sounds great. It is ideal for clawhammer. The 12" pot has a small brass hoop tone ring and very thin maple rim. The sound is less "refined" than my Bart Reiter professional (see review). It is just a little bit "tubby". It is plenty bright to articulate a melody. Perfect for old-time

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

I bought this banjo used...so I can't comment on how they come from the maker. But the initial set-up on this instrument failed to bring out its full potential.

UPDATE 7/2002: I changed to an EMERSON POWER BRIDGE The sound is brighter, clearer and louder.

UPDATE 8/2002: I switched from fiberskin to a new REMO RENAISSANCE HEAD. I used a DRUMTORQUE tool to set an even (not too tight) head tension. This banjo has finally found its voice. It is absolutely perfect! Thanks to Zeppmusic.com for the recommendation!

Setup Rating: 7

Appearance

The design is very simple. There is no carving and only a few tastefully engraved inlays. However, the wood is spectacular. The finish is great. Overall a very pleasing instrument.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

The hardware is all professional grade. It has: 5-star planetary tuners, no-knot tailpiece, and heavy old-style hooks and nuts. A rare and really cool wire armrest has been added.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

I have no experience requesting service from the dealer or the maker. Hopefully I won't need any.

Customer Service: 10

Components

This is a fantastic old-timey banjo. The construction, materials and all parts are first-class. The neck is nicely proportioned...a bit thicker than my other banjos (by Bart Reiter). The more substantial neck provides much stability and stays in tune better than others.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I recommend this banjo to anyone desiring an authentic old time sound in a modern instrument that is well made and dependable. It is hard to match the quality at this price.

Overall Rating: 10

Johannes Bonefaas: Fretted

Submitted by jbalch on 11/27/2005

Where Purchased: Elderly Instruments

Year Purchased: 1995
Price Paid: Don't Remember (bought USED) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

This banjo has a totally unique sound. It has been accurately described as a very "complex" tone. The H.C. Dobson style tone ring is really evident in the sound...strangely, even more so than in my 1880s original Dobson banjo. The tone is "tubby." at the same time it has a certain shimmer and some sustain from the brass ring. You have to hear this one to fully appreciate it. It is one of the very best sounding banjos I've ever played.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

I bought this banjo used...so I can't comment on the original set-up. However as usual, I made a few adjustments when I got it. The shaved goatskin head was not seated properly. The flesh hoop was sliding up under the tension hoop in one place and causing all sorts of problems. Fortunately that was an easy fix...I just dis-assembled the pot and re-positioned the head for a better fit.
I also swapped the original JB compensated bridge for a shorter 9/16" Arthur Hatfield model. This lowered the strings to a more comfortable height as is my preference.

Setup Rating: 8

Appearance

The most striking feature is the tea-stained goatskin head. This one is shaved (unlike some JB heads which are mounted with the hair left on).
The un-plated brass hardware and pot are really cool. This banjo has not tarnished much yet. Over time it will gain a really great appearance.
This is a very rustic looking instrument. Not at all fancy...but very beautiful in its own unique way.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Big beefy neck...good custom hardware...tight construction. This one is made to hold up for several lifetimes of play.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Johannes answered my e-mail. I just inquired about the unusual color of the head. I didn't need any service...but I imagine it could be inconvenient to deal across the ocean.
As I've said before...The best service is to build a great product that doesn't require any follow-up. Bonefaas has truly accomplished that.

Customer Service: 9

Components

The Dobson style tone ring is used to its fullest potential in this construction! It is unlike anything I've ever heard before...awesome!
Much of the hardware is custom made (ie: hooks, nuts, shoes and tailpiece). The 5-star tuners are un-plated to match the rest of the metal.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

This is an awesome banjo. I'm indeed lucky to have found a used one at a good price. I doubt I could afford the cost of a new JB today. The exchange rate, on top of the high cost of custom, hand-made, parts and construction, make this an expensive banjo. But, if you're seeking something really unique. .I recommend these banjos very highly!

Overall Rating: 10

Wayne Sagmoen: 12" w/Dobson Tone Ring

Submitted by jbalch on 11/26/2005

Where Purchased: Wayne Sagmoen

Year Purchased: 1995
Price Paid: Don't Remember historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

This banjo has a very woody tone with just a hint of chime and sustain from the from the spun brass tone ring. Notes are big, round and fat sounding. It is a very good banjo for melodic clawhammer playing.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

The set-up was very good. In addition, Wayne sent three extra hand-made compensated bridges. The extras are different heights and materials to accomodate a range of sonic and set-up preferences.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

This particular banjo is very pleasing to me. The inlay pattern is hand-cut to replicate a design from my late grandfather's 1934 Sears & Roebuck guitar. I sent a photo of the guitar to Wayne..he hand-cut the pearl and copied the pattern perfectly. At my request, Wayne added a very well-executed boat heel. The Fairbanks inspired headstock shape works great with the inlay. The wood is well-chosen. Otherwise the design is simple. Because it lacks the normal hardware, the intergrated wood flange rim is unusual looking. It is not fancy. Instead, this banjo has its own sort of elegant simplicity. I like it very much.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

This instrument is brand new. I don't have a track record. All the components are high-quality and the construction is solid. Wayne's banjo have a good reputation. I expect it to be very reliable.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Wayne is the best guy to work with. First, the construction took only a few weeks from the time of my order. He e-mailed and called during the process to ask questions and offer options. He called after the banjo arrived just to make sure I was pleased with everything. I've never known a builder more anxious to please his clients.

Customer Service: 10

Components

The H.C. Dobson style tone ring is an outstanding feature of this banjo. It is awesone! The only hardware on the banjo are: hooks & nuts, grooved tension ting (Wayne is switching to a notched ring for future banjos), tuners (standard tuners are imported planetaries...upgrades are offered), Renaisannce head, and a no-knot tailpiece. Everything else is hand-made wood by Wayne.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

This banjo sounds great, plays extremely well, and is a unbelievable value. Waynes objective has been to create an affordable custom instrument. He has done that and more. This banjo delivers all of the tone and playablilty you expect from a pro-grade custom instrument...without the fancy aesthetics and unnecessary decorations...all at a price that is frankly too low.

Overall Rating: 10

Flesher: Custom

Submitted by jbalch on 9/29/2005

Where Purchased: trade w/ individual

Year Purchased: 2005
Price Paid: Don't Remember (bought USED) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

This banjo has truly exceptional tone. It is big, rich and mellow sounding as a wood rim/ tone ring banjo should be. It is surprisingly bright and crisp too. This is a great banjo for melodic clawhammer playing. The notes are fat and full and there is the right amount of sustain (not too much).

You can download sound samples of this banjo at the following URLs: http://home.comcast.net/~jdbalch/Four_Leaf_Clover.mp3
http://home.comcast.net/~jdbalch/Skip_Stone_Hop.mp3

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

I did not get this banjo from Bob. It is not represenative of his set-up. But...the set-up was not great. But the issues were easily fixed. I switched to a 9/16" bridge to lower the strings a bit. I shimmed the 4th string in the nut to relieve a buzzing problem. I adjusted the head with a drum-torque tool for a more open sound. All is great now!

Setup Rating: 8

Appearance

Simple elegant appearance. Bob's craftsmanship is on par with the best of all time. This banjo lacks his most fancy workmanship. But the simple inlays are very well executed from pearl and abalone with superior color. The wood, although only mildly figured, is well-chosen and beautiful. The style is original, respectful of tradition and simply beautiful. This banjo is similar to his "buckdancer" model.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

This instrument is very well made. Bob's unique tubular neck re-inforcement gives it a solid feel without the extra weight of a double truss rod.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

I've not required any service from Bob. But I know him personally to be very concerned with the satisfaction of his customers.

Customer Service: 10

Components

All standard professional grade parts. Bob's necks tend to be very slim. This has taken some getting-used to. But after a short while, I've come to really like it a lot.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I absoutely recommend Bob Flesher'sbanjos! This is a banjo I will enjoy playing every day!

Overall Rating: 10

Goose Acres: Tradition 12 T 12 M

Submitted by jbalch on 8/27/2005

Where Purchased: Ebay

Year Purchased: 2005
Price Paid: Don't Remember (bought USED) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

This banjo really sounds great...even better than the first Goose Acres banjo I had (also a fine banjo...reviewed here too). I think the difference is in the set-up. The tone is big, round, woody, rich and fat. It has the right amount of brightness and sustain. This is a real workhorse clawhammer banjo!

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

It plays great...and sounds fantastic. The head is a fine quality calfskin (original probably). The head is very taught contributing to the great tone. The The bridge is a Snuffy Smith 11/16" height. The neck has been shimmed and the angle re-set to allow a low action even with the relatively tall bridge. GHS pf150 strings. I'll probably remove the shims, and restore the banjo back to original set-up. But...it sounds so good I've not been in a hurry to change anything.

UPDATE: I removed the shims, set the neck back at its original angle, and switched to a Sosebee Bosnian Maple bridge. The change is fantastic! This banjo sounds even better than before.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

Very simple...no fancy inlay. Natural Maple finish, No rim cap on the pot. It is well-used, the head is soiled and the body has a few dings. Not much to look at. But I like it just fine. I'll take sound over appearance any day. This one has the sound!

Appearance Rating: 8

Reliability

All standard professional grade. No-knot tp, 24 round hooks, Bacon style short nuts, notched tension hoop. bracket-shoe construction, 4-ply rock maple rim, 2-pc straight grain maple neck, 2-way truss rod, bone nut, ebony board/ peghead overlay and heel cap. It feels SOLID!

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

The folks at Goose Acres have been very helpful when I've called with questions. I recommend them highly.

Customer Service: 10

Components

The brass hoop tone ring is inlaid in a groove routed in the maple rim. This is like some older Fairbanks by Vega banjos I've had. The result is a woody tone with just enough (not too much) brightness from the brass. I think this is a superior design! the neck has a solid dependable feel. The single steel co-ordinator rod is hidden within a wooden dowel. Very solid banjo!

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I like this banjo a lot. I bought it (well) used. There are some condition issues with this one. But even with its warts, this is a real player! I think Goose Acres banjos are very comparable to other small-shop banjos by folks like: Kevin Enoch and Lo Gordon. However they are less costly and available with a shorter lead-time. For the money...it is hard to beat Goose Acres.

Overall Rating: 9

Enoch: Tradesman

Submitted by jbalch on 6/30/2005

Where Purchased: Kevin Enoch

Year Purchased: 2005
Price Paid: 675 historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

This banjo has a big, open, and deep sound. In spite of its simple construction, the tone is very pleasing. There is an abundance of volume. This is a great sounding banjo for clawhammer and othe old-time styles!

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

The tradesman came from Kevin set-up very well. I did change the stock bridge for a heavy Arthur Hatfield Compensated model. The new bridge is a bit fatter sounding than the original and the intonation is improved. The brand new Rensissance head is still stretching...so I've been adjusting it daily as is necessary. I filed the nut to improve the action. The original equip. strings were too heavy for me...I switched to GHS PF150s.

Setup Rating: 8

Appearance

Very simple understated looks. This banjo has a nice walnut neck, ebony fingerboard, and black painted rim. There are small pearl dot position markers at six (6) locations. I chose black tuner buttons to complement the pot and fingerboard. The finish is barely there giving the neck a great natural look and feel. I like the looks very much!

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

This one is brand new. Based on the construction, components and Kevin's reputation, I expect it to be very reliable. The neck is graphite reinforced for strength. This is a great every-day player. I would surely use it onstage or in the studio.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Kevin has been very responsive to e-mails. I don't expect to require any service. I'll give him a 10 for making a quality product!

Customer Service: 10

Components

All are high-quality and very functional: 5-star tuners, no-knot tailpiece, grooved tension hoop, eighteen (18) flat hooks with Bacon style nuts, and Vega style pointed bracket shoes. The fret and fingerboard workmanship,while unadorned, is nonetheless about the best I've seen at any price! The ebony is very dark and dense. The walnut neck features a nice saw-cut on the Dobson style heel and a hex-shaped dowel stick. The pot is a painted, multi-ply, maple. Kevin responded to a recent ebaY listing to say that the pot is nine (9) ply maple. Those must very thin plys. Suffice it to say, the pot is OK...the neck is great! I'm still giving a 10...for the money it is the best!

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I am absolutely thrilled with this banjo. I recommend it as a fantastic utility instrument. I waited about 5 or 6 months to get it (very reasonable). Kevin claims to be increasing production of these to cut the lead-time even further. Unfortunately, he is also raising the price. Nonetheless, it is a fantastic value! I recommend it highly.

Overall Rating: 9

Jeff Menzies: Grain Measure Tackhead

Submitted by jbalch on 6/29/2005

Where Purchased: Jeff Menzies

Year Purchased: 2005
Price Paid: Don't Remember historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

This banjo sounds fantastic! The tone is plenty deep and rich. It will really growl. At the same time, it is amazingly bright and focused. There is a lot of snap and attack. Volume is plentiful. The sound seems to jump right off the head. All who play it are amazed.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Being a tackhead, the tension is not adjustable. Nonetheless the skin is very taught and secure. Jeff provided an extra bridge in case the head ever sags due to humidity. I've not yet experienced any of this. It plays very well.

UPDATE 7/2006 - I changed to genuine gut strings from Bob Flesher. Wow what an improvement! Far better than NylGut. I highly recommend using real gut strings. The tone is richer and fuller. The banjo feels great!

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

I love the appearance. This is a custom style w/ exaggerated Boucher style peghead, nice figured black walnut neck, extra scallops carved into both sides of the neck, and a great rustic spotted calfskin head. It has a very cool primitive look.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Very well made of first class materials. The design is time tested. It seems very reliable. Being a tackhead it might not be appropriate for all conditions.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

Jeff is very enthusiastic about his banjos and customers. Working with him on a custom project is exciting. His work is respectful of traditional design. At the same time his creations are creative and artistic. His service is top notch! The lead-time is relatively short…but getting longer I’m sure.

Customer Service: 10

Components

All are hand-made from high quality materials. This banjo has a short-scale neck, bone nut, violin pegs, a single-ply bent oak rim, nice spotted calfskin head, custom design tailpiece (matches the style of the neck carving), hand-made bridge(s).

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I really like this banjo. It is one of my absolute favorites! I play it very often. If it were ever lost, I would surely buy another. I recommend Jeff's work without reservation!

Overall Rating: 10

Bart Reiter: Special

Submitted by jbalch on 4/2/2005

Where Purchased: ebaY

Year Purchased: 2005
Price Paid: Don't Remember (bought USED) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

This banjo has a very nice clawhammer sound. It has only a brass hoop ring on an 11" three-ply maple rim. It is resonant, rich and plenty bright. The 11" pot is more focused than the 12" banjos I have. It actually records very well. It is a bit more "woody" than a whyte laydie. It has a good bit less ringing sustain than the professional (Bacon tone ring) or tubaphone models. This banjo is really quite nice for old time music.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

I bought it used. It arrived poorly set up. I made the following changes. After trying several bridges, I settled on an 11/16" Moon (heavy). That bridge really opened the sound nicely. I installed GHS PF150 strings with a phosphor bronze 4th for richer bass. I set the tension of the stock Elite fiberskyn head using a drumtorque. I raised the tailpiece to open the sound. The sum of these changes is a responsive and lively clawhammer banjo.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Very simple classic Vega style design. This banjo was made in 1998. It has a gloss finish rather than the matte version Bart is now using. The wood is straight grained maple...but very nice.

Appearance Rating: 8

Reliability

These are very reliable professional grade instruments!

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

I've owned several Reiter banjos. None have required any service. But Bart has responded well whenever I've contacted him. He builds a great banjo ... for that I'll give him a 10.

Customer Service: 10

Components

Great wood and woodwork! Otherwise off-he-shelf parts. No weak spots...but nothing unique or outstanding.

Components Rating: 8

Overall Comments

For the money these are fantastic banjos. very playable. great sounding and extremely reliable. Bart's necks are the best in my opinion. They are very consistant and excellent! You can spend a lot more on a custom open back banjo these days. But it is hard to beat these for sound, feel and appeal. Note: I like the Special model far better than the Standard....it is well worth the small difference.

Overall Rating: 9

Cedar Mountain: Foothills

Submitted by jbalch on 3/28/2005

Where Purchased: ebaY

Year Purchased: 2005
Price Paid: 1100 ($US) (bought USED)

Sound

Very well balanced tone. Plenty bright (especially for an all- wood tone rim). The bass is rich and tight. The high tones are round and full. The 11" rim holds its own against the 12" banjos I have. It is not quite as open and fat on the low-end as the big pots. But the sound is very focused and plenty rich. It sounds great in front of a mic.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

The action was a bit high for me. I replaced the 11/16" Snuffy Smith bridge with a 5/8" Sosebee Cotton Mill...just right! I adjusted the head tension. The banjo sounds and plays great. I might try a calfskin head and NylGut strings. This rosewood pot seems like it would respond really well to that set-up.

Setup Rating: 8

Appearance

Very simple design. This is Lo's basic model with no fingerboard or headstock inlay. The style is classic and very pleasing. This banjo has a curly maple neck, dowel stick and rim cap. The wood is fantastic! It has a beautiful rosewood, block rim w/ nice wood inlay around the pot. I really like the unadorned look. Thw wood really stands out!

Appearance Rating: 8

Reliability

This banjo was built in 2002. All the parts are pro-grade. The woodwork is first class! It seems very reliable.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

I e-mailed Lo to ask when this banjo was made. He responded quickly and was very interested to know about the banjo. He maintains a log of owners. I trust the he would be very helpful if needed.

Customer Service: 10

Components

The all-wood, rosewood, block tone rim is the defining feature of this banjo. It sounds great compared to other all wood rims I've seen. The metal parts are pretty standard. The grooved tension hoop is nice. The "foothills" model is a short scale banjo. Other models are more normal. The sort scale neck suits me just fione.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

I really like this banjo. It is comfortable to play and sounds great. I recommend it to anyone seeking a rich, woody sounding clawhammer banjo.

Overall Rating: 9

Vega: Style F tenor

Submitted by jbalch on 3/19/2005

Where Purchased: ebaY - needed set-up

Year Purchased: 2004
Price Paid: 150 +/- ($US) (bought USED)

Sound

Fantastic sound for Celtic playing. This banjo has a 1/2" thick, multi-ply(more than 3) maple rim. A simple steel tone ring is inlaid in a routed groove around the top. I really like the tone.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

I replaced the head (now fiberskyn) and bridge (Emerson Sweet Power). The neck on this banjo was perfectly straight. The neck angle is such that I needed a very tall 3/4" bridge. With the tall bridge, the playing action is perfect...and the tone is excellent.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

Very simple appearance. Unique peghead shape. Simpler than other Fairbanks by Vega models. I think it is really nice.

Appearance Rating: 8

Reliability

Solid construction. Some of the hardware is new...much of the original was missing. All is pro-grade.

Reliability Rating: 8

Customer Service

Not Available.

Customer Service: not rated

Components

I am really impressed with the neck. Unlike lots of other 85 year old banjos, This one is set at a steep angle so that a tall bridge may be used. That really helps tone and playability. It is the best old tenor I've had in that regard. The fact that some original parts are missing (hooks/nuts, tailpiece) is regretable.

Components Rating: 8

Overall Comments

This is an awesome player! The style F is less common than style N or Little Wonder. The serial number indicates a 1915 production date. I've had severl Vega tenors (Little Wonders, and style N mostly) This Style F is one of my favorites, a great banjo, and an excellent value.

Overall Rating: 9

Vega: Style K melody banjo

Submitted by jbalch on 3/19/2005

Where Purchased: ebaY

Year Purchased: 2004
Price Paid: 300 ($US) (bought USED)

Sound

This banjo is awesome! It is a, short-scale, 4-string, melody banjo. It is like a banjo mandolin but with four strings not eight. It has a clear, very piercing tone that really works well in a string band.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

I replaced the head (fiberskyn). I had to file grooves in the aluminum band around the rim of the head so it would fit under the hooks (that was a chore). I added a Kelly Emerson sweet-power bridge (awesome). It plays and sounds great!

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

Very simple, no frills...all performance!

Appearance Rating: 8

Reliability

All original 90-year old hardware. I replaced the missing tailpiece with a correct period part. The old chamtion style tuners are hard to use...but I'm leaving them in place.

Reliability Rating: 8

Customer Service

Not Available.

Customer Service: not rated

Components

Everything is great...except the tuners. I could replace them...but I'm keeping this banjo original for now.

Components Rating: 8

Overall Comments

I love the sound of this banjo. The lower tension of the 4-string design means the neck has survived without the problems often seen on banjo/ mandolins from the period. It plays fantastic. It is one of the most fun banjos I have.

Overall Rating: 10

Chuck Lee: Rose Hill

Submitted by jbalch on 2/19/2005

Where Purchased: Ebay

Year Purchased: 2005
Price Paid: Don't Remember historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

This banjo has fat, open, woody tone. At the same time, it is plenty bright and has more sustain than expected from a banjo with no tone ring. It is a very good choice for clawhammer playing. UPDATE: I took this banjo out to play with a fidder/friend this weekend. I was very pleased with the the tone and volume. It was plenty loud and sounded really fine!

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

I bought this banjo used. It was very nicely set-up with a Renaisance head, a heavy moon bridge (11/16") and the original equipment no-knot tailpiece. I have adjusted the head tension a bit (Renaisance heads continue to stretch for a long time). I also switched to a 5/8" Gary Sosebee bridge...mainly because I wanted lower action.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Elegant, simple design. This banjo displays Chuck Lee's unconventional design aesthetics...but it doesn't have any of his fantastic inlay work. Nonetheless, I think it is quite beautiful. I particularly like the rosewood peghead overlay and fingerboard. The frailing scoop detail is very nice too.

Appearance Rating: 8

Reliability

Five Star tuners, heavy 12" notched hoop, nice hooks & nuts and a no-knot tailpiece. All high-quality and dependable.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

No need for sevice. But I swapped e-mails with the builderwho seems very responsive and interested in customer satisfaction.

Customer Service: 10

Components

This banjo features a simple beveled maple rim (with no tone ring). The neck is Maple with a nice inlaid center stripe. The neck is slim and comfortable in the lower positions. It is thicker above the 5-th fret. The 5-th peg hole seems shallow...the peg looks like it might be easily removed. No problems fo far. The Dobson style heel is a nice touch.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

This banjo has a custom, hand-made feel and apearance. The wood is well chosen and very nice. The design is simple and quite attractive. Best of all, the sound is right! This is a fine old-time banjo.

Overall Rating: 9

Wunder: Sweeny Custom

Submitted by jbalch on 2/19/2005

Where Purchased: Ebay

Year Purchased: 2005
Price Paid: Don't Remember (bought USED) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

This 14" minstrel style banjo has a huge, deep sound. It is awesome! It is very lively and responsive. It is a real "boomer."

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Set up with: heavy gut strings, pine bridge (from the maker), translucent natural calfskin head. I made no adjustments. It plays and sounds great.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

No one makes authentic minstrel reporductions with more attention to detail than George. The appearance is absolutely correct for the period.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Very reliable construction. The banjo was built in Sept. 2000. I bought it used via ebaY from a non-banjo person. It came out of the box ready to tune and play.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

No need for service.

Customer Service: 10

Components

This banjo is completely true to the pre Civil War period. It is beautifully designed and very functional.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

This is one of the most fun banjos I've ever owned.

Overall Rating: 10

Jeff Menzies: 10" Canteen Gourd

Submitted by jbalch on 10/1/2004

Where Purchased: Ebay - from the maker

Year Purchased: 2004
Price Paid: 400 ($US)

Sound

This fretless gourd banjo sounds amazing. It has a lively, resonant tone that is well balanced and very pleasing. It's no tubaphone...but that is why I like it. I'll rate it "10" among its peers.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

This banjo was set up perfectly when it arrived from Jeff. Great action.... very comfortable fretless neck...nylon strings (originals now replaced with NylGut). Real gut strings would also be a good choice. I bet they would sound even better.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Jeff offers several different styles of peghead and other options. Mine has a great looking Dobson or Buckbee style peghead. The African mahagony neck is beautiful...but not at all ornate. The tacked calf-skin head looks nice...as does the small, well-shaped gourd. This is a simple, traditionally styled instrument.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Old-time design, very well constructed of fine materials. I expect great reliability. This is a vert dependable banjo.

The tack-skin head, violin pegs and gut strings (if chosen) may be affected by weather. This is to be expected. Otherwise it would be a "10."

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

No problems or need for service. But jeff seems very helpful and customer friendly. I'm confident he would take care of any reasonable issues.

Mostly, he builds a fine banjo...the best service is a quality product (I'll give him a 10 for that).

Customer Service: 10

Components

Great hand-made bridge and tailpice! Nice semi-translucent calf-skin head. Well chosen gourd (small, easy to hold, attractive). Jeff's artistic talent is evident in the carving of the neck. It is very well done.

These days, Jeff specializes in providing custom features like: special scale lengths. Mine is a relatively short 24 1/2" ...perfect for my hands. I previously had a longer scale fretless from another maker. I found it very difficult to play...mainly because of the scale. However this short-scale banjo works great for me. I find the positions easily and naturally. I can even play up the neck a bit after only a few weeks practice.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I love it...a truly playable, custom, hand-made instrument for under $400. I play it a lot (daily)! Plus I enjoy having it hanging in my office ( for those occasions when I have to work and can't play). Check out: http://www.jeffreymenzies.com/ ... I have no connection with Jeff other than being a satisfied customer.

Overall Rating: 10

Wm. H. Lange: Lange-Made

Submitted by jbalch on 6/24/2004

Where Purchased: Ebay

Year Purchased: 2004
Price Paid: Don't Remember historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

Woody, deep, plunky sound. Really nice!

Sound Rating: 8

Setup

This old banjo was not set-up when I got it. The skin head was broken. The bridge was missing. The neck was straight. All original parts were present.

I installed a new calfskin head, added an old 3-foot maple bridge, and NylGut strings. It plays fine with no additional adjustment. The frets could stand to be leveled. But it is OK for now.

Setup Rating: not rated

Appearance

Dark brown (almost black) finish. Simple decoration (Star in peghead...dots in fretboard). It looks really great with the translucent calfskin head.

Appearance Rating: 8

Reliability

The old hardware is all original and complete. It is economy grade ... but still very functional after 80 years or so.

Reliability Rating: 8

Customer Service

NA

Customer Service: not rated

Components

The 11" rim is constructed of glued blocks of solid wood (unknown species). It has no tone ring. It does have a decorative bracket band. The tailpiece is marked "Patent Applied For." The neck brace reads: "Patent Pending.". It has Waverly friction tuners plus the original matching 5th string tuner. The tuners have nice grained iroroid buttons. The hooks and nuts are all original. These are economy grade components but they all work very well.

Components Rating: 7

Overall Comments

This is a cool old banjo. I bought it as a travel instrument. It will serve me very well for that use.

The Lange company made lots of great banjos. Paramount was their premier line. They also constructed instruments for Bacon and others. This banjo is marked "Lange-Made" It is a fine old frailer.

Overall Rating: 8

Vega: Tubaphone Style M

Submitted by jbalch on 6/24/2004

Where Purchased: Ebay

Year Purchased: 2004
Price Paid: Don't Remember (bought USED) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

This banjo has a large 11 13/16 pot. The sound is big and fat, yet it has lots of sustain and clarity. It is set-up with a no-knot taipliece to open the sound. I installed a fiberskyn head with the tension fairly loose. to tone down the briteness. I am using a Soesbee cotton mill bridge (not submurged wood).

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

This banjo was converted from a plectrum by luthier DAN KNOWLES of Paris, TN. Dan constructed a style M copy 5-string neck that is perhaps the finest playing neck I've ever owned! It is also quite beautiful with lots of nice features. Dan applied a hand-rubbed, French polish finish that matches the pot perfectly and feels awesome. The action and intonation are perfect.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Beautiful, simple style M inlay. DAN KNOWLES did an awesome job. The old pot (1915) is in immaculate condition.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

These old Vega banjos are top notch in every way.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

VEGA - NA

DAN KNOWLES is a true custom instrument maker. He was very accomodating of my wishes in the design and construction of this neck. I recommend him highly!

Customer Service: 10

Components

The large 11 13/16 pot is really special. The vintage Vega hardware is all first class. Dan used new Waverly two-band tuners on the neck.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

This is a great banjo. I am fortunate to have it. Check out DAN KNOWLES website for information on his services as a custom builder. www.danknowles.com

Overall Rating: 10

Bart Reiter: Grand Concert

Submitted by jbalch on 4/30/2004

Where Purchased: from an individual

Year Purchased: 2004
Price Paid: Don't Remember (bought USED) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

This internal resonator banjo sounds great! The combination of the Bacon donut tone ring and the internal resonator accomplishes a superior balance of tone across the banjo's entire range. The bass is deep, full and bright. The trebles are clear and ring with just the right amount of sustain for clawhammer. The sound is open and rich.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

This bano is 16 years old...so the setup is not representative of the maker's work (which is excellent). I adjusted the head using a drumtorque tool. The head is now tuned slightly below G. At that relatively low tension, the banjo really opens up. I experimented with other bridges, but returned to the original Grover bridge which sounds very good.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

Stunning pearl inlay! The flowerpot design in the headstock is very colorful. The engraving in the pearl is very well executed. The fingerboard inlay is simple and very tasteful. This banjo features wood that must have been carefully selected (Bart's recent banjos aren't this nice). The neck has beautiful straight grain Maple. The veneer on the pot is birdseye maple. The Back of the resonator and the inner rim are curly maple. The fretboard is a very nice dark smooth ebony. The only problem with this banjo is that the 16 year old finish is cracked extensively (perhaps due to exposure to cold). Some of the finish over the headstock has cracked and flaked away. I am not going to repair it.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

The neck is straight and true. The frets are good. The hardware is standard professional grade. This is a workhorse banjo!

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

I have owned seven (7) various banjos from this maker over the years. I have never required any service from Bart. But he seems helpful and responsive. I'll rate Bart 10 (best) because the most meaningful service is to build great instruments that require no follow-up!

Customer Service: 10

Components

Someone added a Shubb 5th string capo...I dont like those myself, but I was told it was delivered that way from Elderly instruments. Since it has always been with the banjo, I'll leave it. The Waverly tailpiece could be improved...but I am planning to change nothing.

Components Rating: 8

Overall Comments

Sadly, Bart has discontinued production of internal resonator banjos. I think they are very desirable for modern clawhammer playing. I think they are incredible values compared to often inferior vintage instruments. Check our www.johnbalchmusic.com for sound samples of some of the banjo reviewed on this site.

Overall Rating: 10

Fairbanks: No. 2 Special

Submitted by jbalch on 3/2/2004

Where Purchased: Ebay

Year Purchased: 2003
Price Paid: Don't Remember (bought USED) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

This classic period (1898) banjo has a fine sound. Plenty of volume for a thin rim openback. The tone is surprisingly rich and full.

Sound Rating: 8

Setup

I bought this banjo in pieces to restore. After lots of work, the set-up was really nice.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

Beautiful, simple appearance. Deep red stain. Classic clean headstock shape w/ no inlay. Diamonds and dots inlaid in the fingerboard. Silver metal nameplate on the dowel stick. No carving or fancy wood.

Appearance Rating: 8

Reliability

This is a very old banjo. It is in good restored shape. Nonetheless, I would be cautious.

Reliability Rating: 6

Customer Service

NA give them a 9 for building a great banjo.

Customer Service: 9

Components

Several hooks were missing so I splurged on new cobra style replacements. Otherwise mostly original parts.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

Great classic period banjo. Very playable. Very handsome. Nice addition to a collection.

Overall Rating: 8

Goose Acres: Tradition 12 T12M

Submitted by jbalch on 3/2/2004

Where Purchased: Ebay

Year Purchased: 2004
Price Paid: Don't Remember (bought USED) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

Great old-timey sound! Big, fat, open, woody and plenty plunky.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

Very poorly set up when I got it. The neck was badly bowed. It was set with very heavy strings. It simply wouldn't play in tune.

Peter at Goose Acres said this is a very rare problem.

However, the truss rod worked easily and effectively to flatten the neck. I adjusted the head tension and installed lighter strings. It now sounds and plays great!

Setup Rating: 8

Appearance

Very simple. No decoration, ornamentation or fancy wood. Nice peghead shape. It appeals to me.

Appearance Rating: 8

Reliability

Unique neck attachment: very secure two bolt system with one non-djustable rod. The rod is hidden within a wooden spacer to give the apperarance of a traditional dowel stick. Cool!

Good truss rod...easy to adjust and effective.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

Peter at Goose Acres was very helpful. He offered to help with the set-up in his shop....even though I bought the 5-year old banjo used on Ebay. But I'm too far away so I did it myself

Customer Service: 10

Components

The 1/4 round brass tone hoop is fitted into a routed groove in the rim...not just set on top. That design results in much more surface contact between ring, rim and head. I think this design accounts for the woody nature of the tone.

All hardware is standard high-grade.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

Goose Acres has some high profile devotees including Doc Watson and Dirk Powell. It is surprising that more folks don't know about them. This is a fine professional grade banjo. Yet the lead time for new instruments is far less than other makers. Check them out!

Overall Rating: 9

Lyon and Healy: Openback

Submitted by jbalch on 2/28/2004

Where Purchased: Ebay

Year Purchased: 2004
Price Paid: Don't Remember historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

This fine old classical banjo sounds great! It has a soft, mellow tone that is great for solo playing or practice.

Sound Rating: 8

Setup

This vintage (circa 1900) banjo was a basket case when I got it. I installed a new calfskin head, Aquila NylGut strings, Grover bridge and Grover champion tuners. The neck is straight and the angle is good. The Action is very good.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

Beautiful classic appearance. Very unique peghead shape. Nice abalone inlays. Simple yet elegant style.

Appearance Rating: 8

Reliability

Properly set-up with gut or nylon strings, this banjo should last for another 100 years.

Reliability Rating: 8

Customer Service

NA...give them an 8 because they built good banjos...after all that is the best form of service.

Customer Service: 8

Components

Nice tailpiece, cool vintage hooks & nuts.

Components Rating: 8

Overall Comments

This is a great parlor banjo. It is a bit tame for most jam sessions. But fantastic for a peaceful evening at home!

Overall Rating: 7

Dobson, H. C.: Silver Chime 1881 patent

Submitted by jbalch on 2/10/2004

Where Purchased: Ebay

Year Purchased: 2004
Price Paid: Don't Remember (bought USED) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

This antique banjo sounds awesome. The Silver Bell tone ring is unique and really nice. It has a deep, rich old-time sound.

Revision: I've recently learned that silver "bell" is the correct description for this tone ring...not silver "chime" which refers to an entirely different design.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

This banjo is designed for gut strings. I added a Cole style 5-footed bridge and equipped it with Aquila NylGut nylon strings. The old head is dirty but sound.

Setup Rating: 8

Appearance

Incredible vintage styling. Not fancy but really cool. Special features: very steep headstock pitch, big round Dobson heel, simple ivory inlays, the nicest ebony fretboard I've ever seen.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Original 1887 patent (marked) Grover Champion style tuners. All original hooks & nuts. All are fantastic! Still working well after 120+/- years. Nonetheless, I'm a bit cautious due to the age.

Reliability Rating: 7

Customer Service

NA HC Dobson is dead and gone...but he left a few great banjos behind. Give him a 10 becase the best service is to build a banjo that stands the test of time.

Customer Service: 10

Components

The Silver Chime tone ring is unique & very special.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I love this banjo for old-time or Classical playing!

Overall Rating: 10

Lyon and Healy: Improved Melody Banjo

Submitted by jbalch on 11/4/2003

Where Purchased: Ebay

Year Purchased: 2003
Price Paid: Don't Remember historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

This circa 1900, small, 4-string, banjo was designed to play the melody in a banjo orchestra. It tunes like a violin. The sound is bright and loud to cut through a big band mix.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

For it's age, this banjo is set-up and plays well. It has a very old calfskin head and vintage bridge. I may experiment with modern heads for a change.

Setup Rating: 8

Appearance

Absolutely beautiful vintage design. Not too much fancy inlay. No carving...just miles and miles of style!

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

All original for more than 100 years!

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

NA

Customer Service: not rated

Components

This basjo features the patented "Improved" tone ring designed to compete with Fairbanks scolloped "elecrtic" models. It has a brass hoop atop beveled posts that extend from the wood rim.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

These are really fun! Find one if you can!

Overall Rating: 10

Vega: Little Wonder Tenor

Submitted by jbalch on 11/4/2003

Where Purchased: Ebay

Year Purchased: 2003
Price Paid: Don't Remember historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

This 1930 VEGA Little Wonder banjo sounds great for Irish style playing and fiddle tuners. It is plenty bright...but not thin sounding. The resonator projects the sound very well adding volume.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

I've made no changes to this banjo at all. It has the original (1930) calfskin head and a vintage

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

This banjo has an unusual sunburst finish. Most old little wonders are natural maple. I like this one a lot!

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

It is all totally original professional grade hardware. One nice feature is the set of Grover planetary tuners (uncommon...most little wonders have Waverly friction pegs) It has served well since 1930...I'll bet it will last a while to come.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

NA

Customer Service: not rated

Components

Very nice figured maple resonator,
Great tuners (mentioned above),
Simple

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I love to play this banjo. The whole instrument resonates with each note. You can truly feel each note you play. Highly recommeded!

Overall Rating: 10

SS Stewart: 1890s Ladies Model

Submitted by jbalch on 1/10/2003

Where Purchased: Nashville Flea Market

Year Purchased: 1975
Price Paid: Don't Remember (bought USED) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

With its small nine (9) inch rim, calf skin head, and short twenty-two (22) inch scale, this old banjo has a soft sweet sound. I usually use nylon strings for a very mellow tone. It is not very loud. But really fine for solo clawhammer...when volume is not critical.

Sound Rating: 6

Setup

This old Stewart was originally made for gut strings. When I got it, the action was way too high to use a normal bridge. It was set up with a modified bridge about 1/4 inch tall.

Several years ago, the neck was re-set by Bob Flesher for comfortable action with a standard 1/2" bridge. At the time it was an inexpensive repair...certainly well worth the cost.

Setup Rating: 8

Appearance

These old banjos are really cool. The SS Stewart headstock is beautiful. It has a thick ebony fingerboard, headstock overlay, and heel cap. The pearl inlay is modest...stars, dots and half moons. Not the fanciest...but very nice. The dowel stick is branded with the "S S S" peghead shaped logo. It also has an inlaid bone maker's label. The hand-worn patina of the finish and metal is perfect.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

The original friction tuners were long ago replaced with old planetary geared models. The replacements are very old and now quite worn. The 5th string peg is a bit tricky.

Since this banjo is over 100 years old...my guess is that it will last a while longer.

Reliability Rating: 8

Customer Service

NA

Customer Service: not rated

Components

Cool old common-sense tailpiece. All hardware is original (except tuners as described above).

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I wouldn't depend on this particular banjo everyday. For that, I prefer my Bart Reiters or a Mike Ramsey Chanterelle (See reviews of both makers).

But antique S S Stewart banjos are really worth considering. They are absolutely beautiful. With a properly set neck and dependable tuners, they can be fantastic banjos to play and love. S S Stewart's variety of full sized banjos as well as small piccolo,banjeaurine, pony and ladies models is fascinating. I have really enjoyed this banjo for many years.

Overall Rating: 10

Bart Reiter: Professional

Submitted by jbalch on 11/3/2002

Where Purchased: Mugwumps.com classifieds

Year Purchased: 2002
Price Paid: Don't Remember (bought USED) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

This banjo sounds fantastic. It is a custom model made in 1993 that features a 12" pot. It has a simple brass hoop tone ring. The sound is rich and brilliant with just the right amount of brightness and not too much sustain. It is perfect for clawhammer.

See my website: www.johnbalchmusic.com for Bart Reiter photos and sound clips.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

I bought it from an individual. The setup was really very good. However, I made a couple of adjustments to suit my taste. Specifically: I loosened the fiberskin head a bit and set an even tension using a drum-torque wrench. I changed to an Emerson 'powerbridge.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

This is a simple un-adorned banjo. No carving, no engraving or fancy inlay. Nonetheless, the workmanship and design are flawless. I love it!

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

This banjo features basic professional-grade hardware. Better tuners and tailpiece would be a good idea. But everything works just fine. I plan to keep it stock.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Bart is a fantastic maker, I have never needed service, on any of his instruments that I have owned. I have spoken with him on a few occasions. I trust that if I needed help, he would respond.

Customer Service: 9

Components

This is a custom banjo with a 12" pot. I believe that Bart no longer offers this option. However the 11" "professional" model is very similar with the addition of a very cool Bacon style tone ring. Check out my review of an 11" Bart Reiter "Professional" also on this site.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

It would be tough to replace this banjo if lost. But I would surely try. It is my new favorite banjo. I currently own other great banjos from Bart and Mike Ramsey. This one is the best of them all. In the past I have owned vintage Vegas, Gibsons, an SS Stewart and a few others not worth mentioning. The new instruments from Bart Reiter and Mike Ramsey (Chanterelle) are superior in materials, workmanship and sound.
See my website for Bart Reiter sound clips and pictures : www.johnbalchmusic.com.

Overall Rating: 10

Gold Tone: Bluegrass Special BG-250

Submitted by jbalch on 7/9/2002

Where Purchased: Janet Davis Music

Year Purchased: 2001
Price Paid: 551 ($US)

Sound

For the price, this is a great sounding banjo. I have owned a pre-war Gibson, newer Gibsons, Vegas and a Rich and Taylor. This banjo is certainly no match for the best of those...but it is available at less than 1/3 the price.

Sound Rating: 6

Setup

This is where Janet Davis Music really shines! The setup was perfect. The action was great. The superior sound was largely due to the care taken in the setup. I wouldn't buy one of these from anyone else.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

There are a couple of glue lines visible under the finish on the heel. The dealer told me that they have seen these before and never had any problems. I trust that is true. The design, construction and finish are otherwise fine.

Appearance Rating: 6

Reliability

Everything is better than expected for an inexpensive banjo. I recommend stepping up to the model with a full flange. It is worth the small difference.

Reliability Rating: 8

Customer Service

I don't know about Gold Tone...But Janet Davis Music is perhaps the best dealer I've had the pleasure of buying from.

Customer Service: 10

Components

The tuners seem to be the weakest link. But we have had no problems with them yet. A better bridge and head would be a good idea. On the other hand, the slim neck is solid and fast. It is the most playable banjo I've seen for the money.

Components Rating: 8

Overall Comments

I bought this for my son, a beginner. I've been playing for more than 30 years and have used this banjo onstage a number of times recently. We are both quite satisfied with the Gold Tone.

Overall Rating: 7

Bart Reiter: Professional

Submitted by jbalch on 5/15/2002

Where Purchased: Elderly Instruments

Year Purchased: 1994
Price Paid: Don't Remember historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

This is a great banjo for melodic clawhammer. It is a custom instrument featuring a Bacon-style internal resonator with both Whyte Lady and Bacon style tone rings installed. It is rich, bright and very well balanced. Check out my website for mp3s (www.johnbalchmusic.com)

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

The set-up was good from Elderly. However, I frequently re-set the head tension using a drum-torque wrench. The tone is fat. It has a bit less sustain than a tubaphone and more ring than a plain whyte lady or bacon.

Update Nov 2002: I switched to an Emerson powerbridge for even better tone.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

This custom instrument is beautiful. The woods, inlays, engraving and finish are all top-notch. The deluxe heel carving (by Ron Chacey) is the best I've seen anywhere. Photos are also available on my website.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

The nickel plating on the tension brackets tends to corrode. Otherwise I've played the fool out of it since 1994 without a single problem. I sold my vintage Vega Whyte Lady and Tubaphone. I no longer needed them after buying this banjo.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

I've had no reason to bother Bart. But when I call him he seems like a great guy. Bart builds superior banjos! I think they are the best.

Customer Service: 10

Components

All are standard professional grade. A better design tailpiece would be a good idea. I added a non-standard Vega style armrest. All other parts are stock, including the fiberskin head.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

Highly recommended. I love it.

Overall Rating: 10

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